Abstract

This article focusing on Oregon's timber industry contributes to recent efforts to chart the longer history of working‐class conservativism, while also arguing that environmental change and conflict played a central role in shaping the political leanings and class identities of white, rural workers in resource extraction industries. It pays particular attention to Oregon's independent contracting and milling operations—small, often family‐owned enterprises where the lines separating labor and capital were blurry at best and where bosses and employers alike viewed unions and working‐class radicals with deep skepticism. Independent contractors became the dominant form of labor relations in Oregon's timber industry in the 1970s, largely because of changes to the forest wrought by decades of overharvests and the flight of large timber corporations. Workers unmoored by capital flight increasingly turned to independent contractors and thus began to believe that their economic futures depended on maintaining close ties with their employers. This sense grew stronger in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when Oregon environmentalists began seeking new restrictions on logging to protect the habitat of the northern spotted owl — restrictions that threatened to further reduce timber‐based employment and exacerbate the economic problems of rural, timber‐dependent communities. Workers and employers joined together in more visible coalitions, held together by a shared populist outrage at the urban, liberal, and affluent elite who, in their view, were responsible for their economic precarity. This view remains evident in Oregon today, where a new movement that joins bosses and workers, Timber Unity, has coalesced to fight proposed legislation intended to address climate change.

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