Part 5 - The Eight Hour Day and "Treason"
Nineteen hundred and seventeen was an eventful year. It was then the greatest strike in the history of the lumber industry occurred-the strike for the eight hour day. For years the logger and mill hand had fought against the unrestrained greed of the lumber interests. Step by step, in the face of fiercest opposition, they had fought for the right to live like men; and step by step they had been gaining. Each failure or success had shown them the weakness or the strength of their union. They had been consolidating their forces as well as learning how to use them. The lumber trust had been making huge profits the while, but the lumber workers were still working ten hours or more and the logger was still packing his dirty blankets from job to job. Dissatisfaction with conditions was wider and more prevalent then ever before. Then came the war.
As soon as this country had taken its stand with the allied imperialists the price of lumber, needed for war purposes, was boosted to sky high figures. From $16.00 to $116.00 per thousand feet is quite a jump; but recent disclosures show that the Government paid as high as $1200.00 per thousand for spruce that private concerns were purchasing for less than one tenth of that sum. Gay parties with plenty of wild women and hard drink are alleged to have been instrumental in enabling the "patriotic" lumber trust to put these little deals across. Due to the duplicity of this same bunch of predatory gentlemen the airplane and ship building program of the United States turned out to be a scandal instead of a success. Out of 21,000 feet of spruce delivered to a Massachusetts factory, inspectors could only pass 400 feet as fit for use. Keep these facts and figures in mind when you read about what happened to the "disloyal" lumber workers during the war-and afterwards.
Discontent had been smouldering in the woods for a long time. It was soon fanned to a flame by the brazen profiteering of the lumber trust. The loggers had been biding their time--rather sullenly it is true-for the day when the wrongs they had endured so patiently and so long might be rectified. Their quarrel with the lumber interests was an old one. The time was becoming propitious.
In the early summer of 1917 the strike started. Sweeping through the short log country it spread like wild-fire over nearly all the Northwestern lumber districts. The tie-up was practically complete. The industry was paralyzed. The lumber trust, its mouth drooling in anticipation of the many millions it was about to make in profits, shattered high heaven with its cries of rage. Immediately its loyal henchmen in the Wilson administration rushed to the rescue. Profiteering might be condoned, moralized over or winked at, but militant labor unionism was a menace to the government and the prosecution of the war. It must be crushed. For was it not treacherous and treasonable for loggers to strike for living conditions when Uncle Sam needed the wood and the lumber interests the money? So Woodrow Wilson and his coterie of political troglodytes from the slave-owning districts of the old South, started out to teach militant labor a lesson. Corporation lawyers were assembled. Indictments were made to order. The bloodhounds of the Department of "Justice" were unleashed. Grand Juries of "patriotic" business men were impaneled and did their expected work not wisely but too well. All the gun-men and stool-pigeons of Big Business got busy. And the opera bouffe of "saving our form of government" was staged.
INDUSTRIAL HERETICS AND THE WHITE TERROR
For a time it seemed as though the strikers would surely be defeated. The onslaught was terrific, but the loggers held out bravely. Workers were beaten and jailed by the hundreds. Men were herded like cattle in blistering "bull-pens," to be freed after months of misery, looking more like skeletons than human beings. Ellensburg and Yakima will never be forgotten in Washington. One logger was even burned to death while locked in a small iron-barred shack that had been dignified with the title of "jail." In the Northwest even the military were used and the bayonet of the soldier could be seen glistening beside the cold steel of the hired thug. Union halls were raided in all parts of the land. Thousands of workers were deported. Dozens were tarred and feathered and mobbed. Some were even taken out in the dead of night and hanged to railway bridges. Hundreds were convicted of imaginary offenses and sent to prison for terms from one to twenty years. Scores were held in filthy jails for as long as twenty-six months awaiting trial. The Espionage Law, which never convicted a spy, and the Criminal Syndicalism Laws, which never convicted a criminal, were used savagely and with full force against the workers in their struggle for better conditions. By means of newspaper-made war hysteria the profiteers of Big Business entrenched themselves in public opinion. By posing as "100% Americans" (how stale and trite the phrase has become from their long misuse of it!) these social parasites sought to convince the nation that they, and not the truly American unionists whose backs they were trying to break, were working for the best interests of the American people. Our form of government, forsooth, must be saved. Our institutions must be rescued from the clutch of the "reds." Thus was the war-frenzy of their dupes lashed to madness and the guarantees of the constitution suspended as far as the working class was concerned.
So all the good, wise and noisy men of the nation were induced by diverse means to cry out against the strikers and their union. The worst passions of the respectable people were appealed to. The hoarse blood-cry of the mob was raised. It was echoed and re-echoed from press and pulpit. The very air quivered from its reverberations. Lynching parties became "respectable." Indictments were flourished. Hand-cuffs flashed. The clinking feet of workers going to prison rivaled the sound of the soldiers marching to war. And while all this was happening, a certain paunchy little English Jew with moth-eaten hair and blotchy jowls the accredited head of a great labor union glared through his thick spectacles and nodded his perverse approval. But the lumber trust licked its fat lips and leered at its swollen dividends. All was well and the world was being made "safe for democracy!"
Next page: Part 6 - Autocracy vs. Unionism