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The IWW And Earth First! - Part 2: The Crucible

By X344543 - Industrial Worker, June 1988

The IWW connection to Earth First! was, believe it or not, woven in the woof. In fact, as far as the two organizations’ struggles with the timber bosses go, both could be said to have been forged from the same crucible: the Humboldt County town of Eureka in northwestern California, the de facto capital of the Redwood Empire.

Long before the IWW joined in Earth First!’s (ultimately successful) struggles to save Headwaters Forest in Humboldt County, the roots of that struggle began with the workers’ struggles against the timber bosses.

In the formative years of the timber industry in the United States and Canada—the last third of the 19th century—working conditions were abysmal. Then, as now, timber was one of the top five most dangerous industrial jobs in the world. Timber workers were subjected to long hours, dangerous working conditions, unsanitary labor camps, company towns (where the employer was literally the government) and no job security. The bosses, meanwhile, were making a killing on the backs of both the workers and the environment. Vast amounts of standing timber were held by what would soon evolve into modern timber corporations, and not too few of them had acquired their holdings through graft and very questionable homesteading laws.

This was no exception in the Redwood Empire. In Eureka, the California Redwood Company (CRC), whose owners were European capitalists, was one of the worst examples. Workers at the CRC, many of whom were populists—including a butcher by the name of Charles Keller, who was a member of the International Workingmen’s Association (IWA)—formed the very first union of timber workers in North America to affiliate with the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Together, they exposed the CRC’s graft, in spite of vigilante mobs organized by the CRC and the other companies as well as yellow jour nalism and slander by the local press. The union didn’t secure recognition, but they did improve working conditions slightly, and the CRC was forced to shut down.

The story of the IWW’s LumberWorkers Industrial Union and its successful fight for the eight-hour day is well documented elsewhere, but what is not well known is that, while the IWW never gained much of a foothold in the Redwood Empire (its successes were concentrated mostly in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana), its influence was felt there nonetheless.

The IWW And Earth First!: Part 1 - Establishing Roots

By X344543 - Industrial Worker, May 1988. Dedicated to Franklin Rosemont, Carlos Cortez, and Utah Phillips.

Judi Bari was both an Earth First!er and a Wobbly from 1988 to 1993 and during that time there was a close alliance between the two organizations. Although some assume she brought the two together, the truth is more complex. When Judi Bari joined Earth First! and the IWW in the summer of 1988, Earth First!ers and Wobblies were already discussing the idea of forging an alliance. There are many reasons for this, but the overarching explanation is that Earth First! and the IWW are really different manifestations of thesame revolutionary impulse.

The IWW, founded in Chicago in 1905 by radical working class anti-capitalists from veterans of various movements and struggles, united around the idea of forming One Big Union of the working class. They offered a revolutionary alternative to the classcollaborationist American Federation of Labor (AFL). The IWW pledged to organize all workers—regardless of ethnicity, gender or skill level—by industry rather than craft. Instead of the conservative AFL motto, “a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work,” the IWW sought to abolish wage slavery altogether. No longer would workers collectively enable their own oppression by crossing each other’s (craft based) picket lines, they said. The IWW would organize the working class together. This was summarized by the slogan, “An injury to one is an injury to all!”

The IWW set out to achieve this creatively, becoming known as much for its “right brain” artistic contributions to working-class culture as well as its “left brain” organizing activities.

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