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Opinion >  Column

100 years ago in Spokane: A ‘radical’ union man stirred striking railway workers by calling one of his peers ‘a doddering old fossil’

 (Spokane Daily Chronicle archives)
(Spokane Daily Chronicle archives)

The huge railroad strike was not even close to solved – in fact, it was getting bigger.

About 200 more Spokane workers – firemen, engineers and oilers – were set to go on strike within days. This was in addition to the 1,600 railroad shop workers and carmen already on strike.

This was a national strike, which especially impacted Spokane, since it was a major hub for four big railroads.

The local head of the shopmen’s union said the addition of the new strikers “will greatly strengthen the position of the striking shopmen and will serve to speed victory for those already out.”

Management disagreed, saying its jobs would be easily filled by nonunion workers.

Meanwhile, negotiations continued in Chicago between the striking unions and the U.S. Railroad Labor Board.

Also from the labor beat: Labor firebrand William Z. Foster delivered an incendiary speech in Spokane to the striking railroad shopmen.

“Freedom? Democracy? Where can you find them in a country strangled in the grip of capitalism?” Foster told the crowd. “Democracy, like Christianity, is a fine thing, but we have never given it a trial.”

Foster was a self-described radical. His last visit to Spokane was during the Wobblies’ Free Speech Fight in 1909, in which he was “herded to the city jail along with the rest of the gang.”

He had nothing but disdain for the more conservative labor leaders of the American Federation of Labor, including Samuel Gompers.

“Gompers is a doddering old fossil who outlived his usefulness 20 years ago,” he told the crowd.

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