Monday, November 05, 2007

November 5

On November 5, 1916, two ships loaded with 300 workers and labor activists embarked from Seattle to Everett, which lay a short trip north through the Puget Sound. Most of the passengers were affiliated with the Industrial Workers of the World, a radical union organization formed in 1905 with the aim of uniting workers regardless of race, skill level, or national origin. Founded in Chicago, the I.W.W. was nevertheless most visible in the western states, especially in the mining and logging communities of the Rockies and Pacific Northwest. In 1916, Everett had been the setting for a series of lumber mill strikes and battles over free speech; that summer and fall, as I.W.W. members -- known as “Wobblies” -- arrived in the city to support the striking shingle weavers, they were prohibited from speaking in public and distributing pamphlets. Dozens were arrested in the weeks leading up to the November 5 confrontation.

Around noon that day, as the Verona approached the city, thousands of residents lined the shore, welcoming the Wobblies, who sang “Hold the Fort,” an English transport workers’ song. Hugo Gerlot, one of the younger members of the party, scaled the flagpole to wave at their supporters. When the ship settled in to the dock, several hundred armed and deputized locals began shooting. Gerlot was among the first to be hit; he tumbled lifeless from the flagpole. Though some of the passengers were armed and returned fire, most were not and took refuge. As the ship’s engineer testified later at trial, the assault on the Verona was intense and brief.
As the engines died I heard a crackling sound. At about the same time sounds came down the smoke-stack of bullets hitting it. I started toward the window to look out at the rock, but I was hit by a bullet under the arm. I dove into the engine-pit; there were already some I.W.W.’s there, seeking refuge. In about ten seconds it got too hot for me there, so I ran out at the stern and got behind the switch-board . . . . It was too hot there, and I went into the boiler-room and told the fireman to start the fires [of the oil-burning engine]. He didn’t want to come out for fear of being shot, but I said, ‘Someone has to get a move on here or we’ll all be shot.’ We backed out. The whole time we were at the dock seemed about three to five minutes,
In addition to Gerlot, four passengers on the Verona -- Abraham Rabinowitz, Gus Johnson, Felix Baran and John Looney -- died in the attack, as did two Everett deputies, C.O. Curtis and Jefferson Beard. Another six I.W.W. members leaped overboard and disappeared, likely drowned as they sought to escape the gunfire.

Arrested on their return to Seattle, 74 Wobblies faced trial for conspiracy to commit murder. In a trial that received national attention the following spring, all of the accused were acquitted.