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“Digging into History: Foul Play at Forest Industry Negotiations” by John Mountain, Vol. 1 No. 7 (July, 2019)

These first few blog posts are backdated issues of John Mountain’s historical newsletter “Digging into History”. As of March 2020, John had been working on sorting the collection for over a year and a half, publishing a newsletter every month detailing his findings.

Employer Bargaining Strategy Same Today As It Was Yesterday – In 1957, IWA Regional District 1 President Joe Morris delivered a speech to the membership on how the union was going to approach bargaining that year. And although it was over sixty years ago, his words draw some similarities to the challenges union members face today in 2019.

While not everyone agreed with his less militant position on union matters, there were many however that agreed with his approach to bargaining when 1957 negotiations arrived in early summer of that year.

Today the forest industry is back in negotiations and it’s obvious to many that employer tactics have not changed one bit since 1957. It’s equally obvious that members who now stand on strike have the same desires as members did back then; that is, to make fair improvements to their working conditions, benefits, and wages. Check out what IWA District President Joe Morris had to say.


Employer propaganda designed to chill the desire of the IWA membership in the coastal region for improved wage schedule has not deceived anyone, declared District President Joe Morris as he keynoted the Annual District Convention on February 21, 1957.  Joe Morris to the convention delegates…

I know that every delegate present shares with me the conviction that the deliberations of this membership body will bring credit to our union and a greater good to the members whose interests are placed in our hands. This purpose, which has unified our ranks in past years, will weld our decisions here into plans for continued unity of action for those we represent. We dedicate ourselves to that purposes, now, as in the past.

Within a month we will face the employers’ representatives across the bargaining table, to consider the terms of a revised master agreement for the coast. It will be our duty to present the contract demands as formulated by you; the membership. I ask the employers and the general public to note that the membership is the body which will decide what those demands shall be.

We want no misunderstanding on this point. Our contract proposals this year, as in former years, originate in the needs expressed by the workers on the job. It is here that we can put the quietus on false statements regarding our bargaining methods. From here on, until a settlement is reached, the employers must reckon with the entire membership concerned and not any small group. All our union’s machinery is geared to enable a clear-cut and authoritative expression of the will of the membership on such matters.

We know that the membership is prepared to accept whatever responsibility may be involved in the decisions which they may order. This is not a debating society. The issues at stake in our bargaining are issues that affect the living standards of our members in vital ways. They are sufficiently in earnest about these issues to take any necessary organized action in support of their demands.

This makes our duty in regard to such matters, very plain. We must prepare to transmit the requirements of our membership, as stated by them, and with all due emphasis, to the employers at the bargaining table. At the same time, we must inform the membership of all that may be required to accomplish their desires. It is important to keep clearly in mind the fact that membership instruction must be made effective by membership action. For this reason, every major decision on negotiation made by the membership, should also carry with it a considered plan for its accomplishment.

I speak this way because of the theme predominating in the employers’ propaganda directed against our aims at this time. At one stage they actually attempted to make us believe that we should accept less this year. Every temporary difficulty experienced in our economy has been magnified one hundred fold, in an effort to chill our desire for a better contract. Because we know the facts, we are not impressed by these attempts to settle these issues for us in the daily press.

As a matter of fact, the nature of statements attributed to prominent spokesmen of the lumber industry has aroused suspicion that they are seeking to evade some honest fact-finding and fact-facing at the bargaining table. This union is prepared to bargain in good faith, at the time appointed. It is therefore a matter of regret that any employers have anticipated the results of this bargaining in a manner that is provocative of distrust.

All the gloomy predictions that are made about the prospects in the lumber industry, are based on interpretations of temporary adverse developments in the provincial economy.

It is very easy to point to a number of developments in some sectors of the economy and cry the blues. It is not our intention to minimize any of these developments, but we must point out that the long-range prospects were never better. The proof of this is found in the fact that the returns on investment, as reflected in dividend payments, has steadily risen and continues to rise. The general trend of capital investment is in direct contradiction to the pessimism expressed by the investors when they are asked to give consideration to wage levels.

I confidently expect the membership to make it abundantly clear that it will not accept the belief that purely temporary developments in the economy are to be accepted as being of a permanent character. Where difficulties have been experienced, we now see measures in the making to overcome them. When we consider the overall picture, it is inconceivable that we should be panicked into a major recession, when all the major trends point to a continued buoyancy of the national economy.

I trust that we will never see the day when this union will accept the false economic reasoning that continued prosperity will result from depressed wages accompanied by soaring profits. To maintain the level of business prosperity, wage income should rise as our productive capacity increases. The purchasing power resulting from the distribution of wage income, affecting as it does the bulk of the population, is an indispensable factor in our prosperity.

 – BC Lumberworker – 2nd Issue – February 1957

Joe Morris was Local 1-80 President from 1948 to 1952, who went on to become president of District 1 from 1952 to 1962, president of the Canadian Labour Congress, and then became Canadian representative to the International Labour Organization.


The IWA Salutes the Past – Challenges the Future

BC Lumberworker Vol. XXXIV, No.1 – January 1971      Editor: Pat Kerr

1944 – The Seventh Annual District Convention in 1944 approved a “no strike” pledge. “Win the war” slogans predominated. At that gathering Local 1-80 Duncan claimed the honor of being the largest Local in the District, and the second largest in the International. Local 1-217 Vancouver started to forge ahead when Canadian White Pine was certified. Under authority of the War Services Act, the Loggers’ Local 1-71 established its hiring hall with the support of the District Council. Local 1-405 Cranbrook was granted its charter in 1944.

The District Council rejected the resolution of the Canadian Congress of Labour which declared the CCF to be the political arm of labor.

Negotiations for the terms of a master agreement were opened in 1944 with R. V. Stuart Research Ltd., stating the union shop as the main issue.

1945 – In 1945, the Union approved demands which aimed at the avoidance of strikes and forfeited any general wage increase. A demand was made for an extra week’s vacation after five years, wage rate revision, and a medical health scheme. Night shift differentials were included. The 44-hour week was permitted in order to speed up war production.

Internal conflict loomed as Organizer Mike Freylinger was fired by the International for disruptive activities, and the B.C. District Council instructed its delegates to vote for a pro-Communist slate at the International Convention. Nigel Morgan, International Board Member, was nominated as an LPP federal candidate.

Attention was given to organization in the Interior, where conditions were reported to be “terrible”. The War Labour Board approved the negotiation of a second week’s vacation.

The power saw problem was tackled by demanding that fallers and buckers should not be expected to own their own saws.

Next time in Digging Into History, I’ll cover off the 1946 and 1947. Thanks to the BC Lumber worker for these excerpts.

I’m so glad to be playing a part in preserving the history of the IWA. If my story about Joe Morris’ address to the 1957 convention kindles any further interest, I urge you to contact the Kaatza Museum staff. Next time in Digging Into History, I’ll take another deep dive into the archives and share some other interesting stories.

Until next time,    John

John Mountain is a retired United Steelworkers Canadian National Office Staff Representative and former IWA Local 1-80 Union Member. He lives in Chemainus and volunteers some of his time at the Kaatza Museum in Lake Cowichan.

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