Chapter 6 - The Job Strike
For some time an idea had been gaining headway among the strikers; that it was time to make use of new tactics, that they had stayed off the job long enough, and that it was time to get back to the camps and mills, and carry the strike with them. Many had been opposed to a long drawn out strike, from the first, and grill had advocated an early return to the job, and tire use of the job strike. As the strike progressed the wisdom of these tactics became more apparent. The advocates of this idea, showed that prolonged strikes were seldom successful, that they had a tendency to exhaust and discourage the strikers, and resulted in weakening and sometimes breaking up the unions; that it was time to abandon antiquated methods of fighting the boss, and put into practice the methods and tactics long advocated by the IWW It was pointed out that to stay away from the job too long, would leave it open to the scabs, and in time the bosses would gather enough scabs to run the camps again; that the weak kneed among the strikers would go back to work when the pressure became too severe, and thus the strike would fizzle out, and the union might have a hard time in surviving.
These men advocated that the strike should be transferred to the job while the union was still intact, and the fighting spirit of the men unsubdued; or in other words, that the strikers should go back, and work no more than eight hours a day, or if at times they found it necessarily to stay on the job ten hours, they should work slow so that no more than eight hours work should be done in ten hours. They advocated poor work for poor pay, poor food and poor conditions. It was argued that the object of a strike was to cut down the profits of the boss, and this could be done just as effectively, or even more so, by using job tactics. With the job strike, instead of starving on the picket line, the strikers would be eating three meals a day, at the expense of the boss, and drawing their pay besides. This tactic eliminated the scabs, for if any were on the job when the strikers returned they would undoubtedly find it unpleasant to make a prolonged stay.
At the strikers' meetings the question was much discussed. Some thought that by staying off the job a little longer, they could force tire Lumber Trust to make a settlement. Others had been fighting fire, and had considerable money, and were in favor of staying out. Many failed to understand the difference between transferring the strike to the job and calling off the strike, and thought going back on the job was the admission of defeat.
The Seattle district put the proposition to a referendum, and voted to go back on the job. In the Spokane district a referendum was impossible, for the lines of communication had been disorganized by the jailing and persecution of the men in the picket camps. Meetings were held wherever possible, the question was thoroughly discussed, and, after a good deal of debate, it was decided to go back on the job, and there continue the strike.
About the middle of September the movement back to the job started. At that time, the strike in the Seattle district had lasted about two months, and that in the Spokane district nearly three months. The return movement was hailed by the press as a victory for the Lumber Trust. On the contrary, it was only the beginning of a new, and far more effective form of strike. Later the Lumber Trust was to grasp defeat out of the jaws of its supposed victory. The tactics employed to break the strike, instead of discouraging the strikers, had only aroused their fighting spirit. Their minds were disabused of any illusions they might have had about the "identity of interests" between labor and capital, "constitutional rights", "equality before the law", and all similar high-sounding but meaningless bunk. They were smarting under a burning sense of injustice. The mask of hypocracy had been torn off, and press, courts, legislatures, officers of the law, anti politicians were all plainly shown to be nothing but the tools of big business. They had learned from experience that a work king man had no "rights" under the present capitalist system, except such as his organized power can maintain.
When the strikers returned to the job, instead of doing a day's work as formerly, they would "Hoosier up", that is, work like green farmer boys who had never seen the woods before. Perhaps they would refuse to work more than eight hours, or perhaps stay on the job ten hours, for a few days, killing time. When they had a few days pay, they agreed among themselves to work eight hours and then quit. At four o'clock some one would blow the whistle on the donkey engine, or at some other pre-arranged signal, they would all quit work and go to camp. The usual result of this was that the whole crew would be discharged. In a few days the boss would get a new crew, and they would use the same tactics. Meantime the first crew was repeating the performance in some other camp. When a boss had a crew, he got practically no work out of them, and what little he did get, was done in a way that was the reverse of profitable. A foreman always thought he had the worst crew in the world, until he got the next. The job strikers achieved the height of inefficiency on the job, while retaining their usual efficiency in the cook house at meal times.
In most camps the job strike was varied at times by the intermittent strike, the men walking off the job without warning, and going to work in other camps. This added to the confusion of the bosses, as they never knew what to expect.
These tactics had never been used on such an extensive scale in the United States. The companies could not meet them. All over the Northwest the lumber industry was in a state of disorganization and chaos. There was no hope of breaking this kind of a strike by starvation; much against their will the companies were forced to run the commissary department of the strike.
It was no longer necessary to call on the working class to contribute their hard earned dollars to the support of the strikers. Job strikes are not financed by the workers but by the companies against whom they are directed.
With the strikers on the picket line, many schemes were devised to get into the camps, which were closely guarded by gunmen, and try to persuade the scabs to quit. Now the strikers were in the camps and the scabs were gone. The "authorities" could arrest the pickets and send them to jail on trumped up charges, with the object of intimidating the strikers from picketing. But the strikers on the job were practically safe from arrest, for it was impossible to arrest them all, and there was no way of telling which ones were the most active.
In a few cases, men who were thought to be the leading spirits, were arrested in the camps, but this only added fuel to the flames of discontent and resentment, and its effect on the production of logs was anything but encouraging to the companies.
It might be supposed that under these circumstances the companies would resort to a general lockout; but they were unable to do this, as there was an active demand for lumber at the time, and their reserve supply was practically exhausted, owing to the long strike off the job.
This state of affairs lasted all winter. If the lumber barons had any hopes that the men would tire of the job strike, they were doomed to disappointment, for a job strike can lee carried on for an indefinite lengths of time. At one time during the winter, at a meeting of the Western Pine Manufacturers Association, held in Spokane, it was decided to concede the eight-hour day, to take effect January 1st. It was later announced that this action had been rescinded. It seems there was a disagreement among the different lumber companies. Those hit hardest by the strike were in favor of granting the eight-hour day, while the opposition came from those whose holdings lay outside the strike zone, principally in Oregon. This was an encouraging sign to the strikers, for it showed lack of harmony in the camp of the enemy-lack of solidarity in the One Big Union of the bosses.
Next page: Chapter 7 - Victory, but not the Final Victory.