Union carpenters in Western Washington are leading the American working class at this moment. They are not waiting for the official leadership to tell them what to do anymore. Instead, they are taking matters into their own hands. Organized through a rank and file opposition caucus called the Peter J. McGuire Group (named after the Carpenters Union founder), thousands of members first rejected four contracts the leadership brought back and then forced the leadership to call a strike.
But what sort of strike did the leadership call?
They announced that the union would only picket four jobs. Not included in the list of jobs to be picketed was the Microsoft job, which is the biggest job on the West Coast.
The union leadership, in the person of Evelyn Shapiro, Executive Secretary Treasurer of the Western Washington carpenters regional council, called a meeting on Wednesday for members to sign up to picket. She probably was hoping that a hundred or so members came. According to reports, it was up to 2,000 who showed instead! Not only did members show up en masse, they forced Shapiro to agree to picket the Microsoft job!
This morning, according to one member on the spot, some 40 or 50 pickets had shut down one job. Almost all the workers left. Right down the street was another job where the workers had said that if pickets showed up they would walk. But the union business agents kept the pickets all at the closed down job. Partly this was for show, since they expect the press to show up. And beneath it all, this was another example of trying not to hit the contractors too hard.
The reason is the same as the reason that they tried to sell a cut-rate contract in a time
of full employment: The official policy of the union leadersip is to “recapture market share”. This means that the union is just a labor contractor and is sending its members into the market to compete with the non-union carpenters for who can make a greater profit for the bosses. This disastrous business philosophy has weakened the union for decades, now.
However, it is not only the carpenters union leadership; the entire labor movement is run on this same basis. It’s called the “team concept” and the idea is that the unions and the employers are on the same team. It’s exactly this that has weakened the US labor movement almost beyond recognition.
The Peter J. McGuire Group has shown the key to turning this around: for the most serious and courageous members to organize an opposition. Sometimes it only takes one or two members to start the process. In this case, the member was a carpenter known as Art Francisco, who has worked for years to oppose the “market share” policies of the union leadership. He deserves a lot of credit. Instead – or maybe exactly because of this – the union leadership is not only threatening to sue him or bring him up on charges (see letter), they actually published his personal contact information online!
All union members should defend any sister or brother who comes under such attack.
There is a lot at stake – like a more general fightback of the US working class.
That’s why the carpenters in Western Washington are leading the working class; what they are doing can be an example for the membership of the entire US labor movement. Help spread the word about what these carpenters are doing and how they are organizing. Send messages of solidarity. They can be sent to this blog site and we will pass them on, or send to The Peter J. McGuire Group on Facebook.
For other articles on this struggle as well as an interview with some of the carpenters involved, go here.