Document 28: The I.W.W. Explains Its Goals, 1920
James Rowan, The I.W.W. in the Lumber Industry, pamphlet no. 500 (Seattle: Lumber Workers Industrial Union, no date [circa 1920]),
p. 3, 5-9, 14-20, 26, 39-40, 54-59.
The Lumber Industry of the United States presents a good example of trustification. [Trust was a slang word for monopoly used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.] Practically all the timberlands are owned or controlled by that great Rockefeller-Weyerhaeuser combination of capital known as the Lumber Trust. Wherever we find timberlands, there we find the Lumber Trust the ruling power, controlling not only the lumber industry, but also the local, and sometimes the State machinery of government, while it's [its] powerful and corrupt influences at the National Capital is well known. . . .
Just how the lumber barons obtained possession of this great natural resource is a story which would make interesting reading, but would take too much space in a pamphlet of this nature. It is sufficient to say that in its outstanding features the history of the Lumber Trust is no different from that of all other great combinations of wealth. Intrigue, fraud, bribery, corruption, legal chicanery, violence and murder were freely used by these "respectable" and "patriotic" gentlemen, to accomplish the purpose of stealing the natural resources of the country; while the editorial prostitutes of the kept press held them up to the toiling multitude as brilliant examples of what can be accomplished by honesty, industry, and conscientious attention to business. . . .
The Lumber Trust we may consider as One Big Union of the bosses in the lumber industry. We find the lumber companies closely and efficiently organized, with tremendous power and fabulous wealth; while among the workers in the lumber industry there was until lately an almost complete lack of organization. As a class they were lacking in power and reduced to a state of economic dependence and servitude.
In a typical saw mill town, industrial fuedalism exists in it's [its] worst form. The lumber company by reason of it's [its] economic control, is the one supreme power. Usually the local political office holders are either employes [employees] of the company, or are economically dependent on it in some way, and thus completely under it's [its] control. The entire life of the community revolves around the saw mill. The workers in the saw mill live in company owned houses, or board at the company boarding house. They trade at the company store; their children go to a company controlled school; when they are sick they go to the company hospital, or are treated by the company doctor. When they are dead they are buried in the company cemetery, and their souls are saved by a company preacher. . . .
The lumber companies have always bitterly opposed organization among their employes [employees]. In the lumber towns the company spotters, the stoolpigeon, and the spy are always in evidence, and on the alert to win the favor of the company officials by reporting any union activity. If an employee of a lumber company is suspected of being an agitator, or of belonging to a Union, he at once becomes a marked man, and soon finds himself out of a job and blacklisted. . . .
If a saw mill worker is submissive, and subordinates his manhood and sacrifices his independence to the will of the company, he is rewarded by a life of grinding poverty, hopeless drudgery, and a condition of economic dependence and insecurity. If he asserts his manhood, he faces discharge and the blacklist, which, if he is a married man, means the breaking up of his home, and separation from wife and children.
. . .
Let us investigate the causes of the miserable condition of the lumber workers. We find that the lumber companies are in business for one purpose—to make profits. They care nothing about the welfare of the workers; that is none of their business. They do not care how rotten conditions are in the camps as long as the men are able to do their work. To them it is immaterial how many men die from disease or accident, so long as they are able to get others to take their places. The longer the hours, the lower the wages, the harder the work and the more inhuman the conditions, the bigger the profits of the companies.
On the other hand, the object of the workers is to make a living. They care nothing about the profits of the employers. They want to make as good a living as possible, and to make it as easily as possible. High wages, short hours, easy work, and good conditions are beneficial to the workers. In this difference of interests and aim, is the very essence of the natural conflict between the Lumber Trust and the lumber workers. In this, as in all conflicts, the side with the most power will win. The secret of power is Organization. The lumber companies are organized into a powerful trust, and so long as the men remain unorganized, they were at the mercy of the Trust. Who then is to blame for the wretched condition of the lumber workers? No one but the lumber workers themselves; for owing to their unorganized state, they added to the power of the lumber trust and made possible the oppression from which they suffered.
To the lumber workers, the miseries of their lives, their toil, hardships and abuses emphasized their need of organization. . . .
The I.W.W. is not only industrial in form, but is revolutionary in character. It is based on the principle that "the working class and the employing class have nothing in common" and "Labor is entitled to all it produces." It is a strictly working class organization, and takes in none but actual wage workers. Its aims are three-fold:
To organize the workers in such a way that they can successfully fight their battles, and advance their interests, in their every day struggle with capitalists.
To overthrow capitalism, and to establish in its place a system of Industrial Democracy.
To carry on production after capitalism shall have been overthrown. . . .
It is against the principles of the I.W.W. to sign contracts with employers. When workers sign an agreement not to strike, they sign away the only weapon they possess. Past experience has shown that employers only respect contracts so long as the workers have power to enforce them. When the workers have such power, contracts are unnecessary. When they lack power, contracts are useless, for the employers break them whenever it suits their purpose. . . .
The I.W.W. is non-political, for it recognizes that the power of the workers is not on the political, but on the industrial field; and that economic power precedes and determines political power. . . .
[The I.W.W.] encountered much opposition . . . from the lumber barons and their tools. In Everett, the Commercial Club, terrified at the prospect of the I.W.W. gaining a foothold in the sawmills and camps, abandoned all pretense of law and order. With the help of a servile and cowardly mayor and sheriff, it organized a band of vigilantes consisting of business men, scabs, pimps, and other degenerates, for the purpose of driving the I.W.W. out of town. During the summer and fall of 1916, many men were forcibly and illegally deported, beaten, jailed, and subjected to the vilest and most barbarous kind of abuse by this collection of thugs in a mad campaign of violence and lawlessness which culminated Nov. 5th in the infamous Everett massacre in which five members of the I.W.W. were murdered, and many others wounded.
. . .
In [other parts of] Washington the state of affairs was as bad. . . . Troops were brought into the Yakima Valley, and a systematic attempt was made to drive all members of the I.W.W. out of that part of the country. At North Yakima, Wenatchee, Pasco, Leavenworth, Cle Elum, and Ellensburg, hundreds of men were arrested and held in jails and "bull pens" [makeshift jails] for being members or suspected of membership in the I.W.W. No one who looked like a working man was safe from arrest. . . .
Attempts were made to have these men released by habeas corpus proceedings, but without success. At Pasco the judge turned down the writ on the grounds that the state of Washington was in a "state of insurrection." At North Yakima the two men named in the writ were turned loose just before the case was to come into court, thus preventing the making of a test case.
There is reason to believe that this reign of terror in the Yakima Valley was caused partly with the object of preventing any of the striking lumberjacks from obtaining work harvesting in that part of the country.
. . .
[During the First World War,] Colonel Disque [Brice P. Disque was head of the Spruce Production Division, an army unit created to accelerate the harvesting of spruce needed for military aircraft.] put soldiers to work in the camps, ostensibly to aid in spruce production; but as soldiers were placed in many camps where not a stick of spruce was produced, it is evident that the real object was to break the strike [that the I.W.W. had started a few months earlier]. The companies took advantage of the position of these soldiers to exploit them to the limit, paying them practically no wages, and keeping them in a state of chronic starvation, the food being unfit to eat. If they rebelled it was mutiny. Naturally they used the only available weapon—the slow down system.
Colonel Disque and the lumber barons finally began to realize that they were up against a method of fighting in which they were hopelessly outclassed. Every method before successful in breaking strikes had been tried and failed. There remained only one thing to do—to concede the eight-hour day. March the first, 1918, after official announcement on behalf of the lumber barons, the eight-hour day was recognized in the lumber industry of the Northwest.
The strike was over. The organized power of the lumber workers had won against one of the most powerful combinations of capital in the world. Two hours had been cut from the work day, wages had been raised, and conditions in the camps improved one hundred per cent. The lumber barons claimed they had granted the eight-hour day "voluntarily—for patriotic reasons." In reality they had granted nothing. All they had done was to give the eight-hour day their official recognition, after it had been taken by the direct action of the lumber workers themselves. . . . It is well know [known] that the L.L.L.L. [the Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen, a group of timber industry officials created by the U.S. Army's Spruce Production Division] was formed not to win, but to break, strikes, and to displace a genuine organization in the lumber industry. It has failed to accomplish either of these two purposes. [For more information about the Spruce Production Division and the Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen, see document 29.]
The organized lumber workers of the Northwest are fighting the common enemy. All lumber workers, both organized and unorganized, are benefited by their struggle. No man worthy of the name wants to enjoy the benefits secured by organization without doing his share of the fighting. As long as the unorganized lumber workers remain in their present state, they are not only failing in their duty to fight against the tyranny of the Lumber Trust, but are allowing themselves to be used against their organized fellow workers. There is no neutral ground. The supine inertia of the unorganized gives the Lumber Trust it's [its] power, and enables it to resist the efforts of the organized minority. When the organized workers go on strike, the orders are transferred to a locality where the workers are not organized. In this way the unorganized, perhaps unconsciously, play the part of strike breakers. Even when there is no strike, the tendency is for the Lumber Trust to curtail production as much as possible where the union is strong, and speed up where it is weak or non-existent, thus transferring the work from the higher paid to the lower paid men. . . .
There can be no peace as long as the Lumber Trust remains in control of the industry. United action by the lumber workers alone can break the hold of these usurpers. It is up to every man to do his part. The time has come for the lumber workers in all parts of the continent, governing their actions by common sense and intelligent self-interest, to unite together in one great industrial union for immediate improvement in hours, wages and conditions, always keeping in view, and striving towards, the final goal—control of the lumber industry.