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Labor Wars of the Northwest

By the 1880s, with railroad transportation in place, the era of settlement in the Pacific Northwest gave way to industrialization. Jobs accelerated with the power of a locomotive as tens of thousands of unskilled workers came seeking a living wage in the forests, mines and shipyards. Instead they found themselves embroiled in a conflict with capital. On one side were owners striving to compete in national and global markets. On the other were men and women living vulnerable and oftentimes dangerous working lives, marked by low pay, long hours and inhumane conditions. But the labor wars of the early twentieth century stretched beyond a struggle between capital and labor. At stake was a region trying to come to grips with itself.

Labor Wars of the Northwest chronicles the cauldron of discontent, radicalism and violence that permeated the region in the early decades of the twentieth century. Following the arrival of the railroads in the 1880s, tens of thousands of workers migrated to the Northwest for jobs in logging, mining and fishing. But instead of steady work, they found poverty-level wages, crushing hours and dreadful conditions. By examining this conflict in the context of a decades-long struggle, Labor Wars of the Northwest shines new light on tragedies like the Everett Massacre (1916), the Seattle General Strike (1919) and the Centralia Massacre (1919).