SEATTLE—In the Pacific Northwest, one newspaper is gaining ground in its historical struggle to empower workers.
Formerly known as the Industrial Worker, the Seattle Worker reestablished printing on May Day 2018 with the goal of emancipating the working class from its chains of capitalism.
“We want to inspire, educate and empower the working class to self-organize,” says Kristin, editor of Seattle Worker. “We want to recruit members into the IWW, and we want to share concrete tips for actually how to organize. We want to really make the dream achievable.”
The mission of the Seattle Worker remains the same today as when it first started, according to Kristin.
“To inform, educate and collaborate with fellow workers and empower them—those were the original goals—and I think it’s pretty much the same now,” she says. “The part about the everyday struggle with capitalists that the Seattle Worker tries to do is organizing the working class for self-empowerment.”
William Clayworth’s story “How I joined the IWW” in the Feb/April 2021 edition of the Seattle Worker, is, in Kristin’s eyes, one of the inspiring examples of the good work they are doing.
“It was a story of coming to the IWW and learning that he had power against the bosses,” Kristin says. “That moment when people realize that they are in power and they don’t have to take it is just really awesome.”
When it was first published in 1906, Industrial Worker took turns publishing out of Seattle, Spokane and Everett, according to the University of Washington’s IWW History Project, “The Industrial Worker” by Chris Perry and Victoria Thorpe. It was printed there until 1931, when it was moved to IWW headquarters in Chicago and remained there until 1975.
“During this early part of the IWW’s history, there was an active policy of repression enforced upon the Wobblies by the government,” says the IWW History Project. Wobbly persecution during this period contributed to the paper’s continual movement, and explains why the paper went unpublished for almost three years.
Authoritarian aggression worsened in November 1916 when the IWW planned to support and speak publicly at a workers’ strike in Everett “to be held on. . .a spot commonly used by street speakers,” according to the Everett Public Library.
More than 300 IWW members sailed from Seattle to Everett, hoping the group of striking workers would join the One Big Union, but they were met on the docks by armed capitalist law enforcement, according to an article reprinted in “Hellraisers Journal,” originally published in “The One Big Union Monthly”, Nov. 1920, which now appears on “We Never Forget,” a website dedicated to labor martyrs.
“Wobblies began street speaking during a local shingle weavers’ strike, encountering suppression by local law officers,” says the Everett Public Library. The number of IWW supporters increased as the violence from capitalist law enforcement grew until their hateful brutality caused the deaths of at least five workers and injured 50 more.
“This was the last major free speech fight in the Pacific Northwest,” says the IWW History Project. By the 1920s, the IWW had gone from being publicly accepted to operating in a more underground manner.
In the aftermath of the Everett Massacre, the Industrial Worker nearly went unpublished until the late ‘90s, when “the branch started having a monthly newsletter for members, which went on until the early 2000s,” says Kristin.
Inspiration to resurrect the Seattle Worker came to Seattle’s IWW branch at a very exciting time of rapid growth for the union, she says.
Kristin’s most enjoyable moments at the Seattle Worker have been meeting people and working with authors and committee members. Still, her favorite experience was when she interviewed David Tucker about his mentor Carlos Cortez, artist, poet and former editor of the Industrial Worker.
“I just love that I was able to get a feel for his personality,” says Kristin. “People are at the heart of the IWW, and I just love stories about people.”
Kristin aims to keep the Seattle Worker sustainable and avoid the fate of predecessor papers.
“A lot of publications don’t last very long,” she says. “They tend to fold. We’ve been going for four years, so my general goal is to keep it sustainable—let’s shoot for ten.”
Seattle Worker articles can be found for free on their website, as can a series of Organizer Trainings to help workers organize their workplaces. Organizer Training 101 begins September 24 and 25. Attendance at the two weekend workshops will be necessary to complete the course, which will run from 8:30 am until 5 pm PST.
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Seattle Worker Cover Art by John Fleissner.