My name is Cheryl Zuur. I am a retired industrial electrician and former president of AFSCME Local 444 in Oakland, California. I stand in solidarity with your struggle. Your courage to demand a righteous contract and to take on the leadership of the Carpenters Union in order to win one is an inspiration to all workers. You forced the hand of the carpenters council by voting down the employers contract four times, leaving no out but to call a strike. Your victories have revealed a truth that is hard for many union members to think about: their own leaders are working for the other side. And to change that, you must take the power back and run the union as a real workers democracy.
Your situation is made more complex because you have Evelyn Shapiro leading your council. She isn’t siding with the employers because she is a woman. She and her male counterparts in unions across the country accept “market share” in spite of its consequences for workers. She accepted that perspective when she became a part of the Carpenters Union leadership without opposing it and fighting for an alternative.
When Hillary Clinton ran for president, she was subjected to all kinds of horrible, sexist and misogynist attacks. Some women workers thought that because Hillary was a woman, she was automatically “on their side”. They were rightfully angered by these attacks. But Hillary, just like Obama, was not “on their side” because they both represented the interests of the rich and powerful. Some women carpenters may feel that Shapiro is “on their side” because she is a woman, and she is being attacked. But she is no more on their side than Hillary was. Shapiro may be a leader, but she is also a pawn in the game of “identity politics”.
Employers and union leaders know that a divided union membership is one that they can easily control, demoralize and weaken. That is why sexism and racism are poison to worker solidarity. That is why “identity politics” is a very slippery slope. Do not let it divide you.
The Peter J. McGuire caucus has played a critical role in this struggle. You have been so successful in terrifying the employers and the Carpenters Council that the McGuire caucus is being red baited and its leader, Art Francisco, threatened with charges. The media is saying that the carpenters who are attacking Shapiro and other women in the leadership are violent women haters. The union leadership and the contractors will stop at nothing to defeat the battle for power you have unleashed. Do not let them succeed.
You face a great challenge now; to stand together, in solidarity, to win.