On March 26, 1912, Raymond mill workers refuse to work after mill owners shift work to Raymond to undermine a Grays Harbor strike. Local business owners respond by swearing in 400 deputies and expelling 200 strikers who refuse to go back to work on March 30. This action ends the strike but not the conflicts between mills and workers, which continue for decades to come.
Dismal Working Conditions
In the 1900s and 1910s, labor unrest plagued the West Coast lumber industry. Among the factors that led to conflict were dismal working conditions, low pay, and a large number of immigrants from countries where labor unions had a long history of organizing workers. Also, the first decade of the twentieth century marked a dramatic increase in industrialized logging in the Pacific Northwest after logging companies had cleared much of the forestland in the Upper Midwest and South.
Small towns in Washington, as elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest, relied on the sawmills for jobs. The lumber industry attracted and then sustained railroad lines, connecting many of these towns to larger markets, where residents could sell their farm produce and other manufactures. When workers organized strikes, business owners in the towns strongly resisted their efforts, sometimes legally and sometimes outside the law.
The 1912 strike started in Hoquiam, on Grays Harbor, on March 14. The mill workers struck for a raise in pay of 25 cents to 50 cents and a 10-hour day. Aberdeen mill workers soon walked off the job. Mill owners shunted some of the work to Raymond mills, leading those workers to refuse to work in support of their fellow mill workers on Grays Harbor.
Wobblies Join Struggle
According to labor historian Philip Sheldon Foner, the workers organized the strike independently, without ties to any union. The Industrial Workers of the World, also known as the Wobblies, soon stepped in to take part in the strike.
The Wobblies sought to unite workers industry-wide, in contrast to trade-specific unions. In the lumber industry, this meant that loggers and sawmill workers would belong to the same union and support each other in conflicts with company owners. Not all workers subscribed to this radical philosophy, which diverged from that of more traditional trade-specific unions. The Wobblies' supporters tended to be immigrants who came from countries with a long history of union activity, such as Finland and England.
At Raymond, Wobblies spoke to workers at the local Finn hall. A newspaper article noted that "speeches were made in several languages," indicating that workers from various ethnic groups came to the meeting ("Strikes"). The police raided the meeting, arrested nearly a dozen people, pulled down banners, and nailed the building closed. In similar fashion, they closed a Greek pool hall and grocery to prevent workers from gathering.
The next day, strike organizers went to the Siler Mill and "called out" the workers ("Strikes"). They moved on to the Willapa Mill but were met there by Deputy Sheriff F. W. Baker, who turned them away. They waited until lunch time to talk with mill workers. According to the South Bend Journal, the strikers "intimidated enough of them to quit so only half the mill was able to run" ("Strikes"). However, the newspaper’s anti-strike bias undercuts the accuracy of "intimidated." The business owners operated under the assumption that a few troublemakers were stirring up the workers, and this colored their understanding of the strike.
Owners Deport Strikers
The business owners decided to reopen the mills the following Saturday, March 30, and to deport out of town anyone who refused to work. Foner noted that deportations had been used to break other strikes.
On the morning of March 30, according to the South Bend Journal,
"About 200 Raymond citizens armed with shotguns and rifles ... patrolled the town and mills and Saturday morning guaranteed protection to all who desired to go to work and had expressed a fear to do so. At about 10:30 A.M. the Finn and Greek boarding houses were visited and rounded up. Some of the Finns resisted and one Finn woman drove an officer out of her house with a broom. The Greeks took the matter as a joke until they reached the box cars, when some protested and there was soon a perfect babel of voices" ("Agitators").
The Northern Pacific Railroad conductor, W. Guy Wentworth (d. 1930), refused to take the Greeks in boxcars. One part of the group filled a passenger car and the remainder went the next day. The deputies took the Finnish workers to a waiting steamship, which transported them to Nahcotta, where they boarded a train to Ilwaco and then another boat to Astoria.
At Centralia, the Greek consul from Tacoma, Hans Heidner (ca. 1873-1939), met with the deported Greeks. They decided to return to Raymond by train on Sunday afternoon. A crowd met the train at Willapa and tried to prevent it from proceeding to Raymond. The train conductor, possibly Wentworth, outsmarted the crowd, and the train continued on to Raymond. But there the crowd refused to allow the Greeks to detrain and pushed the car back away from the depot and then forced the Greeks to walk to Menlo. According to the newspaper, "they were kept in a corral until a special train took them out late that evening" ("Agitators").
The newspaper report says that Heidner agreed to have the Greeks removed to Tacoma by train after learning about the strike circumstances, noting that his position as a lumber exporter made him understand why they had been deported for striking. It does not appear that the Greeks ever returned to Raymond. Some of the Finns returned, though those that still refused to work were again deported.
Two Industrial Workers of the World organizers in the city jail, identified by the paper as "Osborn and F. W. Hudson," were released on the condition that they leave town on the afternoon train ("Agitators"). In the face of the townspeople's hostility, they agreed.
Workers Better Conditions
Conflicts between mill owners and workers would continue in Raymond for most of the rest of the century. After a lull following the post-World War I Red Scare, unions grew more effective in the 1930s and 1940s. Through a series of strikes, workers gained wage increases and better working conditions.
In the 1980s, when environmental concerns and market forces threatened mill jobs in Pacific County, Weyerhaeuser Timber Company, the largest lumber company in town, asked workers to accept wage cuts to keep the mills open. Leon Lead, the business agent for the International Woodworkers of America union, told a newspaper reporter, "Our dads and granddads fought too long and too hard to get the wages we have. We won't just turn them over for nothing" (Hatch).