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Ralph Chaplin

Labor History: The Centralia Massacre

By Richard Mellor - Facts For Working People, January 7, 2017

Facts For Working People is grateful to Esther Barnett Goffinet for sharing  her father's story about the Centralia Massacre that took place in Centralia Washington in November 1919. Ripples Of A Lie tells of Eugene Barnett's life and how he came to witness these important events in US labor history. There is also contact information for those who wish to purchase the book.

When the American Legion attacked the [IWW] union hall in Centralia, Washington on November 11, 1919, it was the first time in history the union men fought back, leaving four soldiers dead. Innocent and unarmed, union man Eugene Barnett stood in the window of the hotel next door, a witness who could not be allowed to talk. “We know you had nothing to do with this,” the prosecutor said, “but unless you keep your mouth shut, we’re gonna send you up.”

Ripples of a Lie is a biographical/labor history of my father, Eugene Barnett. Written as a narrative that makes history come alive, it is the only book available that tells the true story of the Centralia Massacre and the aftermath. The only book written by a family member of the prisoners, from the prisoner’s perspective, and the only book written by someone who actually knew those involved. It is 468 pages not counting the index and bibliography, and has 96 pictures with footnotes so facts can be checked. It is academic quality and every word is true.

Born in the mountains of North Carolina to poor share croppers, Gene was the oldest of eight children. His father was also working as a carpenter making five cents per day. Encouraged by the promise of “good pay and good schools” for the children, Gene’s father moved the family to West Virginia to become a coal miner. The “good pay” was 50 cents a day for 14 hours work, 200 feet under-ground, in deplorable conditions. In many families the children starved to death while their fathers worked those long hard hours. They could expect to lose at least one in four children.

In most families, like mine, the oldest children were sent to work to help support the family. Some working children were as young as five years old. They were rock-pickers, hired to pick rocks off the rail tracks inside the mine so rail cars wouldn’t wreck. Many children died in accidents, those who didn’t were treated very cruelly, beaten by the guards if they stopped to play, or didn’t produce the work expected. This left a lasting impression on my father. Eugene Barnett was not quite eight years old when he was sent to work in the mines. As one of the “older children” he was a trapper boy, opening and closing a big tarp to keep air in the mine.

When my father ran away from home at age 14 he had already worked 6 years under-ground. By then his sisters, ages 10 and 12, were working in a laundry ironing sheets in a hot steamy room with no ventilation. They too, worked 14-hour days, 6 days in a row, for which they were paid $3 a week.

Gene met Mother Jones, the union supporter and activist who protected union members from anti-union thugs, and hearing her speak a few times he became interested in the unions. He proudly joined the United Mine Workers at age 14 and worked toward better and safer working conditions for the rest of his life. The book includes wages, prices, working and living conditions throughout those years.

My father worked his way west in 1910 and took a homestead in the mountains of Idaho. During WWI President Wilson put out an edict that “all miners return to the mines.” Coal was needed for the war effort. Gene leased his homestead and moved to Centralia, Washington and the coal mines. He got a second job in the lumber camps. He had a wife and baby so they lived in a tiny house near the mine. Most men lived in the bunk houses at the camps where they slept with lice and bed-bugs, 16 men in one room with no mattresses, no windows, no place to even wash after work. Jobs were bought and sold to the highest bidder. If someone offered the job-boss a dollar for your job you were finished. That was nearly a day’s pay. There was no job security. You didn’t know from one day to the next if you even had a job. So the men joined a union.

That is how Gene happened to be there when the American Legion, led by the area businessmen, attacked the union hall. They had succeeded before in running the union out of town and planned to do it again. The union secretary lived in the back of the hall, it was his home. When the soldiers broke through the door of the union hall the men shot back and four soldiers were killed. There is a monument in the Centralia City Park to honor those men who attacked the union hall.

Gene was not involved in the shooting, but he was a member of the union, and an eye-witness who could not be allowed to talk. Therefore he was arrested and accused of being the actual killer of the soldier who led the raid. There were eleven innocent men originally arrested for the deaths of the soldiers and that is them behind my father on the cover. Those who were actually guilty of the murder were never punished and lived out their lives as “respected” citizens. My book names names.

Gene refused to lie about what he had seen so he was framed and along with seven other innocent union men, was sent to prison for 25 to 40 years for first-degree murder. The life span in 1920 was 54 years so that was life in prison.

The prisoners became close friends for life and I was fortunate to know some of them and their children. They have given me their father’s papers, pictures, and letter and believed in me that I would write this book. We want one book out there that tells the truth. My father spent a lifetime labeled as a “convicted murderer” for a crime he didn’t commit. The effects of that label on his life and ours is the rest of the story.

Mistaken Identity: the Tortured History of Sabotage, Part 1

By x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, March 3, 2016

The IWW has long been associated, for better or worse, with the tactic of "sabotage", so much so that it has become an essential part of the Wobbly lexicon (even though the tactic predates the IWW by at least a century). As I have detailed elsewhere1, the radical environmental movement, initiated principally, though not exclusively, by Earth First!, beginning in the very late 1970s in the United States, drew much cultural inspiration from the One Big Union (and to a much lesser degree, some of its economic critique of capitalism). One of the most celebrated such "borrowings" was the strategy of direct action.

A classic IWW slogan, which appeared on many of the IWW's literature and imagery, reads "direct action gets the goods". The black cat or the wooden shoe (otherwise known as a "sabot"), often associated with the IWW, symbolizes "sabotage," and these same symbols and slogans would later appear in Earth First! literature and iconography.

Earth First! cofounder, Dave Foreman popularized "monkeywrenching" (sometimes also called "ecofefense"), a series or class of tactics involving small bands of anonymous guerillas entering into wilderness areas slated to be developed or have their resources extracted and vandalized the equipment that was to be used in the process or set traps that would hamper the same equipment from smooth and timely operations. This has often been called sabotage (or sometimes ecotage).

However, sabotage and monkeywrenching are not the same thing. In fact, many who practice, or at least preach, using the latter do not understand the difference, and economic conditions which led to the adoption of the former by workers. Indeed, may of them don't understand sabotage at all, and that's no coincidence. What most people have heard or read about the IWW and "sabotage" is fairly inaccurate, and most accounts are more romantic fiction than historical fact.

The General Strike - Part 6

The One Big Strike on the Job

It may be argued however that the General Strike might prove to be as difficult to control and, due to the possible paralysis of transport, equally productive of privation as civil war. If State power were not captured by the workers would not the armed forces of the master class crush the strike with military power? Would not the result in the long run be the same as far as mass starvation and disorganization are concerned?

The General Strike - Part 5

There has been a great deal of confusion as to just what was meant by the term, General Strike. In the past any strike of considerable proportions has usually been referred to as a "General Strike." But many times this definition was not really applicable. Much of the misconception results from an erroneous or limited conception as to what a General Strike is and what it is supposed to do. The General Strike, as its name implies, must be a revolutionary or class strike instead of a strike for amelioration of conditions.

The General Strike - Part 4

The purpose of industrial unionism is to give the working class the greatest possible organized power in industry. Unquestionably the General Strike, either on or off the job, is the most perfect manifestation of this power. If the craft unions of today are examined in regard to their adaptability to this end it will put the revolutionary industrial union movement in an entirely new light. Also it will reveal clearly the shortcomings of conventional unionism in general and the craft union movement in particular.

The General Strike - Part 3

Webster defines the word 'weapon' as, "any instrument of offense or defense." Surely the machinery of production is capable of being used for offense and defense both by the employing and the working class. Every strike, every lockout proves that the control and operation of modern machinery has developed a new technique of warfare as well as the most powerful weapons the world has ever known.

The General Strike - Part 2

Industrial Solidarity

The General Strike has allied in its service thinkers and men of action of many different schools of thought. For over a quarter of a century the Industrial Workers of the World have consistently advocated the General Strike as Labor's mightiest weapon in the class struggle.

The General Strike - Part 1

Why The General Strike?

The General Strike

Introduction - (from the 1985 republication of this pamphlet):

Part 22 - The Lumber Trust Wins the Jury

On Saturday evening, March 13th, the jury brought in its final verdict of guilty. In the face of the very evident ability of the lumber interests, to satisfy its vengeance at will, any other verdict would have been suicidal--for the jury.

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