George Clarke Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Geo. Clarke

The Flames of the Class War
in Yakima, Washington

(November 1933)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 52, 18 November 1933, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The tranquil quiet of Yakima Valley, Washington, where the hops are grown, later to be dispensed over a brass rail as foaming New Deal beer, is raging with bitter class war. For some time now the slaves who pick the essence of your refreshing drink have been in full revolt against their profit-lusting masters under the auspices of the Agricultural Workers Union No. 110 of the I.W.W.

What do these slaves want? They want to live, decently, like ordinary human beings. They want something to fill their bellies, to stop that gnawing ache that never seems to cease. They want a roof over their heads and a bed under their toil-weary bodies.

Not much, you think. In these days of the NRA the laboring people should be striving a higher goals than mere animal existence. Hasn’t the grinning Moses in Washington led his people into the promised land where hunger and want are no more, where the well-fed workingman consecrates his efforts to culture and character building? Do you believe this? Then listen to the dream-shattering story of Yakima, Washington.

The Beer Ballyhoo

You remember the ballyhoo that attended the propaganda that the return of legal beer would make millions of jobs and bring prosperity in its wake. If your pockets are empty and your eyes open then the Great Delusion must be apparent to you. But what of that? Prosperity did come – to the brewery owners and the big farmers who grow the hops on their ranches.

These ranchers saw the vision of gain, of making their pile. The brewers needed their hops. Their damaged fortunes would be repaired, they would get rich again. But one thing stood in their way. They had not reckoned with this. The workers were demanding consideration. Downright unreasonable! Yes, it was quite unreasonable to the masters that the slaves should protest against working in the fields for a piece-work rate amounting to one and one half cent on the pound, and sometimes merely for their meals and the privilege of sleeping in the barn. Decent conditions of existence and lucrative profits don’t jibe.

Harvesting Ceases

The hop pickers organized and presented their demands to the farmers. The farmers laughed at them. 35 to 50 cents an hour? The eight-hour day? The abolition of child labor in the field under the age of 18? Never! The strike was on.

The hop pickers left the fields. The harvesting of this golden crop came to a standstill.The picket line was formed. The rich farmers took this little “spree” of the workers jocularly. At first. But when intimidation failed, when appeals to “Americanism” and race prejudice were ignored, when all their elaborate strategems came to naught and the workers remained firm, the farmers became desperate at the sight of their golden crop rotting on the ground.

They too began to organize. Not the kind of organization intended to bring better life to human beings. They were bent on the direct opposite: grinding the heel of oppression deep into the workers back. The riff-raff of the town and the country was called to arms. Mobs of Vigilantes roved the countryside. Pickhandle brigades armed with clubs and pitchforks terrorized the striking workers, bulldozing them, looking for an excuse to club and murder. The business men and their “law-and-order” hoodlums were determined to crush the strike. No method that would attain this end was too low, too brutal, too savage.

Mob Fury

They precipitated a fight with the pickets. A fight? Outnumbering the strikers six to one, armed with pickhandles, gaspipes and rocks tney sailed into this peaceful, unarmed group of workers and found an outlet for their crazed, demented fury by cracking tneir bones and skulls, beating them into insensibility. The pickets fought valiantly but the odds were too great. When the smoke of the slaughter had cleared they marched those workers who still could walk into town.

There without warrant, trial or arrest they flung the workers into a makeshift contraption of barbed wire, a bull pen. The legal sanction was, of course, quickly granted. The bullpen, hardly known in the East, is a familiar Western institution employed to sap every grain of rebellion out of militant workers. The only comparison that approaches it is the black hole of Calcutta. It has been used time and again to imprison striking metal miners, the I.W.W., in Idaho and Colorado. This is the description given it in the bulletin issued by the General Defense Committee on the Yakima struggle:

The “Bullpen”

“These stockades, commonly called ‘bullpens’, were rotten ramshackle affairs, open to wind, sun and rain, often two stories high, with toilet facilities – such as they were – in the same enclosure where men and women had to spend every moment of the many days they were held, and often so crowded that there was hardly more than enough room to stand up in. Such a structure is the place where eighty men and women were placed, for the elements to attack and the crowds to stare at, in Yakima City. And there they have remained since that memorable day in August when terror broke loose in lovely Yakima Valley.”

Then martial law was proclaimed. Street meetings were forbidden and broken up. The I.W.W. camps were destroyed, the men driven out, the property burned. A grant of $3,000 was asked of the state to build a bigger and stronger stockade and $23,000 for the expenses of the prosecution. Strikers, and those connected only remotely with the strike were slugged, tarred and feathered and left lifeless along the road. Incoming freight trains were searched for “agitators”. The kept press unleashed a howl of lynch talk. All sorts of ruses were used to find a pretext for frame-up. The workers are indicted under charges ranging from vagrancy to criminal syndicalism.

Unspeakable Conditions

Conditions among the imprisoned workers are unspeakable. A mild description is contained in this letter received by the General Defense Committee: “All the fellow workers in the can are in a very bad shape – one blanket each in a chicken house. All need clothes bad. A cold wave hit this section, snow 18 inches 70 miles from here; at present a cold rain is falling. The fellow workers are dressed for July in Florida, without coats many of them. If anything can be done about this it should be done right now, as all of the fellow workers have colds, etc. W.I. Fischer spends half his time in the county hospital.”

Meanwhile these strikers are to stand trial where the boss class justice will endeavor to railroad them from five to twenty-five years. They are to be tried in the city of Yakima where mob law prevails and the respectable citizens are howling for blood, where the slightest sympathy for the imprisoned men is a crime punished by lynching.

This is a class battle of the first water. Action from the organized, militant workers are the only effective instruments in this fight which is the fight of every wage slave.

Contributions for the defense of the Yakima strikers should be sent to Harry J. Clark, Yakima Defense Committee, Box 365, Seattle, Washington, or to the General Defense Committee, 2422 N. Halsted St., Chicago, Ill.

George Clarke Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 3 January 2016