IWW history from an odd source

58 posts / 0 new
Last post
David in Atlanta
Offline
Joined: 21-04-06
Feb 23 2007 02:35
IWW history from an odd source

I was on antique firearms sites and ran into this on a Winchester collectors page. It was actually the first i'd heard of Col. Disque. :

Quote:
n early October of 1917, U.S Army Lt. Colonel Brice P. Disque, was dispatched to Portland, Oregon, to attend a conference of leading loggers and lumber mill operators and assess the feasibility of greatly increasing the production of quality kiln-dried Sitka Spruce. Disque learned that the entire lumber industry in the Pacific Northwest was in a chaotic condition beset with labor problems. The International Workers of the World (I.W.W.) or “Wobblies” had for six months been involved in an organizing effort to establish the 8 hour work day in the mills at $3.00 per day minimum wage and a 9 hour work day in the lumber camps with a $3.50 daily minimum wage. At that time, the going daily rate was $2.50 for a work day that often lasted twelve to fourteen hours.(4) In the spring of 1917, workers throughout the lumber industry threatened to walk-off their jobs if there demands were not met.(5) Loggers and mill operators who defied the union frequently found trees spiked with large nails and chunks of iron which tore up equipment and often injured workers. After his return to Washington and upon presentation of his report, Disque was promoted to Colonel and given command of the Spruce Production Division of the U.S. Signal Corps headquartered at Vancouver Barracks, Washington. He was instructed “…..you’re going to see that the aircraft factories are supplied with spruce to manufacture the planes we need to fight this war. You’re to do anything you have to.” Reminiscent of Caesar, who was credited with the famed statement “I came, I saw, I conquered” it is said of Disque’s experience in the Pacific Northwest that “He came to see and stayed to saw!”

http://www.winchestercollector.org/guns/w-mil.shtml

The rest of the article is about non-standard rifles Disque and his troops were issued.

With a bit more research I found more:

Quote:
Disque quickly responded by creating two organizations: the Spruce Production Division (SPD), a U.S. Army unit which put enlisted loggers and millworkers directly to work in the production of spruce products, and the Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen, or as it was commonly called, the “Four L,” a civilian equivalent of the SPD. Employers who desired the assistance of the SPD or Four L workforce were compelled by Disque and the War Department to accept the demands for an eight-hour day and healthier working and living conditions. At the same time, laborers who refused to sign the pledge found it very difficult to find employment in the lumber industry. Those who were not members of the Four L were suspected radicals, anarchists, saboteurs or traitors, and were subjected to a de facto blacklist.

http://tinyurl.com/33el8n

wangwei
Offline
Joined: 20-09-06
Mar 1 2007 01:20

that's such a cool find. I love how working class history sneaks in.

makaira
Offline
Joined: 16-10-06
Mar 1 2007 02:25

It's very interesting that you posted that. I just recently watched a film entitled "The Wobblies," and there are quite a few lumberjacks from that area being interviewed. At one point I remember them discussing their replacements from the military, though I'm not sure they mentioned this Lt. Colonel. The wobblies had some fine names for them.

You can catch the film here. I'm not exactly sure at which point in the film the scene takes place, but the film is well worth the watch in its entirety.

fnbrill's picture
fnbrill
Offline
Joined: 13-01-07
Mar 1 2007 02:57

My grandma's first boyfriend was in the Spruce Divison, based in the Coast Range of Oregon. The (then) famous journalist, Stuart Holbrook, who had been editor of the 4L newspaper, wrote a number of books discussing the 4Ls, the IWW, the WFM, etc. Look them up they're quite enjoyable but sloppy/inaccurate history.

I knew a number of olde time IWW loggers as a youth. inluding Levenworth and San Quentin prisoners, who contradicted much of the accepted history of the IWW in the PNW woods, the great Mayday strike, etc. were accomplished under 4L auspices.

Steven.'s picture
Steven.
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Mar 4 2007 02:51

really interesting stuff everyone, cheers!

tsiatko what do you mean by "contradicted much of the accepted history"?

fnbrill's picture
fnbrill
Offline
Joined: 13-01-07
Mar 4 2007 07:00

Hi John,

What i mean is there is allot of myths built up around the IWW, especially about it's activity in the US pre-1916. The IWW understood it was in a weak position and created a number of propaganda campaigns to bulid the image of power.

The sabotage campaign of 1912-14 for example, was basically a bluff used to try to intimidate bosses. It was hoped that the threat of sabotage - using the black cat, sabot, etc. - would encourage boss capitulation on specific issues. But what it did was hand a huge propaganda victory for the bosses that they use even today. As well it is not something which organizes workers. at one point about 10 years ago I had quotations from most of the IWW leaders of the pre-1919 period saying that the "Sabotage" campaign was the stupidest thing the IWW had ever done. And once the large IUs, especially the Agricultural Workers Organization/IU 110 took off in 1916, sabotage was dropped like a hot potato. That's why you read about Big Bill's pathetic ditherings in the big Chicago trial, when he redefines sabotage in a rather dishonest manner. And I say this with a great deal of respect for Big Bill.

Likewise, the Free Speech fights were organizational disasters for the IWW. I read one critique from just after of the Spokane Free Speech Fight, by a Oregon Timber organizer who was key in organizing the Agricultural Workers Organization and later in life was a founder of the United Auto Workers. He points out that what had been a thriving IWW district (the triangle of Spokane, Seattle and Portland) was, after the Spokane FSF left without functioning workplace organizations, membership 1/3 of what it had been (I don't have the reference handy, I think there had been 4000 members in the district, most in workplaces). The reason for the drop was that the FSF model was one which ignored the workplace, built a strategy on political pressure, and encouraged IWW members to jump from one place to another, something which decimated stability. This wasn't meant to diss the FSF, but was meant as an honest and truthful assesment of the usefullness of the tactic.

When you read the histories like Rebel Voices, the Illustrated History, the pop histories, usually repeat the myths that the IWW built up about itself - like Sabotage and the Free Speech Fights. But those tactics were disasters for the IWW as a union. Now, if in 2007, if our history is one which glorifies past mistakes and confuses them with the successes, then aren't we ensuring a continuing pattern of failure of the IWW?

Bubbles's picture
Bubbles
Offline
Joined: 4-12-06
Mar 4 2007 07:28
tsiatko wrote:
Now, if in 2005, if our history is one which glorifies past mistakes and confuses them with the successes, then aren't we ensuring a continuing pattern of failure of the IWW?

yes, but only if we dont correct these mistakes.

fnbrill's picture
fnbrill
Offline
Joined: 13-01-07
Mar 4 2007 07:41
Quote:
yes, but only if we dont correct these mistakes.

That was my point. Now all we have to do is confront the past...

Bubbles's picture
Bubbles
Offline
Joined: 4-12-06
Mar 4 2007 08:31
tsiatko wrote:
Quote:
yes, but only if we dont correct these mistakes.

That was my point. Now all we have to do is confront the past...

are you suggesting a asthetics face lift or what?

fnbrill's picture
fnbrill
Offline
Joined: 13-01-07
Mar 4 2007 08:39

I'm sorry I don't understand what your question.

Bubbles's picture
Bubbles
Offline
Joined: 4-12-06
Mar 4 2007 08:46
tsiatko wrote:
I'm sorry I don't understand what your question.

sab cats, direct action rhetoric, articles in the IW, new books, work shops, education committees in more branches? what would you have us do to confront our past and change our future?

fnbrill's picture
fnbrill
Offline
Joined: 13-01-07
Mar 4 2007 16:02

The fundamantal act would be to do what has already been happening, digging up, discussing and circulating historical source materials, academic papers, books, etc. which actually discuss how we organized and the discussions around organizing strategies. Fortunately, more materials are being released - eg. the book about Oklahoma IWW and Harvest Wobblies are excellent materials. I think FW Pierce down in the Bay Area has a copy of a paper regarding the debates around the Free Speech Movements, something that really shook many of my assumptions regarding the pre-1920 IWW.

Educational work from the above, needs to happen, but should be organized through the webpages, ODC trainings, etc. We can't assume new branches are able to fufill this goal. But the bigger ones should and aid smaller ones nearby. Portland has always travelled to Seattle, Eugene, Olympia, etc. to run trainings, help reform branches, etc. As well as inviting other folks here.

The IWW has to develop a method of discussing and democratically deciding strategy, organizing targets, etc. rather than allow any member to do anything, anytime in it's name.

The IWW needs to figure out what the braod boundaries of what "Abolish the Wage System" means and what it's ultimate goals are and how to intigrate them in our educational work.

We cannot legislate revolutionary romanticism out of the IWW, nor should we - we still need to respect free speech. But the fact is that it serves no long term good. If we show models of how to do the IWW's work better, while staying true to it's goals, then the "romantics" have a better way of being revolutionaries, and that's better for everyone.

janky
Offline
Joined: 26-12-05
Mar 4 2007 17:37
Quote:
The IWW has to develop a method of discussing and democratically deciding strategy, organizing targets, etc. rather than allow any member to do anything, anytime in it's name.

This is something that will continually be a problem for the union. I'm not entirely sure what the changes could be in order to change this other than a diligent membership which consistently confronts this type of behavior and a solid education model. (ie. I wouldn't want to change the decision-making structure, instead hold people accountable to an already solid structure) But it is apparent that we as members need to discuss this more as it seems like a reoccurring theme in other branches.

Do you have suggestions?

EdmontonWobbly's picture
EdmontonWobbly
Offline
Joined: 25-03-06
Mar 4 2007 17:53

I think a good start is to actually have a strategy right now I think branches more or less do their own thing because there isn't very much communication between them and also there isn't really a gane plan that includes several branches let alone the whole union.

petey
Offline
Joined: 13-10-05
Mar 4 2007 18:00

excellent stuff tsiatko

Quote:
the book about Oklahoma IWW and Harvest Wobblies are excellent materials.

must look at these. also, solidarity forever presents a side of the IWW that doesn't get as much attention as the more dramatic stuff

fnbrill's picture
fnbrill
Offline
Joined: 13-01-07
Mar 4 2007 19:46
newyawka wrote:
must look at these. also, solidarity forever presents a side of the IWW that doesn't get as much attention as the more dramatic stuff

Solidarity Forever is of questionable quality. It's the oral histories used in the movie Wobblies. The movie is - as a history - a piece of crap. The film makers knowingly distorted what the interviews said. The most notorious being the interview with a woman (Jenny Velsak?) who had joined as a teen in Lawrence Strike. I remember she kind of looks off and asks "I don't know what ever happened to them..." ie the IWW. The point the movie makers were trying to make is the IWW never had stable membership/organization vis. the Leninist model. Now there's a discussion that could be made there, but the truth was that the woman had been an IWW member ever since 1912 - almost 70 years!. The film makers dishonesty makes me question how Solidarity Forever was edited, and I would encourage everyone to read it with a skeptic's eye.

Other Good Books Are:

There's a dissertation by Roy Wortman on the IWW in Ohio. I bought a photocopy on-line from some dissertation publishers for $35. It's several hundred pages long and has the only thourough history of the Cleveland metal shop organizing drive in the 1930s. Since this is the closest thing we have to large scale organizing experience in North America, it's a must read.

The new history of the Phily dock workers' union is also supposed to be excellent. I have only read some preliminary chapters, but they are quite good.

Verity Bergmann's Revolutionary Industrial Unionism: The IWW in Australia rocks

In all Labor History is waking up from a long period of sectarian hackery (Stalinist vs Social-Democratic/Liberal) and business advisory roles. More and more it is written from the perspective of what workers did, rather than what their leaders did.

Down with the great man theory of history!

petey
Offline
Joined: 13-10-05
Mar 4 2007 20:03
Quote:
More and more it is written from the perspective of what workers did, rather than what their leaders did.

which is why i found solidarity forever to be valuable. it presents histories of the people who joined and why they joined. none of the interviewees is a nabob.

i've never seen the movie. is the book a transcript of the movie, or is the movie based on the people in the book?

fnbrill's picture
fnbrill
Offline
Joined: 13-01-07
Mar 4 2007 20:05
janky wrote:
This is something that will continually be a problem for the union. I'm not entirely sure what the changes could be in order to change this other than a diligent membership which consistently confronts this type of behavior and a solid education model. (ie. I wouldn't want to change the decision-making structure, instead hold people accountable to an already solid structure) But it is apparent that we as members need to discuss this more as it seems like a reoccurring theme in other branches.

Do you have suggestions?

Suggestions? Sure, good sense, maybe not wink

First, the administration of the IWW needs to be taken away from internal politics. The GST is meant to be an administrator, not an organizer. If the books don't get done, if the red cards or literature are not shipped, if the taxes aren't paid, it shouldn't be an internal political crisis, as happens. The GST position, the functionary parts at least should be a hired position by the GEB - someone who can be replaced if work isn't being done. That way the administrative work would be directly accountable and transparent.

What then we should have is an elected General Organizer position. The key to this would be elected. Because then we could have debate and decision over which direction the IWW should go as a whole. In this model, organizing would be decided democratically, would aid in the education of the membership, and would break down the behind the scenes conflict of various informal rival cliques.

fnbrill's picture
fnbrill
Offline
Joined: 13-01-07
Mar 4 2007 20:16
newyawka wrote:
i've never seen the movie. is the book a transcript of the movie, or is the movie based on the people in the book?

The Filmakers filmed oral histories of members/former and present of theIWW. After the success of the film, they released edited transcripts of the interviews. Stewart Biird and Deborah Shaffer, the filmakers, are lying bags of shit. Dan Georgakas, who aided in the editing of the book, is honest (and embarrassed at what theother two did).

What I'm saying is to read the book with a critical eye, don't assume that it's not edited to meet some Leninist political correctness. If it corresponds to what you read in other works by trusted authors - eg Oil, Wheat and Wobblies - then use the information. Just chew for 10 minutes before swallowing.

fnbrill's picture
fnbrill
Offline
Joined: 13-01-07
Mar 4 2007 20:37
EdmontonWobbly wrote:
I think a good start is to actually have a strategy right now I think branches more or less do their own thing because there isn't very much communication between them and also there isn't really a gane plan that includes several branches let alone the whole union.

Yes, we need more communication between branches. But that only really makes sense if we are looking at industrial organizing rather than local centers of the IWW. Back in the late 1990s I coordinated a industrial network with in IU330/Building Construction and some pretty interesting things started to come out of it. A IU510 network was also started about that time. It' in such networks - proto-IUs - that intra-branch organizing is built.

This is also one of my concerns with Street Campaigns, while they can do good things, but I'm afraiid they are detrimental to a long term IWW strategy as they at their fundamental roots have to re-emphasize locality over industry, one of the repeating problems in the IWW.

petey
Offline
Joined: 13-10-05
Mar 4 2007 21:01
Quote:
Just chew for 10 minutes before swallowing.

good advice with any book.

a poster here keeps a blog, and on that blog there was discussion of the GMB system and the IU system as to some degree antagonistic. not overtly, but as structures they can pull in different directions. thoughts on this, anyone?

fnbrill's picture
fnbrill
Offline
Joined: 13-01-07
Mar 4 2007 21:23

One Wobbly Wag said the problem with GMBs is they are all branches, no tree.

The GMB system was created as a last defense to keep the IWW alive in the 1950-60s. before then there were General Recruiting Union (GRU) Branches, the GRU being the IU for all the unchartered IUs. But the GRU was an equal IU alongside the chartered 110, 120, 330 and 510s who collapsed in the early 1950s. The GRU was disolved in the 1960s, leaving only GMBs.

The problem with GMBs is that they are oriented only towards locality. You are the XYZ-City Branch of the IWW. Be all and end all. You don't have to look out of XYZ-City to see bigger pictures, You have certain propaganda tasks, but it really doesn't mean anything more. Especially not industrial.

What i would advocate is the GMBs become Industrial District Committees until they have several IU Branches, then they become Industrial District Councils. It would encourage the formation of proto-IUBs, IUBs, and would encourage organizing by defining our acitivty around organizing.

janky
Offline
Joined: 26-12-05
Mar 4 2007 21:37
tsiatko wrote:
First, the administration of the IWW needs to be taken away from internal politics. The GST is meant to be an administrator, not an organizer. If the books don't get done, if the red cards or literature are not shipped, if the taxes aren't paid, it shouldn't be an internal political crisis, as happens. The GST position, the functionary parts at least should be a hired position by the GEB - someone who can be replaced if work isn't being done. That way the administrative work would be directly accountable and transparent.

I agree that this needs to happen and it needs to happen soon. I am not entirely sure that I agree with the opinion that the GST should be appointed by the GEB, but it is an issue that the GST is looked on as both a secretary and a "leader". (to use the term loosely) People vote the person who they politically agree with for the GST position (that is, if there is more than one candidate). Which, as can be seen recently, we need someone that is competent with the books in that position.

tsiatko wrote:
What then we should have is an elected General Organizer position. The key to this would be elected. Because then we could have debate and decision over which direction the IWW should go as a whole. In this model, organizing would be decided democratically, would aid in the education of the membership, and would break down the behind the scenes conflict of various informal rival cliques.

Do you not see this possibly coming out of the new OD? It seems to me to be somewhat problematic that the new OD cannot take a stand on the direction of organizing and instead it is only a facilitation process. I am not going to comment on the internal politicking of the union, other than to say it is annoying and counter productive.

But, I also don't see these structural changes being made anytime soon. It would be better --in my opinion-- to focus on our internal communication in order to build the union. For instance, PDX and SF do not talk enough about concerted strategy. I know we have informal discussions between the 2 branches, however, we do not work together quite enough. If we were to solidify internal dialog and communication, these changes may be closer to being reality. (Do I hear a proposal for a West Coast organizers conference? I think that might be what it is.)

fnbrill's picture
fnbrill
Offline
Joined: 13-01-07
Mar 4 2007 21:37

BTW Perhaps we should restart this thread(s) over inthelibcom wobblies section rather than here in history?

janky
Offline
Joined: 26-12-05
Mar 4 2007 21:43

tsiatko,

pretty good run down of the problems of the GMB structure. It's funny how we don't have these discussions internally.

Bubbles's picture
Bubbles
Offline
Joined: 4-12-06
Mar 4 2007 21:51

tsiako. you should come down to my branch and help us crack the whip.

fnbrill's picture
fnbrill
Offline
Joined: 13-01-07
Mar 4 2007 21:53
janky wrote:
I agree that this needs to happen and it needs to happen soon. I am not entirely sure that I agree with the opinion that the GST should be appointed by the GEB, but it is an issue that the GST is looked on as both a secretary and a "leader". (to use the term loosely) People vote the person who they politically agree with for the GST position (that is, if there is more than one candidate). Which, as can be seen recently, we need someone that is competent with the books in that position.

What the GST does is basically a bookkeeper and secretarial/office position. In the past - indeed when the IWW was founded, there was the GST, who did the books, then the President who was the face of the union. After the Presidents office was abolished in 1906, we had two great GSTs for the next 14 years, Vincent St. John and Big Bill.

The problem isn't with the great GSTs, it's with the bad ones, or rather, the uneven ones. My point again is it's stupid to structurre a union where if the book keeper doesn't do the biooks, pay payroll taxes, etc. it shouldn't become a poliical crisis. For example, I was on the GEB when GST Fred Chase refused to pay payroll taxes, costing the IWW tens of thousands of dollars in fines. His inaction on the taxes almost bankrupted the IWW. No the problem was what does the GEB do to protect the union's interests? Do we recall him? Do we ask him to resign? The way its structured is the Bookeeper of the union winds up having a political power base, to refuse the GEB to do their work. Especially Fred as he was also doing great work elsewhere, organizing, etc.

So just envision abolishing the post of GST. the job is split in two. The functionary tasks - Bookeeping, taxes, Labor board reports, etc. is done by a hired administrator. The General Organizer, who is elected, gets to be the person coordinating the organizing.

fnbrill's picture
fnbrill
Offline
Joined: 13-01-07
Mar 4 2007 21:56
janky wrote:
tsiatko,

pretty good run down of the problems of the GMB structure. It's funny how we don't have these discussions internally.

Yep, I've been saying these since 2000. Some folks didn't want it to be heard. But that's another story.

janky
Offline
Joined: 26-12-05
Mar 4 2007 22:00
x357997 wrote:
tsiako. you should come down to my branch and help us crack the whip.

A crack doesn't need to be whipped, and it's silly to be saying this in a public forum.

PS - your mammy's a primitivist.

ftony
Offline
Joined: 26-05-04
Mar 6 2007 16:21
x357997 wrote:
tsiako. you should come down to my branch and help us crack the whip.

dude your branch is the biggest in the world! some of us don't even have a whip! we want tsiatko in BIROC. plus we're much nicer tongue

ps. maybe this stuff is best discussed in the wob forum. does any kind admin fancy moving the non-historical stuff for us? pretty please?

fnbrill's picture
fnbrill
Offline
Joined: 13-01-07
Mar 6 2007 17:02

I attended the BIROC annual meeting in 1997, tried to crack the whip but fell asleep. (Its a joke, ask Brandstatter)