Seattle General Strike Project
Sources and Research Guide to:
The Origins of the Loyal Legion of Loggers & Lumbermen
By Erik Mickelson
The Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen was the world’s biggest company union in 1917, when it was created by Brice P. Disque of the United States Army. With the booming wartime economy, labor was a prime commodity in 1917, establishing increased demands for labor related jobs. As a result of the increased demand for labor, the loggers and lumbermen in the Pacific Northwest felt they had the leverage to strike for higher wages and better working conditions in the beginning of 1917.
What started out as a local strike for river workers on the dangerous Montana waterways on April 13, 1917, quickly escalated to a major work stoppage across the whole region by the middle of July. Timber workers were tired of working in unsafe living conditions, eating rotten meals, and working long hours for small pay. With the IWW behind their efforts, the timber industry went on strike bringing the Pacific Northwest lumber industry to a crawl.
Even though the booming wartime economy gave the labor workers of the Pacific Northwest added leverage in their strike, the United States Army became alarmed at the work stoppage and sudden decrease in Spruce production from the forests. Since the United States was in the midst of compiling a fleet of naval vessels and aircraft for the war in Europe, Spruce was needed to create ships for war. Because of the lumber strike of 1917, the amount of spruce being produced was far less than what was needed for the United States’ Army.
In order to bring the spruce production back to normal, Coronal Disque of the United States Army was hired by the government to mediate and bring a quick end to the strike. Disque immediately put several thousand US troops to work in the forests while he negotiated with the owners of the forests to bring the lumbermen back. Because many of the logger’s savings were depleted, many went back to work immediately. Disque negotiated an eight hour work day with the same amount of pay as a longer day the lumbermen had originally been working. This brought an end to the lumber strike.
Disque did not stop after he ended the lumber strike of 1917. He formed the Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen (4L), a company union made up of both employees and employers whose goal was to settle disputes between the two sides without loss of work time.
The 4L had several disagreements with the radical IWW who believed in strikes as a means to meet their labor demands. The 4L represented "the conservative worker who wanted to build a home and family." After the prosperous twenties, the 4L weakened in the thirties and came to an end in 1938. From the creation of the 4L, it was enormously popular and in 1918, had a high membership of over 110,000 members.
Harold M. Hyman, Soldiers and Spruce: Origins of the Loyal Legion of Loggers & Lumbermen (University of California, Los Angeles, 1963)
Claude W. Nichols, Brotherhood in the woods; the Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen, a twenty year attempt at "industrial cooperation." (Thesis-University of Oregon, 1959)
This report will describe three sets of primary sources that would be useful to researchers investigating the 4L and the Lumber Strike of 1917.
Brice P. Disque papers, 1917-1960, ms 67002231
Over two boxes of original papers from Disque. Most of the papers are personal, but there are some business papers from his days in the 4L. note: the majority of the papers from his time in the 4L are kept at the University of Oregon.
Four L lumber news, 1919-1937, 674.05 FO v.1-19
Issued three times a month for the life of the Four L, this is a wonderful source for articles and happenings of the Four L. The earlier issues display anti-IWW propaganda and illustrate the prosperity that possibly could happen if employer and employee enter in to an equal and non-exploiting relationship.
Industrial relations in the west coast lumber industry, Cloice Ray Howd, 1923, 979.714 H83i
Bulletin of the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics which has many labor statistics and numbers of the Four L.
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