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Monday, August 19, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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100 years ago in Spokane: Mayor stresses that Wobblies have free speech rights

 (Spokesman-Review archives)
(Spokesman-Review archives)

Mayor C.A. Fleming was not inclined to stir up trouble with the Wobblies in Spokane, despite a widespread fear that the members of the Industrial Workers of the World were undermining the lumber, mining and farming industries with their wartime strikes.

“People come to me and complain that the (Wobbly) orators vilify the capitalists and the corporations and argue that the town’s being hurt,” Fleming said. “‘You ought to stop ‘em,’ they say, ‘stop them speaking on the streets.’ That’s all foolishness. There’s no law against swearing at a capitalist, and I am not going out of my way to hunt trouble. If we started stopping street meetings, we’d have 10,000 I.W.W.’s here and in the throes of another free speech fight within a week.”

Fleming said he told Washington Gov. Ernest Lister essentially the same thing when he spoke with the governor recently. Fleming said if the Wobblies break any laws, the police will do their duty, but he “didn’t feel like spending any money for the benefit of northern Idaho and the lumber districts.”

Fleming was a rare voice of restraint amidst a general Wobbly hysteria. The governor of Idaho announced that he was going out to visit every Wobbly camp in the lumber districts of northern Idaho and “order them cleaned out.” Counties all over Washington and Idaho were organizing “protective associations” and “defense councils” to arm citizens against the Wobbly “menace.”

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