History on Display at Annual Labor Council Picnic in Centralia

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From Centralia’s founder to historic buildings to Centralia’s famous 1919 “massacre,” local history was on the minds of many at the annual Thurston-Lewis-Mason Central Labor Council’s Labor Day Picnic Monday. 

“I think we want to make sure we remember what Labor Day is all about,” said Bob Guenther, president of the Central Labor Council, during the event at George Washington Park in Centralia.  

Past efforts of labor unions have guaranteed rights many workers now take for granted, such as 40-hour work weeks and paid vacation, Guenther said. 

“We think organized labor lifts all boats,” he said. “A decent living creates a healthy community.”

The work of labor unions is an integral part of one of Centralia’s most infamous moments, Guenther noted — the 1919 Centralia massacre. 

The incident occurred on Nov. 11, 1919, when a conflict between the American Legion and the Industrial Workers of the World labor union led to several deaths. 

Guenther said the council is planning on holding a parade in 2019 to commemorate the incident, particularly the efforts of the IWW members to campaign for fair wages and hours.

The council organizes the Labor Day picnic each year at rotating locations in the three-county area.

“It’s just an opportunity for people to sit down and socialize and get to know each other better,” Guenther said. 

State Rep. Brian Blake, of Washington’s 19th Legislative District, attended Centralia’s picnic before heading to a similar event in Toutle.

“Labor … is the backbone of communities across the state,” he said. 

Blake said the biggest issue in the Legislature affecting labor is the capital budget, or lack thereof, as lawmakers were unable to reach an agreement in the most recent regular and special sessions. 

“We’ve got to get that passed,” he said. 

About 20,000 workers in the three counties from a number of labor unions are represented by the council, including state employees and carpenters, Guenther said. The State Labor Council has about 450,000 members, he said. 

Monday’s event took place from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at George Washington Park and included a barbecue lunch, music from the Bruce Maier Band, and a bouncy house and inflatable slide for kids. 

The picnic also had displays of historical structures in Lewis County and a booth with representatives of the committee celebrating Centralia founder George Washington’s 200th birthday.

Stuart Halsan, representing the committee organizing the George Washington events, spoke briefly about how Washington came to what would become Washington state and Lewis County to find a better life after being born in a pre-Civil War south. 

He said Washington’s values, being celebrated during his birthday celebration, mirrored those of the labor unions. 

“It’s all been about brotherhood and sisterhood,” he said. 

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