It’s no exaggeration: Western Washington carpenters can make history. That’s because the situation they face is not that very different from that faced by all union members in the US; if rank and file carpenters can overcome their own leadership, this can be a signal for union members throughout the labor movement.
The carpenters union leadership has made it clear that they don’t want the members to get too high of a raise. “Recapturing market share” is their mantra. What it means in reality is helping the unionized contractors compete with the non-union contractors by keeping union wages as close to non-union wages as possible. This strategy has been a disastrous failure for the entire union, but that doesn’t stop them from trying. (See box at right for brief rundown and see numerous written reports videos on our blog site for more.)
Entire Union Leadership
The entire union leadership follows this position. As long ago as 2011, the then president of the United Auto Workers met with the Detroit Chamber of Commerce and gave a long speech in which he concluded that the union welcomes “enhanced opportunities to contribute to our companies’ success” See this article for this entire disgraceful speech, which could as easily have been given by the Carpenters’ McCarron. “Success”, of course, simply means greater profits for the employer. In 2017, the UAW tried to organize Nissan workers in Mississippi under the slogan “pro Nissan and pro Union”. This is no different from the “market share” propaganda and what goes along with it is low pay, especially a two tier wage that topped out at as low as $23/hour at GM following their 2019 strike.
Nor is it any different in other unions. The UFCW, for example, in one case made a top employer, Bob Piccinini, the “union person of the year”!
That is why from coast to coast, from industry to industry, in both the public and private sectors, union members are fed up and often even demoralized. It shows the extreme importance of the Western Washington carpenters rebellion, as led by the Peter J. McGuire Group. If they can make a breakthrough, who knows what it might set off?
Now, carpenters are facing a new challenge: After several weeks of a pathetic designed-to-fail strike, the union leadership arrived at a new TA which is hardly any different from previous ones. It’s impossible to know whether it will pass or not, but if it’s voted down what seems most likely is that general president Doug McCarron could step in, take control of the council and sign the TA over the heads of the members.
McCarron has just one problem: He might not be able to control the membership. Can the McGuire Group organize “the mother of all wildcat strikes”? That is the question. If they do, then they will face the wrath of the entire labor leadership and will need active participation of rank and file workers throughout not only the construction industry but beyond.
“Mother of all Wildcat Strikes”
With near full employment, rising prices, and the general frustration that the great majority of workers feel, they just might get such active support. If so, there is no telling where it might go from there. There is a logjam in all of US society. That logjam is created in large part by the disastrous role of the labor leadership. A “mother of all wildcats” strike in Seattle has the potential to blow this log jam out of the water. It has the potential to set tens and even hundreds of thousands of US workers into motion.
According to some reports, already some carpenters are refusing to return to work until the contract vote is settled. If that is widespread, it might show that there is a general mood to resume wildcat action now. That would be the best way to ensure a “no” vote on the contract.
It would also be the best way to ensure a real resistance to McCarron is built – resistance through wildcat striking.
It seems that construction “sand and gravel” Teamsters may be going on strike. Now is the time to start to build an alliance with them as a first step towards bringing in the rank and file of the wider labor movement.
What’s at Stake
There are risks. In the past, the carpenters leadership has used expulsion and even (illegal) blacklisting against rebels. But it could only do that when it was just one or two relatively isolated individuals, not when it was dozens. (This writer was a victim of such blacklisting early in his career as a carpenter apprentice back in the 1970s.) In any case, we have to remember the tens and hundreds of thousands of workers who lost everything to get us where we are today. And we have to realize that our children’s future hinges on this.