Introduction: After having had four contract proposals/tentative agreements (TA’s) rejected by the membership, the leadership of the Western Washington Regional Council of Carpenters has been forced to call a strike. This is after the Council representatives argued for months that the union should not demand a higher raise in order to help “recapture market share” – a business term if there ever was one. Now, the Council is doing what it can to ensure that the strike is not very effective. Jason, a carpenter in the area, explains. Oaklandsocialist comments below that.
By Jason B.
I was given the news earlier of the council’s plans for a strike. An apprentice notified us in a group text that they only planned on hitting 4 job sites on Thursday morning for a strike. 1 up north, 2 in Seattle, and 1 down south. When I heard this I was shocked and in disbelief. When this was confirmed after I talked to [another brother] my shock and disbelief turned to anger. I had no faith in our leadership to begin with, but this is nothing short of sabotage.
As soon as the strike was announced I’ve been contacting everyone I know involved in key positions of our leadership to find out the official rules for a strike in order to not be in violation and cause financial damage to our union. It should be very simple. They have them. Every union does. Yet they refuse to release them. The only thing we’ve been told is that you cannot strike PLA’s and no picketing the second gate if one is available. If this is all, then they should be fine with us picketing all sites. Them limiting strike pay to only 4 sites shows that they are not okay with this. The fact is, they know we are smart enough and capable enough to abide by the rules and lead an effective strike without them. This is why they refuse to release these rules on their site.
What they want is a half-assed, neutered strike that doesn’t harm their contractor buddies. This is why they mandate that you not attend other rallies and make sure to only participate in council sanctioned pickets. This is a sure way to failure.
The only reason we’ve gotten this far is because we’ve gone against our council’s direction and have chosen to do what is best for ourselves and our working brothers and sisters. Do they think by offering one of our members a seat of the bargaining table they can win us over and take us back under their control? Maybe they do. Sorry, we’ve gone too far. If this movement is going to die, I’d rather die fighting.
We are not going to be content with a phony publicity stunt strike where Evelyn [Shapiro, regional council executive secretary treasurer] can sport her unblemished hardhat in front of local news channels and give a speech feigning sympathy for the working class. We are at war. And for us to be successful, it must be a total war.
We have given them chance after chance to prove they are loyal to the working members of this union. And the generosity we’ve shown them has been taken as weakness. This is how they think, and this is how they are trained. Whereas we will extend a hand to a fallen brother or sister to lift them up, they will only extend a hand when they are down. And with their other hand they will stab us in the back.
They’ve been warning the workers to follow their lead or else the contractors may be able to sue our union. Then our union will be forced to pay fines that will cost the members millions. Well, I asked this of a local 70 rep., “is a union body responsible when one of its members drives drunk? What if he assaults someone? What if he kills someone, is the union responsible for the actions of a member if he does them of his own volition?” The answer I got is “I don’t think so.” I’m certain a union cannot be held responsible unless it is proven that specific direction from leadership was given to take illegal actions. Rules may be different for sanctioned pickets, but I’ve never heard of a case where wildcat actions by union members resulted in a union being successfully sued. Example: My father tried to sue the IAM because one of their members burned down our cabin. The lawsuit failed because there was no proof that specific direction was given by leadership, despite the fact they posted the addresses of all workers who crossed the picket line at the union hall.
So, we must ask ourselves, why have they not given out the laws for a strike so we can abide by them? It is because THEY want to control this strike by making it as weak and toothless as possible.
I and all members of the Peter J. McGuire Group are opposed to violence and destruction of property and we will not tolerate any such behavior within our group. But restrictions of where and when working carpenters can protest, picket, and rally can be governed by no man, woman, or corporate entity. We are free human beings who are finally expressing our displeasure with our contract, our current working conditions, and our ability to make a decent living. No one can tell us when and where to voice these concerns.
I will be at the Wednesday rally in Kent to sign paperwork for picket duty. I hope to see all of you there. I will not however, allow myself to be told when and where my voice can be heard. We’ve been quiet for far too long. It is time for us to become the working class heroes this nation is vying for.
The fact that the union will only be picketing four sites will sow division among the members. Those carpenters who work on those four jobs will be asking, “why should we lose work when everybody else is working?” Combine this with the decades of pro-contractor propaganda that the union leadership has been putting out, and we should not be surprised if members cross the picket line. Of course all workers should not work behind a picket, but if they do, isn’t the union leadership largely to blame?
In most unions, when the union leadership tries to slip a cut rate contract through, they argue that they can’t win more without a strike. The council leadership here, though, has been arguing that they don’t want more, that winning a higher pay will harm the contractors! That is why they are doing everything they can to make sure the strike doesn’t really hurt “their” contractors. It is also why the members of the union bargaining team are sworn to secrecy – so that the members don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors. That way, all the members can do is react after the fact.
That is why along with demanding a real strike strategy, real transparency is important. And there can’t be transparency if the bargaining team members are sworn to secrecy. Open up the negotiating sessions and allow all members to witness what is going on! No secrets that only the union leadership and the contractors know about!
During the 1999 wildcat strike of San Francisco Bay area carpenters, and even earlier in the 1973-4 wildcat strike, the most important tactic was a flying squad of some 25-50 members. We went from job to job, entered the jobs and talked with our fellow carpenters. In most cases we succeeded in convincing them to walk off. That was how we shut it down. Nor did the union ever get sued for what we did. We have to ask whether that would be possible in Seattle today.
The Peter J. McGuire group has played a great role in the union. Without them, it is very unlikely that the previous TA’s would have been voted down. What they have accomplished can serve as an example for the rank and file in the entire labor movement. Stay strong and independent! End the “market share”, pro-contractor strategy. Build real, fighting unions.
Also read about a similar struggle of carpenters in New York City:New York Carpenters in Struggle Against Their Own Union Leadership
When My Fellow Carpenters Surprised Me
And for some historical background, read this pamphlet:What Happened to Our Unions?
Jason’s statement is spot on. This battle is at a crucial turning point. The contractors and the union leadership know if the strike is defeated-and with their strategy of “picketing” four sites it will be-it would be very unlikely that the members will vote down the contract again. The union “leaders” know very well what it takes to demoralize their members, they have mastered that skill over decades and calling this sort of “strike” would do just that. It is important to know what the unions “rules” say but it’s also important to remember that the unions in this country and around the world were not built nor did they win their greatest victories by following the bosses’s rules or court decisions.
Note: the writer, Cheryl Zuur, is the former president of AFSCME Local 444.