Some Significant 20th Century Events in Northwest Labor History

1900                German immigrant Frederick Weyerhaeuser buys 900,000 acres of Northwest timberland; founds Weyerhaeuser Timber Co., which brings thousands of European immigrants to work in Washington.


1900-1940       Canadians are the largest foreign-born group in Washington State.  (Approximately 70,000 Canadians live in Puget Sound area in 1990.)


1905                  Industrial Workers of the World founded.  The IWW (known as the Wobblies) advocates one big union, organizing unskilled as well as skilled workers.


1906                Japanese Labor Union in Seattle has 600 members.


1907-1909       10,400 Asian Indians, mostly Sikhs, come to U.S. to live and work.  Many work in California agricultural fields or in the lumber towns of the Washington State. Others work on the railroads.


1907                Several hundred white workers in Bellingham, WA drive 700 Asian Indians out of the community and across the border into Canada in September.  In November, in Everett, white workers expel Asian Indians from their homes and jobs there.


1910                U.S. population: 92,228,496  In Seattle, 6,127 Japanese work mostly as domestic servants, on railroads, in building trades, sawmills, or in small businesses in the International District. There are fewer than 1,000 Chinese in Seattle, who work in small retail businesses, restaurants, canneries, and as servants.  Of 2,296 African Americans, most work as waiters, porters, servants, elevator operators, janitors.  Most African American women in the workforce are domestics or laundry workers.  42,000 first generation Germans, Austrian, and Swiss live in Washington State.  Most Swiss who settle in the cities work as craftsmen, machinists, bakers and skilled trades; those who settle in rural areas establish dairies and farms.  Most of Washington’s 4,177 Greeks and 13,114 Italians live in Seattle or Tacoma.  Other immigrant groups include Russians, Serbs, Croatians, Slavs, and Lithuanians.  Half of Seattle’s population is foreign-born or of foreign parentage; 21% of Washington State’s population is foreign-born.


1910-1920       Mexican nationals are recruited to work on railroads and in agricultural fields in the Pacific Northwest.  Mexico government protests the poor treatment to which they are subjected.


1912-17           IWW at its peak with 100,000 members, especially active in Pacific NW lumber, mining and dock working (longshore) industries.


1916                In Seattle, waterfront employers bring African American men from Kansas, Missouri and Louisiana to break a longshore worker’s strike. As a result, longshore workers realize that as long as African Americans are excluded from their union, employers can use race to break strikes. In 1917, they admit African Americans to the longshore worker’s union.


1914-18           World War I.  In Seattle, as in the nation, there is a sharp decrease in immigration combined with 15,000 men leaving for military service creates a labor shortage.  A boom in Seattle economy due to ship building for the U.S. government brings tens of thousands of workers to Seattle from the east and Midwest to work in shipyards.  Most jobs are still closed to Japanese, but there is job growth in services meeting the needs of shipyard workers, such as restaurants, groceries, shoe repair shops, etc. African Americans make few gains: a few are employed in shipyards, navy yards and as postal clerks; some lose their jobs as elevator operators to white women.  A very few are entrepreneurs and professionals.



1919                Racism on the rise in Seattle.  Restaurants that previously served African Americans begin to refuse service to non-whites.  Labor unions are growing rapidly.  Of 60,000 AFL members in Seattle, 6,000 are women.


1919                Refugees from World War I arrive in Pacific Northwest: Armenians, Russians, Bulgarians, and Romanians.  Many work in logging camps and mines.


1919                February: a general strike is declared in Seattle in support of shipyard workers.  Strike committee kitchens serve 20,000-30,000 meals a day; the strikers distribute milk and emergency medical supplies. 65,000 workers walk out for four days in a city whose population is 300,000.  With opposition from employers, politicians, and some national unions, the strike ends quickly and inconclusively. Shipyard workers don’t win their demands, but workers are energized by the organization and management of the strike.


1919                November 11, the very first Armistice Day: American Legionnaires on parade in Centralia, WA attack an IWW meeting hall.  In the chaos, four Legionnaires are fatally shot, one IWW organizer is lynched (also a WWI veteran), several others are rounded up, jailed, and subsequently tried for murder.


1920                5.1 million members of trade unions.  In Seattle, as elsewhere, racial exclusion policies prevent African Americans and Asian Americans from joining most AFL unions; they form independent organizations which rarely succeed in gaining admission to the AFL.Forty per cent of Seattle’s population consists of white, foreign- born people and their children, most from northern and western Europe.


1920-1930       40,500 Filipinos come to mainland U.S.A.; 110,000 to Hawaii.  Twenty-five per cent employed as service workers, 9% in salmon canneries, 60% in agriculture.


1923                Alien Land Law in California amended, making it illegal for Asian immigrants to “acquire, possess, enjoy, use, cultivate, occupy, and transfer real property.”  Similar laws are passed throughout the West, Northwest, and Southwest.


1923                U.S. Supreme Court rules Asian Indians ineligible for citizenship, deciding that although they are “Caucasian,” they are not “white.”


1928                Attempts to drive Filipinos out of the Yakima Valley:150 white workers stop 60 Filipinos on their way to pick apples, and force them to leave the area.


1934                Longshore workers strike in Puget Sound area along with entire Pacific Coast


1934                Tydings-McDuffe Act grants Philippines independence, but cuts Filipino immigration to 50 persons a year.


1935                  Lumber workers strike in camps and sawmills of Washington and Oregon.  Machinists at Boeing organize.


1937                Railroad Waiters’ Union formed to address grievances of African American railroad waiters in Washington State.


1941                U.S. enters the war after Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.  Main work force of white males goes to war; women and African Americans enter work force in large numbers. In Washington State, the African American population grows from 7,000 in 1940 to about 30,000 in 1950, mostly concentrated in Seattle.

1943                Influx of population at Hanford, WA, as people come from all over the country to work in the defense industry, including 3,000 Afri Americans from the South, recruited as temporary labor.


1945-on           Armenian, Lebanese, Turkish and Iranian immigration to U.S. and Washington State.  While original immigrants often came to escape economic hardship or political repression, more recent immigration includes students and professionals.


1945-80           Seattle’s Jewish population doubles from 10,000 to almost 20,000 as survivors of the Holocaust join existing Jewish communities here.


1948                Boeing machinists strike in Seattle.


1950-present    Czechoslovakian, Balkan, Hungarian and Polish peoples immigrate, establish or join existing communities in WA State. Increasing immigration as well from Korea, Guam, and Samoa.


1952                Basque immigration to Washington increases, supported by Washington Wool Growers Association.  Most work as herders.


1960’s-on        Latin American refugees from political unrest and repression begin to arrive in Pacific N.W; along with other immigrants from Central and South American countries. Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Chileans, Hondurans, Colombians, Nicaraguans, El Salvadorans, Peruvians, Guatemalans, Bolivians, etc. increase the numbers and diversity of Latin American communities in Washington State.


1960                Tibetan immigrants arrive in Seattle and establish one of the oldest Tibetan-American communities in the U.S.


1975-on           Southeast Asians begin to settle in Pacific Northwest at the end of the Vietnam War.  Vietnamese, Laotian, Hmong, Lao, Cham, Cambodian, and ethnic Chinese, facing language and employment barriers like earlier Asian immigrants, often find work in small businesses within their ethnic communities, such as restaurants and grocery stores.


1990                In Seattle, people of European descent are 75% of the population, African Americans are 10%, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders 11.74%, people of Latin American descent 3.6%, Native Americans are 1.42%.


1990’s             Union membership decreases.  Fourteen million members, 15% of all those employed. Shift in labor force to white collar and service sectors, areas less organized by unions.


1997                Of 47,000 students in Seattle Public Schools, over 20% are bilingual.  Caucasian students,40.7%; African American, 22.8%; Asian American and Pacific Islander, 24.8%; Native American, 3.1%; Latino, 8.6%.   The students served by Seattle Public Schools speak 77 different native languages.


2001                It is estimated that 85% of the entering work force (people getting jobs for the first time) in King County will be people of color, women, and foreign born men and women


–Courtesy Pacific Northwest Labor History Association