William D. Haywood


Timber Workers and Timber Wolves

(August 1912)


Source: From International Socialist Review, Vol. 13 No. 2, August 1912, pp. 105–110.
Transcription: Matthew Siegfried.
HTML mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists Internet Archive (2019).
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2022). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.


AL. EMERSON, President of the Brotherhood of Timber Workers, is in jail at Lake Charles, La. He was arrested following the shooting at Grabow, La., where three union men and one company hireling were killed outright and nearly two score of men were more or less seriously wounded.

The shooting is the outcome of the bitter war waged against the members of the Brotherhood of Timber Workers by the Lumber Trust for the last eighteen months. The scene of the tragedy that occurred on Sunday, July seventh, is a typical Southern lumber camp. The mill at this place is operated by the Galloway Lumber Company. In common with all others, it is surrounded by the miserable houses where the workers find habitation, the commissary store of the Company being the largest place of business in the towns. A strike has been on at this place since the middle of last May. The single demand on the part of the union men was for a bi-weekly pay day. Heretofore the pay days have been at long intervals – usually a month apart.

During the intervening weeks, when the men were in need of money to meet the necessities of life, they could secure advances on their pay but not in real money. They were compelled to accept Company Scrip payable only in merchandise and exchangeable only at the company commissary. If accepted elsewhere it is uniformly discounted from 10 to 25 per cent on the dollar.

In the commissary stores where the cash prices are always from 20 to 50 per cent higher than at the independent stores, the company has established another means of graft by making two prices – the coupon or scrip price being much higher than that exacted for real cash.

The conditions at Grabow can be used as an illustration of nearly all of the other lumber camps of the South.

The commissary store is not the only iniquity imposed upon the Timber Workers. For miserable shacks they the compelled to pay exorbitant rents; sewerage there is none; there is no pretense at sanitation; the outhouses are open vaults. For these accommodations families pay from $5 to $20 a month. In one camp worn-out box cars are rented by R. A. Long, the Kansas City philanthropist, for $4 a month. Insurance fees are arbitrarily collected from every worker, for which he receives practically nothing in return, but whether his time be long or short – one day or a month – with the company, the fee is deducted. The same is true of the doctor fee and the hospital fee, which, in all places, is an imaginary institution. The nearest thing to a hospital that the writer saw was an uncompleted foundation at De Ridder, the place visited a few days prior to the Grabow tragedy. The gunmen and deputy sheriffs are an expensive innovation in the manufacture of lumber. These miserable tools are to be found everywhere and are used to browbeat and coerce the workers.

The lumber crews are hired without regard to color or nationality. In building up the Brotherhood of Timber Workers the officials of that organization have followed the lines laid down by the bosses and have brought into the ranks such persons as the bosses have employed. With wisdom and forethought they have refused to allow a discordant note to cause dissension in their ranks. This spirit of class consciousness aroused the ire of the lumber company to such an extent that no member of the Brotherhood of Timber Workers or the Industrial Workers of the World is given employment.

The spirit of the organization was plainly shown in its recent convention held at Alexandria where an effort was made on the part of the authorities to prevent a joint convention of white and black members. The Democratic officials of the county threatened to have an injunction issued or some other process of law invoked to prevent the body from coming together. As there is no law in Louisiana that prohibits the mixing of the races on the job, the B.T. of W. could not understand why they should not confer and council with each other in convention about their daily work, it being the purpose of the organization to improve the conditions under which its members labor.

After the Alexandria Convention adjourned, the first effort of the Timber Workers was to establish the semi-monthly pay day at Grabow. The demand was made of the company that pay day should come every two weeks. The demand was flatly refused and the strike followed and has continued since. The Galloway Lumber Company, the concern affected, tried to operate their mill in the meantime with non-union men who had been induced to fill some of the places of the striking timber workers. It was for the purpose of bringing these men into the organization that President Emerson, accompanied by a hundred or more members and sympathizers from De Ridder, went to Grabow.

While Emerson was addressing the crowd that had assembled a shot was tired from the direction of the lumber company’s office, which struck a young man standing by his side. This shot seemed to be the signal for a fusillade, coming not only from the office but from barricades of lumber and from the houses occupied by company thugs, one of whom stepped to the door and fired a shot which lodged in the abdomen of Bud Hickman, a farmer, who with his wife in his buggy, was trying to get away from the conflict.

Roy Martin and Gates Hall, two union men, were killed outright and A.W. Vincent, a company man, was also killed. That the company was prepared and looking for an opportunity to make just such a murderous assault is evidenced by the fact that the office had been converted into an arsenal.

The first news received at New Orleans, which later reports seem to verify, was that managers, superintendents and gunmen from other lumber companies were ambushed in the Galloway Lumber Company office and that a wholesale slaughter of union men had been deliberately planned. That the murder of Emerson was intended is clearly shown by the fact that the man standing closest to him was the first shot down. Emerson was the desired victim. He had long been a target for the lumber barons’ hatred and venom.

Emerson is in jail, being held without bail at the time of this writing to await the action of the Grand Jury, that is to convene on the 15th of August. He is charged with murder on two counts. It will be proven in the course of time that his only crime is that of trying to lessen the burden and lengthen the lives of his fellow workers.

Before the campaign of organization now inaugurated by the Industrial Workers of the World is closed the lumber barons of Dixieland will have learned that it is impossible to fell trees with rifles and saw lumber with six shooters.

It should be mentioned here that of the nine men arrested four are non-union men, two of them, John and Paul Galloway, being owners of the Lumber Company. All are charged with murder. This, perhaps, indicates that the Trust has not entirely corralled the officialdom of Louisiana. It is certain that they are in bad repute with the business element in nearly all of the towns as their commissaries have been the means of controlling nearly the entire earnings of their employees, who are compelled to trade with the companies or lose the only means they have of making a living.

To maintain their absolute control of the camps the lumber companies, with the aid of their thugs, patrolled the towns, in some places enclosures were built around the mills and shacks. Notices were posted warning away union men, peddlers and Socialists.

Only a few days ago, H.G. Creel, one of the Rip-Saw editors on a lecture tour, was roughly handled at Oakdale and Del Ridder, La. He was compelled to leave the first-named place, being threatened and intimidated by gunmen.

The small merchant realizes that if the workers are allowed to trade where they choose some of their money would pass over their counters and they know if wages are increased there would be a corresponding increase in their day’s receipts. This will account for the fact that the small business man and farmer have given their sympathy and a measure of support to the growing union of timber workers.

Arthur L. Emerson and Jay Smith, both Southern born, are the men around whom interest centers. They are the men who organized the Brotherhood of Timber Workers. Emerson had made two trips to the West – one to the Lumber District to the Southwest and the other to the Northwest. It was during the time that he worked with the lumber jacks of the Pacific Coast that he learned the need of organization. This thought was especially developed when he came in contact with the Lumber Workers’ Union of St. Regis and other points in the Bitter Root Range of Mountains. Being a practical lumber jack and saw mill hand and mill-wright himself, he saw at once the discrepancy in wages between the Pacific Coast and the Gulf States and upon his return to Dixieland he immediately took up the burden of organizing the workers as the only possible means of bringing up their wages and conditions to the level of the already too-low Western scale.

His first attempt was at Fullerton, Louisiana, where, after securing employment in the mill, by energetic work, he had in a few days secured a list of eighty-five of the one hundred and twenty-five employes who signified their willingness to join an organization such as he, in his earnestness, explained to them, outlining the benefits to be derived if all would stand together in one union.

Emerson traveled from place to place securing a few days’ employment in the different lumber camps, carrying his message of unionism to the slaves of the pine forests and cypress swamps of the Southern states.

In this work of organization, he soon enlisted Jay Smith, his colleague in office, the present Secretary of the organization, and thousands of other stalwart men of the woods and saw mills, never hesitating at the color line or the nature of a man’s work.

The framework of the Brotherhood of Timber Workers was as solid as the heart of the mighty oak that they converted into lumber. It was securely rooted. With headquarters at Alexandria, La., it branched out into the surrounding states. Its membership rapidly increased until thirty thousand of the wage slaves of the Lumber Trust were enrolled in its ranks.

Through the system of espionage which the Trust has established throughout its domain, the managers of the companies kept themselves informed of the work of the organization and its rapid growth. They realized that with this kind of an organization to contend with, their despotic methods would be at an end and they determined to destroy it root and branch.

To this end the Southern Lumber Operators’ Ass’n. applied the most drastic action, closing down without notice forty-six mills. The thousands of workers who were employed in the lumber industry were thus deprived of their means of livelihood and left to shift for themselves. This arbitrary shut-down was continued for a period of nearly six months and it is only now that the operators are endeavoring to run their mills as the demand for lumber has become so great and as the prices are higher than at any period in the history of the lumber industry the most vigorous efforts are being made to man the mills with non-union labor.

Being unsuccessful a few of the largest companies have withdrawn from the Association; have granted the demands of the Timber Workers and are now running their mills night and day to fill accumulated orders.

The more obstreperous members of the Association are still trying to maintain their black list through the agency of their labor clearing house which has recently been established at Branch Headquarters located at Alexandria.

Their blacklisting system is the most complete in operation anywhere. A man is compelled to give his name, birthplace, his color is recorded, the name and residence of his relatives, his former place of employment, the reason of his discharge or leaving his last place of work and particularly is he compelled to abjure all connection with the Brotherhood of Timber Workers or the Industrial Workers of the World. No later than the Fourth of July is celebrated as Independence Day in this country, John Henry Kirby, one of the wealthiest timber barons of the South, in a spread-eagle oration, declared:

“That we do ask a man when he applies to us for work whether he is a member of the B.T.W. or I.W.W. If he is, we have nothing that he can do.”

Thus a free-born American citizen, or one who has adopted this “Freeland” as his country, is denied the right to live and at the same time belong to this organization. The two having now merged, Mr. Kirby will have to refer to them as one in the future.

At the last convention of the Brotherhood of Timber Workers, attended by the writer, which was held last May, by an almost unanimous vote, application was made to the Industrial Workers of the World for a charter. The action of the convention was submitted to a referendum of the rank and file and has been sustained without a single opposing vote.

In September the Timber Workers of the South will meet in Convention representatives of timber workers from all other districts.

This meeting will be held in Chicago at about the time of the general convention of the Industrial Workers of the World. Then a National Industrial Union of Timber and Lumber Workers will be formed. This will include all of the workers employed in the United States, Canada and Mexico, in this industry, which in this country, is the third largest in importance and employs, perhaps, more men than any other.

Until the American Labor Union, which later merged with the I.W.W., began organizing the Lumber Workers, these millions of men were without a union of any kind. The organization which has now such a splendid foot-hold, will not limit its jurisdiction to any craft, section or division of the industry, but will include every man employed in the woods, the mills and the corelated industries.

The fight will be a long one and a bitter one. The struggle will be intense. Members and their families will suffer keen heart pangs, as the lumber barons will not loosen the stranglehold on their ill-gotten profits until they have exhausted every weapon that Capitalism has armed them with. But now that the workers of the Southland have joined hands with their fellow workers of the North, there can be but one result as the outcome of their united efforts. It can be recorded in one word – VICTORY! And the first step has been taken in the onward march toward Industrial freedom!

Last updated on 10 June 2022