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Tuesday, November 19, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

100 years ago today in Spokane: Statewide plans in the works to fight Wobblies as farmworker strikes loom

 (John Stucke / The Spokesman-Review)
(John Stucke / The Spokesman-Review)

The U.S. was at war with Germany, yet there was another menace closer to home: the Industrial Workers of the World, or “Wobblies.”

At least, “menace” is the term used by The Spokesman-Review to describe them. A front-page story described a statewide “plan to combat the menace of I.W.W.”

The danger came from several strikes threatened by the Wobblies. One strike, in the region’s lumber camps, was already in effect. More than 2,000 loggers in North Idaho had walked out, along with 1,700 in the Cascades near Yakima.

The other strike, in the region’s farmlands, had not yet commenced, but farmers feared it was in the offing. If farmworkers struck the orchards of the Yakima Valley, for instance, it would devastate the fruit business. Wartime emotions were running so high that many people were convinced that this would actually threaten national security with food shortages.

State officials were alarmed. People were debating whether Gov. Ernest Lister should “establish a state constabulary” or simply declare martial law.

Nearly every branch of the state’s agricultural industry was targeted by the Wobblies, according to the paper. The Wobblies were demanding eight-hour days, overtime and higher wages for picking fruit, making fruit boxes and hauling fruit. They also demanded higher wages for harvesting hay, clearing land and nearly every other agricultural job.

A Spokesman-Review editorial called the I.W.W. “unpatriotic and reckless” and said that the Wobblies were “avowedly antagonistic” to traditional trade unions.

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