History of the Labor Movement in the United States - Vol. 4

By Philip S. Foner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9
Organizing the Lumber and Construction Workers

The impression, created by newspaper accounts, that the I.W.W. was exclusively a free-speech organization was far from the truth. While the organization was conducting a vigorous fight for free speech, filling the jails of Spokane, Fresno, San Diego and many other cities, Wobblies were active in the lumber and construction camps, organizing the workers and mobilizing them to strike against low wages, long hours, and uncivilized working conditions.


CONDITIONS IN LUMBER INDUSTRY

In dealing with the lumber industry, the I.W.W. quickly learned that there were two fairly distinct, though interrelated, groups of workers employed by the timber companies: the mill workers and the lumberjacks. The sawmill worker lived in or near towns -- Seattle, Portland, Spokane, Aberdeen, Hoquiam, Everett, Centralia, Marshfield, Eureka, and other towns and cities of the Northwest and California where major mills were located. He was usually married, with children, and lived in the town where he worked. Life for the millman was stable as long as the mill remained in operation. His work was regulated; he worked indoors, and when his day was done, he would return home. His wages were higher than the lumberjack's, but the work, though certainly not harder than in the woods, was monotonous, with speed being the principal prerequisite.

The lumberjack lived in camps, which, as timber-cutting increased, were located farther and farther from the cities and towns. The logger usually got to a city only once or twice during the year and then only for a four- or five-day spree which sent him back to the camp a poor man or forced him to travel by "side-door coach" to different areas where jobs

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