The 1919 Seattle General Strike
Home | Photos | Video | Slideshow | Oral Histories | Map | Newspapers | Documents | Research Reports
The International Union of Timberworkers, 1911-1923

By Chris Canterbury
Timberworker heading up a tree with axe using tree spurs and a rope. Photographer: Unknown.  Courtesy of University of Washington Libraries. Manuscripts, Special Collections, University Archives Division

The Northwest lumber industry in the early part of the 20th century was, at its best, rugged, at its worst, brutal. Logging in the forests of the pacific northwest usually began in early summer and continued into late fall. In some camps men worked well into winter fighting wind, snow, and wood. Often the best timber was located deep in the backcountry, far from any semblance of civilization. Deadfalls and bucking saws were only a few of the dangers faced daily by woodsmen. Rarely working less than ten hours a day at 35 cents per hour, timbermen were given only the most rudimentary of conveniences. Meals were served in common dining halls where few words were spoken. Once fed, the tired, filthy men retired to large bunk-houses. The bunk-houses customarily only contained stoves at either end, frequently obscured by drying clothes. Bedding was generally a wooden box containing some small amount of vermin infested straw. The situation was not much better in the lumber mills where many of the same conditions persisted. Shingle weavers’ stood then or more hours per day, passing their hands within slight distances of saw blades, often severing a finger or hand. Long hours, dangerous working conditions, low pay, and unsympathetic foremen all contributed to the disagreeable nature of timber work.

The men who worked in this industry were as distinctive as their work. Fiercely independent these men took pride in the only thing they had: their skills as workers. Very few men had any family; fewer still had any family at the camp. This lack of family was a primary cause of stress and turnover. After a long day in the forest, they would sit around the bunk-house to discuss a wide variety of topics, from the day’s work, to their pending trip to town, to abstract points of economic theory. Many of the lumber workers did not have any particular ties to one place or area and frequently moved on whenever it suited them. The isolation and transient lifestyle of timber workers made most of them unable to vote. With few ties so society and an insecure economic future, these men had little to lose. This disposed many towards unions or other forms of protest although they were rarely successful.

Unfortunately for these workers organizing was exceedingly difficult. In the early twentieth century judicial rulings hobbled union’s abilities to combat management making labor organizing of any kind arduous. The federal government also took an active role in the economy. However, although some politicians, notably Secretary of Labor William B. Wilson, were friends of labor, their efforts often had mixed results. The lumber industry itself held additional challenges to organization. The barons of the industry were exceedingly stubborn; some even considered working conditions and wages ideal. The economic policies of the lumbermen were shortsighted, narrowly focused on profit and unyielding to any requests of labor. Furthermore, simply reaching the workers was often a challenge. Although some mills were in towns, many were located in the forest. Timber camps were even more remote and changed locations as the timber fell.

In this environment few unions lasted more than a small number of years or made significant advances wages or working conditions. One union however, endured for just over ten years. The International Union of Timberworkers, chartered in 1913, managed to survive, sometimes narrowly, into 1923. Although the Timberworkers faced the same difficulties in organizing that beset all unions just after the turn of the century, as well as those particular to the timber industry, they also contended with unique factors that not only curtailed their efficacy as a union but causes their dissolution as well. As an AFL affiliate acquiring permission to organize industrial workers was the first obstacle.

The strikes that seemingly caused the initial decline of the Timberworkers could have been won were it not for the extraordinary intransigence of lumbermen. Wartime military intervention in the form of the Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen, though, was the greatest challenge the Timberworkers faced. Even though there were other lumber unions in the Northwest, the leadership of the Loyal Legion had a particular distaste for the Timberworkers that manifested itself in Legion practices and policies. Thus, were it not for this personal hatred, the Timberworkers quite possibly could have emerged from World War One strong enough to survive the depression of 1921. Although the officers to the Timberworkers would have liked to accomplish more than they did, the efforts of the Loyal Legion and IWW opposition to the Timberworkers effectively restricted their ability to achieve many of their goals, either by direct opposition or by requiring counter-propaganda. Raymond Canterbury was the final president of the Timberworkers and the man to whom the responsibility of maintaining the union through the 1921 depression fell. Raymond’s passion and dedication, however, were not enough to sustain the union.

Prior to 1912 there were a great many unions in the sawmills and timberlands. However, most of these were small, unsuccessful and short lived. Part of the problem for organizers lay in reaching the workers. Timber camps were dispersed over a vast area and attracted men from an even wider area when work was available. These men scattered in slack periods making the maintenance of an organization quite problematic. That the same men did not always return to the same camp exacerbated this problem.

The first viable attempt by the American Federation of Labor to organize these scattered woodsmen came in 1905 when it organized the International Brotherhood of Woodsmen and Sawmill Workers. The IBWSW was not very successful either and, in 1911, the AF of L revoked its charter, ostensibly for failure to pay their per capita tax. At this time the Shingle Weavers Unions, chartered in 1903, was one of the few surviving lumber unions in the Northwest. Late in 1912 the Shingle Weavers petitioned the AF of L to extend the jurisdiction of the Shingle weavers to include the unskilled and semi-skilled labor of the mills and timberlands. They argued that "by including this class of work-men under our jurisdiction many of the causes of the previous failures to get a permanent organization of the woodsmen and sawmill workers will be removed." However, it seems likely that not only was this an attempt to increase their bargaining power and political clout but to stop the Industrial Workers of the World as well. For whatever reasons, the Shingle Weavers voted at the 1911 convention to organize all workers in the timber industry under the banner of the proposed International Union of Shingle Weavers, Sawmill Workers, and Woodsmen. The following year they demanded that the AF of L extend their jurisdiction to all timber employees and grant them autonomy.

The Shingle Weavers knew that they would not have an easy time securing their objectives. Indeed, the AFL of 1912 frowned on organizing unskilled labor. Further, the Shingle Weavers asked for significant assistance to accomplish the proposed feat in the form of four special organizers. However, some recent changes in AFL policy proved beneficial to the Shingle Weavers cause. The AFL, although still trying to uphold ideals set forth in the Scranton Declaration of 1901, nonetheless recognized the changes taking place in wage labor and union organization. The formation of employers’ associations like the Lumbermen’s Protective Association necessitated powerful union for any change to be actualized. With this in mind, the AFL began to encourage, and later mandate, the amalgamation of smaller unions. However, amalgamations were only to take place along trade lines. Furthermore, the AF of L was also looking more favorably upon trade autonomy. A resolution passed by the Executive Council in 1912, just in time for the Shingle Weavers, declared that the AFL would wholeheartedly endorse trade autonomy. The move by the Shingle Weavers also received support from the Everett Trades Council. It should be noted though, that, except for the Everett endorsement, these events took place concurrently with the Shingle Weavers demands; it is doubtful that the voting members were aware of them when they decided upon their course of action.

Perhaps the AFL conceded to their demands because the Shingle Weavers were a powerful union. More likely though, is that the AFL recognized the character of the average timber worker and feared the Industrial Workers of the World would find a warm welcome in the sawmills and logging camps, thus decreasing the AFL power base while increasing that of the IWW. Hence the International Union of Timberworkers was, in large part, an attempt by the AFL to stop the IWW in the Northwest. Whatever the official or covert reasons for acquiescing to the demands of the Shingle Weavers, the International Union of Shingle Weavers, Sawmill Workers, and Woodsmen was formally chartered on January 15, 1913. The name of the IUSWSWW, being far too cumbersome, was changed at the 1914 annual convention to the much more efficient International Union of Timberworkers.

The Executive Board of the AFL did not grant the Shingle Weavers demands without reservation. Part of the petition contained a proviso stipulating that if the union failed to organize the sawmill workers and woodsmen the AFL could recall its charter, rescind its jurisdictional extension and reissue a charter to the shingle weavers as the International Shingle Weavers Union of America.

The initial organizational structure of the IUT closely followed the organization of the Shingle Weavers union. The president of the Shingle Weavers, J.G. Brown, maintained his position in the new union, as did the other officers. In larger mills and mill towns, where there were substantial numbers of different types of workers, locals were organized by trade or skill. The intent was to have separate locals for loggers, shingle weavers, mill workers, etc., all under the jurisdiction of the IUT. In smaller mills or camps one local sufficed. The power to call a strike was not exclusive to the Executive Board; each local was given the authority to call a strike by a referendum vote of two thirds, although a general strike could only be called by a state or union wide referendum. In this manner the Timberworkers upheld the AFL ideals of trade division while maximizing the number of organized laborers. This argument also had the benefit of maximizing bargaining power and solidarity. By having separate locals for each skill wherever possible locals were able to negotiate independently with the management of the mill. The strike of one local did not necessitate the strike of another, thus alleviating some of the stress caused by union membership. The opposite was the case in the small mills and camps. With all workers belonging to the same local the impact of any job action would be widespread, not in terms of numbers of people but in effect on the mill or camp. This gave otherwise solitary workers a needed sense of solidarity. Although this arrangement tended to make some locals more powerful than others, it was nonetheless an effective method of power maximization.

The IUSWSWW/IUT (hereafter simply IUT) did not allow its newfound jurisdictional and organizational challenges to hinder its activities as a union. Indeed, while still in the initial stages of formation, they called a strike in Grays Harbor in 1911. The union was actively organizing in the area when, on October 10, 1911, two mills discharged every union employee. The union called a strike that later merged with the IWW strike of March 14, 1912. When the employers settled with the IWW, most of the IUT’s demands were met. This early victory, gained with the assistance of the IWW, soon came back to trouble the Shingle Weavers. At the 1912 convention a referendum to resign AFL affiliation in favor of IWW affiliation was introduced but unanimously defeated. Some historians contend identical resolutions were introduced at subsequent conventions for several years.

Once the constitution of the International Union of Timberworkers was appropriately modified at the January 1913, convention in Portland, Oregon, the union set down to business. Organizing efforts went well; when the AFL convention met in mid November the Timberworkers claimed 3,100 members. Total employment in the timber industry in Washington state was approximately 26,290; 20,538 of which worked in mills. However, The seemingly small number of Timberworkers belies their strength as most of the Timberworkers’ membership was in the western Cascades. Having rapidly accumulated members it is not surprising that the Timberworkers began workplace actions quickly. It is generally admitted that the Executive Council’s misjudgment of employers and their perceived betrayal of locals contributed to the general decline in membership and the Shingle Weavers departure from the union, though perhaps the Timberworkers’ excessive zeal in work actions did as much to dissuade potential members and discourage current ones.

In April 1913 the IUT shingle weavers local of Ballard presented a set of demands to the management of the local shingle mills. The shingle weavers demanded consonance with the union wage scale, improved working conditions, and union recognition. When their demands were ridiculed by mill owners, 300 shingle weavers struck. Almost all the shingle mills in Ballard shut down; a few kept open but only ran one or two machines. Membership continued to climb during the first month of the strike and success seemed imminent. Confidence remained high for months but by late summer the striking workers had had enough. Imported strike breakers and vicious attacks by employers (including an effort to frame the union for an attempted bombing) took their toll. Although the union voted on July 17 to call off the strike, they did not admit defeat but maintained that their decision was a strategic response to circumstances beyond their control.

The United States judiciary in the Progressive era created some to these circumstances. Although the rulings of the Supreme Court do not seem to have directly effected the IUT substantially they nevertheless had a significant affect on organized labor overall. The rulings of the Court in landmark cases conveyed to organized labor the knowledge that the courts were not supporters. The antipathy of the Supreme Court was apparent in the judgments of the Iron Molders International Union versus Buck’s Stove and Range Company and the United Hatters’ Union versus E.W. Lowe. When the Iron Molders union declared a boycott of Buck’s Stoves the AFL placed the company on its "We Do Not Patronize" list. The courts ruled, in 1907, that the AFL must remove Buck’s from the list as it restrained interstate commerce under the Sherman Act. Gompers refused, citing first amendment free speech rights. In turn the courts found Gompers and two associates guilty of contempt and sentenced them to fines and jail terms. The United Hatters’ Union in Danbury, Connecticut, called a boycott to which Lowe objected based on the Sherman Act provisions regarding restrictions of interstate trade. The courts’ final decision, handed down December 18, 1913, found in Lowe’s favor and levied treble damages against the Hatters’ union. Furthermore, the court declared the assets of union members sizable. This ruling severely restricted the ability of unions to boycott, one of their most powerful economic weapons. The only boycott’s that remained legal effected only intrastate trade.

At the Timberworkers’ annual convention on January 12, 1914, in Aberdeen a unanimous roll call vote decided to "subordinate every other thing to the one demand for an eight-hour day and to make the demand the first of May." A strike was to be called May 1, 1914, if their demands were not met. However, over half of the locals did not send a delegate to the convention and the motion was not subjected to a referendum vote of the individual locals for validation. The Timberworkers had made "splendid progress made in organizing the timber workers" the previous year which perhaps encouraged the Executive Board’s belief that employers would readily grant the eight hour day. Furthermore, the granting of the eight hour day seemed so probable that the Timberworkers made few strike preparations. They were terribly mistaken. Employers fought bitterly. Some succeeded in opening their mills on an "open shop" basis. Several locals asked the Executive Board to submit the strike motion to a referendum vote; the board declined. Instead they decided to withdraw the strike threat and focus on achieving the eight hour day at the polls. However, lumbermen fought the ballot initiative just as vigorously. The political disenfranchisement of most camp workers was an additional benefit to employers and an element in the failure of the initiative. Timberworker locals, perhaps erroneously, felt betrayed by, and disappointed in, the Executive Board and its cavalier attitude.

The Ballard strike was not the only strike in which the IUT engaged. By the end of 1914 the Timberworkers had engaged in 55 strikes and lockouts. With many of its members on strike, few could contribute to the general strike fund, thus decreasing the IUT’s ability to continue striking. Membership began to decline: by the beginning of 1915 the IUT had only 617 members.

The failure of the Timberworkers strikes seems to be a consequence of the convictions of lumbermen. The elite’s of the Northwestern timber industry sere especially antithetical to the concerns of labor. Lumbering we an aggressive industry, the lumbermen equally aggressive. Vitally concerned with profits lumbermen’s labor policies were myopic, nearly malevolent. Timber magnates were also vindictive. Employers coddled workers when the labor market favored workers but when employers were again in power they ‘settled the score.’ Lumbermen often did not share workers’ views of working conditions; indeed, many considered them nearly ideal. Furthermore, even though the IWW was considered a radical organization perhaps employed bye the Imperial German government, lumbermen "showed as little love for the "patriotic" AFL as for the "subversive" IWW" and refused to bargain with either. Lumbermen feared that responding to workers’ demands would undermine the belief that mill owners were superior to workers. These attitudes help explain why lumber unions’ efforts to improve working conditions were largely ineffective. Indeed, it was not until the military intervened in late 1917 that substantive improvements were made in the working lives of timber workers. Although lumber unions were not able to accomplish much in the way of reforms, they succeeded to a certain extent in organizing laborers.

However, the initial success of the Timberworkers in organizing lumber workers seems to have given the union’s leadership the wrong impression. Although the workers were eager to organize they did not want to be ruled. Furthermore, the leaders completely misjudged the ability and intent of employers to hold out against granting the eight hour day. From the complete failure of nearly all the strikes, and the disastrous trends in membership, the AFL concluded the IUT had not sufficiently organized the lumber industry and revoked its charter in the fall of 1915. The International Shingle Weavers Union of America was re-chartered according to the proviso in the application, thus leaving the remaining IUT locals stranded. The International Union of Timberworkers was effectively non-existent.

The few remaining locals, however, did not yield. Shortly after the secession of the shingle weavers they began organizing together and, late in 1916, rebuilt the IUT without the shingle weavers. In January 1917, the new IUT was strong enough to hold a convention in Aberdeen, Washington; by spring, the Washington State Federation of Labor again endorsed the IUT and shortly thereafter it was again chartered by the AF of L.

The new International Union of Timberworkers does not seem to have engaged in many job actions but rather focused on stabilization and organization. Most of the original officers left with the Shingle Weavers: J.G. Brown was now president of the IUSWA; Ernest Marsh, past vice president, became the president of the Washington State Federation of Labor. EE Weiland was the new president of the Timberworkers; the vice president, Harry Call. Both of these men spoke often at locals and public meetings to increase membership. Again organizing efforts paid off resulting in approximately 2,000 members.

Prices in the lumber market also improved in 1916 and early 1917. So much so that the AFL unions, primarily the IUT and the International Union of Shingle Weavers of America, felt that it was time to demand the eight hour day in the lumber industry although neither of these unions arrived at this decision easily. The Shingle Weavers 1906 strike for the eight hour day left them badly crippled; the Timberworkers last attempt all but destroyed them. The Shingle Weavers convention in May 1917, voted for an immediate strike if their demand for an eight hour day was not met. Vice President Ernest Marsh of the State Labor Council intervened and postponed the strike. In June Marsh was able to persuade the union not to strike until July 16. The IUT met in convention on July 6 and voted to strike on the 16th if their demands were neglected. The ultimatums of the IUT were, however, different from those of the IUSWA. Whereas the IUSWA focused on the eight hour day, the IUT desired an eight hour day in the mills, nine in the camps, as well as union recognition, better sanitary conditions, and a minimum wage. As strike plans were laid, the Industrial Workers of the World began to take notice.

The IWW was the preeminent lumber union in the eastern Cascades. Membership estimates of the IWW affiliated Lumber Workers Industrial Union No. 500 in 1917 raged from 6,000 to 10,000. Although aware of the Timberworkers and Shingle Weavers’ strike plans the IWW did not intend to cooperate with the AFL unions. The IWW thought the AFL unions were trying to discredit them or lure the IWW into an inopportune strike to destroy them. The IWW claimed that they did not wish to strike at all but were "forced to come out on strike thru the action [sic] of J.G. Brown, Ernest Marsh and Sam Gompers." The IWW sent out word not to strike. When, on July 14, the IWW realized the amount of enthusiasm for a strike in the camps and mills they reversed their decision and walked out. Two days later the AFL unions also walked out, but they did not collaborate with the IWW. Although many camps contained both IWW and AFL men the unions were not partners, only co-belligerents.

As timber production faltered then died, federal and state governments became more and more alarmed. The war created an increased demand for timber that was not being met. Lumber was a necessary component in ship and aircraft building -- both vital to the war effort. The government first tried patriotism to persuade the striking timber men to go back to work. They also pleaded with employers to make just concessions. The IWW, however, was treated with less far less courtesy. The government launched a fierce campaign against the IWW that, on the whole, ignored civil liberties and due process.

The campaign against the IWW was not the only involvement of the federal government in labor relations during the war. As the United States prepared for war the government initiated several measures designed to insure adequate production of war supplies. Some of these reforms, however, were not much more than elaborate ‘shell games.’ The Clayton Act of 1914, for example, promised to protect farmers’ organizations and unions from persecution under the antitrust law but did not provide much substance as Congress would not tolerate anything considered class legislation. This act passed political responsibility to the staunchly anti-labor courts who referred labor back to Congress again. The July 1915 recommendations of the left leaning United States Commission on Industrial Relations were of equal value to labor. Comprised of representatives from capital, labor, and the public the CIR conducted hearings on industrial violence and other issues of concern to all. Although the Commission recommended a very ambitious program of labor and welfare reform, little was to come of it because of the loftiness of its goals and a tripartite split within the Commission. However, not every federal maneuver proved ineffectual. The 1916 Keating-Owens Act outlawed child labor and President Wilson appointed Louis Brandeis, a social and legal reformer, to the Supreme Court. Furthermore, the Cantonment Adjustment Commission legislated against the closed nonunion shop in War Department cantonment construction sites on July 27, 1917. This was extended to include air fields on August 8 and all War Department construction jobs on December 28. The National War Labor Board, though, was responsible for many of labor’s gains during the war. As a tripartite body established in April 1918 to "devise and implement labor policies for all war related industries" the NWLB served as "the final court of appeal" in labor disputes. Although President Wilson weakened the NWLB by limiting it to sectors of the economy in which there was not already a tripartite labor board, the NWLB made the right to unionize practicable and required employers to bargain collectively. While Washington was addressing problems in other areas of the economy, the War and Labor Departments were looking into the timber industry in the Northwest. Despite their best attempts to secure equitable reforms to stabilize production little was attained. In August 1917, Secretary of Labor Wilson asserted: "I know of nothing further that we can do in this mater, as everything that this Department can do is being done to secure and adjustment."

However, not everyone involved was as intransigent as it might seem. The AFL unions, to the dismay of the IWW, made individual agreements with mills and camps. This succeeded in re-opening a few operations, but most employers obstinately rejected the eight hour day. The Washington State Council of Defense intervened and arranged a meeting between the AFL unions and lumber barons on August 13. At this meeting the AFL unions were more than generous in their offers of conciliation: they proposed to drop all other demands if the eight hour day were accepted and work ten hour days on government contracts without overtime compensation. Even though the AFL unions were willing to relinquish union recognition and all other demands as long as the eight hour day was granted, only 160 mills re-opened on the eight hour day before the end of the strike. The lumber barons claimed that a move to the eight hour day would ruin the industry in the Northwest because the southern and Great Lakes lumber industries were still on the ten hour day and did not have to contend with the long haul to market. However, with the steadily increasing demand for, and price of, lumber, it seems that the timber magnates were resisting on ideological grounds as much as anything else.

As the summer of 1917 wore on an equitable solution to the strike became increasingly less likely. In September, three months into the strike, the IWW voted to take the strike to the job: return to work but only work eight hours. If absolutely necessary to work ten, the IWW advised its members to work so slowly that only eight hours of work were done anyway. Suddenly the foremen found that what used to be skilled workers had become lazy fools leaves. Although this tactic served the IWW well, it did not place them in any better stead with the lumber barons. In fact, the IWW was left out of most negotiations and meetings. The IWW’s strategy did not favor the AFL unions either. With even doltish crews, mills and camps could produce some timber, thus allowing the operators to preserve their position. In late summer, as more and more men were reluctantly returning to work, E.E. Weiland recognized the inability of many of the unions’ members to maintain the strike. Unlike the wobbly ‘bindle-stiff,’ many of the AFL men worked in town sawmills and had families to feed. With this in mind, Weiland announced that the union’s would not hinder any man who felt it necessary to return to work. For a short while he maintained that the strike was still formally in effect.

The combined efforts of the AFL and the IWW shut down "ninety percent of the logging and milling operations in western Washington." This was undeniably the largest labor action in the lumber industry to date, and the biggest failure. As such it brought much attention to the plight of loggers and mill workers. One man, however, was already becoming aware of their situation and had decided to make a difference.

Raymond Ransom Canterbury was born on his family’s traditional mid-sized farm in Otter Creek, Iowa, in 1885. Like many young men of his era Raymond struck out on his own, leaving the failing family farm behind. His father’s farm, like many other farms in the United States, was failing due to a lack of financial resources to buy the new farming technology. Like many Americans, Raymond believed that his fate was in his own hands and his individualistic philosophy, as with much of America, fueled a desire for economic improvement. Presumably the dropping prices and over production of food was part of the reason that there was no longer room for Raymond on the family farm. He decided to leave Iowa and make of his life what he could. He made his way to the Northwest.

Raymond had the advantage of parents who valued education. Having completed the eighth grade, Ray acquired a grade school teaching position with the Crook county, Oregon, school district. He taught school from 1914 through 1916, making from 50 dollars per month in 1914 to 75 in 1916. This low pay forced Ray to look for work elsewhere. Shortly after leaving his teaching job, the Brooks-Scanlon lumber company in Bend, Oregon, hired him as a secretary. As a secretary Ray dealt with much of the company’s records every day. This is where he first became aware of the situation of the timber workers. Ray’s convictions about justice required him to do something so Ray began trying to organize workers. The management of the company summarily fired Ray and three of his contemporaries for taking part in a union organizing meeting. Incensed at the treatment of their fellow employees, about 200 men walked off their jobs on October 22. The International Union of Timberworkers local 19, Bend, Oregon, became official on October 23. Local 19 held its first meeting on October 24, 1917. During this meeting Raymond Canterbury was elected president of the new local.

Mere days before Ray’s scuffle with the Brooks-Scanlon mill, Brice Disque arrived in Seattle. Both of these men were to be important figures in the lumber and labor game in the Northwest, although Disque’s legacy would far outlast Canterbury’s.

Colonel Disque’s arrival in Seattle on October 10, 1917, created quite a stir in the industry. He was sent in response to the alarming lack of production of woods vital to the war effort, especially the spruce necessary for airplane production. A re-instated colonel in the Signal Division Corps, he met with several key figure within an hour of disembarking from the train: Henry Suzzallo, governor and president of the State council of Defense; James Scherer, a highly esteemed Progressive economist; Major H.W. Tornwy, an Inspecting Officer in the Signal Corps; and Carleton Parker, a Progressive reformer who was to have a significant affect on Disque’s opinions of organized labor. The timing of Disque’s arrival was fortuitous; the rapidly shortening days and frequent rain and snow storms had made the eight hour issue moot, at least for a few weeks. Even discounting the ‘strike on the job’ being waged by the IWW, and supported by the AFL and unaffiliated workers, it was difficult to work even eight hours. This state of affairs gave Disque and his cohorts much needed time to devise a plan to increase timber production to acceptable levels.

The plan implemented was not Disque’s idea. At a meeting between Disque and 12-15 lumber barons, one is purported to have suggested forming a ‘loyal legion’ to "line up the workers behind the Government program." Disque possessed the federal backing and confidence that was required to implement such an organization. He broached this idea to his superiors upon his return to Washington two weeks later. They responded quite favorably and sent Disque back with definite orders to get the needed lumber. The first local of the Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen was organized in Wheeler, Oregon on October 30, 1917. Several more locals were established in short order: by January 1, the Legion had 10,000 members; by January 24, 35,000.

The Legion, as implied by the name, was an association of workers and employers. Whenever the employers and workers of a single camp or mill joined they constituted a local. Employers and workers paid equal dues and were intended to have equal power in the decision making process through delegates to a central arbitration body of twelve members. Strikes were strictly prohibited. The primary purpose of the Legion was to increase timber output but several items were seen as hindrances therefore the Legion therefore made specific demands of employers including the eight hour day, bedding linens (to be changed at least weekly), recreational facilities, and drying rooms for clothes. Although the eight hour issue was a sticking point, the military and federal backing of the Legion, as well as Disque’s threats, persuaded lumbermen to acquiesce.

Although timber moguls and the government favored the Four L’s, as they were called, workers were considerably less enthusiastic even though Legion membership did not preclude AFL membership. The Four L’s continued the patriotic theme of coercion, demanding that workers sign a pledge that read, in part, "I will do every act and thing which will in general aid in carrying this war to a successful conclusion." The patriotic pontificating of Legion organizers was merely a candy coating -- Legion membership was mandatory to work. Because many workers would only sullenly submit to the wheedling of Legion organizers the Four L’s resorted to violence to procure new members. Timberworkers and Wobblies complained of being threatened with forceful, airborne ejection from the speeding train they were riding if they declined to sign. Beatings of recalcitrant union members were also not uncommon.

The Timberworkers had other reasons for disliking the Four L’s. Ironically, the IUT hated the Four L’s for much the same reason the IWW hated the IUT: each thought the other was simply a tool of capitalists, not an authentic workers’ union. The Timberworkers, however, did not usually couch their criticisms in such language declaring that the Legion was "a prostituted, boss-controlled organization of employers and company suckers." The IUT’s opinion of the IWW was not any more favorable. According to the IUT the IWW was "a menace to the government of this country and is opposed to the American Federation of Labor for its belief in the government, and because of these facts, the Timber Workers Uunion, affiliated with the American Federation of Labor, is opposed to the I.W.W."

IWW’s were "worse than scabs." In turn Disque equated Timberworker membership with "disloyalty to the nation." The IUT also felt that the Four L’s were actively attempting to destroy them. This was not true, at least in the beginning. Disque had "no personal objection to organized labor" but felt that the Timberworkers and the Shingle Weavers withhold form any attempt at organization in the lumber industry as it would be detrimental to the war effort and personally damaging to his reputation. This he communicated to Gompers in hopes that he would restrain the activities of AFL unions and organizers. Disque also told Gompers that the legion was a wartime organization, that after the war "the Loyal Legion will have spent its usefulness and it will be necessary then that some kind of organization replace it." Although Gompers does not appear to have entered into an explicit agreement with Disque he nonetheless encouraged AFL unions to withhold form organizing. The Timberworkers, still weak from the 1917 lumber strike, were angered by Gompers’ lack of official support for the Timberworkers’ struggle against the Four L’s.

Undoubtedly, one element of the IUT’s loathing of the Four L’s was their ability to achieve the eight hour day. Whereas the Legion accomplished this feat within five months of its founding, the IUT had twice almost been destroyed by its attempts at the eight hour day. The Four L’s, though, did not have to contend with the same obstacles as the IUT. Disque had become quite popular in Washington and was given near absolute authority to do what was necessary to improve production. To resolve the eight hour issue he brought the full force of federal power to bear on the operators. Disque threatened to commandeer lands, mills, or whatever else he deemed necessary for timber production. Concurrently, Senator George Chamberlain of Oregon was pushing a bill through congress that would indirectly give Disque such power. Reluctantly the lumbermen conceded. The eight hour day was established in the lumber industry on March 1, 1918.

Brice Disque was easily swayed by those whom the thought his betters. One element that contributed to Disque’s reevaluation of organized labor was a change of mentors. Initially Carleton Parker took Disque under his wing. Parker was a progressive reformer who did much to convince Disque of the moral and practical benefits of organized labor. His later guru, Charles Van Hemert, detested labor organizations as socialistic and unpatriotic at best. Consequently Disque also became inclined to dislike unions. Although each of these men exerted considerable influence on Disque, Van Hemert’s bias won out in the end.

The relationship between Samuel Gompers and Brice Disque bean when the initial proposal for the Four L’s was submitted to Sam Gompers for his approval. Gompers endorsed the plan and he and Disque kept in close contact over it. However, this amicable relationship did not last. It appears the initial overt split between these two resulted from a widely read letter Gompers wrote to W.D. Clark, secretary of the Timberworkers local in Couer d’Alene, Idaho, on May 21, 1918, in which Gompers stated that the establishment of the eight hour day "was the achievement of the American Federation of Labor, and no little credit is due to the International Union of Timberworkers." Disque, denied his rightful glory, began to detest Gompers, the AFL and, through them, the IUT.

Colonel Disque’s personality was readily apparent in the Four L’s from the beginning so it is not surprising that this fallout with Gompers and change of mentors had important ramifications. He was a selfish, power-hungry man who strove to concentrate power in his hands alone. During the formative stages of the Four L’s, Disque worked to insure he would be the sole commander. The effect of this can be seen in the Legion organizational structure. Locals were limited to a single secretary who was invariably appointed by Disque. Also, the grievance procedure ended with Disque who had reserved the right of final arbiter. Disque allowed his personal distaste for Gompers to radically influence Legion policy: shortly after his May split with Gompers, Disque told Legion officers that any Legionnaire who "spoke against the Four L effort ... was to lose his Legion card and his job. However, Disque did not stop there; AFL meeting halls were attacked by Legion officers. The excessively brutal Captain E.D. Birkholz leading SPD troopers and Legionnaires wielding 2 x 4’s and pick handles, broke up a Timberworkers’ organizing meeting that was being held outside a Legion camp. According to the account by Idaho Federationists, the captain said: "I am an Army officer    and I have come here to disband this union and by God I am going to do it."  Birkholz was never punished for his zeal. By mid 1918 Disque had ordered that any Legion local in which too many members joined the Timberworkers, or any AFL union, have their charter revoked and the errant members expelled.

The Timberworkers did not intend to sit still while its members were beaten and its meetings violently disrupted. However, Disque’s wartime constraints crippled the IUT thus they were not nearly as strong, well armed, or protected as the Legion and, as such, could not return the favors in kind. Therefore they took the offensive in newspapers and meetings. Although public attacks on the Legion during the war years were generally restrained, a resolution to be forwarded to President Wilson, Secretary of War Baker, Sam Gompers, and the public press, openly accused Disque of being a liar. A second resolution, forwarded to all above except the President, compared Disque with the German Kaiser and declared that membership in the Legion interfered with civil rights and that the Legion was an autocratic organization which denied democracy to the citizens of America. For the most part, though, the IUT restricted its denouncements of the Legion to more subtle proclamations. The Timberworkers also arranged numerous debates between representatives of the Legion and the Timberworkers. Quite often Ray Canterbury, now International Secretary and general organizer, was chosen to speak for the IUT. Reports of these events in labor newspapers typically sided with the Timberworkers. It seems, though, that Ray kept at tight reign on his temper, never lambasting the Legion enough to incur retribution. Indeed, in March 1918 Ray is reported to have said "we have the utmost confidence in Colonel Disque. We found him a man fair to all parties concerned, and one who is sure to make a great success in the office he now holds." However, this facade would not last. After the war Ray described Disque as "crooked" and "treacherous," the Legion as a "rotten bunch."

In March 1918, the Shingle Weavers and Timberworkers amalgamated under the name of the latter. The Shingle Weavers had suffered badly from Disque’s anti-AFL policies adding only 206 members to the Timberworkers’ 2,324. In June of 1918 the new Timberworkers began an intensive organizational campaign in Legion camps. Were it not for Disque and the Legion this campaign could have been quite successful. The demands of the war created a labor market with a paltry unemployment rate of 1.4 percent in 1918 thus markedly favoring workers. Furthermore, the use of employer groups to suppress unionization left workers distrustful of such organizations and, hence, more likely to join a legitimate union. However, Disque, still irate over the letter from Gompers he had received less than a week prior, retaliated by utilizing his political power and influence. Law men harassed AFL organizers and the draft status of Timberworkers received special attention. Luckily, Raymond Canterbury was exempt from the draft for medical reasons.

After the was the IUT and Ray let loose their full hatred of the Legion in the press and in meeting halls throughout the Northwest. Ray wrote innumerable vituperative articles for several newspapers. He toured the country incessantly, speaking and organizing wherever he went. He was a fiery speaker, utterly wound up in his cause. Ray also had a reputation for complete honesty and impeccable integrity. Considering Ray’s personality and his incredible organizational and leadership skills it is small wonder that he was promoted often, attaining the International Presidency in 1921. Throughout his career he never let up on the Legion. The Timberworkers also continued attacking Disque after he left the Legion. The continuation of the Legion after the war became a constant source of discontent and ammunition for published polemics.

Disque had offered to disband the Legion after the war if Gompers would restrict the organizational activities of AFL unions in the Northwest. Gompers does not appear to have explicitly agreed to this, although he did, initially, curb AFL activities. Nevertheless, the hatred Disque developed for the AFL would not allow him to let the Four L’s exit quietly. Instead of directly disbanding the Legion, Disque convened a meeting of Legion secretaries and members wherein it was unanimously decided to continue the Legion after the war. Recall that Legion officers were almost invariably appointed by Disque. Furthermore, at the first Legion convention after the war only fifteen or twenty delegates represented workers and negative votes on resolutions were not counted. Whether or not workers wanted to continue the Legion is a matter of some debate. Workers in Bend, Oregon, "voted to drop it for good." At the Brooks-Scanlon Lumber Company, the starting place of Ray Canterbury’s union activities, five people voted to keep the Legion -- all foremen. Moreover, membership after the armistice abruptly plummeted, from 79,591 to an average membership in 1919 of 16,703. Membership increased slightly in 1920 before leveling off at just over 10,000 for the remainder of the 1920’s. Most of these members were in mills, the Legion being very weak in the camps. It is perhaps the accomplishments to the Legion that convinced many workers that it was more a workers’ union than a company union that lead so many to sustain Legion membership.

The Timberworkers more than tripled their membership in 1919, thought most of these additions were in the Great Lakes area. They remained relatively weak in the Northwest claiming only 1, 923 members in 42 locals. Although most of the Northwestern locals had less than 100 dollars in their general fund’s, the locals Everett, McKenna, Aberdeen, Yakima, and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, all had significantly more. The most powerful locals were Bellingham and Bend, Oregon. The Timberworkers surrendered six charters during fiscal 1918 but issued 55, six of which were "colored." The IUT continued to be optimistic about their efforts. By June of 1920 the IUT had 15, 759 members. It seems that their continuous assault on the Four L’s convinced quite a few workers of the benefits of a workers’ union. The Timberworkers used this increase in power wisely, winning several small strikes during the first years after the war, as well as the much larger strike for the eight hour day in the Great Lakes region. These strikes were not easily won though as employers relentlessly attacked the Timberworkers with propaganda and even espionage.

The Bellingham strike was by far the most important action taken by the Timberworkers in 1920. The Bloedel Donovan Company discharged the Timberworker shop stewards from its plant on July 19 incurring a massive strike. The company refused to negotiate with the union or re-hire the strike leaders; rather they established a company union to counteract the influence of the IUT. The IUT claimed that that IWW and the Four L’s scabbed on them though it seems that Wobblies and Legionnaires waited till the strike was nearly broken before working. This proved to be a turning point for the Timberworkers. Membership began to decline: in July they were down to 12,317 members; by August only 4, 614 remained. The deterioration in membership continued at an average rate of 500 per month for the rest of the year. At this time the Timberworkers were focusing their efforts on the Great Lakes timber areas and, possibly because of continued wariness of the Four L’s, neglected the Northwest.

The Timberworkers continued struggle for survival did not allow them to pursue many of their other aims. Although the repeated declines membership and finances lead to caution in Timberworker officers, their ideas did not waiver. The preamble to the IUT constitution and by-laws proclaims the intent of the Timberworkers was, in part, "to cultivate the social and fraternal ties existing among the workers in the timber industry." This kind of idealism is seen again in 1919 when the IUT resolved to "use its best effort" to secure health insurance legislation for which the worker would "not be compelled to pay any part." However, with membership plummeting, their efforts to achieve such legislation were merely tokens.

It seems, though, that they were somewhat successful in promoting fraternity among timber workers. Among the IUT’s social activities was a circa 1920 banquet of 500 at which Vice President Ray Canterbury addressed the assembled to their great pleasure. The Timberworkers of Bend, Oregon, arranged a dance and auction event in honor of Canterbury to raise funds for the union. The event was a great success netting over 600 dollars. One man, A.H. Horn, wrapped a brick and a $1 check in a package labeled "[n]o one ever lost anything by buying brick." The Bend local also provided for some of the more practical needs of members. The headquarters contained a two chair barbershop and a tobacco and confectionery shop as well as club rooms "to furnish a place of amusement as well as a gathering place for the members and their friends."

However, fraternity itself was not sufficient. The lumber depression of 1921 resulted in appalling unemployment rates which were reflected in Timberworker membership. The depression had an altogether unforeseen consequence as well. The Timberworkers kept their treasury primarily in the Scandinavian-American bank so when the bank bankrupted the Timberworkers’ funds were lost. In June of 1921 the AFL, dismayed at the state of organization in the industry and the plight of the IUT, resolved to "render all possible assistance" to the Timberworkers that they might organize enough workers to maintain themselves as a union. A principal reason for this aid was to keep Ray Canterbury, International President in the field as an organizer. This assistance, however, was not sufficient but the officers of the IUT, already grateful for all the AFL had done for them, would not ask for more. C.O. "Dad" Young, Gompers’ representative in the area, requested further financial aid from Gompers in November stating that if support was not received the Timberworkers might, of necessity, "close their doors."

Although AFL assistance kept the doors of the IUT open, it did not significantly alter the state of affairs. Membership continued to decline but the Timberworkers refused to admit defeat. When, on February 24, 1922, the mills at Klamath Falls notified their employees that as of March 1 they would be returning to nine hour days, ten in the valley, the workers struck. There was only a small local of the IUT in Klamath which most workers joined to better organize the strike. The upsurge in union membership had little effect; the strike was lost. In June the IUT permitted its members to return to work but refused to call off the strike, fearing that doing so would be a tacit endorsement of the longer days.

As 1922 ended, the Timberworkers’ situation degenerated. The officers of the IUT had to pay whatever bills there were from their own pockets. By February of 1923 the IUT was inquiring of the AFL what was necessary for them to surrender their charter. The AFL responded by requesting that the officers of the IUT keep their positions without pay or at least maintain contact with the few remaining locals so that they might revive the union when conditions permitted. This was not to happen. By the end of March 1923 the Timberworkers had closed all their offices. Raymond Canterbury resigned from the International Union of Timberworkers April 1, 1923.

After the dissolution of the IUT Raymond resurrected the Rainier Valley Herald newspaper. He did not continue in union organization because he was tired of the petty politicking and Sam Gompers’ conciliatory, exclusionist policies. Gompers’ restraint of the IUT during the war and his "lack of support for the Timberworkers’ crusade against Disque" also ate at Ray. Maxwell Canterbury, Raymond’s eldest son, recalls that the failure of the IUT crushed Raymond. After so many years of sacrifice, personal, political, and financial, the inability of the IUT to survive or achieve many tangible gains was too much to bear. Ray had spent so much time away from home on union business that his eldest son has only one childhood memory of playing with him. Raymond’s financial commitment to the IUT caused his son to consider him a foolish, albeit dedicated man. Economic hardship became the Canterbury’s constant companion causing Max to get his first job at 12 to help. After Ray left the union Max lent his father money so he could get this possessions out of hawk. Only recently has Max begun to revise his opinion of his father. Ray was also in declining health; he had a disease that slowly dissolved his bones. By the mid 1930’s he could no longer even throw a ball.

Ray’s post union life was not, however a complete failure. He became a real estate agent in 1928 where he specialized in bringing together people who were likely to do business. Usually he worked for trade, his commission being a car, food, or some other non-monetary compensation. Out of one of these arrangements Ray acquired a good deal of property on Quilcene Bay. Here Ray started the Canterbury Oyster Farm that still exists today although industrial pollutants have contaminated the oysters.

From the Timberworkers inception to their demise they struggled to survive. No matter how hard they tried exigencies known and unforeseen did not permit their success or existence. AFL ideologies and the isolation of workers made simple formation laborious and unsure. Once instituted the IUT found itself in an environment inimical to unions through judicial rulings and self centered employers. Brice Disque’s personal antipathy towards Samuel Gompers lead to severe repression and harassment of the Timberworkers through the Loyal Legion. Legion practices during the war weakened the IUT so much that even the membership surge of 1919 was not sustained. Continued wariness of the Legion lead to the Timberworkers neglect of the Northwest and thus, their inability to survive the depression of 1921. Raymond Canterbury’s involvement, thought dedicated, was not enough to overcome ineffectual federal legislation or the legacy of Legion attacks. This legacy in combination with the 1921 depression spelled the end of the Timberworkers. Raymond’s post-union search for a career elucidates his absolute commitment to, and his emotional investment in, the International Union of Timberworkers.


©1999 Chris Canterbury

©1999-present |  How to cite and copyright information  |  About project  |  Contact James Gregory   | Pacific Northwest Labor and Civil Rights Projects | University of Washington