“Productivity lol. Guys are throwing up 60 10′ boards [of sheetrock – about 65 lbs. each] on their own, with no partner. Guys are running through footage of framing that is robot like. Production is at it’s max my friend. People can’t push any harder. And to be honest it’s disgusting how hard they have to push.” So wrote a union carpenter in talking about what it means to compete with non-union carpenters by being more “productive”. He continued: “They push like this because they keep being told that’s how we compete. Well guess what, we are continually losing. And going as insanely hard as guys are has only created competition within our own. Every single other trade still works like complete gentleman, they don’t compete against each other, they rarely work alone or like animals and because of that they don’t backstab or fight or talk shit about their own anywhere NEAR the level carpenters do. They still have at least a grasp of what a union is. Guess what? Their share of union work is still the same or better than ours in a lot of areas. Our direction is all wrong and our leadership is shit.”
Meanwhile, the carpenters union leadership in New York City shoved a giveaway contract down the membership’s throat. And when members protested against this contract, the leadership victimized one of those who helped lead the protest. Instead of fighting the contractors, they are fighting the members!
This cannot continue forever, not when workers all around the world are rising up:
- France has seen first the Yellow Vest movement and now general strike after general strike.
- Despite hundreds of protesters being killed and over 15,000 injured, protests continue in Iraq.
- The same in Iran.
- In Chile, tens of thousands of people – mainly youth – have been out braving tear gas and even police murders almost every night.
- The same in Haiti.
And in the US? Yes, there has been an uptick in strikes, mainly in the public sector. But most of those strikes have been settled for far less than what was really needed and than was possible. And where have the wider protests been? During the federal government shutdown of 2018-19, Sara Nelson, the president of airline flight attendants union, called for a national general strike. Not a single union leader took up that call. (Neither did Bernie Sanders.) Nor, in fact, did Nelson follow that up with a systematic organizing campaign for it.
Where have the unions been in really organizing to stop global climate disaster? We are not talking about one or two unions passing a resolution, but really organizing its members and the wider working class to prevent this looming crisis.
Where have the unions been in really organizing to protest against Trump’s racism and xenophobia? Or to oppose the openly racist and
fascist groups? Or to protest the police murders of civilians – black people and others?
How is it that so many workers have been sucked into mortgaging their children’s future for next week’s paycheck? (Think: Global climate disaster.)
Instead, symbolic of the entire role of the union leadership was the support that Seattle Ironworkers Local 86 Chris McClain mobilized for the world’s second richest man, Jeff Bezos and his company Amazon, against the country’s poorest – Seattle’s homeless. (See: Unions – selfishness will be our death.)
Nor can the union leadership claim that even on their own limited terms their strategy is working. In official union organizing campaigns, only slightly over 60% even get to the stage of having a union election and of those only close to 70% even win the vote . And now only about 10% of US workers are even in a union.
Oaklandsocialist would like to organize a discussion among serious union activists and working class organizers around these questions and, most important, where and how we can start to do something about this. We hope the pages of our blog can help start that discussion. Send us your experiences and thoughts, and we’re happy to publish them with or without your name. Send them to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more on the carpenters Union, see: Sellouts in the Carpenters Union; also Carpenters Union leader: We will “work with” Donald Trump. Also see our in-depth history of how the Carpenters Union – and the labor movement in general – got to where it is today: What happened to our unions?