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The AFL and the Wobblies


In 1912, the Shingle Weavers' Union expanded to include unskilled and semi-skilled sawmill workers and loggers, to become the International Union of Timberworkers, affiliated with the American Federation of Labor.

A larger union would have stronger bargaining power. The AFL also faced competition with organizers from the radical International Workers of the World (IWW or the Wobblies).

The anti-capitalist IWW promoted a global workers’ union and were reputed to employ violent tactics. The Wobblies were making inroads into Northwest logging camps, and their growth was perceived as a threat to AFL unions, which sought wage increases and improved working conditions.

Timberworkers were encouraged to join the expanded AFL union with a warning that the anticipated opening of the Panama Canal promised to bring new immigrants who would compete for work at low wages.

From 1912 to 1915, International Union of Timberworkers locals across the United States were involved in 55 strikes and lockouts.


Above: Napolean Campbell Mill, 1915. Item 51890. Series 2613-07, Engineering Department Photographic Negatives, Seattle Municipal Archives.


In 1913 when Ballard shingle weavers struck for increased wages and union recognition, mill owner Napoleon Campbell attempted to cast them as radicals by arranging to have his own mill dynamited. This would justify his hiring a private security force during the strike. Workers from the Campbell mill responded by joining Renton coal miners in petitioning for the recall of King County Sheriff Cudihee, claiming he had accepted payment from business owners to deputize private security, who acted as aggressive strikebreakers.

Not all lumbermen objected to workers' concerns. In 1914, Salmon Bay shingle mill owner William Turgeon set up a cooperative arrangement that guaranteed workers 75% pay during market-driven mill closures.


There was also public sympathy for the strikers, who invited local pastors to investigate their working conditions. One followed the tour with a sermon entitled “The Price of Shingles Versus the Price of Souls.”

Above left: “Dynamite Plot...” from the front page of the Seattle Sunday Times, August 24, 1913. Above right: “Pastor will Talk...” the Seattle Daily Times, May 24, 1913, page 5.


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