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Chapter 2 - Era of the IWW (Wobblies)

The Working Class and the Employing Class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among the millions of working people, and the few, who make up the Employing Class, have all the good things of life.

Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the earth and the machinery of production, and abolish the wage system. . . .It is the historic mission of the working class to do away with capitalism.

So states, in part, the Preamble to the Constitution of the IWW. Right now it must be stated that this organization made more gains for lumber workers than any other organization ever did to date.

Among these gains: Wages, hours, and working conditions. The most outstanding were: Clean bunk houses., shower baths, company furnished bedding, elimination of the old "muzzle loading" double decked bunks, later on the limitation of 8 men to a bunk house. In the winter of 1914-15 I saw some 150 men living in one bunk house in Northern Minnesota. Shower baths were unheard of. Can you imagine the stench of 150 pair of socks hung up to dry around the bunk house stove! Those bunk houses were vermin infested and the 'Jacks would boil up their clothes on Sunday, and if the weather was fit, would burn sulphur in the bunk house to kill the vermin. When your clothes were dry you would "read" your shirt to get rid of the vermin. By Monday night the knits would hatch, and you were jut as lousy as ever!

The wages for swampers was some twenty six buck per month for a sixty hour week. These were the kind f conditions that brought on the big strike of the IWW in the Lake States timber region in 1914-15. The strike was defeated mainly because the 'jacks were leaving the Lake states for the newer timber regions of the Pacific Northwest. (Ye author joined the trek in 1916). I had just come in with the spring log drive on the Big Fork River, and bought a ticket on passenger train for Everett, Washington. Was arrested at the depot in Everett, thrown in the bucket, and when they saw my Wobbly card I was beaten up, and next morning ran out of town. This was because of the Verona affair, the famous "Everett Massacre."

The Shingle Weavers, and the IWW were on strike and Martial law had been proclaimed in Everett. Speaking on the street was banned. Wobblies were arrested for trying to speak, so footloose wobblies came from near and far to speak on the streetand were promptly arrested. Soon the jails were full and as every wobbly demanded a jury trial, the authorities were plenty worried. Then the "Wobs" chartered a tug boat in Seattle and 300 of them came to Everett on the boat just to speak on the street. They were met by machine gun fire from some trigger happy guardsman, and four were killed outright, and scored wounded. The wobs were unarmed. Public opinion, plus continued wobbly efforts finally won the free speech fight, as well as the strike. These events gave a tremendous boost to the IWW and they grew, and thrived. By 1917 the Pacific coast logger was the best paid, best fed, and best housed worker in the United States.

The IWW was a tough, militant labor organization that believed in only job action. Their tactics got results, not only in lumber but in all other industries. The best tactic, I believe, was the "strike on the job" caper. When an open strike was defeated by the employer, we "struck on the job" by slowing down production until the employer finally gave in. If the employer would get disgusted enough to can the whole crew, the new crew would continue the strike. Word was passed in the employment offices in town that the strike was on. A good many strikes were won in this way.

When we launched a campaign to make the employers furnish bedding in the camps we had another tactic that worked, rough as it was. We had five man committees to meet the trains, boats, and busses. The five man committees would ask the workers to give up their blankets and they would explain why. Most of the members would gladly comply, but "Mr. William Shears" (Scissor Bill) would object. The committee would collect his blankets regardless. The blankets would be heaped up in large piles and burned on the streets. It wasnt very long until the signs at the employment offices asking for "One choker setter, one bucker, must have blankets" completely disappeared simply because there were no more men with their own blankets.

We also had one hell of a time getting the employers to furnish clean sheets, and shower baths, as well as decent food. Moral persuasion never got us a damned thing! I well remember one boss logger hollering at the committee, "who ever heard of a logger wanting a shower bath?" Well he heard of THAT crew wanting oneand we got it too! Meantime the "fever" was spreading.

Getting the 8 hour day was another tough one, but we finally did that too, in the camps, that is. Most of the mills had crews of stump ranchers, Scissor Bills, and "Big Hoosiers" so the 10 hour day remained for some time. There were many "quicky" or sporadic strikes for the 8 hour day, and finally a general strike in 1917, In one of the isolated quicky strikes in a Columbia River logging camp I became a spokesman in a sort of odd way. I was a "whistle punk" in this camp and the rigger crew put me up to blowing the quit whistle at 4 PM in case the engineer didn't. Well, he didn't, so I did and the whole crew, sniper, rigging men, chasers, loaders, and buckers and fallers assembled at the spar tree to go in on the crummy.

The hook tender asked me why I blew the whistle so I told him 8 hours was enough. He canned me right there, so most of the crew told him, all right Jack, you can get a whole new crew then if you can that Goddam kid! Well, the hooker called headquarters for instructions, we are all reinstated, and we have the 8 hour day. It wasnt always that easy though.

There was another bitter struggle getting rid of the upper bunks in the bunk houses. The bosses figured that 8 men in a bunk house was OK but we wanted four men bunk houses. When other methods failed we brought in hack saws sawed off the top bunks and put them outside. Soon it became customary to have single bunks. These were all big victories that were won by the once great IWW. The Industrial Workers of the World. What is left of that once great organization has now degenerated into just another anti-Communist group and has very few active members who have more or less forgotten the great day of Big Bill Haywood, and Joe Hill.[1]

The IWW and the left wing Socialists were very much opposed to American entry into World War One. As a result, hundreds of IWW and Socialists were jailed. For the IWW the charge was criminal syndicalism.

The IWW was very active in the lumber industry in 1917 and we were making gains in wages, hours, and working conditions. As deplorable as wages and conditions were, there was much room for improvement. Then the employers, and their Government hatched up a scheme to beat the IWW. They set up a new "Patriotic Union" called the 4-L (Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen). This was a pure and simple Company Union and in most locals, the Superintendent of the mill would be "President" of the Local. The company would furnish beer and other refreshments at the meetings. Many times the boys would vote to cut their own wagesat a time when lumber sold for a fantastic price. Naturally, there were no "dues" in this phony union.

During this period the Spruce Division was formed in order to get out spruce for airplanes. In some cases the "Spruce" that turned out to be hemlock, a heavy wood of weak tensile strength certainly not suitable for planes. Then too, lumberjacks were drafted into the Spruce Divisionat army paywhile the employers made a killing from this slave labor, and fat Government contracts. To the undying glory of the IWW, they fought this unholy conspiracy tooth and nail, and many of them went to jail.

  • While in the Cook County Jail, (Chicago) Ralph Chaplin wrote The Red Feast.
  • The perception of Joe Hill, the IWW songbird is shown by the following song, written by him before 1915 The Commonwealth of Toil.
  • Along in 1916-17 the IWW had a song going the rounds about the practice of carrying ones own blankets - 50,000 Lumberjacks.
  • One verse of "The Portland Revolution" by Dublin Dan:
  • The Revolution started, so the judge informed the Mayor
    Now Baker paces back and forth, and raves and pulls his hair
    The waterfront is tied up tight, the Portland newsboy howls
    And not a thing is moving, only Mayor Bakers bowels.

  • Attesting to the "popularity" of the "Wobblies" we reprint the following song by T-Bone Slim - The Popular Wobbly.

These were only a few of the songs of the "Wobblies" and we may run a few more in order to show the stand of the Wobblies towards organized religion. In the early days that is, in my time in the organization, 1914-23 we often stated our non-political stand and yetwe used political action many times. Once, for instance, when some five thousand members of the IWW stood shoulder to shoulder in Seattle Washington and lined up on both sides of a street wearing huge buttons on which was inscribed "Free Tom Mooney". This was on the occasion of a visit of President Woodrow Wilson in 1919 to Seattle when he was on a Nationwide tour to drum up support for the League of Nations. Judging from the look on his face when he saw the big line-up of working men with those buttons I would say that he got the message.

Along with thousands of other members, I was confused by the big event of the October Revolution in Russia. When the organization split in the early twenties our membership started a rapid decline.

Whatever else may be said of the Wobblies, it must be admitted that they blazed the trail for the big industrial unions that were to follow, such as the CIO unions.

The world was young, theory of Communism was almost unknown when the Wobblies "walked the woods with seven league boots". Our enemies called us "Pro-German" because Karl Marx was German. Then came the Russian Revolution with a new birth of revolutionary theory, Many Wobblies said, "Hell, these Russkies DID it, and beat us to it". Even at this late date (1966) wealthy retired lumbermen (Boss Loggers) still get the jitters at the mere mention of the Wobblies!

Space limitations force me to leave the "Wobbly Era" and proceed with the rest of this book, but to sum up: The IWW made more concrete gains for lumberjacks than any other union ever did. We were short on theory, true enough, and we died as an organization as a result, but let no man say that we didnt make great and lasting gains for labor. Briefly they were: the 8 hour day; clean camps; eliminated the practice of carrying one's own bedding; obtained shower baths in camps; Gave the loggers the highest pay in the US than any other industrial workers.

It took an awful lot of struggle to do these things and many a Wobbly paid with his life. Lots of us were blacklisted, jailed, ran out of towns, and otherwise persecuted.

There are still some members left of the once gallant IWW but they are a shadow of their former self. Most of us of the Big Bill Haywood, Joe Hill era are dead and gone, or have defected to the Communist camp. Such is the order of the day. With this thought I leave the "Fellow Workers" of the IWW and proceed with the rest of the book.

Footnote

[1] This is not true. In the early 1920s, the General Executive Board of the IWW voted against aligning the IWW with the Red Trade Union International in Moscow, which is exactly what is mandated by the IWW Constitution. Tom Scribner (and many others) supported an alliance with the Red Trade Union International since the Russian Revolution and the Bolshevism were (erroneously, as it now turns out) considered by many to represent the natural evolution of Industrial Unionism.