Ryan Boone

Secretary, Star City Workers Club

On August 20, Democratic Governor Northam and Republican Congressmen Griffith and O’Quinn spoke at a facility on Industrial Drive in Marion recently acquired by Woodgrain, Inc. The announcement of Woodgrain’s expansion into the new facility heralds an additional 100 jobs for Smyth County, as well as the purchase of Independence Lumber sawmill in Grayson County. Woodgrain intends to keep on all 80 workers at the Grayson County facility.

The company’s expansion in Southwest Virginia comes on the heels of a similar expansion in Lee County, Georgia, and the acquisition of Tennessee-based Lowe’s Millwork. Woodgrain spent more than $27 million on these investments (the cost of purchasing Lowe’s Millwork not included in this calculation), bolstering its mission of being “vertically integrated”, which includes “owning the forest and cutting the timber in our state-of-the-art sawmills, to production in our network of manufacturing facilities, to delivery of goods with our strategic distribution network”.

While the expansion will create some decent paying jobs in economically depressed SWVA, the company’s “vertically integrated” strategy poses perhaps the greatest risk to workers as it centralizes the means of production from raw material to commodity in the hands of a single corporation. According to capitalist economic theory, this will allow the company to reduce the cost of production as lumber products move throughout the supply chain as there will be no need for markups between harvesting raw materials, production, and wholesale.

This reduction in cost, says the capitalist, provided the company with greater profits with which to hire additional workers at higher pay, but observation of the system reveals the truth. Vertical integration allows opportunities to “trim fat” from the workforce to squeeze record profits from an industry while reducing the bargaining power of the remaining workers. These tactics, instead of benefiting the workforce, allow large corporations to exploit an even greater percentage of workers’ labor value and funnel it into the pockets of executives and shareholders (i.e. the bourgeoisie).

While the jobs opening up in Marion may provide a decent wage right now, it can be expected that those wages will not rise with inflation and cost of living without significant pressure from workers or regulation as no competing company has enough market share to influence Woodgrain.

Therefore, we as the working class should approach this news of additional jobs in Appalachia with skepticism. The fact that major players from both corporate parties have endorsed these actions does little to dispel worries, nor do grants of $357,000 from the Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industry Development Fund and $57,500 from the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, as these grants are a way of buying the company’s loyalty to the region and its workers. The same workers being employed by Woodgrain are paying for a new roof and building upgrades through taxes and labor exploitation. 

Some relief may be found through engaging electoral processes to pass the PRO Act, which can be achieved by pressuring Senators like Virginia’s Mark Warner who recently caved to growing pressure to vote in favor of the bill. This would codify the right to organize into law and undercut the use of “at-will” employment practices to quash efforts to unionize.

Ultimately, moving away from the capitalist system of exploitation through revolutionary action is the only path to long-term positive change for the working class. 

References:

Woodgrain expanding in two SW Va. counties | Local News | heraldcourier.com – https://heraldcourier.com/news/local/woodgrain-expanding-in-two-sw-va-counties/article_0b669053-bf38-5a76-9196-f3613cc77205.html

Woodworking Industry News

Woodgrain Millwork adds 100 jobs in Virginia; its 3rd expansion in 2021 – https://www.woodworkingnetwork.com/news/woodworking-industry-news/woodgrain-millwork-adds-100-jobs-virginia-its-3rd-expansion-2021
Woodgrain | About – https://www.woodgrain.com/about/

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