International Woodworkers of America

Identity area

Type of entity

Corporate body

Authorized form of name

International Woodworkers of America

Parallel form(s) of name

Standardized form(s) of name according to other rules

Other form(s) of name

  • International Woodworkers of America- Canada

Identifiers for corporate bodies

Description area

Dates of existence

1937-

History

For years following the Great Depression, lumber workers in the heavily wooded west coast had experienced severe pay-cuts, poor working conditions, and unemployment. Loggers in British Columbia successfully organized enough workers at Fraser Mills to hold a strike in 1931 under the title of the Lumber Workers Industrial Union (LWIU). Shifting political orientations led the LWIU to disband and its members to join the American Federation of Labour and the Trade and Labour Congress of Canada (AFL-TLC). They joined as a sub-section of the Carpenters’ Union and, there were treated as ‘second-class’ members, without the right to vote in the union. In 1936 woodworkers on the west coast met to form the Federation of Woodworkers to protest their treatment within the AFL. In 1937, the Federation voted to affiliate with the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and form their own autonomous union, the International Woodworkers of America (IWA). Harold Pritchett became the first president of the IWA, although some in the union opposed his affiliation with the Communist Party of Canada (CPC).

After its formation in 1937, the IWA worked to gain legislative support for union bargaining rights. A strike held at Blubber Bay in 1938 resulted in police violence against workers, and several unionists were jailed. After a year of strike efforts, the union called off the strike. Its resources and membership were both depleted as a result. The next few years brought about World War Two and with it an extreme increase in the need for resources and the labour to provide them. Legislation in Canada shifted towards providing rights for labour organizers, and the IWA’s membership increased, as they successfully bargained for shorter work-weeks, higher pay, and better living conditions in logging camps. As the war came to a close the union was challenged based on its leadership’s communist affiliations.

The cold-war which followed World War Two coincided with increased clashing between union members over political ideology. Union activities continued despite these internal rifts, and in 1946 the B. C. District Council 1 of the IWA won a 40 hour work week and wage increase for over 30,000 employees in the province. But by the late 1940s increased state surveillance and fear of communist activities plagued the Union leadership. The so-called anti-communist ‘white bloc’ accused ‘red’ union members of embezzling funds, and while external audits revealed no evidence for this, anti-communist members of the union utilized ‘The Voice of the IWA’ newspaper and radio-show to propagate this rhetoric. In 1948 some members from this ‘red bloc’, including former president Harold Pritchett, formed the separate Woodworkers Industrial Union of Canada (WIUC). WIUC failed to organize a majority of woodworkers and by 1951 was dissolved, with the WIUC executive recommending its members return to the IWA.

The IWA turned to a social democratic leadership and continued bargaining for wage improvements for their members. They worked in Ontario, Newfoundland, and Saskatchewan, as well as continuing to grow in the interior of British Columbia. By the 1970s the IWA in region 1, British Columbia, represented over 40,000 members, and in region 2, eastern Canada over 10,000 workers. The IWA successfully negotiated employer funded pension plans, health and welfare plans and increased wages for all workers.

The late 1970s and early 1980s resulted in an economic recession in Canada and members of the IWA suffered job-lay offs as lumber and wood processing companies were forced to close their doors. As inflation rose, the union fought for wage increases and job security with mixed success. These issues continued into the 1990s, which saw IWA members impacted by the Canada-US Free-trade deal. The unions’ constituents were also impacted by land-use deals, and changes in technology.

Throughout all of these dynamic factors, the IWA in Canada persisted in advocating for the rights of woodworkers. They were committed to overcoming racial divides amongst workers, organizing white, Japanese, Chinese, and indigenous workers together to face the common goal of better working conditions and wages. There was also a strong female presence in the union in the form of the IWA Women’s Auxiliary chapters. In the late 1980s, the international union split in two, and the officially separate Canadian union, which formed in 1987, was simply called IWA Canada. In 1994 delegates voted to rename the Canadian chapter the Industrial, Wood, and Allied Workers of Canada (IWA Canada). In 2004 the executive of the IWA voted to merge with the United Steel Workers (USW) and became the “Wood Council” district of the USW. The union continues to function under this title today.

Places

While the IWA was an international organization, the records held at RBSC relate to IWA-Canada and its activities, primarily in British Columbia.

Legal status

Functions, occupations and activities

Mandates/sources of authority

Internal structures/genealogy

General context

In British Columbia, a temperate climate allowed for the employment of full-time, year-round workers to find jobs in the logging industry. Workers lived in logging camps with poor living conditions, life-threating work environments, and very low pay. Growing discontent amongst workers in 1919 led to the development of the Lumber Workers Industrial Union (LWIU), which made up a major portion of the One Big Union (OBU). Although achieving membership levels in the tens of thousands, the LWIU collapsed in 1922 after facing repeated conflicts with employers and the state, as well as internal political strife. Over the next eight years employers fought to keep union organizers out of logging camps, while the post-war economy gave way to slight improvements in employer/employee relations. However, after the Great Depression of the early 1930’s, the working class again suffered extremely low-wages and poor working conditions. It was in the wake of this context that industrial labour unions in North America experienced a revival and the International Woodworkers of America emerged as an organization.

Relationships area

Related entity

International Woodworkers of America. Western Canadian Regional Council No. 1

Identifier of the related entity

Category of the relationship

hierarchical

Type of relationship

International Woodworkers of America. Western Canadian Regional Council No. 1 is controlled by International Woodworkers of America

Dates of the relationship

Description of relationship

Access points area

Occupations

Control area

Authority record identifier

Institution identifier

Rules and/or conventions used

Status

Level of detail

Dates of creation, revision and deletion

Authority record updated by Claire Williams in Fall 2017.

Language(s)

Script(s)

Sources

Information derived from the following sources:

  • Records within the fonds
  • Finding aid prepared by RBSC staff in 1992 (see attached PDF to Lumber Workers Inspector's Union, Local 1-288)
  • The IWA in Canada : The Life and Times of an Industrial Union
  • United Steel Workers web page: History of the Wood Council: https://www.usw.ca/districts/wood

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