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Part 2 - Lumber: A Basic Industry

It seems the most logical thing in the world to believe that the natural resources of the Earth, upon which the race depends for food, clothing and shelter, should be owned collectively by the race instead of being the private property of a few social parasites. It seems that reason would preclude the possibility of any other arrangement, and that it would be considered as absurd for individuals to lay claim to forests, mines, railroads and factories as it would be for individuals to lay claim to the ownership of the sunlight that warms us or to the air we breathe. But the poor human race, in its bungling efforts to learn how to live in our beautiful world, appears destined to find out by bitter experience that the private ownership of the means of life is both criminal and disastrous.

Lumber is one of the basic industries-one of the industries mankind never could have done without. The whole structure of what we call civilization is built upon wooden timbers, ax-hewn or machine finished as the case may be. Without the product of the forests humanity would never have learned the use of fire, the primitive bow and arrow or the bulging galleys of ancient commerce. Without the firm and fibrous flesh of the mighty monarchs of the forest men might never have had barges for fishing or weapons for the chase; they would not have had carts for their oxen or kilns for the fashioning of pottery; they would not have had dwellings, temples or cities; they would not have had furniture nor fittings nor roofs above their heads. Wood is one of the most primitive and indispensable of human necessities. Without its use we would still be groping in the gloom and misery of early savagery, suffering from the cold of outer space and defenseless in the midst of a harsh and hostile environment.


So it happened that the first pioneers in the northern were forced to bare their arms and match their strength with the wooded wilderness. At first the subjugation of the forests was a social effort. The lives and future prosperity of the settlers must be made secure from the raids of the Indians and the inclemency of the elements. Manfully did these men labor until their work was done. But this period did not last long, for the tide of emigration was sweeping westward over the sun-baked prairies to the promised land in the golden West.

Towns sprang up like magic, new trees were felled, sawmills erected and huge logs in ever increasing numbers were driven down the foaming torrents each year at spring time. The country was new, the market for lumber constantly growing and expanding. But the monopolist was unknown and the lynch-mobs of the lumber trust still sleeping in the womb of the Future. So passed the not unhappy period when opportunity was open to everyone, when freedom was dear to the hearts of all. It was at this time that the spirit of real Americanism was born, when the clean, sturdy name "America" spelled freedom, justice and independence. Patriotism in these days was not a mask for profiteers and murderers were not permitted to hide their bloody hands in the folds of their nation's flag.

But modern capitalism was creeping like a black curse upon the land. Stealing, coercing, cajoling, defrauding, it spread from its plague-center in Wall St., leaving misery, class antagonism and resentment in its trial. The old free America of our fathers was undergoing a profound change. Equality of opportunity was doomed. A new social alignment was being created. Monopoly was loosed upon the land. Fabulous fortunes were being made as wealth was becoming centered into fewer and fewer hands. Modern capitalism was entrenching itself for the final and inevitable struggle for world domination. In due time the social parasites of the East, foreseeing that the forests of Maine, Michigan and Wisconsin could not last forever, began to look to the woods of the Northwest with covetous eyes.


The history of the acquisition of the forests of Washington, Montana, Idaho, Oregon and California is a long, sordid story of thinly veiled robbery and intrigue. The methods of the lumber barons in invading and seizing its "holdings" did not differ greatly, however, from those of the steel and oil kings, the railroad magnates or any of the other industrial potentates who acquired great wealth by pilfering America and peonizing its people. The whole sorry proceeding was disgraceful, high-handed and treacherous, and only made possible by reason of the blindness of the generous American people, drugged with the vanishing hope of "success" and too confident of the continued possession of its blood-bought liberties. And do the lumber barons were unhindered in their infamous work of debauchery, bribery, murder and brazen fraud.

As a result the monopoly of the Northwestern woods became an established fact. The lumber trust came into "its own." The new social alignment was complete, with the idle, absentee landlord at one end and the migratory and possessionless lumber jack at the other. The parasites had appropriated to themselves the standing timber of the Northwest; but the brawny logger whose labor had made possible the development of the industry was given, as his share of the spoils, a crumby "bindle" and a rebellious heart. The masters had gained undisputed control of the timber of the country, three quarters of which is located in the Northwest; but the workers who felled the trees, drove the logs, dressed, finished and loaded the lumber were left in the state of helpless dependency from which they could only extricate themselves by means of organization. And it is this effort to form a union and establish union headquarters that led to the tragedy at Centralia.

The lumber barons had not only achieved a monopoly of the woods but a perfect feudal domination of the woods as well. Within their domain banks, ships, railways and mills bore their private insignia-and politicians, Employers' Associations, preachers, newspapers, fraternal orders and judges and gun-men were always at their beck and call. The power they wield is tremendous and their profits would ransom a kingdom. Naturally they did not intend to permit either power or profits to be menaced by a mass of weather-beaten slaves in stag shirts and overalls. And so the struggle waxed fiercer just as the lumberjack learned to contend successfully for living conditions and adequate remuneration. It was the old, old conflict of human rights against property rights. Let us see how they compared in strength.


The following extract from a document entitled "The Lumber Industry," by the Honorable Herbert Knox Smith and published by the U. S. Department of Commerce (Bureau of Corporations) will give some idea of the holdings and influence of the lumber trust:

"Ten monopoly groups, aggregating only one thousand, eight hundred and two holders, monopolized one thousand, two hundred and eight billion eight hundred million (1,208,800,000,000) board feet of standing timber-each a foot square and an inch thick. These figures are so stupendous that they are meaningless without a hackneyed device to bring their meaning home. These one thousand, eight hundred and two timber business monopolists held enough standing timber; an indispensable natural resource, to yield the planks necessary (over and above manufacturing wastage) to make a floating bridge more than two feet thick and more than five miles wide from New York to Liverpool. It would supply one inch planks for a roof over France, Germany and Italy. It would build a fence eleven miles high along our entire coast line. All monopolized by one thousand, eight hundred and two holders, or interests more or less interlocked. One of those interests-a grant of only three holders-monopolized at one time two hundred and thirty-seven billion, five hundred million (237,500,000,000) feet which would make a column one foot square and three million miles high. Although controlled by only three holders, that interest comprised over eight percent of all the standing timber in the United States at that time."

The above illuminating figures, quoted from The I. W. W. in the Lumber Industry, by James Rowan, will give some idea of the magnitude and power of the lumber trust.

Opposing this colossal aggregation of wealth and cussedness were the thousands of hard-driven and exploited lumberworkers in the woods and sawmills. These had neither wealth nor influence nothing but their hard, bare hands and a growing sense of solidarity. And the masters of the forests were more afraid of this solidarity than anything else in the world-and they fought it more bitterly, as events will show. Centralia is only one of the incidents of this struggle between owner and worker. But let us see what this hated and indispensable logger-the productive and human basis of the lumber industry, the man who made all these things possible, is like.

Next page: Part 3 - The Human Element "The Timber Beast"