The 150-year old redwood industry
occupies a narrow strip of land 200 miles long and about 40
miles wide along the rugged northern California coast. In
January 14, 1946, that industry was rocked to its core—not
by an earthquake but by one of the longest work strikes in
our nation's history.
Eight redwood lumber companies—
Pacific Lumber (Scotia), Union Lumber (Fort Bragg), Caspar
Lumber (Caspar), Northern Redwood Lumber Company (Korbel),
Rockport Redwood Company (Rockport), Arcata Redwood Company
(Arcata), Holmes Eureka Lumber Company (Eureka), Hammond Lumber
Company (Eureka), and Dolbeer and Carson Lumber Company—were
affected. Hollow Tree Lumber Company, which later became part
of Louisiana-Pacific and then Mendocino Redwood Company, was
not affected by the strike.The strike continued for about
27 months. At issue was the AFL Lumber and Sawmill Workers
Union demand for a wage increase from 82.5¢ an hour to
$1.05 for the workers, as well as for a closed union shop.
It was a bitter dispute that pitted not only companies against
employees but, in some cases, neighbors against neighbors.
At Pacific Lumber Company
in Scotia, 42 World War II veterans broke through the union
line and went to work. "Not long ago, we were called
heroes," their spokesman said, " Now we are called
scabs and company rats because we want to get off the government
dole and earn a living...Not only do we want to go back to
work. Veterans all over the country are begging for places
to live. Lumber is needed for houses. We intend to see that
the veteran gets it" (Humboldt Times, 11 August 1946).
Stephen Fischer, a staff writer
for the San Francisco Chronicle, wrote about the effect of
the strike on a typical sawmill town— Rockport:
Except for a very few men,
those who live in the Rockport Redwood Company's town
work for the company. Those few who continue to live in
Rockport but no longer work for the company are intimately
associated with its operations.
more than two years those men have paced before the
entrance to the company's property carrying signs which
announce the AFL Lumber and Sawmill Workers on strike.
At eight other redwood companies, some larger and some
smaller than Rockport, pickets carry similar signs as
the longest major strike in the nation's history continues.
The strike involves
only 4000 men, not a very large number when compared
to the giant industry-wide tie-ups which have periodically
shut down steel and coal and shipping. But the redwood
strike is important because of its length and what it
has done to the industry and the people involved.
The strike has turned
old friends, men who worked long years together, wrestling
with the world's greatest trees, into bitter enemies.
It has created a deep and bitter cleft among one-time
clsoe business associates. It has forced families to
move from home they had considered their lifetimes residences.
After struggling against
each other for more than two years in the deep, lonesome
woods, some men have grown weary. But they continue
to fight because they don't want to let their neighbors
The union paid the striking
workers $25 a week for single men and $6 a week for food from
the Union commissary. Adjustments were made for dependents.
At the time, prices in the Rockport company store were running
76¢ for a dozen eggs, $1.05 for a pound of butter, 60-80¢
a pound for steak, 29¢ for two cans of milk.
On April 11, 1948, union leaders
ended the strike. This was necessitated by the passage of
the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947. The Act made closed union shops,
in which an employer could only hire union members, illegal
and gave the President of the United States the power to stop
strikes that threatened national safety or health.