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Chapter 4 - The Early Struggle for Camp & Sawmill Democracy

Many attempts at organization among the lumber workers have been made with varying success. In 1902 the Western Labor Union, an organization closely allied with the Western Federation of Miners, began to gain a foothold among the lumber workers of Western Montana. In 1905 this organization which had changed its name to the American Labor Union, was one of the unions which went to make up the IWW By that time it had a considerable membership among the lumber workers of Western Montana and the union charter hung in many bunk houses.

In 1907, 1908 and 1909 there were many strikes in Western Montana, but these were only partially successful. In some camps in the neighborhood of Missoula the nine hour day was gained. Much of the output of this section was used to timber the mines of Butte. During the strike of 1908, an appeal was made to the miners of Butte to refuse to handle the timbers cut by scabs. This appeal was turned down by the corrupt clique then in control of the union and that broke the back of the strike.

In order to break up the lumber workers' union, and also to save the faces of the miners from the reputation of using scab timbers, the lumber and copper companies made a deal with the A. F. of L., by which the latter was to invade the territory, and form a new "union" among the lumber workers. With the help of the companies the A. F. of L. lined up foremen, scabs, stools and company spotters. Many men joined this so-called union to hold their jobs. This "union" was completely controlled by the companies, and was looked upon as a joke among the workers. However it was partially successful in breaking up the then existing union which was considerably weakened by the hard struggles it had come through.

In 1907 two thousand sawmill workers struck in Portland, Oregon, tying up the lumber industry of that city. A minority were organized in the IWW and these were the leading spirits. The strike lasted about three weeks and was broken by the scabbing of the A. F. of L., which at that time was maintaining a lumber workers' organization.

There were still many members of the IWW in the woods of the Northwest but they were scattered here and there, and were unable to mane their influence felt to any great extent. However they carried on a constant agitation among their fellow workers on the job, and slowly but surely the idea of the One Big Union began to take hold in the minds of the workers in the sawmills and the camps. Lumber workers' locals were maintained in the principal cities of the Northwest. These locals were a temporary proposition until a sufficient number of workers could be organized to form an Industrial Union.

In Feb. 1912, the lumber workers' locals of the Northwest consolidated and formed a National Industrial Union of Forest and Lumber Workers of the IWW, with headquarters in Seattle. About a month later, an unorganized, spontaneous strike started in the sawmills of Aberdeen, Hoquiam and Raymond, Washington, against the ten hour day and the low wages. They demanded a minimum wage of $2.50 for a day of eight hours. A small percentage of the mill workers were members of the IWW and these took an active part in the strike. Many of the loggers of Western Washington struck in sympathy with the sawmill workers and for some weeks, a bitter struggle was waged.

On the part of the workers this strike was peaceable and orderly, but the lumber companies employed their usual tactics of lawless violence. Many of the most active strikers were arrested on flimsy pretexts, or on no pretexts at all, and held for many weeks in the filthy jails of Aberdeen, Hoquiam and Raymond. Many others were brutally slugged and beaten by hired thugs and scab herders. Some were dragged from their beds at night, beaten, deported in automobiles and warned not to return on pain of death.

This strike lasted about five weeks and was partly successful An increase in wages of about fifty cents a day was gained in the sawmills. The loggers gained the same increase and forced the companies to furnish springs and mattresses and clean up the camps.

In the spring of 1913 a number of strikes broke out in the lumber industry. A big strike of lumber workers was in progress in Louisiana. Early in the spring a strike started in the Coos Bay country, Oregon. This was followed by a strike in Montana, principally effective around Missoula, and caused by an attempt on the part of the lumber companies to force a return to the ten hour day. At Duluth, Minnesota, fifteen hundred men went on strike in the sawmills. In western Washington there was a partial strike. Some results were gained from these strikes. In Montana the strikers were successful in preventing a return to the ten hour day. In other places some increase in wages was gained, and an improvement in food and camp conditions.

After 1913 the sentiment for the IWW continued to grow among the lumber workers although, owing to hard times and unemployment, there was a falling off in membership. To some extent the lumber workers had learned their own power, and what could be accomplished by organized action on the job. The National Industrial Union of Forest and Lumber Workers did not prove a success, and only lasted about a year, but lumber workers locals were maintained in Spokane, Seattle, Tacoma and Portland. These functioned as centers for propagating the One Big Union idea, by holding meetings and distributing literature.

In the meantime the IWW was making headway in other industries, particularly the agricultural. In April, 1915, a conference of agricultural al workers was held in Kansas City, and the Agricultural Workers Organization of the IWW., at that time known as Local 400, was chartered The idea was to have One Big Union, with branches, in the agricultural industry, instead of a number of autonomous locals. This organization made great headway among the harvest workers and was very successful in shortening hours, raising wages, and in. proving conditions. Many thousands of the migratory workers who follow the harvest, joined. Many lumber workers, who made a practice of taking in the harvest took an active part in building up this union.

At the fall business meeting of the Agricultural Workers' Organization, held in Minneapolis after the harvest was over, it was voted to carry the work of organization into the lumber industry of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Montana, and line up the lumber workers into the AWO until there was a sufficient number organized to start out with a strong Industrial Union of their own.

This plan was put into action with great success. Many of the AWO members went to work in the woods and carried on their agitation with the enthusiasm and aggressiveness generated by their successful battles in the harvest fields. Wages in the woods that fall were Very low, ranging from $9 to $25 a month; but to such a degree were they increased in some places, owing to the IWW agitation, that before spring $35 a month were the lowest wages paid, and from that up to $50.

In 1916 the success of the AWO continued and gave a tremendous impetus to organization in other industries. Many men who had dropped out of the IWW came back and entered into the work of organization with renewed hope and energy. The interest of the great mass of the workers, especially in the West, was aroused. They had seen the benefits of Organization demonstrated in a practical way. Many who had formerly sneered at the IWW as a bunch of impractical dreamers, now took out cards and became enthusiastic boosters for industrial unionism.

At the convention held in the fall of 1916 the AWO, which by that time had a membership of twenty-two thousand, of whom four to five thousand were lumber workers,, voted that the lumber workers organized in the AWO should form an industrial union of their own.

We now go back a few months to trace the progress of organization in the lumber industry. In February, 1916, Lumber Workers Local No. 315, Spokane, became a branch of the AWO, receiving the financial backing of that organization. The following summer a systematic campaign was started to advance the organization among the lumber workers of the Northwest. Many men took out credentials as job delegates. In many camps meetings were openly held, much literature was distributed by the delegates and organizers and branches of the AWO were formed in the principal Lumber centers of Eastern Washington, Idaho and Western Montana.

During that summer, fall and winter, thousands of lumber workers lined up in the union. Great enthusiasm prevailed and the bunk houses in the lumber camps nightly resounded with the songs of the IWW. The lumber workers had come to realize that; if their condition was ever to be improved, they themselves must take action; and that the One Big Union offered the only effective weapon to break the tyrannical rule of the Lumber Trust.

The same was true, only to a less extent, in the great lumber region of Western Washington. The lumber workers' locals in this section did not become blanches of the AWO, but continued as autonomous locals. Discontent was rife among the loggers and sawmill workers and they were beginning to look to the One Big Union as the solution of their economic problems.

Much opposition was encountered from the lumber barons and their tools. In Everett, the Commercial Club, terrified at the prospect of the IWW gaining a foothold in the sawmills and camps, abandoned all pretense of law and order. With the help of a servile and cowardly mayor and sheriff, it organized a band of vigilantes consisting of business men, scabs, pimps, and other degenerates, for the purpose of driving the IWW out of town. During the summer and fall of 1916, many men were forcibly and illegally deported, beaten, jailed, and subjected to the vilest and most barbarous kind of abuse by this collection of thugs, in a mad campaign of violence and lawlessness which culminated Nov. 5th in the infamous Everett massacre in which five members of the IWW were murdered, and many others wounded.

In spite of all opposition, the work of organization went on, and in the spring of 1917 hundreds of lumber workers were lined up in the IWW and the idea of the One Big Union was rapidly gaining headway among the thousands of workers in the camps and sawmills of Western Washington.

In the meantime, the lumber barons and other capitalists of the Northwest, alarmed at the growing power of the organization, were digging themselves in, and preparing for the coming battle. Evidently, they realized the weakness of their position, and the inadequacy of the weapons they had formerly used to hold labor in subjection: the lockout and the blacklist, violence, mob rule, thuggery and murder had failed to stop the onward march of industrial unionism. Some new means had to be devised to stop the onrushing tide of working class power. There was no mistaking the handwriting on the wall. If the One Big Union was allowed to go ahead it would soon control the industries of the entire country, which would mean the end of capitalist profit. Something had to be done at once to stop the One Big Union movement, and crush the IWW out of existence. To accomplish this purpose, the "Criminal Syndicalism" laws were passed. The following is a copy of the first of these laws, which was passed by the state legislature of Idaho:

Page 459-Chapter 145
Senate Bill No. 183
Idaho, 1917

An act defining the Crime of Criminal Syndicalism, and prescribing punishment therefore.

Be it enacted by the Legislature of the State of Idaho.

Section 1. Criminal Syndicalism is the doctrine which advocates crime, sabotage, violence, or unlawful methods of terrorism as a means of accomplishing industrial or political reform. The advocacy of such doctrine, whether by word of mouth or writing, is a felony punishable as in this act otherwise provided.

Section 2. Any person who, by word of mouth or writing, advocates or teaches the duty, necessity, or propriety of crime, sabotage, violence, or other unlawful methods of terrorism as a means of accomplishing industrial or political reforms, or

(2) Prints, publishes, edits, issues, or knowingly circulates,. sells, distributes or publicly displays any book, paper, document, or other written matter in any form containing or advocating, advising or teaching the doctrine that industrial or political reform should be brought about by crime, sabotage, violence, of other unlawful methods of terrorism, or

(3) Openly, willfully, and deliberately justifies by word of mouth or writing, the commission or the attempt to commit crime, sabotage, violence, or other unlawful methods of terrorism, with intent to exemplify, spread, or advocate the propriety of the doctrine of criminal syndicalism, or

(4) Organizes or helps to organize, or becomes a member of, or voluntarily assembles with any society, group, or assemblage of persons, formed to teach or advocate the doctrines of criminal syndicalism,

Is guilty of a felony, punishable by imprisonment in the state prison, for not more than ten years, or by a fine of not more than five thousand dollars, or both.

Section 3. Whenever two or more persons assemble for the purpose at advocating or teaching the doctrine of criminal syndicalism as defined in this act, such assemblage is unlawful, and every person voluntarily participating therein by his presence, aid, or instigation, is guilty of a felony, and punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than ten years, or by a fine of not more than five thousand dollars, or both.

Section 4. The owner, agent, superintendent, janitor, caretaker, or occupant of any place, building or room, who willfully and knowingly permits therein, any assemblage of persons prohibited by the provisions of Section 3 of this act, or who after notification that the premises are so used, permits such use to continue, is guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year, or by a fine of not more than five hundred dollars, or both.

Approved March 14th, 1917.

April 13th, 1917, a criminal syndicalism law was approved in Minnesota.

February 21st, 1918, a criminal syndicalism law was approved in Montana.

Since that time, similar laws have been passed in a number of other states. These laws are all practically the same, although alley differ slightly in wording.

It is rather hard to understand how these laws apply to the IWW, as that organization is neither criminal, nor does it represent syndicalism, which is an European movement widely different from the IWW. The IWW has never advocated crime, violence, or any methods of terrorism, either lawful or unlawful; yet these laws were passed for the express purpose of outlawing the IWW, and putting it out of existence. How successful they have been we shall see later.

Next page: Chapter 5 - The Lumber Workers' Struggle for Freedom.