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Title: Ron Magden Interview
Narrator: Ron Magden
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: June 15, 2004
Densho ID: denshovh-mron-01-0029

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TI: I wanted to kind of switch gears a little bit.

RM: Yeah.

TI: There was a, during this general period, there was another book that you were working on that was never published, and it was about the teamsters.

RM: Yes.

TI: And I wanted to, to ask you, one, how did this book come about, in terms of, or you working on this book.

RM: Well, it was, one day, a Catholic priest called me. Father Bolue. And he said, "You're, you're a Northwest historian?" I said, "No, not necessarily." I said, "I like to investigate Northwest history," and this was... around the, just before I started Furusato, maybe a year before. And I, and he said, "Well, we're interested in doing a history of the Washington state teamsters. "Oh," I said, "They're a fabulously interesting union." I met them when I was doing The Working Waterfront on the longshore book. And they had a huge pension group and, and I liked them, too, and used to meet with them. Anyway, he said, "Well, we'd like to talk to you. We'd like to hire you to write the history of the teamsters in Washington state." I said, "Oh, I, I'd be interested in that. I'm interested in the union history." And so he came out from Washington, D.C., and we met, and it was the first time that I'd signed a contract. Every book I'd done before that was just by shake of the hand or a nod. Furusato wasn't even that; Joe just called me into his office, "We'd like to have you write a book." I said, "Okay," and that was how we did that.

But going back to the teamster book, I started by the same process, interviewing the oldest and working down. And one of the people I interviewed was Dave Beck. And I spent a year interviewing Dave Beck. It was an interesting interview, the first half-hour, forty-five minutes --

TI: Before you get to his interviews, tell me a little bit about who Dave Beck was.

RM: Oh, okay.

TI: Why is he a key person?

RM: Yeah. There, the teamsters in Washington state were dominated by Dave Beck from 1919 to 1956. Very dominant figure, in fact, he left to be head of the, all of the teamsters, the international teamster movement. And anyway, I was interested in him because I had ran into him in the general strike of 1919. Not many people know that teamsters in Seattle and Tacoma, their history began with three-year strikes. And they, both Seattle and Tacoma teamsters were broken by these, these long strikes. And so they were in disarray. And by 1919, the teamsters were sort of weak and minor, and in 1919, Seattle had a general strike, and a hundred and -- I can't remember whether it was 110 or 117 unions went out in support of the shipyard workers getting a raise. The only one to speak against that was Dave Beck. He said that that would destroy the union movement in Seattle for twenty years. He was quite -- almost twenty years. He was almost at, totally accurate. And so he stood for business unionism, not to strike, but to strike a business, strike a deal with the businesses. So he would make deals with the cleaning establishment and this kind of thing. And he was that kind of organizer. He had gotten his start as a laundry truck driver in the union, but he took his products to the Chinese, non-union shops, to get it cleaned and everything. He saw no problem with that, saw no conflict of interest, no abridgement of his principles or anything. He just figured he could do that, and he did, and he made a bigger profit than those who took their clothing to union cleaners.

And, but in 1919, he emerges as the, the leader of the union movement in Seattle, because he'd stood out against the general strike, which had destroyed all the unions, and the fink halls were prominent in the 1920s in, in Seattle. And so when I met and interviewed him, I asked him about his relationship to the Chinese. And he, he was derogatory about them, and, but not necessarily there. Where he was really hostile was when we talked about the Japanese and them coming from, with their vegetables over the pass to Seattle.

<End Segment 29> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.