When my fellow carpenters surprised me

The 1999 SF Bay Area carpenters wildcat strike.

So, here’s a little bit of personal history, a mistake that I made, that maybe we all can learn from: In 1999, some 2000 SF Bay Area carpenters went out on a five-day wildcat strike against a second-rate contract that was forced down their throats by the union leadership. I won’t bore you with all the details of how that came about. You can find them in this history of that strike. It was one of the most exciting political events I’ve ever had the privilege of participating in. But here’s the thing:


This was the original leaflet that got the word out to the members and led to the original protest against the contract.

I was the one who called the original protest meeting and eventually got expelled from the union for helping lead the strike. But just a few days before the meeting at which the strike was decided on, we had a breakfast meeting of some of the key activists. We all agreed that there was not the mood for a strike, that it wouldn’t be possible. Not that anybody disagreed with the idea of a wildcat strike; we just didn’t think it could happen.

That after work meeting where members voted for a strike? It was held in the parking lot of our union hall. I had predicted that maybe 10 or 15 carpenters would show up. When I got there after my job, there were already 20 or more carpenters and by the time we got started there were some 40 or so. (Maybe more. That was over 20 years ago.) Most of them were from the largest job in the area and possibly the country – the SF airport international terminal. To the last person they said that everybody on the job wanted to walk off. So that’s what we planned and that’s what we did.

My point is this: At that time I was working on a job with just a few other carpenters. I had been completely unaware of the mood that was building up elsewhere. I learned a lesson from that. We all should. As they say, a smart person learns from their own mistakes. A wise person learns from the mistakes of others. Today, when PayDayReport.org is reporting on over 200 wildcat strikes and worker protests, we should be looking for how those protests can be welded together into one united working class movement.

The 1999 SF Bay Area carpenters wildcat strike.

Categories: History, labor

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