In Empire of Timber: Labor Unions and the Pacific Northwest Forests
(Cambridge University Press, 2015), the historian Erik Loomis
examines the relationship between workers and their environments in this century-long history of timber workers in the Pacific Northwest. He shows that the “jobs vs. environment” tradeoff oversimplifies the history of natural resource workers who have, ever since the 1910s, tried to protect their bodies, environments, and livelihoods from the worst excesses of industrial logging. During the 1980s and 1990s, the political narratives surrounding the environmental campaigns to protect ancient forests furthered the wedge between timber workers, hard-bitten by globalization, and a new class of environmentalists. The ramifications of these fights still haunt labor and environmental movements in the Pacific Northwest and around the country. What will it take to rebuild the alliances of unions and environmentalists in the present, and the future?
Ryan Driskell Tate is a Ph.D. candidate in American history at Rutgers University. He is completing a book on fossil-fuels and energy development in the American West. He teaches courses on modern US history, environmental history, and histories of labor and capitalism. @rydriskelltate