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Part 4 - Why the Loggers Organized

The condition of the logger previous to the period of organization beggars description. Modern industrial autocracy seemed with him to develop its most inhuman characteristics. The evil plant of wage slavery appeared to bear its most noxious blossoms in the woods.

The hours of labor were unendurably long, ten hours being the general rule-with the exception of the Grays Harbor district, where the eleven or even twelve hour day prevailed. In addition to this men were compelled to walk considerable distances to and from their work and meals through the wet brush.

Not infrequently the noon lunch was made almost impossible because of the order to be back on the job when work commenced. A ten hour stretch of arduous labor, in a climate where incessant rain is the rule for at least six months of the year, was enough to try the strength and patience of even the strongest. The wages too were pitiably inadequate.

The camps themselves, always more or less temporary affairs, were inferior to the cow-shed accommodations of a cattle ranch. The bunk house were over-crowded, ill-smelling and unsanitary. In these ramshackle affairs the loggers were packed like sardines. The bunks were arranged tier over tier and nearly always without mattresses. They were uniformly vermin-infested and sometimes of the "muzzle-loading" variety. No blankets were furnished, each logger being compelled to supply his own. There were no facilities for bathing or the washing and drying of sweaty clothing. Lighting and ventilation were of course, always poor.

In addition to these discomforts the unorganized logger was charged a monthly hospital fee for imaginary medical service. Also it was nearly always necessary to pay for the opportunity of enjoying these privileges by purchasing employment from a "job shark" or securing the good graces of a "man catcher." The former often had "business agreements" with the camp foreman and, in many cases, a man could not get a job unless he had a ticket from a labor agent in some shipping point.

It may be said that the conditions just described were more prevalent in some parts of the lumber country than in others. Nevertheless, these prevailed pretty generally in all sections of the industry before the workers attempted to better them by organizing. At all events such were the conditions the lumber barons sought with all their power to preserve and the loggers to change.

ORGANIZATION AND THE OPENING STRUGGLE

A few years before the birth of the Industrial workers of the World the lumber workers had started to organize. By 1905, when the above mentioned union was launched, lumber-workers were already united in considerable numbers in the old Western afterwards the American Labor Union. This organization took steps to affiliate with the Industrial Workers of the World and was thus among the very first to seek a larger share of life in the ranks of that militant and maligned organization. Strike followed strike with varying success and the conditions of the loggers began perceptibly to improve.

Scattered here and there in the cities of the Northwest were many locals of the Industrial Workers of the World. Not until 1912, however, were these consolidated into a real industrial unit. For the first time a sufficient number of loggers and saw mill men were organized to be grouped into an integral part of the One Big Union. This was done with reasonable success. In the following year the American Federation of Labor attempted a similar task but without lasting results, the loggers preferring the industrial to the craft form of organization. Besides this, they were predisposed to sympathize with the ideal of solidarity and Industrial Democracy for which their own union had stood from the beginning.

The "timber beast" was starting to reap the benefits of his organized power. Also he was about to feel the force and hatred of the "interests" arrayed against him. He was soon to learn that the path of labor unionism is strewn with more rocks than roses. He was making an earnest effort to emerge from the squalor and misery of peonage and was soon to see that his overlords were satisfied to keep him right where he had always been.

Strange to say, almost the first really important clash occurred in the very heart of the lumber trust's domain, in the little city of Aberdeen, Grays Harbor County-only a short distance from Centralia, of mob fame!

This was in 1912. A strike had started in the saw mills over demands of a $2.50 daily wage. Some of the saw mill workers were members of the Industrial Workers of the World. They were supported by the union loggers of Western Washington. The struggle was bitterly contested and lasted for several weeks. The lumber trust bared its fangs and struck viciously at the workers in a manner that has since characterized its tactics in all labor disputes.

The jails of Aberdeen and adjoining towns were filled with strikers. Picket lines were broken up and the pickets arrested. When the wives of the strikers with babies in their arms, took the places of their imprisoned husbands, the fire hose was turned on them with great force, in many instances knocking them to the ground. Loggers and sawmill men alike were unmercifully beaten. Many were slugged by mobs with pick handles, taken to the outskirts of the city and told that their return would be the occasion of a lynching. At one time an armed mob of business men dragged nearly four hundred strikers from their homes or boarding houses, herded them into waiting boxcars, sealed up the doors and were about to deport them en masse. The sheriff, getting wind of this unheard-of proceeding, stopped it at the last moment. Many men were badly scarred by beatings they received. One logger was crippled for life by the brutal treatment accorded him.

But the strikers won their demands and conditions were materially improved. The Industrial Workers of the World continued to grow in numbers and prestige. This event may be considered the beginning of the labor movement on Grays Harbor that the lumber trust sought finally to crush with mob violence on a certain memorable day in Centralia seven years later.

Following the Aberdeen strike one or two minor clashes occurred. The lumber workers were usually successful. During this period they were quietly but effectually spreading One Big Union propaganda throughout the camps and mills in the district. Also they were organizing their fellow workers in increasing numbers into their union. The lumber trust, smarting under its last defeat, was alarmed and alert.

A MASSACRE AND A NEW LAW

But no really important event occurred until 1916. At this time the union loggers, organized in the Industrial Workers of the World, had started a drive for membership around Puget Sound. Loggers and mill hands were eager for the message of Industrial Unionism. Meetings were well attended and the sentiment in favor of the organization was steadily growing. The A.F. of L. shingle weavers and longshoremen were on strike and had asked the I.W.W. to help them secure free speech in Everett. The ever-watchful lumber interests decided the time to strike had again arrived. The events of "Bloody Sunday" are too well known to need repeating here. Suffice to say that after a summer replete with illegal beatings and jailings five men were killed in cold blood and forty wounded in a final desperate effort to drive the union out of the city of Everett, Washington. These unarmed loggers were slaughtered and wounded by the gunfire of a gang of business men and plug-uglies of the lumber interests. True to form, the lumber trust had every union man in sight arrested and seventy-four charged with the murder of a gunman who had been killed by the cross-fire of his own comrades. None of the desperadoes who had done the actual murdering was ever prosecuted or even reprimanded. The charge against the members of the Industrial Workers of the World was pressed. The case was tried in court and the Industrialists declared "not guilty." George Vanderveer was attorney for the defense.

The lumber interests were infuriated at their defeat, and from this time on the struggle raged in deadly earnest. Almost everything from mob law to open assassination had been tried without avail. The execrated One Big Union idea was gaining members and power every day. The situation was truly alarming. Their heretofore trustworthy "wage plugs" were showing unmistakable symptoms of intelligence. Workingmen were waking up. They were, in appalling numbers, demanding the right to live like men. Something must be done something new and drastic to split asunder this on-coming phalanx of industrial power.

But the gun-man-and-mob method was discarded, temporarily at least, in favor of the machinations of lumber trust tools in the law making bodies. Big Business can make laws as easily as it can break them-and with as little impunity. So the notorious Washington "Criminal Syndicalism" law was devised. This law, however, struck a snag. The honest-minded governor of the state, recognizing its transparent character and far-reaching effects, promptly vetoed the measure. After the death of Governor Lister the criminal syndicalism law was passed, however, by the next State Legislature. Since that time it has been used against the American Federation of Labor, the Industrial Workers of the World, the Socialist Party and even common citizens not affiliated with any of these organizations. The criminal syndicalism law registers the high water mark of reaction. It infringes more on the liberties of the people than any of the labor-crushing laws that blackened Russia during the dynasty of the Romanoffs. It would disgrace the anti-Celestial legislation of Hell.

Next page: Part 5 - The Eight Hour Day and "Treason"