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Woodworkers and World Forestry


WHY a world which develops airplanes, atom bombs, and all kinds of destructive gadgets to a high state of technical perfection should keep on mistreating or neglecting most of its soils and forests is one of the exasperating paradoxes of history. The soils and the forests produce what the world's people need most in the way of material things: food, fiber, and building materials. Yet, we keep on mismanaging the soils and the forests. So the people keep on being hungry, poorly clothed, and ill-housed, and they keep on going to war, foolishly hoping in that way to end their poverty.

There is no sense in this situation, as anyone can see. More and more people are waking up to it. One group already awake to it is the International Woodworkers of America, an affiliate of the Congress of Industrial Organizations. The IWA is the principal labor union of logging, sawmill, and related wood-industries workers in the United States and Canada. They are to "basic wood" what the CIO Steelworkers are to basic steel. They are not as large and powerful a union as the Steelworkers, because American wood is harder to organize than steel, which is preponderantly in large operations. Wood is made up chiefly of many small operations, far flung through the forests from Florida to Alaska. But the 75,000 organized woodworkers have a forestry program, and are proud of it. To report why IWA has a forestry program, what the program is, what's been done about it, and to suggest what it may mean to world forestry is the purpose of this article.

Why woodworkers are interested in forestry

It wasn't a desire to be "do-gooders" for the world that led American woodworkers to take an interest in forestry. Quite the opposite. If the world had managed its forests properly the woodworkers would not have to spend time and money in publicity and lobbying for a forestry program. But woodworkers have always had to fight to improve their conditions. A generation ago IWW (International Workers of the World) loggers waged a bitter struggle to get the camps deloused, sheets on the beds, single beds instead of double-decker bunks, better food, and shower baths. They accomplished a good deal.

Even with the improvements won by the " Wobblies" the camps were still camps, and a poor substitute for a permanent community where a logger could live with his family and count on sustained yield forestry to keep a supply of timber near by as long as he wanted to work in it.

Sawmill workers also had a grievance against the old ways of cutting timber, which forced them to follow a migrating industry. A man wants a job in a community which has a future. Then he can invest confidently in a home of his own. His investment will be worth something. But if the town is going to become another ghost town, a house and lot is a poor investment.

Key men in the timber industry, at work in a ponderosa pine logging operation, Idaho, U.S.A.

Woodworkers began to get acquainted with foresters. They learned that forests can be managed, like some of those in Europe and elsewhere, to produce a steady supply of logs every year forever. With modern transportation, that means the opportunity for both woods and mill workers to live at home in good permanent communities, with dependable jobs.

Then there is the problem of productivity, which is the long-range key to higher wages and shorter hours for labor. Woodworkers observed that many of the small logging outfits and small sawmills which get out most of the logs and lumber in America are very inefficient and very wasteful. The problem is being aggravated as the forests "wear out" and the logs become smaller and smaller. Productivity is less with smaller logs. Yet numerous efficient operations proved that a much better job could be done.

The industry has other problems that make life hard and uncertain for woodworkers. Historically, lumber in America has been a "feast-or-famine" industry. Lumber prices skyrocket like almost no other commodity in boom times. They can hit the skids, too, and production can go down to where there is only a couple of days' work a week or none at all, when the lumber market is poor.

On top of all this, the long-time trend of American lumber for nearly 40 years has been down. A declining industry is not a good one to work in. But the woodworkers found that the industry need not decline. Instead it could and should be a steadily expending industry.

Besides all this, woodworkers see forestry as an important part of the world's agriculture. They see agriculture as the basic key to freedom from the want which breeds war. Therefore, woodworkers believe that striving for ample production of wood to help meet the world's housing and other wants is one practical thing they themselves can do to help save themselves from the terror of another war. That is because wood is their specialty. Knowing something about it, they can be more effective in this phase of the world's peace efforts than in other phases which they know less about.

The answer to all these problems, of course, is a broad-scale forestry program. Through talks with their forester friends the woodworkers decided to go in for a forestry program, and use such influence as they had to get it going. They went into forestry out of self-interest, but it is one of those happy instances where the self-interest of a group coincides exactly with the public interest. That will become clear as we see what the woodworkers advocate in the way of a forestry program.

The IWA forestry program

Stated briefly, what both the IWA and the national CIO recommend in forestry is essentially the same sort of program as the United States national-farm program. That, of course, is a comprehensive program of technical and economic assistance to the operators.

Specifically, the major IWA-CIO forestry recommendations call for the following:

1. The services of forestry experts to assist forest owners and operators in the use of scientific methods of tree-growing, selective logging, wood utilization, and marketing.

2. Credit and crop-insurance aids similar to those of the American farm program.

3. Forest conservation benefit payments (subsidies) for tree-planting, timber-stand improvement, and other forest-conservation measures, similar to the soil-conservation payments now widely made to American farmers. The woodworkers believe more forestry can be bought with a dollar of government money, through subsidies, than through public ownership. That is because the individual has an incentive to improve his own property which he doesn't have when employed to improve government property.

4. A vast system of permanent logging roads, similar to our present system of farm-to-market roads.

5. Greatly improved protection of forests from fire, insects, and disease.

6. Government aid in developing plants to make building materials - such as fiberboard, plastics, built-up lumber, and other useful products from wood that is now wasted.

7. Finally, a federal law making it illegal to cut timber for commercial purposes until a trained forester' either licensed by or directly employed by the government - has assisted the operator in developing a specific cutting plan designed to keep the forest producing.

Some people may wonder why American woodworkers put so much emphasis on government assistance to the owning and employing class. This may be especially true of those who are conditioned to think that labor unions are opposed to private property, and also those who think of lumbering in terms of giant corporations or lumber barons who need no assistance, but who do need to be sharply regulated if our forests are to be managed for community sustained yield.

The mill goes to the woods. Portable sawmill in western Canada.

The answer is, first, that the woodworkers pride themselves on being practical. What they are after is better conditions of life for themselves and their families. Many of them have seen that the government farm program did get results in soil conservation, increased food production, and more stability and security for farming. They have found that, contrary to popular belief, the greater part of the ownership of American forests, of logging and of sawmilling, is small-scale business. Many of the owners and operators will never do a really efficient job unless they get technical assistance, and financial aid as well. They are like the farmer who couldn't get on a good soil-conservation basis until he got out from under a usurious mortgage that forced him to plant every acre to soil-exhausting row crops each year in order to pay the interest.

When the woodworkers recommend government forestry aids to the landowning and employing class, they are not doing it out of altruism. They are doing it because it looks like the only practical way to get good scientific management, as soon as possible, on the bulk of American forest lands and in the bulk of logging and sawmilling operations. Woodworkers see scientific forestry as their only escape from the evils of a grossly destructive, wasteful, inefficient, and migrant industry.

The woodworkers know that there are many differences of opinion to be ironed out before anything fundamental can be done about the broad problem of concentrated property, which has long been America's Number One problem. In the meantime they see that property is not as excessively concentrated in their industry as in most. They believe that their proposal of government assistance to more than 4 million forest owners and operators in the United States alone - with an additional large number in Canada - should not meet with serious opposition. They know that some lumbermen will fight against government regulation of tree-cutting, but they believe that the weight of the CIO, added to that of other groups that have long deplored the recklessness with which we permit our forests to be destroyed, may turn the tables in the long struggle to curb needlessly destructive logging.

With a program such as they recommend, the woodworkers visualize the future American wood industry as based chiefly on a large number of small forest holdings, each managed by an operator who has learned to be a successful and efficient "dirt forester." In large part this tree-growing would be an adjunct of farming, and an integral part of American agriculture. Since many American woodworkers already are "stump ranchers," some would become "dirt foresters" themselves, helping to produce trees for logging and manufacture.

With appropriate government assistance, we believe a more intensive brand of forestry will be practiced on small individual holdings than in large corporation forests. Prevailing methods on the latter are of an "extensive" type, which fails to achieve the full potentialities of the soil.

With the many small and medium holdings placed under scientific management, there should be a steady flow of logs coming out of the forests each year into each woodworking community. The wood-using industry can then adjust itself to handle the yearly log crop, as the food-processing industry is adjusted to handle the yearly food crop. That way the industry will be stabilized. Through collective bargaining, our next aim would be to adjust the operations to provide steady employment as nearly as possible throughout the year.

It is obvious that this program will cost money. Like the farm program, however, this one should produce benefits far in excess of its costs. The wood-workers hope the national concern over the lumber shortage and the shrinking of national and world timber supplies will help to convince even those members of Congress justifiably anxious about our national economy of the urgent need for a practical program to speed forest growth and to use more of the wood in each tree that is harvested. When they become convinced of that, our program makes sense.

Logs and machines. Skidding logs by tractor in British Columbia.

The time for action

A few additional words of explanation may be in order as to why we believe such a program should be undertaken at the present time. The essence of it is that we are at the most important change-over point in the history of American forest industries. Up to now we have been relying almost wholly on wild crops of trees. The prevailing policy has been and still is to take any tree the operator thinks he can make a profit on, and not worry about future crops of trees. We have relied on private initiative to convert those wild crops into lumber and other wood products. Most logging and sawmilling can be greatly improved, as much of our farming was after the county-agent system began getting scientific know-how to the farms. With the old methods we see our forests growing less than half as much timber as they might grow. And our wood industries are using only about one-third of the wood in the average tree which they harvest.

The time for transition in American forestry - from merely harvesting the wild crop to scientific forest management - comes, moreover, at a time when our agriculture is urgently in need of a new frontier such as scientific forestry can provide. Machines are crowding people off the land by making it possible for one man to handle more and more crop land and livestock.

Practical dirt forestry can provide new opportunities for people who prefer to work with growing things. It can provide such opportunities, however, only if such people have a chance to learn the special skills of forestry. Because we have relied so much on wild timber growth up to now, only a few of our 4½ million forest owners know anything about forestry. Until the government provides technical assistance to them, we can expect little progress in forestry on the 70 percent of our private forest land that is owned in small tracts. Indeed, many of these tracts are being clear-cut or highgraded right now, because we lack such a program.

In the same way, we cannot get efficiency in the bulk of logging and sawmilling until the government provides the assistance of production and marketing experts such as it now provides to farmers.

The choice before us is, Shall we let things drift, or shall we tackle the job with realism and determination? If we let things drift, we shall see some of the industrial forests managed scientifically, and a few of the small tracts. On the whole, however, we shall still be wearing out our forests and wasting our timber. As the total forest resource shrinks, we shall see large industrial forest owners tighten their grip on our timber economy all the way from the stump to the retail lumberyard.

On the other hand, if we undertake a sensible program, we can get increased production for today (through improved timber utilization and greater efficiency of production) and at the same time build up our forests for future harvests (through selective logging, planting, and better protection). In that way we can also get the other benefits of forestry, including stable communities, watershed protection, wildlife, and forest recreation.

What the woodworkers have already done

The woodworkers have been trying to get the public and the government to understand the problem and to see that the welfare of whole communities and the public interest are at stake, as well as the jobs, security, and living standards of woodworkers. A forestry resolution introduced by the woodworkers was adopted by the CIO national convention at Chicago in 1944. Since then the national CIO has actively helped to wake up the country to the needs of a practical program of government assistance to the small forest owners and operators.

The IWA international convention in November 1945 adopted a series of resolutions amounting to a comprehensive postwar forestry program. These were printed in a folder entitled A Forestry and Wood Utilization Plan for America. Also included in this folder was a statement by the international officers. saying in part, "Our fight for good wages, hours, and conditions can meet with only partial and temporary success if we merely bargain with our employer over the spoils of an industry which destroys the forests and wastes more of the crop than it uses."

Early in 1946 the IWA prepared an analysis of the lumber situation, entitled Lumber Snafu, which was widely distributed, reprinted in the Congressional Record (13 April 1946) and the Journal of Forestry (June 1946), and received much favorable comment. It called for a unified wood-production and forest-conservation program, as recommended by the 1945 convention and described herein.

Then in September 1946, the national CIO got out the pamphlet, America's Logjam and How to Break It,1 which tells in more detail and in more popular style essentially the same story as Lumber Snafu. It has had still wider distribution and a great deal of favorable comment.

1 CIO, 718 Jackson Place, N. W., Washington, D. C., or IWA-CIO, 314 S. W. 9th Ave., Portland 5, Oregon.

IWA and CIO spokesmen appeared at the American Forestry Congress2 in October 1946 and pleaded with government and industry representatives for a practical, effective forestry program. They supported a comprehensive forestry bill introduced in the 1946 Congress by Frank E. Hook of Michigan. Hook was defeated by a narrow margin in the 1946 election, and as yet the Congress has not come to grips with the problem.

2 American Forestry Association, 919 17th Street, N. W. Washington 6, D. C.

The national CIO convention in November 1946 again adopted an IWA resolution, calling for a program such as that outlined herein.

Home in the Forest I: Old-style portable shacks in Montana, U.S.A., hauled to a clear-cutting operation on railroad cars.

Consistently, for more than a year, the weekly International Woodworker, official paper of the IWA. has devoted a substantial amount of space to the production and conservation problems of the wood industry. This material, too, has stimulated interest in the subject.

Thus far, however, the results of the IWA-CIO efforts are merely increased conversation about forests rather than better conservation of them.

The woodworkers believe that there has been about enough talk on the subject. They believe it is time for action. They are keeping up their efforts to get such action.

World aspects

We believe that the IWA-CIO forestry program puts these labor organizations squarely on the side of the FAO in the fight to conquer the world's wood shortage. We believe that America could export huge amounts of valuable building materials to help meet world needs if our governments would only help to finance new plants to utilize waste wood, as they helped finance plants to make fighting planes, ships, and other war materials. We have the raw material and the technical know-how, but market uncertainties make private capital hesitant to assume the entire risk. Yet the need for the products exists. With the help of our national governments and the UN it should be possible to get the production and then get the products to where they are needed.

But we have a bigger dream than that of American forestry and American forest exports alone. Trade departments are now being organized within the World Federation of Trade Unions, with which the IWA is affiliated through the CIO. The IWA will be directly affiliated with one of the WFTU trade departments, where logging and sawmilling workers from all over the world will be able to get together and hammer out programs dealing with the common problems of woodworkers everywhere.

Out of the woodworkers' department of WFTU we hope to see emerge a world campaign to get scientific management into the woods everywhere, so that all woodworkers can enjoy the benefits of dependable, productive jobs in good stable communities based on sustained-yield forest management.

We, of course, don't know what specifically will be included in the forestry program of the woodworkers' department of WFTU. But it is easy to guess that it will encompass some big and exciting things, such as the development of sustained-yield communities in the world's hitherto mistreated or neglected forests and a better system of transportation and trade to get wood from nations where it is to nations where it is needed.

Just as American woodworkers are today helping to publicize and to press for action on the American forestry problem, the world's woodworkers, before long, may be performing the same kind of service for world forestry. They have good reasons for doing it in their own self-interest. It is a must if there are to be greater security and better conditions for woodworkers. Yet what will serve the woodworkers' needs in those respects will also serve the world's needs for wood and for all the public benefits which can come from well-managed forests. And so we believe that, in a world of conflicting political ideologies, the woodworkers' interest in improving their own conditions of life and work provides a valuable common denominator for the forestry work of all the nations. By keeping the interests of woodworkers clearly in mind, we believe, the Forestry Division of FAO - and the forest services of individual nations - will find their own tasks simpler and their goals more attainable.

Photographs accompanying this article are reproduced by courtesy of the Canadian National Parks Bureau, Dominion of Canada Forest Service, and the Forest Service, U. S. Department of Agriculture.

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