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Lumber Workers - You Need Organization!

By the IWW - 1927

The conditions in the Lumber Industry have changed, in many ways, and often for the worse, since 1927. The need for organization is still the same. The machinery may be more modern, but work in the industry is still considered to be some of the most dangerous, and workers have still not yet won the six-hour day. This leaflet is typical of the agitational propaganda published by the IWW around this time.

 The human race requires food, clothing and shelter, and in order to provide shelter lumber is needed. The only ones capable of providing this very essential building material are the workers in lumber camps and sawmills. No industry could function without lumber. Therefore many industries, such as railroads, paper, automobile, and farm implement and many others have gone out and acquired great holdings of timber land. They have acquired them by any means at their command and many of those means are questionable.

The old haphazard method of logging is fast disappearing and machinery is continually being introduced and improved. The most essential part of the logging machinery, however, has been neglected by the masters. In fact in many cases it has been very much abused. This is the worker, without whom the most up-to-date piece of machinery is merely so much junk. A saw may be made of the best steel obtainable but it requires sawyers to make it do its work. No matter how up-to-date a loading machine is installed, it needs human hands to make it perform its duties. This is true of all machinery and tools.

What, however, is the reason that the master class should neglect the worker and take so much pains for all other machinery?

Machinery and tools cost money to buy and money to be installed or transported. This, however, is not the case with the workers. They go to the employment shark and pay him for the privilege to work and then pay their transportation out to the woods or mill without any worry or cost to the master. Furthermore, if a saw breaks or a piece of machinery goes out of order the master will have to replace it or repair it which costs money and eats up his profits. Not so, however, with the worker. If he should fall sick or have an accident and break a limb all the master has to do is get him out of his camp and send to the employment shark for another worker to fill the place of the one disabled.

This was not always the case in the long log district along the Pacific Coast. There, conditions prior to 1917 were bad. In fact in many cases they were absolutely rotten. Camps were vile, bunkhouses unspeakably filthy and food rotten. The workers had to pack their own blankets from job to job and many other conditions cried for improvement. Many small and ineffectual strikes were fought without much success, for the bosses always had the workers at a disadvantage on account of their not being organized. But many of the workers in the woods and sawmills, making their objective THE EIGHT-HOUR DAY and the ABOLITION OF CARRYING BLANKETS. Those were the demands that were forever placed before the workers and when the lumber workers found the time ripe for a strike they struck and struck like men, union men. This battle between the lumber workers and the lumber barons in the Northwest will live in the history of labor as one of the greatest battles ever fought between labor and capital. This strike was won and it was won through the solidarity of labor. Many different tactics were used. The masters granted the eight-hour day because the lumber workers refused to work more than eight hours and the masters furnished good clean bedding because the lumber workers refused to furnish their own beds any longer. The master class rebuilt the camps in accordance with the demands of the lumber workers because they, the lumber workers, refused to work in camps that were not built according to their demands. The food was improved and strangest of all, the wages were increased. This is a fact which should make the unorganized think, cut down the hours and automatically the wages come up. This is an economic fact.

Ten years have gone by since this battle was fought and in the meantime the master class has not remained idle. They have taken a lesson from the lumber workers and their organization, so they have organized in the One Big Union of lumbermen more commonly known as the Lumbermens Association and they believe that an injury to one is an injury to all.

By the introduction of more up-to-date machinery and the changing from day work to piece work wherever possible we now find that in 1927one man does more work per day in eight hours than they did before 1917 in ten hours. The consequence of the speedup system is that a great number of lumber workers are thrown into the army of unemployed and it has given the master class the opportunity to install his clearing house and blacklist system.

The clearing house is a polite name for a stoolpigeon association and it operates as follows: In order for a lumber worker to get a job in the logging camp or sawmill he has to go to an employment shark and if he has enough money to satisfy this parasite he is given an employment ticket and told to report to the clearing house. The employment fee is all they way up from $1.00 up to as much as the logger will fork over and $20.00 is often paid for the privilege of working. In the clearing house the worker is interviewed by a clerk and must answer the most insulting questions and if for reasons of self respect he refuses to do so he can go back to the shark and get his fee back. But if the applicant is willing to forget his manhood and swallow his pride, he is then told he can proceed to the camp, if he has enough money to pay his fare out. Such is the clearing house and by its means many workers who have spent many years of their lives working in the woods and have striven to improve the conditions in the same are now barred from earning their living. In the meantime conditions have grown worse and at present the eight-hour day is almost unknown in the logging camps in the Northwest. Wages have decreased and conditions are steadily growing worse.

By organization good conditions were gotten, but these conditions can only be maintained as long as the workers stay organized and improve their organization for the every day demands.

United we stand but divided we fall is a saying which contains a very great truth, as the lumber workers in the long log camps must realize.

In the short log camps of the Rocky Mountain District, compromising Eastern Washington, Idaho, Montana and British Columbia, camp conditions are ore primitive and the old style of double deck bunks and old log bunkhouses still prevails and the furnishing of clean bed linen is an unknown luxury. The clearing house here has yet to be installed, but many of the camps have a private blacklist and many of the workers, after hiking many miles to camp are told to get out and are not even allowed to stay over night or get a meal. In this district the contract work is also being more and more introduced and it is well at this time to devote a few lines to this system.

Wages are paid in money because it would be too costly for the master to give the worker its equivalent in clothing, board, amusement, doctors care and the thousand and one other things that the worker needs to keep himself physically fit. By paying the worker a set wage the boss can at any time discharge him and the worker will have to shift for himself until he is able to find another master. However, when the master hires a worker to work for him in the woods he wants to get as much work out of him as possible and in order to do this bosses and straw bosses are needed to drive the workers on to more and more speed. These slave drivers do not produce any logs but still they must be paid and fed and this eats into the masters profits. In order to do without these slave drivers and keep the wages they have to pay them for themselves, the scheming masters have resorted to the contract system, also known as the bushel system, piece work and bonus work. It works very simply. The master bets the worker that he can not make a living producing logs at a given price and the worker working at his top speed may succeed to beat the boss but not for very long. If he should be able to do so the very simple way is used by cheating the worker in the scale of the logs or charging him high prices for all the things he needs, and if this will not solve the problem for the master he discharges the contract worker and gives the contract to another worker at a lower rate. In this manner the master gets logs produced for him at the very lowest rate without having to pay any straw bosses or other slave drivers as the need for money drives the workers on to more and more speed until all thoughts of safety or health are forgotten.

In the lumber regions around the Great Lakes, which take in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ontario, conditions are in many cases beyond description. The reason for this to a great extent is that the lumber workers in this district never were organized quite as strongly as they were in the Northwest and therefore were never able to put up the well organized better conditions for the workers. In the fall of 1926 the lumber workers around Port Arthur, Ontario, Canada put up a very splendid battle but the fact that a dual organization was taking part in the strike and politicians were allowed to be members of this dual organization has a great deal to with the outcome which did not give the workers all the demands they were striking for. The unorganized workers in this district have seen the possibilities of organized industrial action and are now joining the IWW in very satisfactory numbers.

This is a short review of the labor conditions as they now are existing in the big timber regions of the USA and Canada. A considerable amount of logging is also done in the New England States and Quebec which forms the fourth district. The fifth is known as the Southern Lumber Belt and comprises Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. Conditions there are as bad as in the Great Lakes District and in many instances in the South prisoners are contracted from the state to compete in the labor market, thereby tending still more to drive down the standard of living.

No matter where the lumber worker goes he is being subjected to bad conditions and exploitation against which he single handed is powerless. He must submit to all the degradations of the clearing house, stand humbly for being fleeced by employment sharks, live and work under conditions in many instances revolting to human decency, or else wander, through this. Take stock of yourselves. What is your future going to be? Alone you are powerless.

Organization in the past has been instrumental to improve greatly the conditions of the lumber workers and organization will do so again.

 The Lumber Workers Industrial Union 120 of the IWW was formed for the lumber workers by the lumber workers. It has been in many battles with the master class and wherever it has functioned conditions were improved.

The slogan of the LWIU 120, An Injury to One is an Injury to All, is the slogan of the IWW of which the LWIU 120 is an integral part. The aim of IU 120 is through organization to gain strength and use this organized strength to demand and take better conditions. The next objective of IU 120 is to organize all the workers in the lumber camps and sawmills and to take the six-hour day, and by so doing abolish unemployment in the lumber industry, thereby making it impossible for the master class to discriminate by its blacklist and clearing house against the active workers and to protect each workers and to protect each worker on his job.

Men of the woods and sawmills, it is time for you to wake up and take an account of yourself and those depending upon you. Your work is classified as one of the most hazardous occupations. It is hard and your life is devoid of all pleasures. You are denied all rights and must relinquish all claims to self respect.

How long will your manhood remain dormant?

The lumber barons are making millions out of your labor.

What do you get in return?

Lumber workers unite! The time is here!

You provide shelter for the human race and are forced to live in shacks.

By your labor mansions are built while you must freeze and starve.

Politicians have fooled you for ages with great promises and still you are outcasts.

Your future lies in your own hands. No one can fight your battles for you, you must fight them yourself. But in order to fight them with any hope of success you must fight organized.

The Lumber Workers Industrial Union #120 is here. It is your union, the machine built by lumber workers for the lumber workers. It is up to you to man the machine and use it for your benefit and the benefit of your class, the working class.

You have noting in common with the master class. Therefore, unite with your fellow workers against the master class.

Remember, United we Stand; Divided we Fall.

Onward for the SIX-HOUR DAY.