‘The Lumberjack’ by Arthur Boose from International Socialist Review. Vol. 16 No. 7. January 1, 1916.
I HAVE been asked to contribute an article on the lumber industry and the conditions which obtain in it. I have spent a good deal of my life in that industry and take pleasure in telling about the life of the men known as lumber jacks.
I have often made the assertion that they are most submissive slaves. They put me in mind of what Joe Hill said of the Scissor Bill. They look like human beings physically, but they think like children. To prove this statement all that is necessary is to look over the conditions of the various industries of the country. We find that the conditions are worse and the wages lowest in the lumber industry. Last winter many lumber jacks got only $10 a month and $26 was top wages.
At the present writing in this city (Duluth, Minn.), while the employers are howling about the prosperity and scarcity of labor in the country, the employment sharks are hiring men for $18 to $30 a month for the lumber companies. What do you think of this kind of prosperity?
And when they are on the job, at about 4:30 in the morning the horn is blown which tells the men to get ready for flapjacks and watery coffee. Then they are turned out in the dark to work long before sunrise. They are in the woods and snow, working, shivering and waiting for daylight.
The bunk houses in which the lumber jacks sleep are enough to gag a skunk. Men lie all night piled together, like sardines in a box. Sometimes they sleep on the floor, when there are not bunks enough for all.
There are usually two tiers of bunks, one on each side of the camp. Sometimes the bunks are built of poles, with hay or balsam boughs in them for the men to sleep on. In one camp I saw men buying hay to sleep on. Otherwise they would have to do without. The lumber company sold hay to the men for beds at the rate of three cents a pound. Some of this hay was sold over and over again.
When someone quit work or got fired and left his hay in the bunk, the chore boy, better known as the Bull Cook, would gather up the hay and sell it to someone else that came along. And every time this hay was sold it weighed more, because it was filled with more vermin and dirt. Beans and sow-belly are the chief food.
To keep clean is impossible in a lumber camp. Baths and other sanitary conveniences are entirely out of the question. The only bath the lumber jacks get is when they are caught out in the rain. In most camps they get their dinners out in the woods. In cold weather the knife and fork would stick to their mouths. The food would be cold and sometimes frozen-not fit for pigs to eat. If thrown at a hog, I am firmly convinced he would grunt because it hit him. But watching some of the lumber jacks dig into that garbage, it seems they like it and thank God it isn’t worse.
In very nearly all camps they must buy their jobs or they can’t get on, because the lumber companies get their men through the employment agencies, because that is a good paying proposition for the lumber companies as well as the employment sharks. They divide this money which the men pay for jobs fifty-fifty, or, in other words, the sharks take half for hiring them and the lumber companies take the other half for firing them.
But it seems most of the lumber jacks like this system of getting a job, because they keep this up. When they get fired on the job they come right back to the city and buy another job, and can’t understand why they must produce an employment ticket or be idle.
They ought to know it is bad enough when men have to run around in a “free country,” full of prosperity, as they call it, begging for work, let alone buying a job. In many camps they must pay hospital fees, which are about a dollar a month, and ten to twenty-five cents a month to get their mail. They are often twenty to thirty miles from any town and if they need clothes or tobacco are compelled to buy it from the lumber company at exorbitant prices.
In some camps they have an extra table for the slave-drivers who boss the men. And in very nearly all camps the lumber jacks are required to count the logs they saw and skid. The object is to get them bucking one another for the most logs.
Some lumber jacks are like dogs; they like to be patted on the back by their master and they like to throw flowers at themselves, bragging of being the ·best man on the job. Evidently they can’t see that to be the best man on the job only signifies that he is the biggest mutt on the place, because he gets no more wages and does more.
I could tell you much more about the lumber jacks and their conditions, but that ought to be sufficient to convince anybody these slaves are sadly in need of information along the line of how to improve them. The only chance for the lumber jacks to ever get anything better is through organization. How they can fail to see this is a mystery. They surely must have heard of the lumber trust. That is an organization.
The bosses organized to regulate the lumber market and the wages and condition of the lumber jacks. The workers can run their legs off from camp to camp as individuals, looking for better wages or conditions, until they organize and stick together like the lumber barons.
So long as they refuse to recognize that, they can never change conditions. Or emancipate themselves. The only solution for the workers is to organize industrially, regardless of nationality, color or creed. The lumber barons don’t care what nationality or color the lumber jacks are. All they are interested in is who can make the brush fly. Those who can hustle the fastest get the job. The only labor organization that realizes this fact is the Industrial Workers of the World, the only organization that advocates international industrial unionism. That is why the employers hate the I.W.W., and the union the boss hates is the only union for the workers. For these reasons I ask you workers to join the I.W.W.
The International Socialist Review (ISR) was published monthly in Chicago from 1900 until 1918 by Charles H. Kerr and critically loyal to the Socialist Party of America. It is one of the essential publications in U.S. left history. During the editorship of A.M. Simons it was largely theoretical and moderate. In 1908, Charles H. Kerr took over as editor with strong influence from Mary E Marcy. The magazine became the foremost proponent of the SP’s left wing growing to tens of thousands of subscribers. It remained revolutionary in outlook and anti-militarist during World War One. It liberally used photographs and images, with news, theory, arts and organizing in its pages. It articles, reports and essays are an invaluable record of the U.S. class struggle and the development of Marxism in the decades before the Soviet experience. It was closed down in government repression in 1918.
PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/isr/v16n07-jan-1916-ISR-gog-Princ-ocr.pdf