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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.

GE Tree Company ArborGen Found Guilty of Defrauding Workers, Fined $53.5M

By Kip Doyle - Global Justice Ecology Project, January 7, 2015

New York (8 January 2015) – Biotech firm ArborGen, a leader in the research and development of genetically engineered trees (GE trees), has been fined $53.5 million in compensation and punitive damages after a court ruled that it acted to use “trickery and deceit” to “defraud” employees.

Just before the holidays a judge issued the 180 page ruling (linked below) on the case in favor of ten ArborGen workers, and against the company, as well as its timber company founders, International Paper, MeadWestvaco (now WestRock) and New Zealand-based Rubicon, plus several of their Board members.

“It is a shame that this story came out on 29 December, in the middle of a holiday week, and has gone almost completely unreported,” said Anne Petermann, Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project. “Only two articles have covered this important story in South Carolina papers.

“We have always argued that ArborGen is acting recklessly in their pursuit of the commercial development of unproven and potentially dangerous GE eucalyptus, pine and other trees. Now we find out that ArborGen has lied to and defrauded their own employees. How could anyone possibly believe anything they say about the ‘safety’ of these GE trees?” she concluded.

Honoring Betty & Gary Ball–the 2015 Sempervirens Award Recipients

By Natalynne DeLapp - Wild California, November 3, 2015

IWW EUC note: Betty and Gary Ball were also charter members of the North Coast IWW branch, better known as Earth First! - IWW Local #1, who first met in November 1989. Other charter members included Judi Bari, Darryl Cherney, Anna Marie Stenberg, Pete Kayes, and Treva Vandenbosch among others.

Betty Ball and her late husband, Gary Ball, will receive the 2015 Sempervirens Lifetime Achievement Award at EPIC’s 38th Annual Fall Celebration on Friday, November 6th. Betty and Gary are the founders of the Mendocino Environmental Center, which became the hub for environmental and political activism in Mendocino and Humboldt County for more then a decade between 1987 and 1997. The issues in those years included abuse of forests on private lands, the Forests Forever ballot initiative, Redwood Summer and the campaign to protect the Headwaters Forest. Betty, the consummate networker and organizer was indispensable to the efforts to protect the environment of northern California.

Originally from Boulder, Colorado, Betty and Gary came to the Sinkyone Coast in 1986 to visit friends and fell in love with region. Upon learning that the timber company, Georgia-Pacific, was in pursuit of logging coastal ancient redwoods in the Sinkyone area, they were spurred into action.

Having long had fantasies about starting an environmental center where people could come together, work and cooperatively share resources, when Betty and Gary relocated to Ukiah in 1987, they were able to open the Mendocino Environmental Center (MEC) with little more than a $20 donation, a store front office and a phone line.

Very quickly the MEC became the central network for activism, with Betty becoming the connector between the local and regional groups. Working with and bringing together activists such as Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney, Betty and Gary showed the way to organize the community. It was those connections—that were instrumental in building the movement to protect the natural communities of northern California.

Gary Ball and Judi Bari used to collaborate on articles; one about the economic and environmental implications of militarism was called “Ground Beef to Ground War,” which connected military intervention and destroying El Salvadoran forests to the fast food industry. To spread awareness of the issue, activists marched through Ukiah with paper mache animal heads, singing songs and drumming. “The protest was all over the Ukiah Daily Journal,” said Betty. “It was probably the most outlandish thing that Ukiah had ever seen.”

On the Garlon Trail - A Visit to L-P Spray Site Reveals Total Forest Devastation, Ineffective Chemicals, Minimal Watershed Protection

By I.M. Green (Don Lipmanson) - Anderson Valley Advertiser, June 5, 1985

Feeling a sort of morbid fascination, I've been drawn to the L-P spray sites for weeks. What does this Garlon chemical actually do to the forest? What is the appearance and smell of a spray site? How much herbicide gets into the water?

“Sprayed Loggers” Tom Fales, Arlene Rial, Frank Fales, Wayne Thorstrom, Rick Rial, and Rod Cudney

Interviewed by Beth Bosk - New Settler Interview, Issue #3, April 1985

Were the loggers surprised that they had been sprayed?

IWA Demands Safe Jobs and Clean Water

By Tim Skaggs, Business Agent, IWA Local 3-98 - reprinted in Hard Times, February 1983

This speech was given at a hearing of the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board in December of 1982.

My name is Tim Skaggs. I am Past President and now Business Agent of the International Woodworkers of America, Local 3-98.

Mill Workers Exposed

By Daniel A. Faulk – Hard Times, February 1983

Michael Welch lived in Humboldt County for the past eleven years. Since 1975, Welch worked in local lumber mills as a laborer, chipper tender, and apprentice millwright.

While working at McNamara and Peepe’s Arcata mill last year, Welch was asked to work with lumber being dipped into Pentachlorophenol—an anti-fungicidal agent used to prevent discoloration of milled fir.

Log Export History: Mill Jobs Exported

By Edie Butler - Hard Times, Vol. 3, #1, February 1983

The Secret History of Tree Spiking, Part 3

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, April 11, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Note: The Secret History of Tree Spiking Part 1 and Part 2 were written by Judi Bari in 1993.

Twenty-five years ago, a group of Earth First!ers, including Judi Bari, Darryl Cherney, and Earth First! co-founder Mike Roselle held a press release in Samoa, California (a small town west of Eureka, in Humboldt County, northwestern California) at the Louisiana-Pacific lumber mill and export dock. There, they issued the following statement:

In response to the concerns of loggers and mill-workers, Northern California Earth First! organizers are renouncing the tactic of tree spiking in our area. Through the coalitions we have been building with lumber workers, we have learned that the timber corporations care no more for the lives of their employees than they do for the life of the forest. Their routine maiming and killing of mill workers is coldly calculated into the cost of doing business, just as the destruction of whole ecosystems is considered a reasonable by-product of lumber production.

These companies would think nothing of sending a spiked tree through a mill, and relish the anti-Earth First! publicity that an injury would cause.

Since Earth First! is not a membership organization, it is impossible to speak for all Earth First!ers. But this decision has been widely discussed among Earth First!ers in our area, and the local sentiment is overwhelmingly in favor of renouncing tree-spiking. We hope that our influence as organizers will cause any potential tree-spikers to consider using a different method. We must also point out that we are not speaking for all Earth First! groups in this pronouncement. Earth First! is decentralized, and each group can set its own policies. A similar statement to this one renouncing tree spiking is now being made in Southern Oregon, but not all groups have reached the broad consensus we have on this issue.

But in our area, the loggers and mill workers are our neighbors, and they should be our allies, not our adversaries. Their livelihood is being destroyed along with the forest. The real conflict is not between us and the timber workers, it is between the timber corporation and our entire community.

We want to give credit for this change in local policy to the rank and file timber workers who have risked their jobs and social relations by coming forward and talking to us. This includes Gene Lawhorn of Roseburg Lumber in Oregon, who defied threats to appear publicly with Earth First! organizer Judi Bari. It also includes the Georgia Pacific, Louisiana Pacific, and Pacific Lumber employees who are members of IWW Local #1 in northern California.

Equipment sabotage is a time-honored tradition among industrial workers. It was not invented by Earth First!, and it is certainly not limited to Earth First! even in our area. But the target of monkey wrenching was always intended to be the machinery of destruction, not the workers who operate that machinery for $7/hour. This renunciation of tree spiking is not a retreat, but rather an advance that will allow us to stop fighting the victims and concentrate on the corporations themselves.”

For those not familiar with the tactic of "tree spiking", Earth First cofounder Dave Foreman describes the act in great detail in the book, EcoDefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching. While that text is not official Earth First! literature--in the sense that Earth First!, as a loose ad hoc organization that prefers to think of itself as a movement, has long distanced themselves from the text, and Dave Foreman, due to the latter's borderline racist and classist perspectives, has long been associated with Earth First!, and Earth First! has long been associated (for better or worse) with Tree Spiking, and to this day, there are many Earth First!ers who continue to support the tactic, or--at least--choose not to renounce it.

Chapter 38 : Conclusion

In spite of the bombing, Bari had lived, which was a huge miracle by itself, and it is clear that whomever planted the bomb in her vehicle had not intended for her to have done so. The bomber had also not planned on Cherney’s presence in the vehicle (his decision to ride with Bari had been unplanned and made at the last possible moment). The bomb had been meant to kill Bari and her alone, and leave behind a mystery, a discredited leader, and fractured and broken movement. Cherney’s having also been there and having gone through the trauma had created the unintended consequence of providing Bari with a witness who could independently verify and corroborate her every word (which, as it turned out, he did) thus further undermining any case that could be made for her guilt. Nevertheless, the bombing was nothing short of a huge tragedy for Judi Bari, due to the physical and emotional trauma and the intense pain and suffering she endured afterwards. While it may be something of a stretch to say that the bombing ultimately led to Bari’s death (in March 1997 due to breast cancer) even that is not out of the question, and the loss of her life was a major setback to those who would challenge business as usual.

Bari’s and Cherney’s legal triumph was a victory, but not the final victory. The question of who bombed them still remains unsolved, but assuming that Bari and Cherney and their supporters (and to be certain the author is one) are correct, and the bombing was indeed a conspiracy involving both Corporate Timber and the FBI, the answer to the question, “Why?” bears little mystery at all.

Clearly someone was trying to disrupt, discredit, and misdirect the coalescing radical, populist opposition to Corporate Timber on the North Coast, whether they participated in the bombing or not. Certainly, the bombing was itself designed to do that, so it makes sense to conclude that the bombing and the disruption were part of a single, multifaceted effort. If asked, “cui bono?” the most likely answer is a combination of Corporate Timber (namely representatives from all three of the major corporations, Georgia-Pacific, Louisiana-Pacific, and Pacific Lumber) with the help of the FBI with the tacit (or perhaps approval) of the Bush (senior) Administration. The FBI had gone to great lengths to try and discredit Earth First! already in Arizona, and clearly the same telltale signs of a COINTELPRO operation are evident in the Bari and Cherney bombing. If G-P was involved somehow, there is no direct evidence, but evidence of L-P’s involvement is quite readily apparent. As for Pacific-Lumber, Bari and Cherney later discovered a cordial “chummy” letter to FBI Director William Sessions from a Maxxam board member. [1] There is ample indirect evidence and a clear motive linking all three to the bombing.

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