UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Labor Control in crisis : the 4L and the Bedaux system in the U.S. Northwest lumber industry, 1931-1935 Egolf, Jeremy Ralph


This work is a non-quantitative historical study of industrial relations in the U.S. Northwest lumber industry, 1931-35, a period of economic and legal crisis. The primary materials utilized include the papers of William C. Ruegnitz (President of the Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen, or 4L, 1924-1937), the St. Paul and Tacoma Lumber Company, and several executives of the Weyerhaeuser Timber Company. Other manuscripts, including the transcript of a Regional Labor Board hearing, as well as personal interviews, newspapers and trade journals, and published contemporary and secondary books and articles, complete the sources. This thesis revises earlier works in the area and presents two focal points. The first is a discussion of the Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen, a multi-company federation of client unions active in the lumber industry, 1918-1937. Although, as other writers have pointed out, the 4L was a minority institution in the industry, this thesis finds that the 4L did enroll a number of large operators (including several among the Weyerhaeuser group of companies) who were also active in trade association regulatory efforts, 1931-32. The 4L was enmeshed in a role extending beyond its company union character at the plant, for it was used by operators desiring to give order to a fragmented industry by regularizing wages and hours of work and by integrating lumber workers in a private corporatist configuration. The 4L's advocates attempted to use the organization as an anti-union device in conjunction with Lumber Code agencies under the New Deal's National Recovery Administration (NRA) , 1933-35. The Northwest lumber organizational strike wave launched by American Federation of Labor lumber unions in May, 1935, was predicated upon conflicts within the 4L and between the 4L and other labor organizations under the NRA. Evidence is offered that at least a few operators attempted to use conservative-led unions to retain control of the workplace. This thesis' second focus is a case study in a key theme of twentieth century labour history: workplace conflicts ensuing from the extension of more direct managerial controls over the work relations and practices of experienced industrial workers in the interests of more effective competitive profit making. (Most historical work in this area has.been limited to the nascent, pre-1920, period of scientific management.) The case examined is that of the introduction of the patented Bedaux efficiency system at Willapa Harbor Lumber Mills, 1933-35, a Weyerhaeuser group member of the 4L. Areas discussed include the division of labour in the lumber industry (using planing mill work as an example), the ideology of the Bedaux system and management's arguments in defense of using the same, and the local unionists' ideological and practical resistance to the altered patterns of shop management. The unionists used counter-conceptions of efficiency and Americanism, developed or reinforced in this specific workplace struggle, as part of their culture of insurgency during the 1935 strike and in the formation of the International Woodworkers of America, 1937. In sum, the present study expands and refines knowledge of company labour policy in a key industry during the period 1931-35, and offers a case study which may be of interest to students of the twentieth century workplace.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.

Usage Statistics