Ole Hanson stumps the country for Americanism
Seattle's fighting ex-mayor really understands the Northwest, and he says what he thinks about the Reds
Note: I’ll be periodically reproducing newspaper articles from the 1919 Red Scare, just because they refer to a lot of events that don’t make it into most histories of the time but are pretty relevant to understanding it. It’s very interesting 1) what gets left out of what you learn today and 2) how people of the time successfully recognized/solved problems we face right now. This article is about Ole Hanson, who received national acclaim for successfully ending the 1919 Seattle General Strike without bloodshed.
By Louis Lee Arms, New York Tribune, Sunday, November 28, 1919
I. W. W. eruptions on Armistice Day and the events of the past fortnight [NOTE: He is referring to the Centralia Massacre, in which I.W.W. members shot up a Veteran’s Day parade then claimed “self defense” afterwards] have once more singled out the Northwest as the hot spot of radicalism. The shooting down of four ex-soldiers and members of the American Legion on November 11 at Centralia. Wash., followed by the lynching of one "Red" and the jailing of a score more, have created a situation the end of which is not yet.
No man understands the Northwest, the character of its people end its political and economic structure better than Ole Hanson, Seattle's fighting ex-Mayor, the spectacular white-haired American of Swedish extraction whose perception and decision last winter broke a sympathetic strike which since has been characterized as, in effect, a social revolution.
Mr. Hanson is now on a speaking tour of the country. During the past seven weeks he has spent forty-two nights in sleeping car berths. He is preaching Americanism and relating to his audiences his experiences with the radicals of the North-west those same that were implicated in the Armistice Day outbreaks.
"Make it a felony to belong to the I. W. W. or a kindred organization," said Seattle's former mayor to The Tribune representative. "No amount of theorizing suffices in the present hour. Act! Jail the native trouble-makers and deport the rascally aliens who are equally at the bottom of the unrest of the North-west."
Behind the Discontent
Seattle's erstwhile Mayor, who resigned his position to take the platform against radicalism, summed up the reasons for the chronic discontent in the Northwest as follows beginning at the inception of the organization out of which grew the Industrial Workers of the World:
"It could always be found in the Northwest that radicalism began among those men who had no fixed responsibilities. Lumber and mining workers were the ones invariably affected.
"These men were virtually home less and womanless, and that is condition that makes for discontent. Revolution feeds upon discontent and there has been plenty of both in the Northwest. The lumber worker averages about eleven days to a job. He is paid well for the work and with the first or second pay day he frequently disappears, going to the city to spend his earnings and then back to work at another camp when he is broke.
"To understand our situation it necessary to understand the character of the men who want to overthrow the government and the conditions under which they are working and have worked.
"As early as 1914 men who we opposed to our system of government were convinced that the unrest among this large field of workmen could be capitalized. An army is held together by a common purpose, so is the priesthood and other groups of men, but these unmarried, homeless workers had no stabilizing influences and clutch at anything that promised an easy life and excitement. The last is important.
"Debs, Symons, Haggerty and Coates whipped the miners into line first in 1914 under the head of the Western Federation of Miners. It was out of this organization both the I. W. W. and the Nonpartisan league grew. They grew rapidly, for they guaranteed radical reforms and pandered to the love of excitement and intrigue which the homeless and womanless man will inevitably substitute when they have no domestic life.
"At this time the radical leaders decried unionism. The unions were the quiescent tools of the capitalist they said, Nothing ever could be done through them that the I. W. W. could not accomplish more effectively and in less time. The I. W. W. felt sorry for the unions, but, which is more important, could not show them the error of their ways.
A Matter of Evolution
"From 1914 to the big strike of 1917 we may assume that conditions in the lumber woods were not of the best. All industrial improvement is a matter of evolution, but, as yet, the living conditions in the great woods had not evoluted. The men did hard work and lived in shacks and bunkhouses. They furnished their own bedding with which they trudged from camp to camp. For many years there were no amusements for the men, and this, with the lack of home life and the general feeling of irresponsibility, made of these workers saturnine, rough fellows who, in the rough-and-tumble fights of the camps, sunk the spikes of their shoes deep into the faces of their opponents. There is no gainsaying that the employers were slow to recognize conditions, or it may be that they thought the quality of creature comforts was comparable to the loyalty of their men.
"After the great strike of 1917 was called living conditions for the lumbermen were improved. Better beds, better food and better hours were established. Now I would rather have a meal in a Washington lumber camp than the best dinner that could be served in a New York hotel. Camp cooks are paid $175 to $200 a month and they are acquainted with the appetites to which they minister.
"The advent of better living conditions did not diminish the popularity of the I. W. W. Rather it helped, for the results of the strike were pointed to as the magic that could be weaved by organization and many converts were gained. So far, so good; for these, broadly, are accepted principles of employer-employee relations and are a thing apart from revolution.
"That takes in again the character of the men. Seattle, as the first port of entry from Russia, and the Northwest in general as the jumping off place for those who drift across the continent from the Atlantic continued to attract the homeless wanderer. Under the prevailing conditions it was here that the 'floater' changed from a nobody to a somebody, for in the eyes of the "Red" radicals who ruled the I. W. W. the floater was potentially a soldier of the revolution and as such was a valuable asset.
Mobilizing the Floaters
"Better living conditions meant no more than temporary gain to these men. That was not their vital object and never has been. The proposition was to mobilize these floater for itinerant workmen in sufficient numbers to guarantee the success of one bold stroke that would overthrow organized government and start a revolution which would sweep the continent.
"These men, as I wish again to emphasize, were homeless and womanless. I have seen hundreds of Russian men in Seattle, but never a woman I have recognized as Russian. From 1900 to 1918 seventy of every one hundred immigrants past nineteen years to reach this country have been males. That tells much of the story in the Northwest, for the woman, after all, rules the home, controls the expenditures and keeps man in his place and satisfied. The most practical employer is he who builds homes for his employees, for that employer rears on the solid rock of psychological and sociological fact.
"The improved condition that came in 1917 brought no real content. It stayed the hand of the I. W. W. for the moment, but the goal of revolution loomed ahead. The I. W. W. still held aloof from the unions, but after the overthrow of the Russian government a new policy was conceived. Previously the I. W. W. had desired to destroy all unions to create one big union. Now, as a matter of practical politics, it was decided that the I. W. W. would go into the labor unions, and, operating wheels within wheels, use the 110 crafts in Seattle as a tool to gain its ends.
"The story of the soviet was preached in every labor hall in Seattle. Its benefits and the advantage of making one bold stroke for so-called liberty were urged by the 'Red' leaders. In the strike at Seattle last February we never have been able to get the exact ballot on more than one of the union meetings. That one showed that a union with a membership of six hundred decided to go out in secret meeting en the vote of sixty men. How these sixty men managed to manipulate the six hundred is none of our affair. They did do it. And these sixty men as might be expected, were the I W. W. radicals who had gone into the unions that they might work from within, just as they are attempting to do today. We may assume that a similar operation tool place among all the unions that voted on the so-called sympathetic strike for the shipyards workers, which was, in effect, revolution thinly disguised and bristling with potentialities.
"The conditions which I have outlined are as surely responsible for the outbreaks on Armistice Day as they were for the attempted revolution last winter in Seattle. It finds its basis in the unnatural state of living which prevails in the Northwest plus the false hopes held out by the radical leaders taking their cue from Russia. Ignorance is at the bottom of the situation, but while such ignorance obtains it is important that public consciousness be awakened to the danger and that it be properly combated.
"In the outbreak at Centralia and elsewhere the tag has been definitely placed on the I. W. W., just where it belongs, and any excuses that their acts were governed by the motive of self-defence will be taken for what they are worth.
"As a remedy for a situation superinduced by an unnatural state of living and which has reached such an acute stage as is evidenced in the Northwest, there is but one cure and that is force. If the public wants to fight I. W, W.-ism let us make it a felony to belong to it, or to a kindred organization. Make reading, writing and speaking of the English language compulsory for those who wish to remain in this country. Deport the others. The statistics on the recent coal strike tend to prove that it is the foreigner and the radical who go hand in hand just as they progressed thus in the Northwest, where 300,000 men were guided by men whoso greatest hope was to overthrow the government of the United States.
"If we use force now we can talk reform later. It is no time to mend the barn door when the horse is being stolen and that is the condition with which we are confronted today. After we kick the aliens out of our country and jail the homebred professional troublemakers it will be time to plan reform, and there is something that can be said in that direction."
The Right Thing
"How about labor's stand?" we asked.
"Organized labor in the end may be counted upon to do the right thing*," replied Mr. Hanson. "In spite of the fact that Gompers is a rank compromiser and labor, through his agency, has shown a tendency to exalt itself in a period so critical that man's first thought should be for his country, labor will stay on the track.
"Do you know who will keep it there?" he added.
We believed not.
"The women," replied the white-haired Westerner, thumping his knee. "The greatest stabilizing, conservative force in the country today is the woman. Her vote always will quell the leaven of unrest, for her vote is for the home and that which symbolizes the home. Combine with that the fact that soon labor will not permit itself to be manipulated, as it plainly has been in the past, and there is much for which we may be hopeful and thankful. But we always must encourage these natural forces by standing firm against anything that smacks of alienism."
Ole Hanson is approaching his forty-eighth birthday. He is the father of nine children. An erect figure of slightly more than medium height, he walks with his chin up and his eyes level. His face is triangular in shape, with high cheek¬ bones and dark eyes that are sharply contrasted with his wavy, snow-white hair. He dresses with what might be said to be a western idea of permissible flourish: silk shirts, patch pockets, pointed, slender lapels and florid cravats being, the high points in a gay ensemble.
He is quick to act. As he and the writer walked into the Long Island station a rumpus began at the ticket seller's window and the next moment Ole Hanson was in the thick of it. "Here!" he cried. "Stranger, if the ticket seller has made a mistake his cash balance will show it. Mr. Ticket Seller, take this man's name and address and make a refund if you are in error."
Scowls melted into expressions of approximate friendliness. The former Mayor of Seattle strode off in that superior ether which envelopes the arbitrator. There was a great deal of buoyancy in his step; his cigar was cocked to the angle of a flagstaff. The mention of Presidential aspirations does not reduce Ole Hanson to an anticipated clamlike silence.
"I have had an ambition to be President of the United States since I was eight years old," he said, In answer to the writer's question. "Is it not an ambition that is legitimate to every American schoolboy?"
Further than this Ole Hanson did not choose to go, beyond the statement that "about two of every three persons who met him on the lecture platform at the end of a speech Í seemed to think that he was somehow in the field of Presidential timber." For the, present his speaking tour and his book, which is to be brought out by a publishing house of Long Island, keep him busy. "I never was so busy or had less,” he said at parting. "Never again can any one tell me of the prosperity to be encountered by public speaking. It appears to me, after my short experience, that the promoter's idea of an adequate speaker is one who will speak for nothing. "Still," he added, "I like it, and the country needs it."
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