Just days after the big women’s march, the leaders of the building trades unions in the US held a nice sit-down with Donald Trump, helping to give him cover for his anti-worker and bigoted policies. It should come as no surprise. Back in November, Doug McCarron, president of the Carpenters Union, sent a letter to the union’s membership saying that he was going to try to work with Trump. (See here for the letter plus a translation.) As the letter makes clear, their position is that they favor any construction, anywhere, any time, just so long as they get a cut – through the dues money – for it. We should not be surprised if they actually support building the wall along the Mexican border!
In fact, there is a long history to this sort of thing. Back in 1981, when Reagan was president, the Carpenters Union president invited President Reagan to address their general convention in Chicago. This was right in the midst of Reagan’s busting of the air traffic controllers’ strike. The California delegation wanted to walk out when he spoke, so the union president got them all together and laid down the law. “We’re going to have to work with this president,” he said. In other words, he was wanting to cut his own deal with Reagan and leave the other unions hanging, starting with the air traffic controllers. It was what amounted to political scabbing.
Now, Doug McCarron and the others are doing the same thing but worse.
Also present was Terry O’Sullivan, president of the Laborers Union. O’Sullivan is the former CEO of Union Labor Life Insurance Company, “Ullico”, which also has a sordid past. Established by the unions in the 1920s, Ullico is run by a board of directors that is composed of the heads of various unions. This board of directors sets the price of its stock, based on the recommendation of its auditor. Back in the 1990s, the union presidents (including McCarron) plus different union pension plans were given the opportunity to buy the stock at a favorable price, knowing that that price was about to go up considerably. In less than a year, aware that some of the holdings of Ullico were in stock whose value was based on fraud, the union presidents were allowed to bail, selling the stock at an enormous profit. The union pension plans were left holding the bag. (See pp. 15-16 of this pamphlet for the details.)
Personal enrichment plus control over the membership – that’s what these union leaders are all about. They might be a little worse than some of the other union leaders, but it’s only a matter of degree. They are all locked into the idea that they must collaborate with the employers of their particular industry.
Mark Breslin and the “Team Concept”
This is no different from what the building trades are doing sending around the professional union busting lawyer, Mark Breslin, to lay down the line to their second line leadership. “to survive in the 21st century construction industry, individual union workers must change, adapt, and be the “fittest” of all workers,” is the line Breslin is laying down on behalf of the building trades leadership. Nor is it any different from what other union leaderships are doing, sending in the employers to lay down the same position.
The struggle against Trump, if it is to really gain a base among the rank and file of the unions, must also include a struggle to transform the unions from top to bottom, to make them the fighting organizations that so many workers sacrificed so much for in the first place.