Unemployed citizens of Seattle, 1900-1939: Hulet Wells, Seattle labor, and the struggle for economic security
Willis, Terry R., 1939-
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Jobless workers in Seattle, Washington, in 1931 started a remarkable experiment in self-help and political action. Although the Unemployed Citizens' League appeared to emerge spontaneously, it actually evolved from three decades of practical experience.The first chapter begins with a frontier economy and a laissez-faire ideology. Hulet Wells, one of the League founders, grew up on a pioneer farm and joined the Klondike gold rush of 1897.The next three chapters cover economic change, ideological differences, and political action from 1900 to 1919. As Seattle grew from a frontier town to a metropolis, competing interests often clashed. Wells went to jail with Dr. Hermon Titus and other Socialists during the free speech fights. He was fired for organizing Postal Clerks Local 28. He ran for mayor in 1912, incurred the wrath of Col. Blethen and the Seattle Times, barely escaped a mob during the potlatch riot, and was elected president of the Seattle Central Labor Council. After World War I broke out, he was fired for protesting the draft. He worked in the shipyards and helped organize the Seattle general strike of 1919.Chapters V and VI explore the consumer-based economy of the 1920s, from boom to bust. With mass marketing, workers' incomes became essential to the economic system, but laissez-faire ideology hindered government from aiding workers. After 1929, Hooverville grew on the tide-flats. Carl Brannin, another League founder, joined the Seattle Labor College and started the monthly Vanguard.The last three chapters focus on the Unemployed Citizens' League. Chapter VII covers the rise of the League. Lobbying for public works and unemployment insurance, League members sought "work or maintenance, NOT charity." Cast out from the money economy, they set up a system of mutual aid and self-help. When the business community urged consumers to "buy now," the Vanguard countered, "Buy--with what?" Chapter VIII traces the growing militancy and mass action of 1932, along with internal and external power struggles. Chapter IX covers the Olympia hunger march of 1933. The conclusion considers the interaction of ideology, economics, and politics.
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