Category Archives: Solidarity

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.

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.

IUOE 302 on Strike

Hello Fellow Electrical Workers,

The Caucus of Rank and File Electrical Workers (C.O.R.E. 46) hopes that you have already heard that The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 302 (I.U.O.E. 302) has rejected their contract offer and is now on strike. There are pickets going up all around the Puget Sound. C.O.R.E. 46 stands in solidarity with the Union Operators. As decided by our members, it is the position of C.O.R.E. 46 to NEVER CROSS A PICKET LINE, and never work with scabs (someone performing the work of a striking worker). Our industry is made up of many Unions, but we are all one working class and we are united in the fight for a higher and higher standard of living. There are some questions that fellow electrical workers may have regarding the strike and we would like to offer possible answers to some of these questions.

Q: There is a picket on my job, what should I do?
A: Our unions were built on the principle of labor solidarity. Honor your fellow workers, NEVER CROSS A PICKET LINE.

Q: There is no picket on my job, what should I do?
A: Obey your conscience. Pay attention to the positions that operators usually fill on your jobsite. Are those positions being filled by other workers or by management themselves? How would you feel if you were on strike and some scab came and did your job, possibly for a lower wage than you do it? Never work with scabs.

Stand strong Fellow Workers, and keep I.U.O.E. 302 in your thoughts and prayers. If you have any questions you can email C.O.R.E. 46 at contact@core46.org

In Solidarity,

The Caucus of Rank and File Electrical Workers
C.O.R.E. 46
www.core46.org

Cross Trades Rally – May 2018

CORE 46 hosted a Cross Trades Rally in support of all workers fighting for better contracts. We were joined by nearly 150 members of the various building trades and other local unions at Westlake Center in Seattle on May 31st, 2018.

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.

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).

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.

Harry Bridges Prowls the Stacks at Powell’s

This article is found in Trouble Maker’s Handbook 2, published by Labor Notes, and is reproduced here with permission.

Imagine if the call was for Henry Miller…

by Michael Ames Connor

Harry Bridges works at Powell’s Books. He keeps an eye out for fellow workers. At least, that’s what they say.

The story, repeated by many members of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 5, goes something like this: Every once in a while, over the store intercom, comes a page for Harry Bridges. “Harry Bridges to manager Block’s office.” “Harry Bridges to the loading dock.” It’s a pretty good intercom system, so everyone can hear it.

These union folks who work at Powell’s — clearks, booksellers, loaders, techno-cats, and book buyers — they know, together, a little about everything: cooking, fly fishing, Japanese poetry, and labor history. They know about Harry Bridges. People know Bridges has been dead for years. But they know his reputation — fierce ILWU fighter who led the 1934 longshore strike that established the union. Part of joining ILWU means learning a little about their union and learning what Harry Bridges stands for: members know that if he’s going to check out the loading dock, they should too.

When they get there (and it’s usually 30 or 40 people who show up), they find one of their co-workers in a little difficulty with the boss. A disagreement, an argument, a confrontation. Before they show up, maybe that co-worker is in a little trouble. Maybe the boss is taking a hard line, getting ready to make an example, thinking about tossing a troublemaker out the door. That’s why Harry Bridges gets the call.

So 30 or 40 people show up, and the manager backs down. Happens every time. With one or two people there, the boss can do what he likes. But with 30 or 40 people, as Arlo Guthrie once pointed out, you got yourself a movement.

Nobody’s ever seen Harry Bridges at Powell’s. They just know he’s there, watching to make sure nobody gets picked on, or picked off.

 

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.