Doug Barker — When Labor Day was really Labor Day


One of my weekly pleasures is editing the Washingtonian feature produced by John Larson and Susan Moyer from the Polson Museum. They mine the now defunct Washingtonian newspapers of 100 years ago for nuggets of historic and journalistic gold and we reprint some the old stories once a week.

My only role is cutting the feature down to size because we don’t have space for all the fascinating, often lurid, tales of our past. It’s harder than it looks. Some great stuff hits the cutting room floor and the guilt is almost more than I can bear.

This week the feature will appear on Tuesday and you’ll read about Labor Day when Labor Day was really Labor Day.

In 1913, the Labor Day parade in Aberdeen was more than 16 blocks long, the Washie reported. Stores closed and business stopped while 700 workers marched by.

The Aberdeen band led the way, followed by the Sailors Union (in uniform), the Hoquiam-Aberdeen Women’s Card and Label League, the laundry workers, the electricians, the painters (wearing white suits and carrying yardsticks), the plumbers (no word on what they carried), ship carpenters and then the regular old carpenters.

That was just the first half of the parade. The Hoquiam band led off the second half. Then came the tailors, followed by the musicians, the cigar makers, the bakers in their white suits, the barbers, the clerks, the bartenders, the brewery workers (wearing garlands of hops) the printers and pressmen, the longshoremen, the teamsters and the biggest group of all, the woodsmen of Grays Harbor.

I don’t know whose bright idea it was to put the printers and pressmen next to the bartenders and brewery workers, but I’m guessing the lines weren’t especially straight in that stretch of the parade.

The main speech of the day came from a Mr. Marsh, president of the State Federation of Labor.

“It is the belief of the labor unionist that man should have time to enjoy that which he creates,” said Mr. Marsh. “We stand for an eight-hour day. We want time for recreation, time for study and wholesome amusement. The labor movement relies upon the education of the working class and the only way the workers can be educated is by giving them time to study.”

I don’t know about you, but it makes me a little ashamed to spend my off hours worrying about the relief pitching on my fantasy baseball team.

Interestingly, the question of immigration was also on Mr. Marsh’s mind.

“They tell us that the opening of the Panama Canal is the greatest thing since the discovery of America,” he said. “But the opening of the canal will present great problems to laborers of this coast. Immigrants will come into this country by the thousands. We must settle the question for the best interests of labor. There will be many avaricious employers willing to use their labor as a means of lowering our standard of living. I urge every man to be giving his best thought to the study of this question. The time is short and the danger imminent.”

What a debt we owe those folks who marched down Heron Street 100 years ago. This was at a time when the labor movement was still fighting for a basic eight-hour day and 40-hour work week. Labor Day as a federal holiday was less than 20 years old. The basic rights and benefits we have as employees are the result of the commitment of those people and ones like them who came after.

Doug Barker is The Daily World’s editor. He can be reached at 537-3923, or by email at dbarker@thedailyworld.com.