The CIO Challenge to the AFL: A History of the American Labor Movement, 1935-1941

By Walter Galenson | Go to book overview
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11
The Lumber Industry

In few sectors of American industry has there been as turbulent a labor history as in lumbering. This is hardly fortuitous. A good many of the tasks of the industry are arduous and dangerous, and require men of considerable physical courage and independence of mind. The labor force of the logging camps has traditionally included a large proportion of unmarried, rootless workers, subject to intermittency of employment, to whom the stability of orderly collective bargaining under written collective agreements had little meaning. Living conditions left much to be desired, industrial accidents were frequent and severe. Professor William F. Ogburn of the University of Washington wrote, in 1918, that the chief causes of labor unrest in lumbering were long hours, low wages, unsanitary camps, lack of family life, absence of community life, and unsatisfactory working relationships with foremen; and he indicated that the importance of these factors was inverse to the order in which they are listed. 1 Between 1918 and the inception of the period with which we are dealing, considerable improvement had taken place in labor and living conditions, but some of the basic sociological causes of unrest still remained.

It is important to distinguish between the two major occupational groups in the industry: the loggers and the sawmill workers. "The significant division between sawmill and logging labor is its method of living. Loggers, for the most part, are by necessity forced to live in camps which can be moved about from one center of logging to another. . . . Therefore there are very few permanent living quarters for loggers. This means, of course, that they are, for the most part, unmarried and more or less transient in most of the producing areas. . . . Sawmill workers may be likened, for the most part, to any other factory labor, and in the western areas they are less transient than loggers." 2 It is the lumberjack, rather than the sawmill worker, who is the romantic figure of fiction, and who is largely responsible for the unique flavor of lumber unionism.

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