Washington Commonwealth Federation (WCF)

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The Washington Commonwealth Federation (WCF) was established in Seattle, Washington, on June 8, 1935, to improve economic and political conditions in the city and the state. In addition to its public service functions, the WCF served as a liberal Seattle wing of the Democratic Party.

In response to the Great Depression, in August 1931 Seattle liberals, radicals, reformers, socialists, unionists, and unemployed workers organized into a self-help group, which they called the Unemployed Citizens' League (UCL). Members began to organize relief measures for unemployed workers, such as harvesting crops, cutting fuel wood, and fishing. One of the UCL's first political activities was to support the campaign of John F. Dore, who was elected Seattle's mayor in 1932. However, Communist Party members began to gain influence in the UCL, damaging the group's credibility.

In 1934, the UCL's non-Communist members broadened the organization's goals in order to attract new members and distance it from Communist Party. It changed its name to Commonwealth Builders, Inc. (CBI), and began working with state and federal Democratic Party members. In 1935 CBI reorganized in order to develop a statewide employment campaign based on the notion of "production for use" instead of "production for profit." The plan was to reopen abandoned factories and farms, and distribute products through publicly owned stores, where workers could exchange scrip for goods. The new organization—the Washington Commonwealth Federation—began with Cyrus Woodward as president and Howard Costigan as executive secretary. Its goals included labor rights, farm policies, consumer protection, social security, and public health and housing. Over the next ten years the WCF was instrumental in the passage of important social policy for Washington residents.

In 1936, WCF members gained control of the state Democratic Party. Critics, however, charged that the WCF was affiliated with the Communist Party because some WCF members were also Communist Party members, and the organization's influence waned as a consequence. WCF membership dwindled when fuller employment developed as the buildup for World War II brought contracts and money into Seattle and the Puget Sound region for the construction of ships, airplanes, and tanks. The WCF disbanded in 1945, with its leaders claiming the organization had fulfilled "its historical and anti-Fascist role."



Acena, Albert A. The Washington Commonwealth Federation. Ph.D. diss., University of Washington, 1975.

Berner, Richard C. Seattle 1921–1940: From Boom to Bust. 1992.

Phipps, Jennifer. The Washington Commonwealth Federation & Washington Pension Union. Available at: http://faculty.washington.edu/gregoryj/cpproject/phipps.htm

Reese, Michael. The Cold War and Red Scare in Washington State: A Curriculum Project for Washington Schools Developed by the Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest. Available at: www.washington.edu/uwired/outreach/cspn/curcan/main.html

William Arthur Atkins

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Washington Commonwealth Federation (WCF)

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Washington Commonwealth Federation (WCF)