Category Archives: Concerns

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.

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!

Life is good at the big kids table

A recent commentary I wrote regarding the unjustified actions taken with constituency groups at Local 46 has really stirred up the supporters of the Local’s Leadership Team. I have received many messages online demanding I take down what I wrote. Accusing me of being drunk and ignorant of the facts. It really troubles me that members of minority groups are accusing me of making up my accusations. If a victim of discrimination or worse makes a claim, shouldn’t we start off our conversations with them from a viewpoint of support? When we are told a story or presented with information about something that has happened, we should not discount the individual just because we have loyalties to the accused.

I am NOT accusing anyone of anything as heinous as a sexual misconduct, racism, or bigotry of any type, but I am accusing the Local leadership of discriminatory past practices. Myself and others were prevented by the Local Leadership from performing protected acts of freedom of speech, and our unchartered constituency group was not given the same level of access as other unchartered constituency groups within the Local. We have sought out legal support over these issues. Which ultimately was the reasoning for the sudden issuance of “free speech rules” this last September / October.

You probably don’t know about these issues because you were not involved. We didn’t make our fight public because we were honestly trying to work through the issues with Local Leadership. Their continued harassment of our group, forced our hand in taking up the cause for freedom of speech.

Our efforts has put the the Local Leadership in a protective posture. They are trying to protect themselves from any further accusations of unfair treatment of members. It is these efforts that they are making which is coming at a cost to the different constituency groups. Their efforts are really a defensive posture against CORE and unfortunately, the other groups are now caught up in the unfair practices that the Local Leadership has supported for years.


When you are part of a favored group of people, you often don’t see the discriminatory practices that are occurring around you. The situations I have written about here are examples of this very situation. Members are accusing me of making up these issues in some kind of slime ball attack against the Local Leadership. Maybe if these detractors were actually there when these events took place they would believe me. Or maybe they would keep their blinders on while they give their continued loyalty to Local Leadership that may not be deserving of such treatment as they strongly believe.

I had hoped that members of minority groups that have been discriminated against would be more supportive of other members who were experiencing discrimination. We should not be supportive of bad behavior just because the accused usually act in good faith.

Member Groups and the IRS*

The recent outing of RENEW, EWMC, and ESU from the Hall is motivated by additional layers than is being presented. The prevailing message from Karleena is that ESU has run amiss of the IRS regarding taxes. In researching the issue they discovered that ESU is not chartered by the IO, and neither was EWMC, or RENEW. On the surface, not being chartered doesn’t seem like a big deal. So what if members of our Local want to form a group, or two, or three, to get together and organize around some issues? All three of these groups have been allowed to hold meetings and events within the Local 46 Hall for years.

There is one group of active members that has not been allowed to have a meeting at the Hall, and that is CORE. When we approached Bagsby about scheduling time in one of the class rooms so we could have a meeting, he told us that we would have to put down an $800 security deposit. By placing a high financial burden in front of the group, Bagsby effectively prevented the Local Members from being able to meet together at the Hall.

The Caucus Of Rank & File Electrical workers has been organizing for 3+ years as an independent group which has chafed at the Local Leadership Team over this time period. CORE has maintained a no admittance to our online communications for Officers of any Local or Management Employees of any Contractor. At the same time, we have always had an open door at our meetings and we have extended invitations on multiple occasions.

Our invitations to our meetings have gone ignored, and instead The Local Leadership Team can be found making comments from the microphone about groups that exclude people. As was the case at the last General Meeting. While he did not cite CORE specifically, while attempting to give validity to EWMC / RENEW / ESU, the Local Leadership Team made reference to “groups that exclude people”. The reality is the only exclusion we maintain is our internal communications and online presence.

So, back to the issue of not being chartered… If there is a group of members who are being allowed access to the Union Hall and another group of members who are not being allowed access there is a problem. Prior to this last week, none of the committees mentioned in this article have been charted by the IO. With all the groups essentially being equal on the level of being chartered or not, access to the Hall has been being given out arbitrarily. If the group was in The Local Leadership Team’s favor, then they were allowed access. If they were not, such as CORE, they were given an arbitrarily high bar for access to the very same resources.

Recently, I led a fight for freedom of speech out our Hall with the support of many of members of our Local and CORE. We forced the Hall into a position to reevaluate their stance on blocking and restricting our rights to communicate with our fellow members. The Local Leadership Team made some wrong decisions about freedom of speech, but they have come to their senses and we all have greater rights now. Union officers cannot arbitrarily tell members that they can or cannot communicate with each other, and they cannot arbitrarily give access to the Hall to one group of members while denying others.

The IRS notice gives the Local Leadership Team a smoke screen to cover up their arbitrary practices of giving different groups favorable access. They have forced these groups out not because of the IRS, but because they have been in the wrong for years. To clean up the problem and allow them to continue to block CORE from being able to schedule meetings at the Hall, the favored groups will attain a charter from the IO. This charter will be the measuring stick by which they can say that some groups are okay, while others are unacceptable.

The picture is further muddled by the claim that the IO is pushing to bring all these groups together across different Locals. The IO is not suddenly pushing to have these groups sanctioned for the benefit of the groups, and the IO had already been pushing for these groups to be chartered for years. This is just another distraction to help cover up the truth. Bagsby & Bud fear rank and file member groups that they cannot control. By formalizing these groups, they inoculate themselves from claims of being biased, and arbitrary favoritism.

The members of CORE 46 believe that the members of any Local, whether they are chartered or not, should have the right to meet in their Hall.

*This letter has been edited to help not single out any one of The Leadership Team too much. Ultimately, the issues presented here are about unfair treatment of members by ALL of the The Leadership Team.

Labor Notes – Steward’s Corner: Legal Rights in a Contract Campaign

May 16, 2018 / Robert M. Schwartz

In today’s dysfunctional economic climate, straightforward bargaining frequently comes up empty. Employers come to the table with lengthy lists of takeaways and refuse to compromise. Claiming impasse at the earliest opportunity, they threaten to carry out their final offer or impose a lockout.

To cope with these realities many unions are turning to militant contract campaigns. Creative and aggressive tactics can demonstrate members’ solidarity, resolve, and willingness to act.

Successful contract campaigns rely on wide participation. Months before negotiations begin, the union selects a contract action team. Using individual and group meetings, surveys, and house calls, the team reaches out to every worker, soliciting suggestions for bargaining demands and ideas for exerting pressure. Films, speakers, and handouts educate members about labor struggles.

READ MORE.

Excerpted from No Contract, No Peace: A Legal Guide to Contract Campaigns, Strikes, and Lockouts ($20).

#7 – Sick & Safe – Pay Off at Lay Off

Supportive details for reason #7 of the 10 reasons to Vote No


Many have expressed frustration that the Sick & Safe hours accrued are not put into an account like the health care or vacation funds. Part of the reason for this is that the law requires employers to pay out current wage hours, not wages earned at a previous wage scale. For our trade a clear example is an apprentice who moves up in year would get paid at their current hourly wage, not the wages from the previous school year when they actually accrued the benefit. So, banking wages does not work and banking hours is not possible due to these discrepancies.

Unlike most workers however, many if not most of us are continually switching employers. As one job winds down, we are laid off and re-dispatched to a new employer. When we are released from employment we are relieved of the Sick & Safe hours which we have accrued under the law. This of course leads to workers trying to figure out how can they work the system to ensure that they receive the benefits that they earned before those benefits are taken away. Often this leads to workers taking time for Sick & Safe situations during the last stretch of the job when they are most needed, putting them at odds with the contractor.

To avoid a loss of the benefit and ensure that the jobs are fully staffed to complete the job, the benefit should be paid out when the employee is laid off. This would help keep the workers on the job until the end, and still give them the opportunity to take care of their Sick & Safe situations which the benefit is intended to accommodate. When a worker is able to count on being able to afford to go to the doctor, get check ups, and what ever else they will be in healthier condition for the next job. Allowing this to occur after lay off, helps mitigate the downtime the contractors will occur during the project.

This is a Win Win.

West Virginia Strike

For most of us, the strength of the labor movement in the United States has been steadily declining for our entire lives. The monumental victories of the first half of the 20th century (the 8 hour day, closed shop union contracts, unemployment insurance, etc.) have been under attack and for many workers these fundamental rights have been all but eroded. With the loss of union power we have also lost the methods and tactics of struggle that made those victories possible in the first place.

That is why the recent strike of the West Virginia teachers union is so important. Not only were they able to win the 5% pay increase they were fighting for in the era of “right to work”, they did it by returning to the rank and file militancy of the past. In order to win their strike the teachers had to defy state law as well as their own union leadership and in doing so they reminded us all of where our true power lies: with the rank and file and on the job.

The strike in West Virginia began with the blessing of the statewide teachers union leaders. Frustration had been boiling over among teachers across the state for years. Teachers in West Virginia in 2016 were the 48th lowest paid in the country, the average salary being around $45,000. Wages were not keeping up with rising healthcare costs and cost of living. A vote was taken and a work stoppage began on February 22nd, closing schools in all of West Virginia’s 55 counties.

From the beginning the strike was dynamic and explosive. Union members didn’t simply sit back and wait for the leadership to tell them to act, they took matters into their own hands. A rank and file Facebook group was started that quickly grew to 20,000 members voicing their frustrations and updating teachers in other parts of the state about unfolding events. The teachers had broad demands which brought in other public sector employees in West Virginia who supported them on the picket lines.

It is this strategy of action and solidarity that made it possible to continue the strike even after the official union leadership called for it to end. After the leadership struck a deal that was unacceptable to the membership they didn’t hang their heads and go back to work, they continued the strike as a “wildcat”. A “wildcat” is a strike that is called without the approval of the local, national or international union leadership. This tactic was common in the past and crucial to the strength of the labor movement in the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s but has been suppressed and forgotten in more recent years.

In the end the teachers won a 5% pay increase which was approved not just for teachers but for all State employees. They did it by remembering the lessons of the past, not just the lessons of the labor movement but other movements of working people like the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 60’s as well.

That lesson is this: the rules are often written not for us, but against us. They are written by politicians who line their pockets with donations from big business. They are written by companies that want to drive down wages and erode conditions to maximize their profits. They are written by so called union leaders who want to advance their own career no matter the expense to the workers they are supposed to represent.

But these rules are also arbitrary. They exist only as long as we let them exist and they can be overcome when we realize the power of our solidarity. This is what we are going to have to do if we want to rebuild a powerful labor movement that can defeat attacks like “right to work”.

There is an analogy that I think best illustrates this point. To a lion, the whip of the lion tamer seems too powerful to overcome. The lion might believe that for weeks or even for years, and during that time he will do what the lion tamer says. But we know that the lion is much greater than the whip, and the tamer knows this as well. All the lion has to do is realize it.

Quantity vs Quality

Or is it Organize vs Represent?

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, like the majority of unions, has a tremendous focus on organizing workers into their Union under the premise of building market share. With new membership comes a greater share of the market, increased dues collection, and increased worker strength in contract negotiations. These characteristics hold true in an environment where employers are forced to be closed shops. Meaning that all of their workers who fall under the scope of the contract agreement with the Union, are required to be dues paying members.

In Right to Work (RTW) States, organizing an employer does not necessarily mean that all of the members will pay their fare share, and the ability to keep an employer signatory to a contract agreement is in constant peril. RTW States do not require employees to pay their fair share and they have recertification procedures which create huge hurdles for the Unions who are operating there. This dynamic leads Unions in these locals to the question of how to attract workers and win them over to being full dues paying members.

Do you focus your energy on Organizing new workers to account for attrition, or do you develop higher quality representation to turn those workers into dependable members?

If the 9th District Progress meetings of the past have been any indicator, the focus is on organizing new members and signing new contractors. All of the metrics which account for “progress” in the 9th District are focused on the organizing success and or failure of the constituent Locals. Numbers reflecting member engagement, such as participation levels at meetings or during votes, are absent from the powerpoint presentations and speakers. The focus on Organizing is of seeming paramount importance in the struggle against member attrition and market share development.

Unfortunately, this focus on organizing will not hold up when RTW makes its way into the remaining states which have yet to adopt it. When workers are given a choice of paying dues or not they will ask themselves, “What am I getting for my money?”. Currently the answer to this question is ultimately a lack of representation, an unenforced contract, and more organized workers to compete against for the next job. How many times have you seen a representative come out to your workplace when an election wasn’t right around the corner? Are the terms of the agreed to contract violated on a daily basis, by you, your coworkers, and or your employer? We need as many workers as we can get right now, so the third item listed above doesn’t play out currently, but be assured some will be thinking about it when times get lean again.

According to http://www.ibew46.org/our_team.html there are currently seven representatives in Local 46 for 5200+ members. That is over 740 members for every 1 representative. It is not possible for the number of representatives that we have, to be able to handle this many members effectively. The current membership is under represented, and there is an underlying resentment for paying dues without a justifiable level of representation on the jobs. This does not appear to be changing dynamic either, as the number of unpaid representatives (Stewards) remains in the single digits, and as the Leadership is focused on extending Organizing dues for another three years. The current representation model that has been implemented will be hard pressed to keep those that are concerned about being represented paying dues when RTW becomes a reality. There will be a dramatic cut off in the amount of dues collected as the membership is disenfranchised with the level of representation, tired of unenforced contracts, and fearful of having to compete with more workers for the same jobs.

Ultimately, the members are the customers that the Hall is in place to provide services for. The Hall has agreed to provide members with contract enforcement through representation and job opportunities through organizing. If the product that the Hall is producing only includes job opportunities, then the members who are buying for representation, will stop paying dues when given the choice. They will question what is the point of paying dues to an organization which is focused on bringing in more workers for them to compete against, when the Hall won’t provide significant representation and fight for the fair treatment of the members they currently have.

The end product of Local 46 has been too focused on organizing and needs to shift to representation as its primary focus. RTW is on the horizon whether workers and their unions want it or not. If the Local continues to focus the majority of its dues on organizing, then it will not be able to provide justification for those that question the level of representation they are buying with their dues payments. To remain competitive and to keep the funding up so LU 46 can afford to pursue organizing efforts, they must increase representation and turn the focus to customer satisfaction. The membership must become the primary focus of their Hall, and the quality of the representation must be increased substantially to keep them.

The costs of providing representation at levels more reasonable than 740 to 1, does not have to be substantial. There is a huge opportunity to drastically change the amount of representation that the membership experiences by simply appointing Stewards. At the time of this writing there is 7-8 currently appointed stewards for the Inside Wire unit of LU 46. There is way more than 7-8 job sites, which leaves thousands of members without daily representation on their jobs. By appointing Stewards, the Business Manager of LU 46 could show the membership that he too is concerned about providing the membership the representation it deserves, while keeping costs in check by hiring more and more staff to try and address the issues.

IBEW LU 46 should appoint Stewards on every job possible, and put more of the memberships dues money into providing the representation they are paying for.