All posts by Jesse

Craft Unions and the General Strike

From: “The General Strike for Industrial Workers” as published by the IWW in June of 1946

            The Purpose of industrial unionism is to give the working class the greatest possible organizing power in industry. Unquestionably the General Strike, either on or off the job, is the most perfect manifestation of this power. If the craft unions of today are examined in regard to their adaptability to this end it will put the revolutionary industrial union movement in an entirely new light. Also it will reveal clearly the shortcomings of conventional unionism in general and the craft union movement in particular. After all, the full measure of power is the acid test of any labor organization.

            A cursory glance at the craft union movement will reveal the fact that it is constructed in such a way as to divide rather than to unify the forces of labor. The craft union is not designated to enable labor to use its full power. This type of union came into existence during the period of industrial evolution known as the small production when the tools of the craft and the skill of the craftsmen were important things. In those days the organized power of the tradesman consisted in his having monopoly of the skill necessary to make the tools of his trade industrially productive. The withdrawal of this skill during periods of strikes was all that was necessary to force the old-time employer of labor to terms. This it happened that the craft union was organized around the, then important, tools of the tradesmen.

Tools and Skill Obsolete

            But all this has been changed. The onward march of the machine process has to a large extent made both tools and skill unnecessary. This great advance in technical development has made the old fashioned trades union unable to cope with modern conditions. Craft unions still carry on as a matter of habit, it is true, but they are anachronisms in this modern world. Some of them merely serve as pie-cards for the tired business men who are their officials and all such unions serve more or less as props of the existing order. But they are not unions in the modern sense at all. They are merely the shells of once useful unions operating to secure advantages for a few favored groups of workers without regard to the interests of the working class as a whole. They are organized within the capitalist system which they have been taught to take for granted, and they have no thought or program of anything beyond this system.

            In relation to the manifest weakness of the trade union structure and concept the I.W.W. Preamble points out with telling emphasis: “We find that the centering of the management of industries into fewer and fewer hands makes the trades unions unable to cope with the ever growing power of the employing class. The trade unions foster a state of affairs whish allows one set of workers to be pitted against another set of workers in the same industry, thereby helping to defeat one another in wage wars. Moreover the trade unions aid the employing class to mislead the workers into the belief that the workers have interests in common with their employers.”

Labor’s Problem is Industrial-not Craft

            Labor’s problem today is not a craft but an industrial problem. A labor union at the present time, to be an effectual instrument of offense and defense, must conform to the structure of modern industry. It must be industrial rather than craft in form. But the craft unions have not kept pace with the needs of a changing world. They have very largely remained just where they were in the beginning. Far from being the helpful fighting instruments they were in the old days, they have now become merely a further means of effecting the enslavement of the class whose interests they are supposed to serve.

            A General Strike of craft unions is an unthinkable impossibility. Being organized for the sole purpose of enabling a few groups of workers to “get by” under capitalism, they lack both the form and spirit necessary to make possible united action for a common objective against a common foe. For this reason, as organized today, they would be of very doubtful help to any unified effort of the working class to free itself from wage slavery by industrial means. The modern industrial struggle demands modern industrial weapons. And in this regard the craft union is as obsolete as the dodo. Workers who conceive of the final struggle for emancipation in terms of industrial power will have elsewhere for an organizational form more suitable for this purpose.

            The so-called independent industrial unions are in the same category. It is true their rather loose industrial structure makes it possible for them to think of their union in terms of a given industry. But, as in the case of the U.M.W. of A. and other similar unions, they are divided into districts if not in crafts and are tied down by contracts, which make it impossible for them to act in unison. In no case is there evidence of any attempt or desire on their part to ally themselves for purposes of solidarity with transport or other workers on One Big Union lines. Organized railroad, clothing and many other workers in the U.S.A. are similarly bound, similarly divided and similarly unable to get together for united action of any sort.

            As far as the interests of Labor are concerned these steps must be in the right direction. They must not only be distinctly industrial, they must also be unquestionably revolutionary. “Instead of the conservative motto, ‘A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work,’ we must inscribe on our banner the revolutionary watchword, Abolition of the wage system.” So states the I.W.W. Preamble. And in this historic slogan is found the source of the strength and inspiration of the organized industrial workers of all the world.

Minutes: 02.04.19 Meeting

-K.J. will continue studying new Family Leave Law, possibility of developing a workshop on what state, federal, and union benefits we have and how to use them.
-Motion made and passed: to have an in person CORE 46 meeting in the lobby of the Kent hall on the Tuesday following the IBEW Local 46 general meeting.
-Motion made and passed: to have CORE 46 zoom (online) meetings open to any interested, Rank and File electrical worker. J.D. Will add the zoom link to the CORE 46 website.
-J.H. Will draft a possible IBEW Local 46 bylaws motion regarding having an on call Rep on staff
-J.Dr. Will ask IBEW Local 46 Business Manager about the possibility of members being able to donate banked insurance hours to other brothers and sisters
-Motion made and passed: to adopt motion forms created by J.M.
-Motion made and passed: to post meeting minutes on CORE 46 website.

The Whole Person Goes to Work

How many old men told each other and Henry Miller that he was just some idealistic youngster when he said he wanted to form a union for electrical workers? I see a lot of young people in our union now that aren’t ready to stomach the old injustices. If you don’t want to join the fight, well please don’t get in the way.

All my dignity, all my love for my family, all my respect for humanity, all my humility, all my appreciation for god, nature, the finite and interconnection and relation of all things. These come with me to work everyday. I couldn’t leave them at home if I wanted to.

The whole man/woman/person goes to work. And each day we pray that at the end of the day the whole worker will come home. And when I go home I bring back so many unwanted parts of the job. I bring home the silica in my lungs and on my clothes, the cramps in my hands and the soreness in my back and feet, the short temper that comes with under sleeping, the knot in my stomach that ties itself up arguing between security and righteousness, the humiliation from knowing that I am exploiting god and nature and the finite to serve folks that deny that they already have too much, while my fellow workers slave away. While the mother of the children I love slaves away. While children all over the world prepare to enter the slave market totally unarmed to do combat in the class war that is our economy.

Tell me I shouldn’t be here. Tell me love it or leave it. Tell me I’m idealistic. Tell me that everything I want for myself, for my brothers and sisters, for my family is unrealistic. Tell me this is just one contract, it’s just one contractor, it’s just one job, it’s just one day.

I’ll leave when I’m done. I’ll shut up when I have nothing to say. Thanks for reading. Thanks to everyone who has confronted some fear of their own to stand up already. Thanks to all you cautious old folks that stood up once before and were pushed back down.

LET’S MAKE THE SICK LEAVE LAW WORK FOR IBEW MEMBERS!

We, the finest electrical workers in the world, demand that language be adopted to the contracts of our Inside Wire, Sound & Comm, Residential, and Stockman units which will make the benefits of Washington States Paid Sick Leave Law accessible to all IBEW Local 46 members. For our sisters and brothers to benefit from this legislation paid sick leave benefits must be:

  • Usable after the 14th day of employment
  • All accrued & unused sick leave must carry year to year
  • Employers must be required to pay all accrued & unused hours upon a member’s termination, resignation, retirement, or other separation from employment.

A change like this will help our contractors by keeping members producing on the job, and ease the administrative burden of keeping employees sick leave on their books for 12 months after that member is no longer employed by the contractor, and it will help our membership by ensuring that we get the benefits we are entitled to and keep us from worrying so much about the financial burden of getting sick as we complete projects and move to the next contractor to keep building America!

CALL TO ACTION!

At the General Union Meeting on Wednesday, February 13th a motion will be made to recommend that the business manager of IBEW Local 46 actively and sincerely pursue the adoption of language as a Memorandum of Understanding between all signatory contractors, Puget Sound NECA, and the members of all concerned units. A strong showing of YES votes will demonstrate that the members are ready to fight for an ever improving standard of living!

How the Trades Unions Killed Themselves

Mike Lucas was the director of organizing with the IBEW international office. Listen to the track below to hear a speech he made about where the unions lost their way in regards to organizing and how that has cost the unions everything. This speech was in the early 80’s and after it was made union activists secretly spread it through IBEW local 46 via cassette tape.

“I didn’t come into the union because I wanted a wage cut. And very frankly I don’t need the union to take a wage cut. I don’t see a whole hell of a lot of use in paying dues so I can take a wage cut. I came into the union because some rat contractor was paying me barely enough to keep me alive while he was doing his best to work me to death. That’s why I came into the union.”

That quote at the end really stands out to me. Mike Lucas was a very outspoken advocate of bottom up union organizing. He talks about needing to get the non-union worker into our unions and bringing their job with them. He talks about how if there are only two jobs left in town, those two jobs should be done at full scale.

Here is a link to an interview Mike Lucas did with Cornell University Labor Research Department.

The current trade union’s program around organizing seems disconnected from the work force, and because of this I think it is doomed to fail. Until we focus on creating opportunities for tradesman, union and non-union, to communicate about work we are doomed to lose workers to rat contractors. And until we recognize that a strong contract enforced effectively that provides great working conditions, fair pay and benefits is what organizes members, in turn with the inverse that it is organizing that wins strong contracts we are doomed to lose work to rat contractors. We need to stop the practice of buying jobs for union members at reduced wages and benefits at the expense of the non-union worker, and begin a serious campaign to organize those non-union workers into our unions, and make their jobs come with them.

Brotherhood is Worth More…

…Than Time and a Half

I am a first year apprentice. Like everyone else in the world I have money problems. My money problem is that I don’t have enough of it to keep up with cost of living in this city. This is not going to be a long-winded complaint about my low wages though, don’t worry.

So as a broke-ass first year apprentice I look for opportunities to work overtime. Not only are the extra hours at a higher wage great, but they also help me advance to my next raise more quickly. Well recently I found myself in a position where the only right thing to do was to refuse overtime, while I watched journeymen and apprentices alike put their consciences aside and take it.

It started a couple minutes before the end of the day on a Wednesday. My foreman came up to me and asked “do you want to work on Saturday?” My immediate reply was to ask if everyone had been asked because I knew everyone wanted overtime and I thought it was strange that he asked me when I was away from everyone else. He then told me I was one of only four people on the crew that was asked to go. I felt uneasy about this, and when he told me that the overtime would be on a different jobsite I became even more uneasy about it. Unfortunately I let my money woes get the best of me and I agreed to work anyway.

The next day I had class so I was not on the jobsite, but it is my understanding that word got out about the chosen few that were asked to work overtime. When I showed up to work on Friday the journeyman that I work with seemed to be in a particularly bad mood. I didn’t want to pry so I let it be. Towards the end of the day the journeyman finally told me why he was frustrated. He (a book 1) had not been offered the overtime while a book 2 had been. He knew I had been offered the work and he told me I should take it, but he also seemed frustrated that the two other journeyman asked to work would go even while knowing that each book 1 should have been offered the overtime before the book 2 if only a limited amount of wireman would be needed.

When I was forced to confront the fact I was offered overtime and he was not I knew I would not be working that Saturday. I know that I am nothing special. I am a first year apprentice wireman. That is it. I had no more right to overtime than anyone else on the job, and in fact I had far less right to it than the seasoned journeyman who was denied the opportunity.

The journeyman I was working with insisted that I still go work Saturday because as an apprentice it is not my responsibility to hold up certain aspects of the union dogma. I considered his advice and I decided that if I could make an excuse to not do what I knew was the right thing now, I would likely be able to do the same thing later on. At the end of the day I told my foreman that I would not be able to come in on Saturday. He then asked me why not and I told him it was because I was beat. He then told me I would have to tell the project manager in a threatening tone and I responded by asking where the project manager was so I could tell him, the foreman then told me I would be doing panel work in an attempt to bait me into working on Saturday, or possibly to help me out since I told him I was beat. I told him “that sounds great…… but I’m not working.”

The following Monday I found out that the other three guys that were offered overtime indeed worked on Saturday. I also found out that not one of them did any panel work. Before break time I found myself in the material room with the foreman alone and he asked me what the real reason I didn’t work on Saturday was. I told him the truth. I told him I didn’t like the cloak and dagger way he offered overtime to some people while excluding others. He then explained that is wasn’t cloak and dagger, it was simply a misunderstanding.

As the day went on the foreman pulled the journeyman that was excluded the week before off to the side. I later found out that he was the first person to be offered overtime for the coming weekend. At the end of the day everyone on the crew was given the same opportunity to work overtime and everyone took it with the exception of the book 2, citing a personal engagement he had already committed to.

It is probably most likely that the timing of the work is what created the expanded offer of overtime, but there is a small chance that my little stand influenced it in someway. Regardless of whatever impact my actions did or didn’t have I know I slept better knowing that I stood up for what I knew was right, and that was worth a lot more to me than the 8 hours of time and half. I have always believed that virtue untested is no virtue at all. What you believe only has meaning in those moments when words are manifested into actions. Well now I can add one more virtue to my short list and begin to look for the next opportunity to add another.