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How the 1935 Timber Strike Affected Our Nation's Furniture

1935 Timber Strike Header

Police Remove Striker from 1935 Timber Strike

The Timber Strike of 1935 greatly effected the nation's woodworking industries for the whole of its one-month duration. It was considered to be one of the largest-scale strikes to have been experienced in the Pacific Northwest and, since the majority of the nation's wood came from this region, furniture factories were also effectively shut down. The aftershocks of the strike were felt immediately, as the Northwest's stronghold on the timber industry led to a dearth of available wood for common construction and manufacturing jobs, making even the assembly of a chair difficult. As strikers campaigned to fight inadequate working conditions by joining forces with established unions, suffered the indignities of negative press and attempted to manage conflict within their own ranks, others, like furniture manufacturers, waited for wood production to resume so they could continue with their own jobs.

The production halt on construction-grade wood by saw mills and logging establishments had far-reaching effects on the economy, the influence of unions, and various woodworking industries. As strikers were temporarily left without work, so were workers whose livelihoods depended on the receipt of this raw material, such as furniture manufactures. To compound matters, related unions began showing their solidarity with the timber workers. The International Longshoremen's Association, for example, refused to transport wood that was supplied by non-unionized timber workers. Wood supplies grew lower, and remaining reserves were carefully vetted for distribution.

Seattle Times Artile About 1935 Strike

The timber workers organized themselves as the Northwest Council of Sawmill and Timber Workers Unions, a part of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, and had elected a man named A.W. Muir to represent their interests during the strike. Disagreement within and between ranks about Muir's competency and political agenda were so widespread that they caused the International Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners to publicly denounce Muir as their spokesperson. Torn between a common cause and a heightening suspicion of Muir, the strikers were pushed to resolve tensions between employers and workers as quickly as possible. Despite this, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters showed their support of the timber strikers by claiming that wood planed for any type of woodworking, including furniture manufacturing, should not be handled unless their union were recognized and their consequent demands met.

With violence surrounding the strike reaching a fever pitch, state police forces and the National Guard were called in to restore order. The clashes between protestors, employers and scabs resulted in gassings, injuries and even fatalities. About a month after the strike began, employers offered strikers a compromise: wages would be increased, and shorter work weeks would be offered, but acknowledgment of the strikers as part of a legitimate union would not be granted. Soon after the proposal, timber strikers returned to work, providing furniture manufacturers with their necessary material of wood, and with the renewed goal of eventually forming a powerful, unstoppable union capable of protecting its members.

Visit the following links to learn more about the Timber Strike of 1935 and how it effected furniture-making:

Loggers in Oregon circa 1935