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CONSTRUCTION, DEUNIONIZED the decline and fall of the Building Trades unions

Started by GREGORYABUTLER, September 03, 2008, 05:32:59 pm

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GREGORYABUTLER

fraternally,
GREGORY A. BUTLER, LOCAL 157 CARPENTER
for GANGBOX: CONSTRUCTION WORKERS NEWS SERVICE
http://gangboxnews.blogspot.com
"UNION NOW, UNION FOREVER"

GREGORYABUTLER

VII. "...any damn fool can build homes..."

Meanwhile, the war had created massive changes in the construction industry.

When hostilities broke out, the Army and Navy had faced the task of rapidly building hundreds of barracks, defense plants and other military installations.

In the case of jobs that were done directly by military personnel, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Navy Construction Batallions (Seabees) had to use poorly trained raw recruits to build complex facilities very quickly.

The Army Engineers and the Seabees solved this problem very simply - they broke down every construction task into it's basic components, and then trained their enlisted  men to perform just those simplified operations - supervised by a relatively small force of Army Sergeants or Navy Petty Officers who were actual all around journeymen.

Also, wherever possible, products that required complicated installation by highly trained workers were replaced by simpler to install substitutes that could be erected by lightly or untrained personnel.

The most dramatic and far reaching example of this was the replacement of lath and plaster interior walls with a product then called "plasterboard".

Plasterboard was invented by United States Gypsum (USG) in Chicago in 1928, but it's use had been blocked by the political influence of the Lathers and Plasterers unions.

The leaders of the Lathers and the Plasterers had  lobbied the Chicago Department of Buildings to ban it's use as an alleged fire hazard.

The fire issue was a red herring (albeit a very potent one in a city that had burned to the ground in a fire back in 1871) the real issue was that the product was far less labor intensive than plastering a wall.

Plastering involved carpenters framing out a wall, lathers coming behind them and attaching wood, metal or gypsum lath to the studs and then plasterers coming in (with laborers to mix their plaster for them).

The Plasterers then had to apply three seperate coats of plaster, each of which had to dry overnight before the next coat could be applied.

Plastering was messy, it required lots of water (and posed the risk of water damage to the structure) and it could only be done in buildings with sealed windows and a water tight roof in tempretures that were above freezing but below 80 degrees.

Plasterboard, by contrast, could be directly attached to the studs with nails or screws, and then could be immediately hit with a light coat of plaster.

After just two more light coats of plaster and some sanding, the wall was ready for painting, wall paper hanging, installation of wood paneling or whatever other type of finishing was desired.

Plasterboard could be installed in any type of weather as long as the boards themselves were not left outside in direct contact with rain or snow.

Plasterboard installation involved a whole lot less labor than conventional troweled plaster work.

And a lot less different types of labor too - was their really a need for three seperate crafts (lathers, plasterers and laborers) to build a wall when the product came solid and pre made, with no need to be mixed on site?

This is why the Plasterers and Lathers opposed plasterboard so agressively.

They got Chicago to ban the product - and all the other big city buildings departments followed the Windy City's lead.

USG's great invention thus languished for another 15 years - until the Navy decided to make use of it.

The War Department soon followed suit and began to use plasterboard in their facilities (or at least the ones being built by Army troops, where civilian union jurisdictional disputes were irrelevant).

Since the product eliminated the messy water intensive in place mixing of plaster, it was considered to be a dry wall building process.

Thus the product came to be officially known as "dry wall wallboard" - or "drywall" for short.

USG, the market leader in the drywall industry, decided to give it's version of the product a trade name - since it was a sheet of gypsum, they called it "sheetrock".

Thus was introduced the greatest construction innovation since the Romans invented concrete in 300BC.

The technological innovations were coupled with equally far reaching transformations in construction business structure.

Prior to World War II, most buildings were built by a General Contractor who did all of the concrete, masonry and carpentry work on the site directly.

The GC's subbed out electrical, mechanical, structural steel and painting and decorating work to specialty subcontractors who they supervised.

This business model had derived from the classic construction method of a General Contractor doing the entire job itself (the main building construction business form in America from the 1620's to the late 19th century).

As buildings had gotten more complex in the early 20th century, it became necessary for the General Contractors to let other firms, with specialized workers, perform larger and larger areas of work.

This trend accelerated with the war.

With all the new materials like sheetrock, it was impossible for a GC's in house tradesmen to be able to efficiently install the many different building products that went into a modern structure.

This was especially true with carpentry work - a craft that, thanks both to technological  change and the relentless jurisdictional expansionism of the UBC, had come to include widly disinctive areas of work requiring very different skills.

In place of the old "dirt to doorknobs" carpenter (who could do everything from build the concrete forms at the start of the job to installing the fine woodwork at the end) there were now specialized carpenters who were highly skilled in one or two divisions of the trade, but far less competent on others.

This new development also led to the emergence of contractors who only did one or two specialized areas of work. These specialty subcontractors eventually became the dominant type of construction industry capitalist.

The old General Contractors also tended to evolve into one of two forms.

Some of the GC's became general carpentry contractors, doing all phases of carpentry work but stripping themselves of their old general contractor functions.

Others subbed out all of their work to subcontractors, and only maintained the GC functions - hiring and supervising the subs, maintaining a force of laborers to clean the jobsite and - on hirise jobs - having operating engineers and elevator operators to run the passenger nnd freight elevators.

This new type of GC ended up having a very different relationship with the clients who owned the buildings.

Unlike the rest of the contractors, who still had an adversarial relationship with the clients (based on the fact that they fought over who got to have the biggest share of the surplus value created by the labor of the construction workers) the new GC's essentially acted as agents of the client on the site.

They got paid a fixed percentage of the price of the job, and their main goal was, like the client's, to minimize how much the subcontractors got paid.

The clients would learn that having this new type of General Contractor running their jobs worked strongly to their advantage - finally, they had somebody on the site who held a common economic interest, and would be in a position to fight for that interest!

This trend towards subcontracting accelerated at two diametrically opposed sectors of the business - hirise office buildings on one extreme and single family homes on the other end.

Homebuilders like the famed Levitt Brothers dispensed with the old practice of having the GC use the same crew of carpenters, masons and laborers to build the house from foundation hole to finished woodwork, with only the electrical, gas fitting, plumbing and heating done by subcontractors.

Instead the GC would have a series of subcontractors do the work - a concrete sub to do the foundation, a framing sub to build the rough frame of the house, one of the new specialty drywall subs to come in and sheetrock the interior, a woodwork contractor to install the interior finish work ect.

Levittown-style development usually involved building a large group of houses in a concentrated geographic area, so each sub could go from house site to house site to house site.

These tract house developments were typically built in suburban areas that had been farmland. The construction unions had always been weak in rural areas, even those that were near major cities. Consequently, most of these big suburban developments were built non union.

This led to the first mass influx of non union workers into the trades since the rise of the unions in the late 19th century. The Building Trades did absolutely nothing about this - no organizing drives, no "trade movement" style areawide strikes to enforce union conditions, not even one-contractor at a time NLRB election campaigns.

This fatal inaction was true across the country, even in New York City's suburbs - Long Island, Westchester, Northern New Jersey and Fairfield County Connecticut - which were unusually heavily unionized for suburban areas.

That failure to deal with non union suburban residential contractors early on would later come back to haunt the construction unions. The unions hung on to their urban residential contractors, but as the center of gravity of homebuilding shifted away from cities and out to the suburbs, this began to matter less and less.

Meanwhile, in the hirise commercial sector, GC's were subbing out all of the work - bout the traditional electrical, elevator, mechanical, heating ventilation and air conditioning and decorating work they'd always subbed out along with the concrete, brick and interior framing and drywall work they had always done in house.

In the major cities where most of the hirise jobs were concentrated, the commercial sector was already overwhelmingly union, so these new contractors ended up being union.

On both ends of the spectrum, single family houses and heavy commercial, the trend towards subcontracting was at it's most dramatic in the New York City metropolitan area - which had always been ahead of the curve in terms of construction innovation.

The Plasterers briefly tried to be a barrier to this process (or at least the aspect that affected their jurisdiction - drywall) but that was a failed campaign.  They could not stop progress.

The Lathers on the other hand tried to embrace the new product by claiming it for their members - the argument being that drywall was a substutite for lath and plaster (which it was) and therefore it should be installed by workers who had traditionally built part of the plaster walls.

The Carpenters contested that claim - and ripped up a 50 year old jurisdictional pact with the Lathers Union to do so.

By the mid 1950's, the Carpenters had decisively won that battle - a defeat that sent the Wood, Wire and Metallic Lathers Union on a death sprial as a seperate union.

Meanwhile, Carpenters chief William "Big Bill" Hutcheson finally retired - after 48 years as UBC chief.

That had been 5 decades of dictatorship - during which time over 200 local unions representing in excess of 150,000 workers had been expelled from the brotherhood, a constitutional clause had been imposed banning carpenters from being communists or even voting for communist officers, every newly initiated carpenter was required to swear an oath that he would never join a communist group (on pain of expulsion from the brotherhood and loss of all pension benefits) and many workers - carpenters and from other trades alike - had been subject to goon squad terrorism at the hands of the UBC and it's allies.

Like many dictators, Big Bill hand picked a relative as his successor - his son Maurice Hutcheson, a male secretary at Carpenters Union international headquarters who had a union book, but had never ever actually been a journeyman carpenter in the field.

Maurice may not have been a construction worker - but then again he didn't get paid like a tradesman either.

At a time when the highest paid carpenters in America only made $ 120 for a 40 hour week, Maurice was paid $ 24,000 a year plus an unlimited expense account!

On his way out, Big Bill Hutcheson expelled two more locals - Glendale, California Carpenters local 563 and Los Angeles Carpenters local 634 - for the "crime" of duly electing communist business agents.

Also, two delegates from California locals to the UBC international convention were threatened with expulsion, forced to sign affidavits saying they would never become communists and banned from holding union office for 5 years just because they didn't support the Korean War as enthusiastically as Big Bill did!

This Southern California purge was in the wake of an unsuccessful war against the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE - which represented the stagehands as well as other backstage blue collar workers in theaters, movie studios and convention centers) - to take that union's Hollywood film set workers jurisdiction away from it.

That raid had involved the Painters Union several other Building Trades unions - the Painters took IATSE's set decorating work, but the Carpenters didn't get any of it (a raid fail that Hutcheson apparently blamed the communists for).

But the Carpenters did manage to raid IATSE's trade show jurisdiction, forcing the union to let carpenters do the installation and dismantiling of temporary convention center exhibits - the Teamsters, the Electricians, the Painters in San Francisco and the Longshoremen in New York City also were able to pry away areas of IATSE's trade show jurisdiction as well, leaving IATSE with the loading and unloading of trucks that delivered trade show exhibits (and in some venues, the Teamsters took that work too, so IATSE was left with no jurisdiction at all).

Hutcheson the younger abandoned that Hollywood campaign, but he did press on the war on the Lathers - and he tried to follow in his dad's footsteps, by disbanding a local (Newark, New Jersey Carpenters local 1782) for the "crime"of supporting left wing political causes.

In stark contrast, when the officers of all White Jim Crow segregated Columbia, South Carolina Carpenters local 1778 allowed the local Klavern of the Ku Klux Klan to use their union hall  for it's racist terrorist meetings (and even let the klansmen hang their KKK klavern charter on the union hall wall) it was a different story!

Maurice merely let the local's racist officers off with a mildly worded warning about their open ties to the Klan (and a polite request that the Klan charter be taken down)!

The UBC was still a segregated union, with Black carpenters segregated into so called "colored" locals not only in the South, but as far north as Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore, Philadelphia and even New York (where Black carpenters were confined to Harlem Carpenters local 1788)

The Laborers, Bricklayers and Painters all had similar union segregation setups - the Electricians and Sheet Metal Workers used "father/son" sponsorship systems to keep Blacks out and the Boilermakers, Machinists and Plumbers outright banned Blacks from joining their unions.

The Ironworkers, with their large Native American Indian membership, were the only construction union that didn't blatantly racially discriminate against workers of color.

Even there, locals like New York Ornamental Ironworkers local 580 had a de facto segregation - Black and American Indian ironworkers were assigned to welding work, while White ironworkers did cutting and fitting work that did not involve the use of torches or welding machines.

And, of course, there was corruption.

Some of it was petty - like Maurice and his associates using insider information to buy Indiana farmland along the future route of the interstate highways cheaply from the farmers and then selling it at a huge markup to the Indiana DoT (and sharing a part of that windfall with the Indiana Highway Commissioner!)

And some was classic Brindell-style corruption (centered in - where else? - New York)

New York District Council of Carpenters President Charles Johnson (who collected multiple salaries totalling $ 60,000 a year - at a time when his members made $ 140 for a 35 hour week) had a scheme where GC's and concrete subcontractors were told to buy oil from a fuel dealership he controlled (with the obvious understanding that if they played ball with him, he'd take car of them.) Johnson also allegedly took an outright payment of $ 30,000 from Yonkers Raceway to resolve labor problems at that site.

But what Johnson was doing was small potatoes compared to what the wiseguys who's protection he was operating under were up to.

The rise of the new specialty subcontractors was a destabilizing situation. All of a sudden, a lot of new businessmen entered the industry, which endangered the long established carpentry contractors because the new guys could, and would, underbid their older larger competitors just to get a foot in the door.

The dominant  carpentry contractors approached the leaders of the Genovese crime family to see if there was something the wiseguys could do.

There was - they could set up a bid rigging cartel. The big contractors, under mafia leadership, would cooperate to keep prices high. When big jobs came up, the bosses would decide beforehand who would get to do the work, at what price. Then, the firm they picked would put in a bid at that price - and everybody else who was part of the conspiracy would put in a higher bid. Thus the selected company would be the lowest bidder and would get the work.

And if one of the upstart firms were to dare to underbid the firm that had been picked to get the job? Well, the unions would take care of that, by idling that firm with a strike

All the contractors would have to do is pay the wiseguys a 2% tribute in return.

The Genoveses set up two seperate cartels - one for concrete subcontractors, the other for drywall and ceilings outfits.

The Concrete Club was run by the underboss of the Genovese family, Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno, who also happened to be a concrete contractor himself.

The Cement League - the trade association for union hirise concrete outfits in New York - was also in on the fix.

The other heavy construction trade group, the New York Chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America (the local chapter of a national heavy and highway contractors association), was not directly involved but they didn't rock the boat either.

Charles Johnson and the leadership of the New York District Council of Carpenters (who operated under the protection of the Genoveses) played a major role as labor enforcers of the cartel.

Other mob families had to get their cut too - the Colombos, who controlled the Concrete Workers District Council of the Laborers Union, and the Gambinos, who dominated Teamsters local 282, were junior partners in the scam as well.

The Wheel dominated the drywall and ceilings industry. It was run by Genovese family captain and drywall contractor Vincent DiNapoli, who also ran the Metropolitan New York Drywall Association, one of two major drywall contractor employers associations in the city.

The other trade group in drywall, the Greater New York Association of Wall Ceiling and Carpentry Industries (the local chapter of a national carpentry trade association), while not directly part of the scam, also went along with the program.

The Genovese-dominated New York District Council of Carpenters played a similar labor enforcer role here. The Genoveses also dominated Manhattan/Bronx Plasterers local 60 and Brooklyn/Queens/Staten Island Plasterers local 202 - so they were able to keep those unions from fighting the Carpenters on jurisdiction or from trying to block the replacement of plaster with drywall.

The other drywall industry unions - Lathers local 46 and Drywall Tapers local 1974 of the Painters Union - operated under the protection of the Lucheses, but they didn't try to go against the Genoveses.

Other construction market segments had similar cartels - and the wiseguys also ran similar conspiracies in the local trucking industry (private garbage hauling, air freight forwarding, fresh vegtable delivery, fresh fish delivery, garment hauling, building materials delivery, readimix concrete, commercial moving van lines, ect).

In those cases, the union - Joint Council # 16 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, was a part of almost all of these cartels.

JC 16 wasn't involved directly, but the wiseguys worked through their affiliated local unions - including locals 27, 138, 202, 277, 282, 295, 522, 550, 553, 584, 707, 732, 802, 805, 806, 807, 812, 813, 814, 817, 851, 917, 1034 and 1205 (with locals 282, 553, 807, 813, 814 and 1205 directly involved in the construction rackets).

Other corrupt Teamster locals in the region were also involved in the local drayage cartels in New York City - in particular New Jersey Joint Council # 73 and it's largest affiliate, Union City Teamsters local 560 (the biggest local in the entire union) which was openly run by a Genovese family captain, Anthony "Tony Pro" Provenzano and his Genovese soldier brothers Salvatore (a/k/a "Sammy Pro") and Nunzio.

An International Ladies Garment Workers Union garment district truck drivers union, local 132-98-102 and Amalgamated Meat Cutters seafood workers union local 359 (the union at the Fulton Fish Market) were also deeply involved in the delivery rackets.

The Teamster factory worker unions (locals 210, 239 and 240 in the garment district, 808, 810 and 840 in the metal trades and 966 in the printing trades) had rackets of their own - mainly involving selling sweetheart contracts to sweatshop bosses so their workers would be blocked from joining a decent union that actually paid living wages.

All 5 of New York City's cosa nostra families (Genovese, Gambino, Luchese, Bonnano and Colombo) and New Jersey's Di Cavalcante family all had a piece of the Teamsters - some locals answered to one of those families, a few luckless locals had to pay tribute to two families and three unfortunate locals (the air freight locals, 295 and 851 and the private sanitation drivers local 813) had three seperate groups of gangsters feeding off their members.

It was actually hard to find a New York City Teamster local that wasn't paying tribute to some group of hoodlums!

Other big cities (Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Buffalo, Cleveland and that rapidly growing resort city in the Nevada desert - who's growth was financed by "loans" from the cosa nostra controlled Teamsters Central States Pension Fund - Las Vegas) had heavy organized crime involvement in construction - but nowhere was their anything as elaborate as what the New York wiseguys and their contractor and union leader allies had built.

The gangsters suceeded for a time in building a wall around the New York market - keeping prices high, appropriating a higher share of construction profits than subs got in comparable markets and keeping the competition to a minimum.

This protection racket helped the leading subcontractors in the various market segments of the industry to preserve and expand their firms.

Of course, those higher than national average subcontractor profits came at the expense of below national average profits for real estate developers and bankers.

To a lesser extent, racketeers helped to preserve the strength of the unions, mainly because they needed the unions as a club to use against contractors that might try and break into the market.

There were other cities (Detroit, Pittsburgh, St Louis, Kansas City, Minneapolis/St Paul, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco) where the existance of a strong local labor movement - based for the most part in large and powerful CIO industrial unions - that were willing to fight to preserve union conditions kept the construction trades strong.

The 1955 merger between the American Federation of Labor and the conservatized and politically purged Congress of Industrial Organizations into the AFL-CIO had further worked to give the appearance that American unions were strong and powerful and always would be - and none stronger than the building trades, who considered themselves to be the strongest unions in the world.

The problem was, in the rest of the country, the only thing keeping the construction unions up was sheer inertia - the contractors had gotten comfortable relying on the unions as a labor source over several generations (with many contractors themselves being former union members who'd come up through the apprentice system) and the clients, while not liking the high union wages that were passed along to them by the contractors, were not yet willing to go to war to reduce those labor costs.

In the cities where non construction unions were strong, that was basically the main thing that kept the trades afloat.

And, of course, in cities like New York, it was cosa nostra restraint of trade that was the main factor keeping the unions alive.

Few realized it at the time, but the building trades, which on the surface appeared to be the most powerful labor unions in the world, were built on a foundation of sand.

Within a few years, the fundamental weakness of the building trades unions would be starkly exposed.

fraternally,
GREGORY A. BUTLER, LOCAL 157 CARPENTER
for GANGBOX: CONSTRUCTION WORKERS NEWS SERVICE
http://gangboxnews.blogspot.com
"UNION NOW, UNION FOREVER"

GREGORYABUTLER

VIII. "..a union-free environment..."

In the early 1960's, in the Maryland suburbs between Baltimore and Washington DC, a group of large non union residential contractors who had grown up building the tract housing developments decided to make an organized effort to break into retail and Davis Bacon public sector work.

To further this aim, they formed an employers association, which eventually came to be known as the Associated Builders and Contractors.

They quickly discovered that the only thing keeping public works and light commercial work in the Baltimore-Washington corridor union was sheer inertia - it had been union for 60 years, and the developers had become accustomed to hiring unionized GC's who in turn hired union subcontractors.

Given a viable low labor cost alternative, real estate developers and local authorities jumped at the chance to expropriate a higher portion of the surplus value produced by the construction workers who put up their buildings.

Soon, non union residential contractors elswhere looked to ABC - and the organization began to grow. Along the way, it launched a political campaign against state and local little Davis Bacon laws, that required prevailing wages (usually linked in full or in part to union scale) on government funded construction jobs.

In the industrial sector, non union oil field services contractors began to branch out into industrial maintenance work in the refineries and chemical plants - and from there, they leapfrogged into other large factories and power plants.

The reason those oil field contractors were non union was because the AFofL building trades had never bothered to organize the roughnecks (who they snobbishly looked down upon as unskilled cowboys and Mexicans who weren't good enough to be in the building trades).

Even when the CIO's Oil Workers International Union had came on the scene in the 1930's, it had concentrated it's efforts on the oil refineries and chemical plants, leaving the oil field workers unorganized.

The OWIU-CIO had later expanded it's jurisdiction - to chemical workers and uranium enrichment plant workers - but the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers-AFL-CIO had never bothered to unionize the oil drilling crews either.

That was a fatal mistake.

Union heavy construction and industrial maintenance contractors soon found it necessary to set up non union subsidiaries to compete with the oil field outfits.

This process came to be known as "double breasting" and the construction unions had absolutely no plan to deal with this new attack. The industrial unions in the factories were not willing to do anything to stop the scabification of industrial maintenace. This was in large part due to the legacy of bitterness from years of jurisdictional fighting with the building trades (in particular the millwright locals of the Carpenters Unions).

The jurisdiction wars had won the construction unions few friends and many enemies among the leaders of the factory workers unions.

In the main, unions like the United Auto Workers, United Steel Workers of America, International Association of Machinists, International Union of Electrical Workers (a cold war era right wing splitoff from UE) and OCAW viewed the deunionization of industrial maintenace as a chance for them to offer the bosses the use of their skilled trades maintenance worker members as a low cost alternative to construction workers on major factory repair and maintenance jobs.

The main social base of the leaders of those unions was in the in house skilled trades maintenance workers in the plants, the most well paid and priviliged workers in those unions - so it was very much in the interests of the industrial union leaders to look out for those folks and maximize their work opportunities and incomes.

The Electricians Union found itself on both sides of the fence - the IBEW had a large power plant jurisdiction, and it's electric utility locals faced the same pressure that the other industrial unions did to encourage the bosses to use lower paid in house skilled trades maintenace workers in place of higher paid construction workers (even if those workers were members of IBEW construction locals!)

The building trades also were finally having to answer for their decades of institutional racism and segregation.

Many civil rights activists in the South were Black union members - and their activism did not stop at the jobsite gate!

This was especially reflected in the "colored" locals that many unions had Jim Crowed their Black members into.

The United Paperworkers International Union actually faced an armed insurgency at the sulphite mill in Bogalusa, Louisiana.

The Black workers there had set up a militia called the Deacons for Defense (armed with guns that members of the "colored" Longshoremen's locals in New Orleans had stolen from US Navy supply ships) so they could defend themselves against the KKK and the local police.

As it happened, a lot of the Klansmen also worked at the mill - some in management, but many as workers in the "white" local.

[Ironically enough, just a few years before, the AFL-CIO had spent tens of thousands of dollars making a documentary about the Paperworkers Union in Bogalusa - saying what a strong and progressive union it was, and proclamining the segregated company town as "Union City USA" - a model that other communities should aspire to!!!]

This wasn't the only "colored" local in revolt - many of Mississippi's civil rights leaders were members of "colored" longshoremen's locals in Biloxi and Gulfport or "colored" Railroad Clerks freighthandler locals scattered across the state.

The International Woodworkers found themselves having to merge the "colored" and "white" locals in their plants across Mississippi and Louisiana, and they weren't the only ones forced to renounce their previous racism (even the Musicians Union had to merge it's Jim Crow locals!)

This naturally sent shockwaves into the building trades - both the unions that Jim Crowed Black workers (Carpenters, Painters, Laborers, Bricklayers ect) as well as the unions that used the "father son" system to keep out Blacks (Electricians, Sheet Metal Workers, Lathers, Operating Engineers ect) and the ones that restricted their membership to Caucasian men (Plumbers and Pipefitters, Boilermakers ect)

The latter unions, along with the Machinists and the railroad industry's Locomotive Engineers, Trainmen and Railway Conductors unions, ended up being forced by the federal government to remove the Whites only clauses from their constitutions.

The Machinists were the last - they dragged their feet about amending the White supremacist bigotry out of their bylaws until 1971, making them the last Jim Crow union in America.

Electricians local 3 in New York was the first to see the begining of the end - they had set up a tokenistic program that let 200 men who didn't have family connections join their apprenticeship program in 1961.

Although that was supposedly an affirmative action program, in practice, most of those 200 guys were White men who'd been shut out of the union by the "father son" system

And this slightly opened door to the apprenticeship program did nothing for the Black journeymen electricians who'd been shut out of the IBEW their whole careers.

Not to be outdone, Maurice Hutcheson, general president of the Carpenters, called for a program to let 2,000 young Black men be "pre apprentices" (that is, they'd have to attend a special union training program before being admitted to the regular program) alongside the union's 30,000 young White male apprentices.

But it was way past time for tokenism!

All White jobsites in the middle of Black neighborhoods in the North were more and ore becoming the targets of protests - and many unions were being hauled into court for their racism, taking advantage of the new laws that made racial discrimination a violation of the federal civil code.

New York's unions faced the most agressive protests, and the most lawsuits.

Sheet Metal Workers local 28, Steamfitters local 638 and Lathers local 46 faced the most litigation (and the longest running - the cases against those three unions were still in court over 40 years later!).

In 1968, the City of New York, in the face of the protests, proposed a tokenistic "trainee" program called the "New York Plan", which would require that the unions let a limited number of Black and Puerto Rican young men be allowed to work as non union pre apprentices on union jobs - they would only be allowed to even apply to join the unions upon completion of their training (unlike union apprentices, who were union members from the time they started their training).

The City also, as a pilot project, had every subcontractor at the Hunts Point Terminal Proudce Market job hire a few Black or Puerto Rican journeymen, who would get to join the union.

As part of that plan, the mechanical contractor on that site agreed to hire 5 minority plumbers (1 Black man and 4 Puerto Ricans - all experienced licensed plumbers who, skill-wise, were actually more qualified than the average local 2 plumber)

That outraged Manhattan/Bronx Plumbers local 2, so the local's officers called their 5,000 members out first citywide strike in almost 70 years to oppose the integration of their union.

They weren't the only New York union to call a racist strike that year - the United Federation of Teachers - a supposedly liberal union led by nominally pro civil rights socialists - called it's 40,000 members out on strike 3 times during that school year to oppose community control of schools in Black and Puerto Rican neighborhoods.

The teachers hate strike was far more successful than the plumbers - the UFT defeated community control, but Plumbers local 2 ended up having to let those 5 men join the union.

Meanwhile, a small group of Black construction workers from Manhattan's Harlem neighborhood who were members of the maoist communist Progressive Labor Party organized a group called Harlem Fightback.

Fightback had it's roots in the protests against all White crews at Harlem Hospital's expansion and other major city jobsites in that neighborhood - but it took the protests in a totally different direction.

Fightback organized Black construction workers into a union-like group, and organized them to travel around the community invading segregated jobsites as a group, to force the contractors to hire Black workers.

These raids were called "shape ups" because, nominally, the workers were merely exercising their right under construction tradition and union contracts to "shape up" (that is, to go onto a site and look for a job with the contractors doing work there).

After all, New York did have a longstanding tradition of men going in organized groups to jobsites to shape up  - so, there was no reason why Fightback couldn't do the same thing!

Of course, considering the long history of thug rule and gangster terrorism in the New York building trades, they didn't come on these job hunting expeditions empty handed (baseball bats were necessary, and bats and chains as well - they were rarely used, but they had to be available in case anybody decided they wanted to play rough).

Most Black construction workers in New York were carpenters, bricklayers, painters or laborers (since most Black New Yorkers were migrants from the South, and those were the only trades down there that allowed Black men to work) - and, as it happened the Carpenters even had a Black Jim Crow segregated local in New York (Harlem Carpenters local 1788) - and most of Fightbacks shape ups were in 1788 country.

Those 4 unions also had bylaws that said that anybody, irregardless of race, who could get a job with one of their signatory contractors could automatically join the union - so successfully shaping up was a ticket to union membership.

The leaders of the New York building trades were deeply unhappy about this (the contractors weren't too thrilled either) but as a practical matter there was not a whole lot they could do to stop it.

Some of the unions, the New York District Council of Carpenters in particular, did have a history of mobilizing "wrecking crews" (bands of members who were sent to invade and vandalize the handfull of scab jobs that occasionally popped up in the otherwise 100% union built city).

However, it wasn't realistic to mobilize them against Fightback - sending a mob of White men to get in street fights with Black men in the middle of Harlem would have probably provoked a second edition of the Harlem Uprising of 1965 - and there was no way the unions or the contractors or cosa nostra wanted to take the political heat for anything like that.

Plus the Carpenters had the added problem that they had a majority Black local in that area - which side would those workers be on? (more likely than not - Fightback's!)

As successful as Fightback's shape ups were, the group had some internal problems of it's own. As it grew and became more and more like a type of labor union, and as the contractors and unions had to accomidate to the group's protests, it's maoist leaders became less and less revolutionary activists and more like business agents (and in a real way they kinda were).

Like their 19th century utopian socialist forebearers, the communist activists of Fightback found that their radicalism got in the way of the day to day compromises with the bosses that were required of business unionists.

So, they dispensed with their radicalism and fully embraced their role as labor leaders trying to be junior partners of the bosses.

As it's leaders became less political, there began to be rivalries over money, and control of jobs and other patronage matters.

This led to the head of the Brooklyn branch of Fightback (a leader who, unlike Fightback's founders, didn't have a revolutionary communist activist background) ended up seceding his chapter of the group and forming a rival organization called (what else?) Brooklyn Fightback.

Other groups of Black construction workers sprang up around the city - some of these groups also had Puerto Rican members as well. Like Brooklyn Fightback, they lacked the politcs of the original Harlem Fightback

In Manhattan's Chinatown neighborhood, a group of Chinese-American maoists who were members of the Communist Workers Party set up the Chinese Construction Workers Association (and, like Harlem Fightback's leaders, they soon found that they had to turn their backs on their communistic political principles to be effective business unionists).

These groups (about 60 all told) came to be collectively known by allies and enemies alike as "the coalition" - a rather odd name, considering the fact that these coalitions were far from allies... in fact, most were openly hostile to each other.

At the same moment the coalitions were fighting for jobs on the streets of New York, the federal government reluctantly imposed affirmative action guidelines on Davis Bacon construction projects.

The administration of President Richard Nixon was far from pro Black, and had close ties with the leaders of the construction unions.

But, they really had no choice in the matter.

They were under heavy pressure from urban uprisings in the ghettoes, the rise of urban guerilla organizations like the Black Panther Party and the United Slaves Organization and the rise of maoist led Black workers groups throughout American heavy industry (most notably the League of Revolutionary Black Workers in the United Auto Workers at Chrysler's Dodge Main complex near Detroit, and... the coalitions themselves)

The affirmative action quota for construction was 28% minority (a few years later, a 6% women worker quota was added to that).

This affirmative action regulation gave the more conservative leaders of the coalitions the opportunity to present themselves and their organizations as "Equal Employment Opportunity Consultants" to the contractors, rather than revolutionary labor caucuses.

But minority construction workers wern't the only ones getting militant - by the late 1960's, White tradespeople were starting to fight back too.

The protests against the increasingly unpopular Vietnam War - while in the main composed principally of middle class students - had an impact on construction workers.

Initially, it was a reactionary one - symbolized by the "Hard Hat Riots" in Manhattan's Financial District on May 6th and 20th 1970.

A large anti-war rally was held in front of City Hall on May 8, protesting both the US invasion of Cambodia on May 1 and the shooting of 14 anti war protesting students (4 fatally) by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University on May 4.

Out of respect for the murdered Ohio students, Mayor John Lindsay had lowered the flag at City Hall to half staff.

That anti war protest was just 2 blocks from the World Trade Center jobsite, at the time the largest construction project in the world.

Person or persons unknown mobilized a violent counterdemonstration against the anti war protests.

The core of the counterdemo was 200 workers from the WTC site - but they were reinforced by a large crowd of stockbrokers and other corporate executive types from the New York Stock Exchange and the many brokerage houses, banks and corporate law firms who's offices surround the area, who joined in on the attacks on the anti war college students.

At the peak of the fighting, the majority of the violent counterdemonstrators were those Wall Street white collar guys who joined the protest as it progressed crosstown.

The counterdemonstrators attacked the anti war protesters, pulled the City Hall flag up to full staff and then invaded the campus of Pace University, across the street from City Hall, beating students and destroying the administrative offices.

150 cops were on the scene - but the only folks who got arrested were students and other anti war protesters.

This riot was much ballyhooed by the corporate media of the day as proof that the "silent majority" of White American workers were pro war and right wing.

In reality most working class Americans were opposed to America's wars in Southeast Asia - support for the war only remained high among the upper classes - who's sons did not have to fight in it.

In the days afterwards, the NYC Building Trades and the contractors openly organized pro war marches - with construction workers being paid to attend.

This culminated at a huge pro war rally on May 20, attended by over 100,000 people.

It was set up as a lunchtime rally - workers who attended the counterdemo got paid for their time at the protest, and they got free beer courtesy of the unions and the bosses.

Those workers who refused to participate (and there were some - in particular a number of pro communist DC # 9 painters who, of course, were anti war, would not attend the rally) were docked 2 hours pay.

As with the spontaneous march on May 6, there were tens of thousands of corporate lawyers, stockbrokers and bankers intermingled with the actual construction workers at the event (the organizers of the march gave those guys hardhats to wear - but they still were wearing their expensive business suits and wingtip shoes, no matter what they had on their heads!)

An anti war counterdemonstration was held nearby - 50,000 attended, mostly college students and middle class activists.

Between the beer and sandwitches carnival atmosphere at the pro war rally and an effort by the police to keep the two rallies seperate, there were few incidents.

These right wing rallies, organized by bosses and with stockbrokers in $ 1,000 suits intermingled with tradesmen, happened at a dangerous time for the American capitalist class.

There had been a wave of wildcat strikes in American heavy industry - just days before the "Hard Hat Riots" 200,000 freight teamsters had launched the biggest wildcat strike in American history, in defiance of the trucking companies, the union, the gangsters who ran the union and the highway patrols of a half dozen states.

The truckers strike shut down road freight coast to coast, paralyzed American manufacturing and inspired an illegal strike by New York City postal workers that quickly went national (the first federal workers strike in American history).

There had also been a wave of wildcat strikes in the auto, steel, electrical and coal mining industries (basically larger scale and multiracial versions of the Black workers strikes that had been going on for the previous 3 years)

More dangerously, the draftees of the US Army were engaging in a sort of wildcat strike of their own - many military units in Vietnam were refusing to fight, and some enlisted men had even resorted to blowing up their officers so they wouldn't have to fight.

Incidentally, many of the leaders of these wildcat job actions were veterans who'd been radicalized by the war, and their participation in GI resistance to the war in Vietnam.

The Hard Hat Riots were supposed to be a counterbalance for that - but, unlike the other protests, it had to be bought and paid for by the bosses (and would not have succeeded without lots of businessmen participating in the protest directly).

Moreover, the construction industry had wildcat strikes of it's own - mainly over safety issues (which has always been and remains the main cause of unsanctioned walkouts in the building trades).

Parallel to the wildcat strikes were a large number of officially sanctioned strikes by construction unions - with workers typically forcing their officers to call the walkouts and frequently making the unions stay out until high wage and benefit increases were won.

This was a national trend - but, as New York was the biggest union town, it had the most job actions.

The Hard Hat Riots was an attempt to hijack that militancy and direct it in an anti working class direction (and, other than the use of the riot for propaganda purposes by the capitalists and their media, it did not succeed).

Unions and employers associations across the country found that the only way to get labor peace on the jobsites was to buy it - which is why the early years of the 1970's saw unprecedented wage and benefit gains for the trades.

This created much consternation among the moneymen who had to pay the bills.

It was all well and good for contractors to try and buy labor peace - after all, they were paying with the client's money, not their own.

Finally, Corporate America decided to draw a line in the sand.

Roger Blough, the Chief Executive Officer of US Steel, called a secret conference of his peers in America's leading corporations.

Blough's closed door meeting was attended by the CEO's of General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Dow Chemical, General Electric, Westinghouse, Haliburton, Du Pont, Exxon, Mobil, Chevron, AMOCO, Texaco, Chase Manhattan Bank, Manufacturers Hanover, Citibank, Bank of America and 200 other major firms.

Joining the corporate titans were the Associated General Contractors (the biggest union employers association) and the group we met a little earlier in this essay, the scab contractors Associated Builders and Contractors.

Out of that secret meeting came an organization called the Construction Users Anti Inflation Roundtable (later more commonly known as the "Business Roundtable").

Their goal was to break the power of the construction unions (which would also be a launching pad for dealing with their own unions as well).

Initially, the Business Roundtable started small - assisting ABC with it's lobbying campaigns against Davis Bacon laws, encouraging the previously all union AGC to let scab contractors become members of their association ect.

On the ground, the oil companies made the first move.

They began having non union oil field service contractors do maintenance jobs at their refineries, replacing both union contractors and the refineries own Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union-represented in house skilled trades.

The chemical companies followed the oil companies lead - they also drove out the union contractors, and reduced the number of full time OCAW members on their payrolls, with non union oil field service workers picking up the slack.

Then, in Houston, the heartland of the oil and chemical industries, the oil and chemical companies demanded (and got) massive pay cuts from the Boilermakers, Electricians, Ironworkers, Sheet Metal Workers, Operating Engineers and the millwright local of the Carpenters Union.

Auto manufacturers and steel companies demanded (and got) similar concessions nationally from those unions too.

This trend accelerated after 1973.

What at first seemed like a recession caused by the OPEC oil boycott and the US defeat in Vietnam turned out to be a fundamental change in the balance of world economic forces.

The great prosperity that had been fueled by US imperialism's triumph in World War II had come to an end - America's imperialist rivals, West Germany and Japan, had fully recovered from the war, and were now taking their piece of the world's economic pie (and unlike the USA they weren't hobbled with huge defense budgets).

Coupled with the rise of new mini imperialist states like Brazil, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore, and the shifting of oil wealth from the American oil companies to the Arab kingdoms that actually produced the petroleum, this was a major change in the world.

The American capitalist class were no longer in a position to buy class peace at home by paying high wages to all of the strategic and well organized sections of the workers.

They could still pay high wages to SOME of those workers - but not all.

The rulers would have to impose pay cuts on some of the once prosperous workers - logically, the weakest workers, the ones with the least capacity to fight back in an organized way, would have to take it in the wallet.

As it happened, the two weakest sections of America's prosperous blue collar workers were the construction workers and the Teamsters.

Their unions were gangster-ridden (and, in the case of the construction unions, deeply racist) and were mainly propped up by stronger industrial unions and organized crime.

Also, the workers they represented were employed by small competitive companies, who provided services to the larger corporations - if the unions were weakened or destroyed, those companies could be forced to reduce the prices they charged to their clients, which meant more profits for the nation's top 200 corporations and banks.

The Teamsters were the first target - their union had centralized bargaining for most of their members, and their flagship contract, the National Master Freight Agreement (NMFA), covered 400,000 of their 2,300,000 members (with another 50,000 workers under local "white paper agreements" patterned on NMFA).

The leadership of the Teamsters had also shown their incapability of controlling their members, because they had let the 1970 wildcat strike happen.

So, in April, 1973, the trucking companies demanded the right to hire an unlimited number of non union drivers, loading dock workers and other employees, and an unlimited right to set up non union subsidiaries that would not be covered by NMFA.

The concessions were summed up in an appendix to the April 1973-April 1976 NMFA, called the Special Commodities Rider (supposedly, the non union workers would only haul "special commodities" like fresh fruit - almost immediately, companies violated that rule by using their non union truckers to haul general freight).

The leadership of the Teamsters agreed to the Special Commodities Rider - and went even further by allowing union trucking companies to hire an unlimited number of non union drivers from labor leasing companies - paving the way for the destruction of their union in the freight sector before the decade was out.

The Teamsters leadership were able to get away with this massive betrayal of the nation's truck drivers in part because the network of dissident shop stewards in the truck terminals who'd led the April 1970 wildcat had been decimated by a three year long joint trucking company/Teamsters Union/cosa nostra purge of loading dock dissidents in the truck terminals.

The teamster dissident purge extended from firings and abuse on the loading docks to beatings, shotgunnings and firebombings of dissident local officers all the way up to the  July 30, 1975 assassination of former Teamsters General President Jimmy Hoffa by a team of hitmen that were allegedly jointly sent by Genovese family captain and former local 560 President Anthony "Tony Pro" Provenzano and Detroit cosa nostra captain Anthony "Tony Jack" Giacalone.

Hoffa was far from radical - in office, he had been a cosa nostra ally for over 30 years and he was extremely prone to making special substandard wage and benefits deals for trucking companies that had a "hardship" - and his sympathy for trucking company bosses made a lot of sense, because Hoffa himself was the hidden owner or part-owner of a number of Detroit-area trucking and limousine companies!

Hoffa had been kicked out of office and sent to prison for 5 years - nominally for jury tampering and pension fund fraud, but actually as the culmination of a 10 year long attack on the Teamsters by the feds

This "Get Hoffa" campaign (that's actualy what the feds called it) was presented to the public as a struggle against gangster unionism - and in a way it was.

But, the real purpose of the attacks on Hoffa were because the Teamsters had helped the wealthier and stronger trucking companies stabilize the industry's freight rates and put a floor under wages - which stopped the smaller, marginal "gypsy truckers" from paying sweatshop wages and charging rock bottom rates.

This was great for the trucking industry - but terrible for the major manufacturers and retailers who shipped their goods by truck (who wanted a war of all against all between the carriers to push rates to rock bottom levels).

Get Hoffa was really about breaking up the anticompetitive cartels that the Teamsters had set up, both in local cartage and nationally in over the road freight.

Because of the Get Hoffa campaign, Hoffa was seen by most teamsters as a martyr and a symbol of Teamster militancy while he was in jail - a time when Acting General President Frank Fitzsimmons and the other leaders that he left behind to run the union started making across the board concessions to the carriers (Hoffa, in jail, was able to escape political responsibility for their actions - even though they were folks trained by him and following his usual approach to trucking industry bargaining).

Hoffa, once on the street, did not automatically get put back in office by President Fitzsimmons and the other leaders he had left behind to run the union while he was in prison, so he had to break with them, and the gangsters and trucking company owners who stood behind them.

And, despite Hoffa's longstanding disdain for democracy and his general orientation towards Napoleon-style despotic one man dictatorship, he had no choice but to create a mass movement to put himself back in office.

The leadership of that movement were his old local officer cronies, but the mass base of the Hoffa movement was made up of those dissident Teamster shop stewards in the freight terminals.

Bottom line, if Hoffa was able to come back to power, it would be riding on a wave of wildcat striking trucker militancy, despite his own personal conservativism and pro trucking company orientation.

That just would not do - so, in the wake of months of terrorism against pro Hoffa local officers in Detroit, the wiseguys had Hoffa kidnapped, murdered and his corpse was cut up and destroyed so there would not be a funeral or a gravesite for the Teamster dissident movement to rally around.

Beyond the violent purge in the Teamsters, worker militancy (in that union and others) was also throttled by the devastating economic effect of the 1973 recession.

Workers in 1970 had been emboldened to fight by the fact that unemployment was low and if you got fired here today, you could get a job across the street tomorrow.

In 1973, it was a different story - times were hard, and work was scarce.

Teamsters, auto workers, steel workers, coal miners, construction workers - all those folks who had been quick to wildcat just a few years before felt compelled to sit still and take it, no matter what the bosses or the unions did.

The construction workers were facing the hardest recession since the Great Depression, so they really wern't in a position to fight back either.

The recession actually delayed the attacks on their unions for a few years - because their was so little work, it didn't make sense to go for the jugular just yet (especially since the Business Roundtable had to fight a two front war - they had to fight the contractors to reduce their prices, and then lean on them to abandon their 100 year long relationship with the unions and go scab).

The New York Building Trades had special problems.

They not only had to deal with the disasterous economic consequences that came from the completion of the World Trade Center, which dumped 15 million square feet of 1st class office space on an already glutted Manhattan commerical market - thus killing commercial construction in the city for most of the rest of the decade, but the city itself was in a larger economic crisis.

In 1969, at the behest of the landlords, the City of New York had repealed it's 1948 Rent Control Law (which had been passed thanks to struggles led by communist led tenant associations back in the 1930's and 1940's).

Rent Control had kept rents reasonable enough so that workers could live and thrive in the city - which is precisely why landlords hated it.

The City replaced Rent Control with Rent Stabilization, which gave landlords the right to petition a special city commission (the Rent Guidelines Board) every two years for a rent increase.

[Like clockwork, every 2 years from 1970 to date the landlords got their rent increase from the RGB]

The only wrinkle was that if a person had lived in an apartment prior to 1970, or was a relative of someone who had, their rent would still be covered by Rent Control.

The landlords found a couple of ways around that loophole.

In White working class neighborhoods that were near Midtown Manhattan or the Financial District, they drove out tenants through crime and terrorism and neglect (building supers and porters were fired, buildings were allowed to deteriorate, thugs were allowed to rob tenants ect).

Once the tenants were driven out, the buildings were either renovated or torn down and replaced by luxury hirises (the latter paid for by a $ 786 million long term low interest loan guarantee from the City of New York) and in either case more affluent people were brought in to replace the displaced workers.

In Black and Latino working class neighborhoods, or White neighborhoods that were too far for comfortable commuting to Downtown and Midtown Manhattan, the landlord tactics were much cruder and simpler.

They lit a match.

"Torches" (professional  arsonists) were hired, buildings were burned, tenants and firemen were killed and maimed and insurance claims were filed and paid.

This campaign of landlord terrorism was carried out despite the fact that the Fire Department knew and could prove that these were all deliberate fires.

After a while, the City cut the FDNY's Fire Marshal budget to stop the department from investigating all the arson fires.

Meanwhile, New York City's manufacturers began an exodus from the city.

The city's 800,000 factory workers had below national average wages, and often laborered under cosa nostra-brokered sweetheart contacts. But they also had a longsanding tradition of combativeness and a willingness to go on wildcat strikes dating back to the depression.

This was no longer acceptable to the bosses - who decided that increased shipping costs and, in some cases, higher wages were worth it, if they could break the city's combative industrial proletariat.

Starting with the US Navy's permanent lay off of 20,000 Metal Trades Council workers at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1969, manufacturers eliminated the jobs of 300,000+ workers in the first half of the 1970's (thus rendering almost 10% of the city's working class jobless)

The layoffs, the fires and an influx of cheap Southeast Asian heroin touched off an unprecedented crime wave.

Adding to the misery, the $ 786 million short term high interest loan the City had taken out to subsidize the developers came due in June 1975 - but the landlords, who had got a long term low interest loan guarantee to pay for their luxury real estate development projects, wern't yet due to pay the City back.

This caused the City of New York to go bankupt and get taken into recievership by it's banks. The bankers laid off 50,000 city employees, broke a series of municipal worker strikes and stopped most of the city's Davis Bacon public works jobs.

This hit the Building Trades like a punch to the stomach.

The unemployment was so bad that about one fifth of New York's 250,000 union construction workers had to permanently leave the trades, never to return.

Both in New York and nationally the construction recession lasted til 1978.

But the construction market that the unions came back to was a very inhospitable environment, with clients demanding that contractors seek wage cuts, the gutting of jurisdiction and work rules and, where possible, total deunionization.
fraternally,
GREGORY A. BUTLER, LOCAL 157 CARPENTER
for GANGBOX: CONSTRUCTION WORKERS NEWS SERVICE
http://gangboxnews.blogspot.com
"UNION NOW, UNION FOREVER"

GREGORYABUTLER

IX. "..and the wolf finally came.."

New York construction workers faced a vastly transformed industry.

Arsonist landlords had put huge areas of the city to the torch, and, since NYC is the economic capital of the capitalist world, it was essential that those communities be rebuilt.

But, since those areas were poor Black or Latino communities where the landlords had demonstrated with matches and lighter fluid the fact that they could not profitably build there, it would be up to the City of New York to renovate those areas.

And the City was bankrupt, with it's finances under the supervision of a Wall Street bankers junta, the Municipal Assistance Corporation (MAC). MAC had given the City government strict orders to reduce expenses - especially labor costs - by any means necessary.

Mayor Ed Koch, the conservative Democrat who came into office after the Fiscal Crisis, had figured out a unique way that the City could rebuild those burnt out blocks without having to pay Davis Bacon wages to the workers.

The City transferred the properties over to City patronage funded Community Based Organizations - local community groups, usually run by Democratic Party activists, that provided privatized social services.

Those agencies had already become accustomed to using low paid non union labor in their social service operations (and many CBO executives were rabidly anti union) so they were quite willing to act as the front men for non union renovation work in the burnt out neighborhoods.

It wasn't that hard to find contractors either.

The cosa nostra-initiated cartelization of contracting had blocked the entrepeneureal ambitions of many business-minded company men (the priviliged, aristocratic, steadily employed layer of construction workers - a population segment that has always been the point of origin of the next generation of contractors).

As long as the Genoveses and their allies blocked new companies from breaking into the market, they had been unable to start their own businesses - or, at best, only able to eak out a marginal existance on the outer edge of the industry.

Also, the Coalitions integration of the trades had created a small layer of Black and Latino company men, some of whom were just as anxious to break into contracting as their White counterparts.

Both of those groups welcomed the opportunity to run work non union for the CBO's.

Even some of the mobbed up contractors saw an opportunity here - leading some to set up non union double breasted shops to take the CBO work.

Even Vincent Di Napoli (the Genovese family captain and drywall contractor who ran the drywall rackets for cosa nostra) set up a company, Inner City Drywall, to do work on these scab CBO jobs.

This fit into a broader deterioration of labor standards at the mobbed up contractors - many had started employing "lumpers" (union carpenters paid a piece rate in cash off the books instead of union scale).

The New York City District Council of Carpenters was too weak from years of gangster infiltration and wiseguy rule to do anything to stop them.

If the union couldn't even protect it's members from getting paid less than union scale, hiring a force of openly non union workers and going double breasted was the next logical step.

These new breed of non union bosses had a labor source to supply the casual labor needs of their CBO jobs - the Coalitions!

Many of the Black and Latin union members who'd gotten in the trades through the Coalitions were hungry after 3 years of heavy unemployment - and more than a few were so desperate that they could be forced to work for scab pay and no benefits.

There were also recent recruits to Coalitions who had not yet worked union, so they wern't union members yet - they were even better candidates to be sent to the scab jobs.

In short order, a third of the New York market went non union.

There was little serious union resistance - the only union that even TRIED to fight back was Drywall Tapers local 1974 of Painters District Council # 9.

The Tapers resistance was fueled in part by the fact that it's leaders answered to the Lucheses, rather than the Genoveses - lumping and double breasting were mainly done by the latter group of hoodlums, with the former left out of the loop and not getting any of the tribute.

Beyond that, the Tapers, a much smaller and weaker union than the Carpenters, were being asked to take some deep concessions, including forcing their members to work on dangerous stilts when they did high walls and ceilings, rather than the much safer stepladders, baker scaffolds and pipe scaffolds they normally used.

Tapers local 1974 said no to stilts and went on strike in 1978.

So, Vincent Di Napoli and the Metropolitan New York Drywall Association approached the Genovese-dominated Plasterers Union.

Di Napoli and the association got the Plasterers to charter Drywall Plasterers and Tapers Union local 530.

The scab tapers union was put under the control of one Louis Moscatiello, a Bronx insurance broker and Genovese family soldier (who had never actually worked as a drywall taper one day in his entire life).

Moscatiello's local 530 recruited scabs to break local 1974's strike, and signed a sweetheart contract with Di Napoli and the MDA.

Plasterers local 530 wasn't the only cosa nostra company union in the New York construction market, unfortunately.

Teamsters Joint Council # 16 set up local 363, a scab electricians union, to enable scab electrical contractors to be nominally union and (at least on paper) comply with State of New York training and licensing rules for electricians, while still paying substandard wages.

Teamsters local 363 had grossly inferior wages and benefits to the real New York City electricians union, Electricians local 3 - and 363's training program was grossly inferior to local 3's college level apprenticeship, which was the finest building trades education program in the entire country.

To add insult to injury, local 363's White officers (operating out of the violently racist Howard Beach section of Queens) actually claimed that their bogus training program was better for Black and Latin workers than local 3's - precisely because they had low expectations for their minority trainees, and they didn't bother to thoroughly train the participants in their program - let alone expect them to do college coursework, like the real Electricians Union did!

The real purpose of Teamsters local 363's trainee program was to let scab electrical contractors use cheap minority labor - unlike legitimate apprenticeship programs which require that there be 3, 4 or even 5 journeylevel workers for every apprentice, 363 let their contractors have 1 trainee for every journeylevel electrician - in effect letting the bosses pay half their workers a substandard wage.

363's low wage scab contractors were the only "union" companies on many city funded scab residential renovation jobs, and they also had a heavy presence on Davis Bacon school construction jobs run by the Board of Education.

As union residential construction wilted in the New York market, the unions totally imploded in much of the rest of the nation.

The dryrot started in Houston - where the National Constructors Association and the oil companies had gotten so many concessions from the mechanical trades.

The trades in Houston - first and foremost the Carpenters - were asked for deep concessions. They gave everything the contractors asked - and the union contractors went double breasted anyway!

The big clients, mobilized by the Business Roundtable and ABC, pushed the contractors to end their relationships with the unions - or to, at the very least, go double breasted and transfer as much union work as possible to their new scab companies.

Incidentally, this was the exact same model of union busting that was decimating the Teamsters Union in the trucking industry at the same time.

To add insult to injury, the reduced union pay scale was used as an excuse to reduce non union pay even more!

In short order, Houston went scab - all of the residential work, all of the retail store and shopping mall work, most of the hirise office building work in downtown Houston and a huge chunk of the oil refinery and chemical plant maintenance work too.

Next came Atlanta - the union contractors, pushed by ABC and the Roundtable, asked the Carpenters for a wage freeze followed by a 30% pay cut. Other unions were asked to make similar concessions.

The Carpenters gave everything they were asked - and so did the other trades.

And the union contractors still shifted their work to their double breasted companies - and cut the pay of their non union workers.

Atlanta went even more thoroughly non union than Houston did.

Next came Miami and Ft Lauderdale - a market area that went overnight from almost as heavily union as the Midwest to almost completely scab.

The same pattern - the unions gave up the store, the clients, at the urging of ABC and the Business Roundtable, pushed their contractors to go scab and the market, once nearly 80% union, went non union overnight.

The same pattern happend in New Orleans, Denver, Salt Lake City, Birmingham, Charleston, Nashville, Dallas/Ft Worth, Jackson, Little Rock, Souix Falls, Casper, Albuquerque, Phoenix...

The whole Sunbelt of the South, Southwest and Rocky Mountain States became union free environments - in some cases, (like Denver and the mining towns) the fall came after over 100 years of heavy unionization.

Even Washington DC (the home of most construction union headquarters) and DC's Maryland and Virginia suburbs, was thus deunionized.

As was Los Angeles (a city which once had more union construction workers than any other community in America).

Las Vegas was just about the only island of construction unionism left in the Sunbelt - basically thanks to the casinos - those resorts were run by cosa nostra, financed by Teamsters Central States Pension Fund "loans" and were staffed by members of the two largest locals in the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union, Culinary Workers local 226 and Bartenders local 165, making the city too heavily pro union for the ABC and the Roundtable to break the building trades.

Up North, the rural areas of Upstate New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Missouri similarly became centers of "merit shop" construction, as did rural Washington State, Oregon and California.

It was a catastrophe - in 1975, over 42% of the nation's construction was union (and that itself was a sharp decline from the 80% of work that was union in the 1960's) by 1980 it was barely 30%.

The Carpenters Union, the biggest construction union with over 700,000 members, fell the hardest - membership fell to 500,000 by 1980, 350,000 by 1985.

Boilermakers, Painters, Plasterers, Bricklayers, Electricians, Operating Engineers, Ironworkers ect all saw similar loss of membership.

One construction union, the Wood, Wire and Metallic Lathers, actually disbanded - between all the drywall work they'd lost to the Carpenters and the deunionization, they had no choice but to fold - the Lathers' biggest local, the 4,500 member New York Lathers local 46, became an Ironworkers local, the remaining 8,000 lathers in the rest of the union became members of the Carpenters.

This union decay was at a time when the construction industry workforce was growing - from 4,325,000 (1,725,000 union, 2,600,000 non union) in 1973 to 4,600,000 (1,600,000 union, 3,000,000 non union) in 1980 - basically, the scab side grew by 400,000 workers while the union side shrank by 125,000.

The defeat of the building trades would have been bad enough if it had only been a loss for construction workers.

However it had a ripple effect that went across the entire American working class.

The weakening of the construction unions severely hurt the building maintenance trades as well.

Companies that had dispensed with contractors that used union construction labor certainly didn't want to have union labor cleaning their offices either.

So they went on the offensive against their janitors, firemen, oilers and stationary engineers.

Hardest hit was the Service Employees International Union ("Building" was dropped from the name in 1968 - because by that point the vast majority of their members were hospital workers or civil service employees).

In pretty much every major city except for Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, New York, Boston and Chicago's Loop, SEIU janitors directly employed by building owners were laid off and replaced by non union minimum wage workers employed by cleaning contractors.

The pay drop was drastic - in Los Angeles, janitor wages fell overnight from $ 13/hr to minimum wage - $ 3.35 - with no pension or health insurance.

And even the cities that survived the unionbusting the union only remained in the downtown office buildings - the suburbs were as agressively deunionized as any other area.

And the downtown workers in those few highly unionized cities may have stayed union but, like every other janitor in America, they now worked for cleaning contractors, rather than directly for the owners of the buildings.

Like the new breed of construction contractors, these firms were almost always double breasted.

Unlike the construction contractors, many cleaning firms were national and even international in scope.

The biggest, Copenhagen, Denmark-based ISS, operated on 3 continents - 100% union back home in Copenhagen but agressively anti union everywhere else in the world.

But most of the cleaning contractors that came to dominate property services were US based firms like American Building Maintenance (ABM) and OneSource. They were very much double breasted - like ISS they were union in some areas, and ferociously scab in others, deending on the strength of a given area's labor movement.

There was also an ugly racial aspect - many of the SEIU janitors were African American - most of their replacements were undocumented Latino immigrants.

The SEIU did nothing to resist the attack.

And they had their reasons.

After all, they were adding tens of thousands of hospital workers and civil servants every year, often organized thanks to backroom patronage deals with Democratic Party controlled local governments (which often involved Democratic Party controlled public worker company unions being absorbed into the SEIU as a body).

Those arraingements had made the SEIU the fastest growing union in America - from 480,000 in 1975 to over 688,000 a decade later, at a time when most American unions were rapidly shrinking.

In light of all that easy growth in the public sector, why on earth would the SEIU chiefs want to go to war with these agressive multinational cleaning contractors on behalf of a few thousand Black janitors?

It would be another decade before the SEIU leadership even so much as lifted a finger for the janitors.

The International Brotherhood of Firemen and Oilers was also hard hit, on two fronts - unionbusting and automation.

New heating, ventilation and air conditioning and elevator technology made it possible to run the systems of a modern building with far less labor.

With the exception of a few hundred old coal-fired boiler equipped public schools in New York City, most buildings used automatic steam, oil or gas fired boilers - so no need for a stationary fireman to shovel coal and remove ash.

On the steam, oil and gas fired units, automated boilers didn't need the cleaning and constant monitoring the older manual systems did, so the oilers wern't needed either.

This caused the IBFO's membership to catostrophically decline from 40,000 in 1975 to only 25,000 by 1985.

And this was a continuation of a long term trend - the Firemen & Oilers had been losing members ever since the mid 1950's, when fuel oil began to displace anthracite coal as a building heating system fuel.

The reality was, the decline of coal had killed off the fireman's craft , and very few oilers would be needed in the automated boiler rooms of the future.

(By 1995, the IBFO itself entered into history - and after it disbanded, what was left of it's membership were absorbed by the SEIU).

The Stationary Engineers division of the Operating Engineers Union suffered losses too - but not as severe as the SEIU or IBFO.

Stationary engineer work is highly skilled and requires lots of specialized training and state and local licenses.

Unlike the firemen and oilers, it could not be automated out of existance (although automated systems did replace some stationary engineers) nor was it possible to use minimum wage workers to run the boiler rooms.

So, they only lost about 10% of their membership in the boiler rooms.

But the remaining stationary engineers frequently ended up having to work without firemen or oilers to help them and surrounded by low wage non union janitors.

Worse yet, the stationary engineers, still union but now having to work in non union boiler rooms, were no longer able to do things like checking the union cards of any and all workers coming to do jobs in occupied buildings and banning the non union workers from getting onto the floors to go to work.

That alone had kept construction in most of America's office buildings 100% union - without the stationary engineer card check, it was far more possible for scab outfits to work in occupied commercial structures.

Of course, the IUOE's "Hoisting and Portable" (construction) side members were more and more finding themselves the last union trade on all non union jobs, so the union did nothing to try and organize any kind of resistance to this attack on their brothers and sisters.

The Teamsters were also under attack (and hobbled by it's corrupt cosa nostra dominated leadership's open complicity with the unionbusting - and the low intensity war between the allies of cosa nostra backed General President Frank Fitzsimmons and the supporters of murdered former General President Jimmy Hoffa).

The Teamsters lost over 600,000 members - 200,000 in the freight sector alone!

The Teamsters were also a building trades union - arguably the most important becaues everything the workers install on the job comes on a truck.

In places like New York City, the Teamsters had an elaborate shop steward system (the so called "working teamster foremen") who's whole job was to sit around jobsites, check every delivery truck to see if the driver was union and if not, to make the truck leave the site without unloading and/or make the contractor hire a teamster for the day before the rig could be unloaded.

In effect, the teamster foreman system made it extremely difficult for scab contractors to work on major union jobsites in the city.

Because of the building trades dependence on the Teamsters to keep union jobs union, a weakened Teamsters meant a weaker building trades.

The United Mine Workers of America, the strongest union in rural America, was also under the gun (literally - as in the guns of National Guards troops, highway patrolmen and private security guards).

The Miners had 3 national strikes in a row defeated by a combined attack from the federal, state and local governments and security guard thugs hired by the operators.

The miners fought heroically - with shotguns, dynamite and "jackrocks" (spikes designed to puncture the tires of coal trucks) in hand.

But, despite their bravery, their local mine-by-mine resistance was hobbled by a union leadership utterly incapable of organizing a winning fightback against their attackers.

UMWA membership plummeted - from over 240,000 in 1975 to barely 75,000 just 5 years later.

Those 165,000 deunionized miners didn't leave the industry - thanks to the UMWA's massive defeat, they were forced to mine non union.

Thus an industry that had been majority union since 1935 became 70% open shop (which is how it remains to this day).

As the UMWA fell in coal country, the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers suffered similar reverses in the oil patch.

Companies that had grown used to using non union maintenance labor decided that they would rather have non union permanent workers in their refineries.

Some of this was accomplished by having contractors permanently taking over some of the refinery operating work - while, of course, layoffs and NLRB decertifications were in the mix too.

The OCAW lost a third of it's membership, shrinking from nearly 150,000 members to barely 100,000.

The UMWA and OCAW weren't the only industrial unions on the ropes.

The United Steel Workers of America faced a massive disaster in the basic steel industry. 450,000 of their 1.1 million members worked there - and even that was 10% less than peak employment in the 1960's.

But now, thanks to the failure of steel executives like US Steel's Roger Blough to modernize the steel mills, the American steel industry was in a crisis.

The steel companies solved that problem by mass layoffs (over a quarter of a million from 1977 to 1980).

Cities like Youngstown, Ohio, Gary, Indiana, Homestead, Pennsylvania and Sparrows Point, Maryland, company towns that had been built around the steel industry, were unceremoniously abandoned - stripped of their primary employers, they suffered rapid decay and impoverishment.

Meanwhile, the only growing sector of the steel business was the non union "mini mills" in the rural South and Midwest.

The USWA leadership's only "solution" to this crisis was to agressively promote class partnership with the steel companies - basically a modern form of the company unions that had existed in the pre CIO era steel industry - and to actively oppose any effort to fight back against the bosses.

Meanwhile, the USWA's membership crashed from over 1 million in 1975 to just 575,000 a decade later.

The United Auto Workers had similar problems in the auto industry, as did the International Association of Machinists in the machinery and precision metal parts industries, and both the International Union of Electrical Workers and the United Electrical Workers were similarly on the ropes at GE and Westinghouse.

To make matters worse, there were two historic defeats of the unionized working class in those years.

Transport Workers Union local 100 lost a strike at the New York City Transit Authority in 1980 (which symbolized the breaking of the power of New York's once combative unionized workers)

And President Ronald Reagan's breaking of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) strike at the Federal Aviation Administration in 1981 and the permanent firing of all 11,000 of the striking air traffic controllers.

Neither the TWU local 100 defeat in New York nor the PATCO defeat were in any way responded to by the trade unions.

Most airline unions openly scabbed on the air traffic controllers!

Members of the Airline Pilots, Flight Attendants, Teamsters and Transport Workers unions were ordered by their union leaders to scab on the air traffic controllers strike - hypocritically, members of the largest union in the industry, the Machinists, were told that they could honor PATCO's picketlines - but only if every other airline union also refused to scab!

As the air transport workers union leaders abandoned their brothers and sisters in the control towers to their fate, the New York City Central Labor Council didn't lift a finger on behalf of the transit workers - nor did the still 150,000 strong building trades, nor did the still 150,000 member Teamsters Joint Council 16, nor did the over 200,000 unionized municipal workers in New York City nor did the railroad or interstate bus drivers either.

Almost 2 million unionized New York City workers were told by their union leaders to walk to work, while the 40,000 transit workers were left to twist slowly in the wind by themselves!!!

Coming on the heels of the collapse of the construction unions in the South and West, the breaking of the industrial unions made the construction unions' survival in the industrial cities of the Midwest and Pacific Coast less and less likely.

The only thing that was left was the building trades in mobbed up cities like New York, Northern New Jersey, Philadelphia, Boston, Cleveland, Chicago, Buffalo, St Louis and Kansas City.

As luck would have it, those islands of gangster unionism were not going to last much longer either.
fraternally,
GREGORY A. BUTLER, LOCAL 157 CARPENTER
for GANGBOX: CONSTRUCTION WORKERS NEWS SERVICE
http://gangboxnews.blogspot.com
"UNION NOW, UNION FOREVER"

GREGORYABUTLER

X. "...a pattern of racketeering activity..."

The bid rigging cartels that cosa nostra had perfected in New York City (and the smaller less effective versions that existed in Northern New Jersey, Philadelphia, Boston, Cleveland, Chicago, Buffalo, St Louis and Kansas City) had served their purpose.

They had allowed the largest and most developed of the subcontractors in those areas to preserve their market share and to keep a larger share of the profits generated by the value created by their workers going into their bank accounts rather than the pockets of the GC's, developers and bankers.

Of course, that very success had triggered profound resentment from the owners and their bankers and GC's - especially in a national climate where, thanks to ABC and Business Roundtable unionbusting, the share of profits that went to the owners was going up at the expense of the share of profits going to the subs.

If owners everywhere - even in the outer edges of the mobbed up cities - were getting on the gravy train, why couldn't they get their piece of the pie?

Furthermore, monopolization was stagnating the technological edge that New York contractors had always maintaned.

Intense competition had bred firms that were quick to adapt to new technology and methods (and the contractors that were stuck in the past were quickly replaced by upstart companies willing to try the new ways of working).

But, the cosa nostra cartels had blocked the advancement of new companies, and had preserved old contractors who were past their prime.

The construction financiers understood that something had to be done - to break the power of the mafia, to weaken the unions and to bring back cuththroat competition between subcontractors.

Only the government could do that.

So the banks, real estate developers and General Contractors began reaching out to law enforcement to "liberate us from the Mob Tax" (their name for the 2% tribute that their subs paid to the mob - the cost of which, to add insult to injury, was almost always secretly passed on to the owners and their GC's).

To carry out the wishes of the owners, the FBI launched the LILREX (Long Island Labor Racketeering and Extortion) probe - focused mainly on Vincent Di Napoli's Wheel in the drywall and ceilings industry and the involvement of the New York City District Council of Carpenters and Drywall Plasterers and Tapers local 530 in that bid rigging cartel.

The first trial coming out of the LILREX probe ended up in a mistrial - and, literally the night before the second trial, Teddy Maritas, the president of the New York City District Council of Carpenters, mysteriously "disappeared" while on his way to a late night meeting under the Throggs Neck Bridge with person or persons unknown.

Maritas was almost certainly murdered - more likely than not by one or more of his co defendants, who may have feared he would cooperate with the feds and tell all he knew about the Wheel and all the other rackets.

In the wake of Maritas "disapperance" - and the ongoing RICO Act litigation that lived on after his death, the UBC took the NYC District Council of Carpenters into trusteeship.

They found that the union had suffered a massive decline in membership (from 40,000 down to 25,000) largely due to the rise of lumping and the collapse of the union in the residential sector.

The trusteeship didn't do anything to try and reorganize these recently deunionized carpenters - all they did was disband locals in Upper Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn who had suffred the bulk of the membership loss, and merge their members into new locals with more territory but less members.

Other unions had taken similar losses - and had seen similar efforts by cosa nostra to allow the use of non union labor (or underpaid union members) on the industry's fringe.

This union decay was partially masked because it came at a time when an unprecedented building boom hit the city's luxury office building sector.

Speculators were throwing up hirise office towers right and left - even if they didn't have any tenants lined up to fill the space.

There was a similar race to build luxury apartment buildings on Manhattan's now throughly gentrified Upper East Side, as well as in up and coming areas of the West Side and Downtown Manhattan where working class tenants had been driven out by the landlord terrorism of the previous decade.

At the same time, a massive complex of 4 hirise office towers and dozens of hirise apartment buildings was built on a platform of World Trade Center landfill extending out into the Hudson River.

It was called Battery Park City - it was the second largest construction project in the entire world at the time, and the biggest job in New York City since the 7 towers of the World Trade Center complex were finished in 1973.

Thousands of unionized tradespeople who otherwise would have been jobless were absorbed by the Battery Park City job.

This is the time when a Coney Island, Brooklyn-based moderate income apartment building developer named Donald J. Trump propells himself - with borrowed money and an instinct for agressive self promotion - into the luxury sector.

These office building and luxury hirise jobs absorbed much of the labor that had been displaced by the deunionization of outer borough apartment building construction, thus averting a major crisis for the unions.

And, even with LILREX on the horizon, cosa nostra was still a major player at the table, brokering who got to do what work where, when and for what price.

Even after a second probe was launched - against "Fat Tony" Salerno's Concrete Club (with the Laborers' Concrete Workers District Council also in the hot seat along with the NYC District Council of Carpenters) - the wiseguys still called the shots in NYC's construction industry.

It would turn out to be the mobsters' last hurrah - after the 1980's, the all but open gangster rule in the construction trades would become impossible.

Meanwhile, outside of New York, the collapse of the building trades continued.

The construction unions - first and foremost the Carpenters - all but collapsed in California outside of the Bay Area, above all in now almost completely deunionized Los Angeles County.

Even in the Bay Area, US Steel hired ABC's flagship contractor, the violently anti union industrial maintenance General Contractor BE&K, to renovate the firm's old Pittsburgh Works in Pittsburgh, CA (the mill, renamed the USS/POSCO Works, was to be the flagship plant of a joint venture between US Steel and South Korea's Pohang Iron and Steel)

BE&K wasn't just another scab contractor - their main business was supplying armed scabs to break steelworker and paperworker strikes!

Using them at the USS/POSCO Works job was a line drawn in the sand.

And not just against American construction workers - especially since the Pittsburgh job was the fifth largest construction project in the entire world at the time

The biggest was the Canary Wharf office building/luxury housing district on the East End of London, followed by the Battery Park City job that I mentioned above (both of which were built by the same developers - the Reichmann family's Olympia & York of Toronto), followed by the Yanbu oil refinery complex in Saudi Arabia and the Baikal-Amur Mainline railroad line in the Soviet Far East.

Of the top five, only Battery Park City and the BAM railroad were built 100% union.

To their credit, the Northern California Building Trades did stand up to US Steel - the job was agresssively picketed on the regular, and the resistance didn't let up from start to finish.

The fightback could have been stronger - United Steel Workers of America local 2701 could have organized it's members to refuse to work behind the picketline, Teamsters Joint Council # 7 could have mobilized it's steelhauler membership to refuse to pick up finished steel from the plant, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and the United Transportation could have gotten the train crews they represented to do the same and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union's local 10 and Inland Boatmen's Union could have similarly disrupted seafreight deliveries to the mill (which were vital - as much of USS/POSCO's raw material came by cargo ship from South Korea).

But on the whole, even with those critical limitations, by the standards of the day, the Pittsburgh Works struggle was a victory.

USS/POSCO was finished as a mostly scab job (BE&K was forced to hire a few union subcontractors), but US Steel never again renovated a mill with scab contractors and no other manufacturer has since tried to renovate a factory in Northern California with all non union labor.

Lucky they fought back - over in England, the Union of Construction and Technical Trades and the Transport and General Workers Union basically rolled over and let Canary Wharf go non union

Of course both UCATT and T&G had been weakened by a series of defeats in the 1960's and 70's and were further politically imobilized by the ongoing two year long war that the British government was waging aganist England's strongest union, the National Union of Mineworkers.

The 1984 annihilation of the NUM was England's PATCO - and in the wake of a loss of that magnitude, there was no way the British construction union leaders could see a winning fight against Canary Wharf - a jobsite in the heart of the British capital.

London's highly combative Irish, Afro Carribbean and Polish immigrant construction workers surely had different ideas - but the leaders of UCATT and T&G sure as hell wern't asking for their input on this!

Nor did it ever occur to the leaders of UCATT and T&G to reach out to their North American building trades cousins for support.

That was truly unfortunate - because, at the same time as Canary Wharf's developers, the Reichman family's Olympia & York Co, were building scab in London, they were building Battery Park City 100% union in New York City, and they also had numorous union jobs in their home city, Toronto, Ontario.

Had the British unions reached out across the pond, and at least tried to get some kind of sympathy strike on the Battery Park City job, or on one of the Reichman's Toronto projects (which might not have been so hard - after all, a large portion of union trades workers here are Irish or Afro Carribbean immigrants who used to work in London) it might have been possible to turn the Canary Wharf job.

Especially in light of the financial fragility of Olympia & York (they actually went into Chapter 7 liquidation towards the tail end of the Battery Park City and Canary Wharf projects) it might have been possible to make them go union, with just a little pressure on their jobsites on both sides of the Atlantic.

But that didn't happen.

In the wake of the Canary Wharf defeat, Great Britain's construction unions collapse, an over 200 year tradition of unionized English construction labor goes down the drain, Greater London returns to it's 19th century status as the main supplier of immigrant construction workers to the New York City labor market and the United Kingdom as a whole becomes a low wage non union skilled labor reservoir for all of Western Europe.

That's what happens to workers who's leaders refuse to fight back!

In any case, California construction workers were extrordinarily willing to resist the open shop.

The Associated Builders and Contractors found that out the hard way when they made the mistake of holding their annual meeting in San Fransisco a couple of years after the USS/POSCO crisis.

They were greeted by a citywide construction workers wildcat strike and a large angry crowd of 6,000 workers surrounding the George Moscone Center, the venue for their conference.

The union dissident workers who had organized the wildcat strike had suggested that anybody coming to the Moscone Center to confront the ABC buy as many packages of eggs as they could carry.

Most of the workers followed that suggestion (reporteldy buying up San Francisco's entire supply of fresh eggs that day) - consequently, the ABC delegates ended up with yolk and egg whites dripping off their suits as they walked into the confab!

Unfortunately, the leaders of the California Building Trades did not take advantage of the California construction workers spirit and willingness to fight that had been shown so clearly at USS/POSCO and at the mass picketing of the ABC convention - it was a tragically wasted opportunity.

And it wasn't like the Californian construction workers were the only ones willing to fight.

Far from it - in International Falls, a bordertown between Minnesota and Ontario, International Paper had tried to do the same thing US Steel did at USS/POSCO, use BE&K to renovate a unionized factory.

They faced violent opposition from the Minnesota building trades - including a mass rally in front of the paper mill that nearly turned into an uprising - as well as hostility on the plant site from members of the United Paperworkers International Union who had to work side by side with BE&K's non union maintenance workers.

Parallel with that was a campaign of ostracism and harassment that International Falls residents (most of whom were paperworkers or the relatives of paperworkers) waged against the families of BK&K workers who had temporarily settled in town.

But, like the California union leaders, the chiefs of the Minnesota unions refused to unleash their members in a broader struggle.

And, in the plant itself, the leaders of UPIU locals 49 and 159, as hostile as they were to the armed scab presence in their mill, never took the ultimate step to stop BE&K - shutting down the mill with a strike!

Emboldened by the UPIU's failure to fight back at International Falls, International Paper launched a unionbusting offensive at Jay, Maine, the company's largest UPIU represented paper mil - where IP succeeded in breaking the UPIU.

Had the Minnesota unions been willing to take the International Falls struggle all the way things might have been different - both for the construction unions and the factory worker unions.

But the resistance wasn't limited to the north woods.

In New York City, the building trades unions - in particular the New York City District Council of Carpenters - systematically harassed scab jobs in the part of the city that had stayed union, Manhattan below 96th St.

This sometimes took the form of "wrecking crews"- large groups of union members sent to invade, vandalize and destroy scab jobs - and sometimes it took the form of mysterious nighttime pipe bomb explosions by person or persons unknown.

The New York unions had even gotten desperate enough to take on jobs that were protected by cosa nostra (as long as they were paying tribute to a family other than the Genoveses, the main mafia family in the construction industry).

One of those wrecking crews - deployed against the Gambino protected Bankers and Brokers Restaurant job in the financial district, got Westside Carpenters local 608 Business Manager John O'Connor shot in the butt 4 times by a hitman acting under orders of Gambino family boss John Gotti (or, as the colorful Queens mob boss put it "put a rocket in his pocket!").

[To add insult to injury, Gotti would later force O'Connor to testify as a character witness for him at a racketeering trial!]

Parallel to the union efforts in Manhattan below 96th St, their was a whole other set of construction worker organizations waging mass struggle in the streets.

That was the Coalitions, the armed minority worker groups who had been fighting to integrate the business for the previous decade and a half.

Coalitions regularly organized groups of minority workers and sent them out on old schoolbusses to travel around to jobsites and "shape up" (that is, invade and shut down production) those sites where there were not enough minority workers on the job.

These shape ups were daily events and had successfully broken the color bar in the New York trades - giving the city the only racially integrated Building Trades unions in the nation.

The Coalitions had their weaknesses (infighting between the 60 different groups, the growing influence of cosa nostra and an occasional willingness by coalition leaders to let certain sites stay segregated for a price) but they were also leading a movement of workers on a mass scale.

It was tragic that the Building Trades and the Coalitions were never able to join forces to take on the scab residential contractors in Manhattan north of 96th St, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx.

After all, many of the workers on those sites were Coalition members - and, since so many Black, Latino and Chinese union workers had come into the unions through the Coalitions in effect the Coalitions were a human bridge between the scab sector and the union sector.

Sadly, not only did the unions and the Coalitions not work together, but the very existance of the Coalitions is what kept the unions from expanding the wrecking crew tactic from Manhattan below 96th to the city as a whole.

To have largely White wrecking crews fighting minority shapers would be a disaster for the unions - and, to get Black and Latin workers, many of whom basically owed their union cards to the coalitions, to fight the shapers would be all but impossible - and the construction union leaders were fully aware of those realities.

Even when work collapsed after the completion of Battery Park City and all the speculative towers in Midtown, the New York unions still held their members back.

The closes the New York Building Trades came to a serious mobilization was a "rally for jobs" they organized in the winter of 1990 - 20,000 workers marched across the Brooklyn Bridge and rallied in front of City Hall.

Even then, the program put forth at the rally was limited to "job creation" (translation - taxpayer subsidies for the  real estate developers to build office buildings and luxury apartment houses) with not a word about organzing the majority of the industry that was now scab.

In short, in all three of those cases - California, Minnesota and New York City - workers were wiling to fight against the scab contractors, even if it meant risking injury or arrest.

All they lacked was a leadership capable of leading them in that struggle.

Most of the construction unions had absolutely no answer to dealing with the non union crisis.

The best some unions could come up with was pay cuts and work rule elimination - but those concessions merely emboldened the unionbsters.

At worst, unions came up with schemes to make union members subsidize those few developers that stayed union (the officers of Elgin, Illinois Electricians local 117 came up with that idea) or to use dwindling union funds as capital for real estate speculation schemes that would be built union (the leaders of Ft Lauderdale Operating Engineers local 675 went down that road).

None of these ideas involved organizing or struggle or workers in motion against the bosses - that was beyond the pale!

Meanwhile, as the labor leaders floundered, the federal government had seized control of the largest blue collar union in the United States.

The leadership of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, facing a stark choice between serious jail time and letting their union get taken over by the feds, choose the second option.

The feds intended to break cosa nostra rule in the Teamsters - and, above all, to break up the cartels that mobsters and local Teamsters leaders had set up in branches of the local hauling industry in a number of major cities, above all, New York.

The intent was to let independent operators break into those markets, to break up efforts to keep rates high enough to guarantee high profits for the dominant firms in those markets and to consequently reduce freight rates to as low a level as possible, even if those prices were below the operating costs of those local carriers.

The biggest trucking companies didn't have a problem with this - after all, they'd still make their money, and they'd even be able to break into markets the mob had kept them out of.

The little guys on the other hand had major problems with this - and would resist as much as possible.

As for the truck drivers, trotskyite socialist-led union dissident caucus Teamsters for a Democratic Union abandoned their longstanding principled opposition to government intervention in the union, and jumped aboard the FBI takeover bandwagon (as did a number of local Teamster officials who had their own beefs with the international IBT).

The federal takeover of the Teamsters would be a model for other government efforts to put cosa nostra dominated unions under federal control - especially the New York City unions, where cosa nostra presence rose to it's highest and most systematic levels

The 80 years of wiseguy rule in the New York Building Trades was about to end - but the question was, without mob domination, how would the unions survive?

XI. "!Si, Se Puede!"

Meanwhile, out in California, the building trades were presented with yet another opportunity to reunionize the industry - this time, in the state's Southland.

In the spring of 1990, Los Angeles local 399 of the Service Employees International Union launched an organizing drive among janitors working for ISS in the Century City office building complex.

This campaign was part of the "Justice 4 Janitors" project that the international leadership of the SEIU had launched 5 years earlier, to try and reunionize the office building janitors who'd been deunionized back in the late 1970's.

Officially, the SEIU leaders never talked about that deunionization - or the ethnic cleansing replace-Black-Americans-with-Latino-immigrants aspects of it.

SEIU propaganda presented the industry as if it had never ever been unionized at all, like this was a first time organizing drive, rather than bringing the SEIU back to a business that had been union for over 50 years at the time the unions had been broken just 11 years earlier.

There were some other disturbing aspects - like the union's very patronizing view of the janitors as victims, or the focus on getting white collar professionals to pity the janitors rather than trying to build solidarity with their fellow building workers, or the utter recklessness with which janitors were marched into a confrontation with the Los Angeles Police Department during a rally in a basement parking lot at Century City.

25 workers got hurt in that latter episode - including a pregnant janitor who was kicked in the stomach by an LAPD officer and lost her baby - and many arrested janitors got deported back to Mexico or Central America.

But, the strike was the first major building worker walkout in California in 20 years.

And they succeeded in getting a union contract at Century City and a number of other major office buildings in downtown LA.

A near minimum wage union contract that was almost $ 8/hr less than 1979 union scale - but a union contract nonetheless!

And it had caught the imagination of workers all over Southern California - and not just the White professionals and clericals that the SEIU wanted to pity the janitors, but the blue collar Latinos who had come to be a majority of LA's private sector workforce in the previous decade.

Justice 4 Janitors also gave the American labor movement the opportunity to take advantage of the heroism, street smarts and activism skills of the many Salvadoran and Guatemalan communist political refugees among the janitors.

Incidentally, those aforementioned revolutionary Central Americans had tried to take their rightful place in local 399's leadership after the strike. They, along with White, Black and Mexican American LA municipal worker activists in local 399, had run a slate of candidates in the local 399 executive board elections right after the strike.

That wasn't part of the plan - janitors (and LA County clerical and service workers, for that matter) were supposed to be voiceless faceless victims, not active participants in the political life of their own union.

So, the SEIU international blocked the new local 399 officers from taking office, and the militant newly organized  janitors were removed from local 399 and attached to local 1877, a local run by conservative Chicano officers and, more importantly, based 400 miles away from Los Angeles, up in San Jose (the better to keep LA janitors from participating in the political life of the local!)

Despite this disgusting betrayal, the positive energy that came out of the Justice 4 Janitors strike (not to mention the rebellious spirit brought about by the Los Angeles uprising against police brutality in 1991, where Blacks and Latinos had united across racial lines to fight the LAPD) had inspired many other groups of Latino blue collar workers in Los Angeles to unionize.

Among the workers to try and go union were the LA harbor port truckers - they'd been abandoned by the Teamsters at around the same time the janitors had had their SEIU union contract ripped up in 1979, and now they were trying to join the Communications Workers of America.

They were followed by  the trade show carpenters and freight handlers at the LA Convention Center - who had been similarly abandoned by the Carpenters and the Teamsters unions, and who were also going with the CWA.

There was also a joint organizing drive by a number of industrial unions (and the CWA) focusing on the workers in the many factories along the Alameda Corridor railroad line running from East LA to the Port of Los Angeles.

Those campaigns all ended up being defeated - although in the port truckers case the collapse of the CWA's efforts did create a pool of militant Mexican trucker activists -and, ironically enough, militant accountants - yes, you read right, militant CPA's - who served the Latino owner operator driver community and who were motivated by the CWA drive to help the drivers go union and get back the statutory employee status, and all the tax benefits that go with that status, that had been taken away from their White predecessors when the Teamsters abandoned the docks.

That pierside militancy by Latino truck drivers embarassed the Teamsters leadership into actually trying to reunionize the port truckers (an effort the Teamsters have been involved with ever since, right down to today)

But, above all, there were the struggles of the many Mexican immigrant carpenters working in residential construction in LA's "inland empire" outer suburbs.

The Mexican immigrant carpenters had come to the industry around the time the union collapsed.

Even when residential had been union in California, it had long had lower wages and benefits than the commercial sector.

By the 1970's, union carpenters in the homebuilding sector had lost their hourly wages and were now paid on a piecerate basis, that is, carpenters got paid based on how much rock they hung, or how much millwork they installed, or how many doors they hung, as opposed to a uniform hourly wage.

Contractors loved piecework, because it pushed workers to drive themselves to the limit and beyond to do as much work as possible (no matter what impact it had on their bodies and long term health).

Those piecework agreements were flatly illegal under the UBC's constitution - which had banned piecework back in 1881.

That didn't stop the union from agreeing to piecework pay - which tended to drive out older carpenters who couldn't work as fast as well as carpenters who had the option of working commercial and earning more pay for easier work.

It wasn't like California was the only place where piecework existed - in New York City, lumpers were paid piecerates.

But there it was illegal, not formally written into the contract (which in NYC also said that all carpenters got the same wage, no matter if the job was commercial, residential or Davis Bacon).

But piecework formally sanctioned by Carpenters Union agreements opened the door for the contractors to bring sweatshop conditions to homebuilding and really paved the way for the deunionization of residential construction.

When union homebuilders went scab, they had pushed their drywall subs to sharply reduce piecework, driving rates to rock bottom levels.

The White, Mexican American and Japanese American carpenter workforce who had built LA's suburban houses largely fled the residential sector when piecerates were cut - accelerating an exodus out of residential that began when workers were stripped of their hourly wages and had piecework imposed on them by their union.

The lucky among them got the dwindling number of union jobs (and their wern't that many - the Southern California Council of Carpenters had shrunk drastically from 40,000 members down to only 11,000) with the rest taking scab commercial jobs that were lower paying, but at least still paid an hourly wage.

A core of experienced Mexican American carpenters remained - and the drywall contractors encouraged them to become "jefes" ["chiefs"] - the bosses of crews of piecework carpenters.

These ex union members made the transition - hey, it wasn't like there was enough union work remaining for them to stay on that side of the business - but it was a big sacrifice in terms of pay and benefits.

Their pieceworkers - who on average got 4 cents for every square foot of drywall they hung (at 32 square feet a board that works out to $ 1.28 for every piece of sheetrock that they put up) - fared even worse.

Most of these pieceworkers were very young desperate undocumented immigrants from rural Mexico, recently arrived in America and new to the industry who had no choice but to take what they could get.

For the first couple of years of the scab era, the ex union member jefes had tried each spring to bargain as high a rate as possible with the Pacific Drywall Association (the old employers association, which the drywall subs had maintained even though they no longer needed it to bargain with the Carpenters Union).

Every year they had the same result - they'd get a raise at the begining of the building season in April, and it would be taken away by early summer and the lower rates would be reimposed.

So, in June 1992, jefe Jesus Gomez suggested to his fellow team leaders that they should organize a strike.

The other leadmen agreed - and it was on!

The jefes were able to mobilize 6,000 non union carpenters to walk out, shutting down over 200 major tract housing developments across Los Angeles, Ventura, Orange, San Bernadino, Riverside and San Diego Counties.

Unable to find Mexican immigrants willing to scab, the drywall contractors got White scabs - ex residential carpenters who had drifted away to better paying scab jobs when the Carpenters Union fell apart in residential.

The striking carpenters went on the offensive.

They would organize armed pickup truck caravans of strikers - dozens and sometimes even a couple hundred strikers would converge on a scab job and then, often with their shotguns in hand they would invade the site and make the scabs leave.

At this point, the contractors would call the police or, in more rural areas, the county sheriffs department or the California Highway Patrol.

Sometimes, these hypocritical contractors, who in normal times regularly hired undocumented immigrants, would even call the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

That didn't stop the strikers.

Instead, they'd fight the cops!

And most of the time, they beat the police and won!

Literally hundreds of strikers were arrested, often for serious felonies (kidnapping, assaulting a police officer ect) - and almost all of them ended up being released with minor charges, thanks to the social power unleashed by their strike.

The indomitable fighting spirit of the residential drywall carpenters attracted support from other sectors of the community - Catholic churches offered food, meeting spaces and moral support, local grocery store owners donated free groceries, an AFL-CIO funded immigrant social service agency supplied lawyers and media relations reps to the strikers and, finally, the Southern California Council of Carpenters got in the mix, letting the jefes use union halls as bases of operation for the strike.

By December 1992, after 6 months on strike, it became clear that this walkout was close to unbreakable, and that the residential sector would not restart unless a union contract was signed, so negotiations began.

Unfortunately for the striking residential carpenters, at this point the Southern California Council of Carpenters had stepped in to bargain on their behalf with the Pacific Drywall Association, with Los Angeles District Council of Carpenters chief Douglas J. "Cash" McCarron and his brother Mike as the point men for the UBC.

The McCarron brothers soon totally elbowed Jesus Gomez and the other jefes out of the negotiations entirely and took over the talks - creating a situatuation where White bosses and White union officers negotiated a contract for Mexican carpenters - behind closed doors, with the workers totally kept out of the conversation.  

The McCarron brothers, it almost went without saying, did not in any way attack the idea of union piecerates.

Far from it - Douglass had actually been a union pieceworker when he was on his tools as a union residential carpenter (and not a particularly ethical one at that - he got the nickname "Cash" because he allegedly worked for less than union rates on some jobs he worked on).

Cash McCarron advocated the rather scabby idea that it was good for union members to be paid based on output rather than hours worked (and, implicity, he supported the age and disability discrimination, and the physical damage done to the young strong guys, that naturally goes along with piecework).

Even within the framework of piecework, residential piecerates were kept low, with the rate only going from 4 cents per square foot to 7 1/2 cents per square foot (plus a small per square foot contribution to the Carpenters Welfare Fund health insurance plan).

Also, the drywall contractors were allowed to continue using a 100% company man workforce - that is, the contractor selected all of his/her own labor, with none of the carpenters dispatched from the union.

These agreements didn't even have shop stewards on the jobsites.

Therefore, there was nobody on the site to enforce the terms of the pact, and since carpenters had no union-controlled way of getting a job, if a carpenter complained to the union and got fired, he basically succeeded in getting himself blacklisted.

Worse yet, a third of the strikers - the 1,800 striking carpenters in San Diego County - were left out of the settlement and abandoned to their fate.

They ended up having to approach Painters District Council # 36 to organize and bargain for them.

The remaining 4,200 carpenters were divided up among the the existing residential carpenter locals in the District Councils of Carpenters in the counties of LA, Ventura, San Bernadino, Riverside and Orange.

Many of those unions had been near death due to declining membership - the strike saved them, and enabled their leaders to stay in office.

As for the jefes?

They were left on their tools - totally and utterly excluded from the leadership of the union, even though they had saved the Carpenters Union in Southern California.

Even Jesus Gomez, who had become the main public face of the strike and among the best of the leaders that had emerged from the struggle, found himself locked out and excluded from the leadership of the Carpenters Union.

But there was a price to pay for keeping those agressive and innovative workplace militants from their rightful place in Carpenters Union leadership.

The Southern California Council of Carpenters tried to organize the framers - the carpenters who put up the wooden shells of the houses (the wooden studs that the drywall carpenters nailed their sheetrock to).

But this drive was led by SCCofC organizers, unlike the drywall campaign which had been led by jefes who had earned their status as leaders of carpenters.

Plus, the framers had seen the results of the drywall strike up close and personal, since they worked on the same sites in the same houses with the drywallers.

They'd seen the jefes elbowed out of leadership by the Carpenters Union and they'd seen a union contract negotiated without a shop steward or hiring hall system, which pretty much guaranteed that the contractors started violating the deal almost as soon as the ink was dry!

Consequently, they were reluctant to risk their jobs and freedom and their status in this country just to get sold out by a White-led union that basically didn't care about them anyway.

As a result, the framers campaign limped along for 2 years with little results before it totally fell apart.

The Southern California drywall strike had held enormous potential - for reunionizing the industry, for restoring the union to the residential sector, for organizing the fastest growing component of the industry - the Mexican immigrant workers (who within the decade would make up close to a third of the carpentry craft nationwide).

It was a tragedy and the moral equivilent of a crime that the Southern California Council of Carpenters wrecked that amazingly powerful struggle from within!

Especially considering how much success the Service Employees International Union was able to get with it's immigrant workers organizing effort, Justice 4 Janitors - they were able to organize over 200,000 office building janitors during the 1990's and were able to position their union to launch a further campaign to unionize security guards.

Beyond the organizing, the SEIU got an enormous amount of public goodwill from the Justice 4 Janitors campaign - millions of Americans now had a positive opinion of the once little known labor organization.

The Carpenters could have had that kind of success - or even greater.

But, the union was not willing to take the risk of opening up a struggle against scab contractors, so it didn't happen.

But, the betrayal of the drywall strike worked incredibly well for the McCarrons - it catapulted Cash into the General Presidency at the 1995 general convention (a post he holds to this very day), while his brother Mike ended up as the leader of all Southern California and Nevada union carpenters when all of the district councils in the region were disbanded and collapsed into a regional council built around the ruins of the old Los Angeles District Council.

Meanwhile, as the McCarron brothers were sacrificing the future of the Carpenters Union in California, the leaders of the Carpenters and Laborers unions in New York City were about to pay the price for the past.

XII. "...in exchange for a plea of guilty to one count of racketeering..."

The New York construction unions were facing a series of racketeering probes - from the New York County (Manhattan) District Attorney's office, and the New York State Organized Crime Task Force and the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

The objective of these probes was not prosecution, but the imposition of some sort of court ordered monitorship over the unions - modeled on the racketeering consent decreee the leadership of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters had submitted to a few years earlier.

There had already been progress in that regard - the international leadership of the Laborers International Union of North America had signed a similar consent decree so it was a matter of time before the locals came in line.

The political and economic objectives of the planned consent decreees were similar to the goal with the Teamsters - to prevent those unions from colluding with contractors and gangsters to fix prices and restrict competition in their industries. The goal was to break up these cartels, increase competition and by doing so reduce costs and increse profits for the big corporations that these small businesses provided services for.

The international consent decree along with local trusteeships and monitorships in the Teamsters had had an effect on the prices local delivery companies charged - with the primary beneficiaries being large corporations.

There were problems with this that the feds didn't quite anticipate.

Union leaders who have their social base among the more priviliged steady employees of the small businesses that benefited from these cartels have a strong tendency to look out for the economic interests of those firms and to want to take their side in their struggle to exproporate as much as possible of the profits created by their workers and to give as little of that profit as possible to the big corporations they perform services for.

Those union leaders will only act against the class interests of that group of bosses under exreme duress - making it difficult for the government to force those labor leaders to consistently act in the interests of the big corporations.

That's what eventually crippled the government's monitorship over the Teamsters and it would also prove to be a severe problem in the construction unions.

In any case, the government launched it's New York construction efforts with a civil case under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act of 1970 against the New York City District Council of Carpenters.

The New York Carpenters were not only the biggest building trades union, they also had the broadest range of involvement in racketeering - most notably, in the two most powerful bid rigging cartels, the Wheel and the Concrete Club (both of which had been subject to previous criminal prosecution) - plus they also had suffered from gangster influence for the longest (since 1916).

So it really wasn't that hard to come up with evidence for a civil racketeering complaint against the NYCDCofC.

And in the face of possible loss of both union positions and freedom, the leaders of the District Council agreed to a racketeering consent decree.

The District Council's consent decree was similar to the one the feds had imposed on the Teamsters - the union would still be run by it's own leadership, but they would have to run the union based on the rules in the consent decree, and they would have a court-appointed monitor who would review their compliance with the decree.

The decree ordered that the NYCDCofC's leadership would now be elected (since 1916 New York carpenters had been ruled by an appointed leadership), and alongside the elected executive would be an elected legislature, the Delegate Body, made up of representatives directly elected by the local membership.

The feds had imposed direct elections in the Teamsters at the international level based on the idea that an elected union leadership would be more legitimate in the eyes of the workers and would also be a constituency loyal to federal control (since without the feds they would not have been allowed into office).

The feds were trying the same approach here.

The decree also changed the job referral system for the local men - now each local would have an out of work list, with workers who've been on the list longest the first to be dispatched to work.

Contractors were still allowed to have the foreman plus a maximum of 50% of the crew be company men, but the shop steward and at least 50% of the crew had to be from the out of work list. Companies did also have the right to request members by name from the list - basically, they'd be company men who were local men in name only.

Business agents lost the right to decide who would be shop stewards and the right to pick and choose who got work from the hall and who didn't.

Also, certain individuals with strong organized crime ties were banned from holding union office (almost all of the NYCDCofC's litigation around the consent decree was related to preserving the job of one particular Carpenters Union shop steward at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center who was allegedly connected with the Genovese crme family, professional handball player Anthony Fiorino).

And, the District Council was directed to set up an organizng department, to try and deal with the scab contractors who now made up a majority of carpentry contractors in New York City.

Now, these weren't bad things in and of themselves - what's really sad is that the New York carpenters had not been able to get these reforms based on their own struggles - but, of course, the feds had an ulterior motive in bringing these changes.

That is, the feds wanted to break the NYCDCofC away from it's alliance with the subs that provided steady jobs for the bulk of New York's company man carpenters and to instead have the union fight for the demands of the banks and the developers (that is, shifting the profits of real estate development away from the subs and up to the GCs, owners and bankers and a breakup of the cosa nostra cartels).

This would turn out to be impossible - the union's leadership would not break with it's social base - the company men - and those company men would not break with the subs who gave them their high incomes. Nor was it possible to build a new social base for a new NYCDCofC leadership that might find supporting the developers demands in their class interest.

But it took a while for the government to figure that out.

Meanwhile the feds took the Laborers International Union of North America under a natoial Teamsters-style consent decree (the immediate issues being LIUNA President Arthur Coia's ties to Rhode Island's Patriarca crime family, and Coia's efforts to buy Lamborghini sports cars without paying the hefty sales tax on the $ 450,000 autos).

This was a stepping stone to taking one of LIUNA's 3 New York City district councils into trusteeship  - the Mason Tenders District Council (the other two - the Concrete Workers District Council and the Pavers and Rammermen's DC, were not affected).

The MTDC's members were the building laborers who cleaned up after the other trades on jobsites as well as interior demolition workers and, of course, mason tenders (the laborers who mixed mortar, stacked brick and erected and tore down scaffolds for bricklayers, stonemasons, terrazzo masons, plasterers and cement masons).

The terms of the MTDC consent decree were very similar to the NYCDCofC, with the exception that the Mason Tenders also had most of their 18 New York locals merged down into just 4 locals - Long Island Laborers local 66, Asbestos and Lead Handlers local 78, New York Laborers local 79 and Waste Handlers local 108.

The idea there was that various small locals were under the flag of a different one of New York City's 5 cosa nostra families - Genovese, Gambino, Colombo, Bonnano and Luchese - and the only reason that LIUNA had kept all these little locals was so each family could get a piece of the pie (a theory which was basically correct).

The thinking was, by making them into 4 big areawide locals, the feds would dilute cosa nostra influence.

It also helped matters that the social base of the leadership of the MTDC and it's two biggest affiliates locals 66 and 79 were labor foremen and company man laborers for GC's.

Alone among contractors, GC's had a direct material stake in the portion of real estate profits going to the subs being reduced and shifted upwards towards the developers and the banks (because that shift would lead to the GC's getting a bigger piece of the pie too).

Since the GC's would benefit from this shift, their company men supported it - which logically led to the Laborers Union, alone among construction unions, having a reason to support the new order in the building trades.

This is why, of all the unions that would go through a process of judicially imposed reform, the Mason Tenders District Council was the only place where those reforms gained any kind of permanence.

One of the most immediately visible changes imposed by FBI reformism in the building trades was a new wave of organizing activity.

The MTDC Laborers were far more visible in this - their organizing arm, the Laborers Eastern Regional Organizing Fund, launched a high profile organizing drive, which was visually symbolized by Scabby the large inflatable rat  - an air filled rubber mascot who would soon be a regular visitor to just about every union picketline in the tri state area.

The first group of contractors that Scabby and LEROF's organizers targeted were the interior demolition outfits.

These companies had once been 100% union.

But the wiseguys had let these contractors to use non union undocumented immigrant workers from Poland, Croatia, Mexico and Ecuador on union jobs, which soon led to this whole market segment going scab.

In it's first big organizing victory, LEROF got those contractors and the 2,000 laborers who worked for them to come back to the union (but at a price - a lower "B Man" pay scale for the majority of demolition workers).

There was also an attemt to unionize the GC's who were renovating city-owned abandoned buildings into luxury housing in Harlem and other rapidly gentrifying parts of the city.

However that didn't work, because those contractors paid their laborers subminimum off the books wages - and no union scale, no matter how low, could compete with $ 4/hr in cash!

Also, at LEROF's direction, the MTDC enrolled over 1,000 new members, so union contractors would always have readily available labor at a moment's notice (even if it meant that most of those workers would not have a steady job).

Unfortunately, the substantial membership gains that the MTDC made (about 4,000 new members - bringing the council up to 10,000 laborers) were somewhat offset by the  loss of over 1,000 jobs in the waste handling sector.

Those laborers had worked at landfills and recycling plants operated by the city's 300 private waste hauling companies.

Those firms were members of a cartel that had been set up back when New York commercial waste removal was privatized in 1957.

The trade waste cartel was jointly run by the Genovese, Gambino and Luchese families, and Teamsters local 813 served as the enforcer/junoir partner (with the MTDC as an even more junior partner).

That cartel, which had saved the small independent waste haulers from being driven out of business by the big national waste hauling firms (which had happened everywere else in the country in the 1970's and 80's) and had kept prices high and eliminated all competition between firms in that sector.

The waste haulers cartel cost landlords and major corporations a lot of money (relative to what they paid for waste hauling in other major cities), so they had the City of New York launch a waste industry cleanup plan.

Working jointly with the nation's three largest private waste hauling firms (BFI, WMX and Allied), major local property owners and the federal government, the City of New York Trade Waste Commission broke up the commercial refuse cartel, ousted one legged Jewish gangster Bernard Adelstein from his five decade long dictatorship over Teamsters local 813, installed a pro FBI reform regime in his place and let the big 3 waste haulers come in to and dominate the New York market (which the gangsters had so long kept them out of)

In the process, almost 200 private carters were driven out of business.

Even with the expansion of the new New York operations of BFI, WMX and Allied over 1,000 laborers - a third of the laborers in the waste handling industry - ended up losing their jobs.

For the 2,000 who kept working, their jobs got a lot harder and more dangerous - and their union, Laborers local 108, was a willing junior partner in the takeover effort (as was the new FBI-appointed leadership of Teamsters local 813).

For New Yorkers as a whole, corporate waste hauling rates went down by a third, while small businesspeople saw their rates climb by 40%.

In any case, LEROF had put the MTDC on the map and made the union a lot more influential in New York labor affairs.

The NYC District Council of Carpenters Organizing Department tried to follow in the Mason Tenders footsteps.

They were able to carry out the rallies with Scabby the rat and to get the DC to sign up 2,000 new members (following the logic that contractors had a right to have a pool of available labor at all times - even at the busiest part of the year - even if it meant that many of those workers would be denied the possibility of steady employment).

The Carpenters Organizing Department was also able to sign up a lot of startup contractors who were just getting in the business.

But, they were unable to get two of the biggest scaffold outfits in the city to come back to the union after they had been allowed to go scab (after years of violating their union agreements by paying carpenters off the books).

The main result of that campaign was that all of the scaffold carpenters who were still in the union had to take a pay cut, as their work was transferred from carpenter locals to the lower paying Timbermens local 1536. In the case of one of the scaffold outfits, the 1536 pay cut basically legalized an informal, illegal wage and benefit reduction that that company had illicitly imposed on it's company men some years before.

Nor were they able to organize the GC's and carpentry subs renovating city owned buildings in Harlem (for the same reason that LEROF failed - because those firms only paid their carpenters $ 7/hr off the books and no matter how low the union went they could not beat that!)

The Carpenters also had a serious problem in their cabinet shop sector.

Thanks to a deal that the union had cut with the woodwork contractor who did the store fixtures at Barneys Department Store (the biggest retail construction job in New York City in the 1990's), the Manufacturing Woodworkers Association had won the right to unlimited use of non union made woodwork and woodwork made by non UBC shops on their jobs in the city.

To add insult to injury, a Westchester-based ambulance drivers union, Yonkers, NY Teamsters local 531, began signing sweetheart contracts for cabinet shops in the city's northern suburbs. Pennsylvania-based locals of the United Steel Workers of America also began signing low wage contracts with shops that shipped to the NYC market too.

Also, at the same time, the man who owned the largest cabinet shop in Manhattan, a Harlem-based store fixtures plant called Schultz Industries, was looking to retire.

With none of his relatives willing to take over the business, he sold Schultz to the Harlem Commonwealth Council, a non profit community development agency run by a group of Democratic Party politicians in the neighborhood, with the assumption that they'd save the plant and the jobs of the 400 cabinetmakers who worked there.

Unfortunately, the politicians looted the plant, abused it's line of credit, demanded that the NYCDCofC rip up the union contract for the 400 Black and Latino shopmen who worked there and, when the union said no, laid all of them off and replaced them with 200 low wage non union White shopmen.

In the end, the Democratic Party pols ran the 60 year old business into the ground in less than 2 years - leaving 600 union carpenters jobless.

Between the MWA concession and the Schultz Industries situation, there was a crisis in the cabinet shops represented by the NYCDCofC's 3 cabinetmaker locals - and in the 6 locals of the New York Industrial Council - layoffs were rampant and no matter how many members the DC recruited on the construction side, they did not replace the jobs lost on the industrial side.

The District Council also had extreme difficulty dealing with the many contractors that were nominally union, but were in practice paying below union scale wages off the book (a practice that union carpenters referred to as "working for cash").

This was concentrated in new construction of luxury residential hirises (the only part of the residential market segment that had stayed union) where contractors in the hirise concrete and drywall sectors were the most common offenders.

Cash was also common in office furniture installation, the most competitive part of the commercial sector - and also the segment where the NYCDCofC had the least capacity to enforce union conditions (furniture contractors are the last on the site and often they don't even have a shop steward on the job to make sure union conditions are enforced)

The feds had forced the NYDCofC to expand it's shop steward system, to keep a lid on this practice.

This was not done out of any sense of altruism towards the carpenters that were being forced to work for substandard pay and no benefits.

Instead, the driving factor was because those firms were cheating the clients - instead of legally paying lower wages and charging lower prices to the client (thus passing the labor cost savings upwards) those contractors were paying lower wages but were still billing at the higher union rates, and pocketing the labor cost savings themselves.

This is why stopping cash became vitally imporant for the government (and it remains a priority to this day).

The union, by contrast, had far more limited reason to deal with cash.

The benefit funds were being cheated - but, company men were getting steady work, and, far more important, the subs were doing what they had to do to stay profitable - which tended to motivate the union to look the other way at this practice.

If anything, the union actually made it easier to pay cash, by imposing the "request system" which let the contractors pick and choose which local man carpenters they would hire (making carpenters that much more dependent on staying in the boss' good graces at any cost - even if it meant being cheated on wages and benefits!)

The government did try and build a union leadership that would be loyal to their agenda - but, as was the case nationally in both the Teamsters and the Laborers this proved to be impossible.

In the New York Carpenters, the local reform caucus, Carpenters for a Stronger Union  was far weaker than it's counterpart in the Teamsters, Teamsters for a Democratic Union, and CSU had a far smaller and more unstable social base than TDU did.

Therefore, it was unable to win the DC's first free elections in 79 years.

So, shortly after the incumbent Fred Devine administration won reelection in the DC elections, it was removed by a UBC international trusteeship, which itself came in the face of a state investigation and on the heels of a state criminal case against Devine.

But, the new administration, while run by different individuals, was still loyal to the subs, instead of the GC's and the developers.

The feds would end up imposing monitorships on most of New York City's construction unions (Operating Engineers, Plumbers, Roofers, Concrete Laborers, Bricklayers, Teamsters, ect ect ect) but they were no more successful than the Carpenters effort.

Nationally, the federal monitorship over the Teamsters would itself falter - the section of the trucking industry that had remained union wanted a union leadership that was loyal to it, rather than to the shippers, so the pro-FBI Ron Carey adminstration soon gave way to the pro-trucking company administration of Jim Hoffa (the labor lawyer son of the legendary murdered Teamsters General President Jimmy Hoffa - Hoffa the younger is still Teamsters General President to this very day).

Meanwhile, nationally, the Carpenters Union was launching organizing efforts (as the union's membership dipped below the 320,000 mark - lowest since the Depression - as the carpenter jurisdiction expanded to over 2 million workers).

But those organizing efforts typically consisted of adding new members to the union so the bosses always had lots of unemployed union members to choose from (at the price of those workers not having steady jobs), weakening job referral rules so companies could pick and choose who they would hire (the "portability" system - the national version of the New York "request system"), offering to do other trades work for less pay (the "wall to wall we do it all" concept) and signing up contractors in scab markets by offering them substandard pay and benefits.

These efforts did nothing to stop the membership loss - and did a lot to making the UBC a much weaker union.

This was most true in McCarron's old stomping ground - California - where the largest organizing campaign, the signing up of the tilt up contractors who did the concrete work on shopping mall jobs, basically involved letting those firms use carpenters to do work normally done by operating engineers, teamsters, iron workers, cement masons and laborers, let the tilt up contractors use lots of low paid apprentices and let them run all company man crews without even having a shop steward.

But at least they were organizing actual construction workers - the Laborers and the Operating Engineers were organizng evey sort of worker except for tradespeople - nurses, Indian reservation clerical employees, chicken processing plant workers and just about everybody but construction workers.

And the other trades did less than that - they didn't organize at all!

At the end of the 1990's, the building trades were in deep crisis - shrinking unions in a growing industry, a 2 million person island (and getting smaller every day) in a sea of over 10 million workers (with fresh labor coming over the southern border fences and off the planes at Kennedy Airport every hour).

XII. "...user friendly unions..."

This is when the 40,000 Man March went off in New York City - another chance for construction workers to fight back, and yet another opportunity squandered by those worker's leaders.

This is also when the largest official building trades organizing effort in the country, the "B -Top" (that's short for "Building Trades Organizing Program") in Las Vegas' rapidly growing residential sector, sputtered to a halt.

Only the Carpenters and Laborers were at all serious about organizing the home building sector (and were comfortable enough with the racial implications of taking in several thousand Mexican workers into what were still majority White unions).

But, both the UBC and LIUNA had a "wall to wall we do it all" vision - that is, that all residential tradespeople would be in one union.

Considering the deskilled nature of modern residential construction, that might not have been such a bad idea.

The problem was, the leaders of the Carpenters wanted all the workers to go into the UBC - and the officers of the Laborers wanted everybody to be initated into LIUNA.

But, B-Top or not, Las Vegas Laborers local 872 and Las Vegas Carpenters local 1977 (and Los Angeles based regional residential carpenters superlocal local 1506 - Cash McCarron's old West Side of Los Angeles residential construction local, which now had members across California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and Colorado) would continue to organize.

And, with the exception of the Ironworkers, Painters and Roofers none of the other Las Vegas unions would organize at all - B-Top or not.

Among other issues, the leaders of the other trades were not at all comfortable with a future as majority Latino locals (which would, sooner rather than later, replace their White officers with Mexican business agents).

The Ironworkers organized a national superlocal of Mexican immigrant reinforcing ironworkers, local 846, with a substandard pay scale, inferior benefits, no hiring hall system and a predominantly White leadership.

They did sign up new members - but at a cost both to those Latino ironworkers and to their White and Native American Indian counterparts who were currently in the union.

The Painters Union made similar efforts to organize Latino commercial painters and the Roofers made a play to organize Central American residential roof shinglers - they didn't have much success, but at least the leaders of those unions tried!

Outside of those last two big union construction islands, Las Vegas and New York City, construction worker organizing was almost non existant.

The only exception was the Carpenters - but for the UBC, "organizing" far too often meant: signing substandard contracts with individual firms while market segements as a whole stayed non union; recruiting lots of new members, far more than could actually be steadily employed as a means of artificially creating a large pool of desperate and broke workers available at a moment's notice for the bosses; trying to get companies to use carpe
fraternally,
GREGORY A. BUTLER, LOCAL 157 CARPENTER
for GANGBOX: CONSTRUCTION WORKERS NEWS SERVICE
http://gangboxnews.blogspot.com
"UNION NOW, UNION FOREVER"