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

By Philip S. Foner | Go to book overview
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The Southern Lumber Drive

Although the story of the I.W.W. in the lumber industry is mainly associated with the loggers and mill workers of the Pacific Northwest and California, one of its most interesting and inspiring chapters relates to the lumber industry of the South. There were important differences between the labor force in Southern and Western lumbering. One was that the former was not composed of migratory workers but rather of men who lived the year round in the area.1 Another was that the labor force in the Southern lumber industry was made up of both white and Negro workers; indeed, in 1910, over half of the labor force of 262,000 workers was composed of Negroes. In the main, the Negroes were unskilled workers in the lowest-paid jobs, and had little opportunity to rise to higher-paid jobs. They did most of the heavy manual work in the sawmills, on railroads, in the turpentine camps, at skidways, and in the swamps. In 1910, of 7,958 Negroes in the sawmills and planing mills of Texas, 7,216 were laborers; there was not a single Negro sawyer. St. Louis Lumberman justified this situation on the ground that "there is a limit to the amount of wages that can be paid with safety to colored laborers around sawmills and wood camps. Too much pay breeds discontent and idleness among them."2 To the Negro lumber worker, notes a student of the Mississippi lumber industry, "emancipation from slavery had not brought the fruits of freedom. He simply had exchanged his lot for a different system of economic bondage."3


The magnificent forests of Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, East Texas, and South Georgia were literally stolen by the lumber companies from the public domain; many of the forests were supposed to be school lands set aside for the benefit of education by the U.S. Government. Instead, they were handed over to the lumber kings for prices ranging


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