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GREGORYABUTLER

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The High Cost Of Low Wages
« on: April 12, 2011, 10:14:57 AM »
THE HIGH COST
OF LOW WAGES
the rise and fall of the American Dream
in the New York construction industry
by Gregory A. Butler

INTRODUCTION – “…no limitations on the contractor’s choice…” (present day)

In December, 2010, the New York City Building and Construction Trades Council received a 26 point ultimatum from one Louis Coletti. He’s the head of the Building Trades Employers Association and the New York Building Congress and the self appointed “spokesman for the construction industry” in this city (or at least for the bosses in our industry).  

Coletti’s ultimatum (reprinted in full at the end of this essay) strikes at the heart of gains we’ve won over the course of 140 years of struggle.

The BTEA wants to take away the 7 hour workday we won in 1936, shorten our lunch and coffee breaks (a real hardship for workers on the upper floors of hirise jobs) and make Saturday a straight time day.

They also want to eliminate union rules that mandate temporary lighting, heating, ventilation and toilet facilities on all jobs, and require that special workers be hired to maintain those temporary services, leaving the provision of those vital workplace needs up to the whims of the contractors.  

Not only is that a direct attack on the jobs of the electricians, operating engineers, elevator operators and laborers who maintain those systems, it’s also a direct slap in the face to every tradesperson.

To the bosses, we’re just production animals, not civilized human beings, so we don’t deserve to have a real bathroom on the site, heat in the winter, fans in the summer  – hell, we don’t even deserve to have decent lighting to work by!

Instead of having a right to a decent workplace guaranteed by our union contracts (or at least some of them), those necessities will only be provided at the whim of a boss (to whom our human needs are far less important than their profits!)

They also want to gut work rules and past practices we’ve fought for over generations.

One of the most significant attacks is the bosses demand for the removal of all limits on the use of prefabricated systems.

The bosses want to get rid of the present system, where all of the various elements of the building are installed in the field by highly skilled tradespeople, and replace it with a system where they can bring in an unlimited number of prefabricated modules, built off site by low paid unskilled factory workers and bolted into place in the field.

In the event that they choose to use non union shops to build those subassemblies (and you can be assured that, sooner rather than later, they will), they want to take away our right to refuse to install that non union made material.

That last demand is not only an attack on us, but it’s also puts the safety of the end users of those buildings at risk.

Structures made in segments off site and bolted together in the field are just not going to be as structurally sound as buildings that are built from the ground up on the site.

The people of Fukushima Prefecture, Japan found that out the hard way during the recent earthquake (hopefully we won’t have to learn the same way during a hurricane).

However, to the developers and contractors, the long term safety of the public (and decent wages for workers) aren’t really that important – but this quarter’s profits are.

Speaking of cheap unskilled labor, the contractors also want to have more apprentices on the jobs.

The bosses want to abolish the present practice of having 5 or 6 skilled journeylevel workers for each inexperienced apprentices, which gives those workers time to teach the apprentice and still have time to do their own work.

Their apparent ultimate goal is to import the scab contractor practice of having a large force of very low paid low skilled workers on the job.  Those helpers, as they are known on the non union side of the business, work on their own and learn by guesswork and trial and error, rather than actually being taught how to do the job right the first time by being partnered with more experienced workers. The contractors have a few skilled tradespeople to supervise the helpers (and fix all their mistakes).

Again, not only is this replacement of skilled workers with unskilled cheap labor an attack on construction workers, this is also an attack on the general public’s right to have safe and well constructed buildings.

The bosses also want to impose mandatory alcohol and drug testing on our industry.

Substance abuse actually is a serious problem in the business and this demand would not be so bad if it was part of a broader program to aid addicted tradespeople.  However, this is just another way of singling out the most vulnerable workers to be fired.

Finally, to add insult to injury, the bosses want us to take a 20% pay cut.

The most offensive thing is, the contractors are making these demands at a time when the business is starting to bounce back from the depths of the late 2000’s recession.

The pace of work is nowhere near what it was in the mid 2000’s, but residential work in Harlem and Williamsburg is beginning to revive. There’s also been an increase in commercial work in Manhattan. Most notably, the new World Trade Center job is finally starting go at a fast pace, with all 4 of the new towers currently in the middle of structural steel work.

At that very moment, when the market was recovering without labor concessions, Coletti and the BTEA slapped us with that 26 point ultimatum.

The bosses no doubt recognize that the unions are at a historic low point.

Nearly every union in the city is either investigation or has had officers indicted.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the majority of work in the city is now down non union (50% of the work in Manhattan below 96th St, 70% of the work in Upper Manhattan and the outer boroughs).

Those workers are paid far less than unionized tradespeople are.

The pay scale ranges from a high of around $ 20/hr on the books to as little as $ 4/hr off the books, with many workers also being paid straight time for overtime and weekend work. The average for carpenters and masons on residential work on the non union side of the business is around $ 8/hr.

That pay scale is racialized too – the higher paid non union workers tend to be American born Whites, US citizen Blacks and Latinos get paid less, Black and Latino immigrants get paid less than them and immigrant workers from Asia get paid rock bottom wages.

Union contractors apparently want those of us in the unions to race our non union brothers to the bottom – a race that all of the workers lose and where only the bosses are the winners.

At the same time that BTEA is hitting us with ultimatums, other bosses are launching more direct attacks.

Case in point, Lehr Construction.

That interior construction GC, which has been union for decades, went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy and set up a non union alter ego company, Parallel Construction, to do scab interior work.

They got challenged by the Carpenters and were forced to use union subs on their first job as a scab outfit, but what’s significant is that they tried to run a scab job at the Yale Club, a building in the heart of Midtown Manhattan with an all union maintenance workforce!

The very fact that they even thought they could get away with a stunt like that is a bad sign.

Meanwhile, developer Bruce Ratner moved to use prefabricated modules for the HPD subsidized apartment buildings at his Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn.

Ratner claimed that he was going to use a union cabinet shop to run at his offsite module factory in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

However, union or not, those carpenters make less than half of the outside construction carpenter pay scale ($ 20/hr vs. $ 46/hr) and they work an 8 hour straight time day.

This is an extra special slap in the face since the unions had gone out of their way to campaign for Ratner’s megadevelopment, in the face of strong opposition from working class tenants and small business owners in Prospect Heights.

One of the excuses for supporting Atlantic Yards was all the good paying union construction jobs that Ratner was going to create, and now here he is trying to undercut the wages of union carpenters!

If that wasn’t bad enough, developer Steven Ross and the Real Estate Board of New York demand to have the right to hire out of town crane operators who do not have New York City operators licenses. They also demand the right to get rid of master mechanics (shop stewards) and oilers (apprentices) on hirise construction jobs.

The union response to these attacks was dead silence.

The unions didn’t even mount a public response when Coletti and BTEA took out ads on the subway, directly appealing to workers to lobby their unions to support the 26 point ultimatum or face a full scale deunionization offensive by the contractors.

Four years ago, when our brothers and sisters were dying on the street in crane collapses, our unions let Coletti be the spokesperson for “the industry” and refused to independently advocate for workers -  this attack is, in large part, the legacy of that capitulation by our unions to the bosses.

The question is, what are the building trades unions going to do now?

Despite the fact that half of the city’s 200,000 construction workers are non union and the reality that 70% of the residential sector and half of the commercial work is non union, few construction unions make any effort to do any organizing.

The New York City District Council of Carpenters, the Mason Tenders District Council, Painters District Council # 9 and Ironworkers local 361 (in the building trades proper) and Teamsters local 814 and Retail Wholesale Department Store Union local 116 (in the moving business) are the only unions in the industry that do any organizing at all.

Even then, those organizations largely confine themselves to picketing and one contractor at a time NLRB elections, the least effective way to organize non union workers and have not launched the kind of areawide campaigns and recognition strikes necessary to reunionize our business.

To make matters worse, the rest of the construction unions are doing absolutely nothing at all to try and unionize our industry.

Despite the fact that the employers have, through their mouthpiece Coletti, thrown down the gauntlet and made a threat to deunionize, the Building Trades have not come up with a serious answer – hell, they haven’t even authorized a picket of BTEA’s offices or even a press release!

It’s probable that, come June 30, when thirty union contracts simultaneously expire, we will have these concessions forced on us by our unions. Since, other than the Electricians, most of us do not have the right to vote on contracts, that will be that and, short of a wildcat strike, we will have no recourse.

It’s not that we couldn’t fight back – the state workers in Wisconsin have shown us that even today it’s possible for workers to resist attacks by the bosses – it’s just that our leaders lack the political will to lead such a fight.

In the essay below, I explore how it came to be that our unions got like that, and pose an alternative of what we and our unions could do to resist.

Before we get to all of that, let’s start all the way at the beginning, at the dawn of construction unionism in New York City in the late 18th century.




























CHAPTER  1 – “…an injury to one is the concern of all…” (1790 – 1895)


Back in the 1790’s, in the wake of the destruction of White indentured servitude by the American Revolution (one of the major gains that the American working class got out of independence from England), the old European-style guild system began to break up in the American building trades.

This freed many construction workers from bondage to their employers. Many, but not all, slavery was still legal (even in New York – manumission didn’t come in this state til 1827), and many Black construction workers were still slaves, who were the brought and paid for property of their bosses.

But, even for the now free White workers, freedom was a double edged sword – now the masters (the term “contractor” hadn’t evolved yet) were freed of their obligation to employ, feed and house their apprentices and journeymen during the colder part of the year, when work was slow.

This is the dawn of the modern American construction industry – the birth of casual employment by the day, chronic underemployment (even in good times) and the day to day fear of on the spot layoff that has governed the lives of construction workers in this country ever since.

In big Northern cities with relatively few slave construction workers - Philadelphia, Boston, Brooklyn (then still a separate city) and the City of New York (which back then was confined to Manhattan below 14th St) – this led to worker resistance.

The earliest forms involved adapting a form of resistance to on the job abuse that had been pioneered by sailors on cargo ships… the organized refusal to go to work.

Sailors would tie up the sails on their vessels to keep them from drifting away during these protests – or in nautical terminology, they would “strike” the sails.

These walkouts came to be called “strikes” – and construction workers were among the first shoreside workers to adopt that tactic.

The rise of independent construction worker activism also showed quite clearly that there was a need for independent construction worker organizations.

The building trades organizations of the era were totally dominated by the masters and only represented the narrow class interests of the bosses, which were presented as if they were the interests of the industry as a whole.

It was impossible for construction workers to fight for their interests within the masters’ organizations, so they had to set up their own groups.

Even then, there was some political confusion on the precise class boundary between apprentices and journeymen on the one side, and masters on the other.

This is quite natural in an industry of small employers – most of whom started out on their tools – and where many workers have self employment aspirations.

Back then, almost all of the masters had come up through the apprenticeship system and had worked as journeymen. In a rapidly expanding country, it was very possible for many journeymen (at least the newly freed White ones) to branch out on their own in a few years and become masters themselves.

Many of the leaders of these emerging construction worker movements felt that journeymen and masters had a common interest against the bankers and building owners, and that this common interest trumped the class conflict between worker and boss.

The masters did have a conflict with their clients – and with the bankers who lent out the capital necessary to put up the buildings.

But they also knew very well that they had a conflict with their workers too.

This is why the masters universally condemned the strike tactic, and any independent organizations of journeymen and apprentices.

It was not in the interest of “the industry” for workers to organize independent of the masters.

I’m going into all this historical detail for a reason – as we’ll see, these dangerously wrong ideas about “the industry” having needs that rise above the class interests of construction workers as workers will come up again and again, and we still face that same argument today.

The existence of a large pool of African American slave construction workers was a major obstacle to construction worker organizing.

The slave apprentices and journeymen were considered to be property, owned outright by their masters with no rights that a White man was bound to respect.

If they went on strike it was considered a slave rebellion and was punishable by a range of harsh penalties – whipping, the branding iron, or, in many cases, execution (often by burning at the stake, being broken on the wheel or other extremely brutal and painful methods).

This is why construction unions were nonexistent in the Southeastern states – south of Philadelphia, building trades unions were unknown.

Even in the Northeast, master builders in smaller cities and rural areas were able to use farmers and farm workers as part time labor in agriculture’s off season – which made it very hard for full time construction workers to organize.

Construction unionism was largely confined to the very big Northeastern cities – New York, Brooklyn, Boston and Philadelphia.

And even there, there was a constant flow of immigrants from Europe (and, in Boston’s case, Canada).

There were language divisions, not to mention the masters’ deliberate fostering of interethnic strife – consequently, worker organizations tended to be fragmented along ethnic and nationality lines.

So, the sharp divisions among construction workers, and the large pools of superexploited labor (above all, African American slaves) made permanent construction workers unions impossible before the Civil War.

Some of the more farsighted White construction worker leaders very well understood that the continuation of slavery was a threat to all workers and abolition of slavery was a precondition to any serious labor organizing.

In 1827, New York State outlawed slavery, and the abolition of bonded labor finally made it possible for workers to organize unions here.

The early craft unions in the building trades were small, usually monoethnic, very democratic and generally led by journeymen who had a revolutionary perspective on society.

Union leadership in that era was very different than today. Unions were run by committees of journeymen who worked in the craft full time and who attended to union business in their spare time after work.

They were often known as “tramping committees” because they would walk around from site to site enforcing union conditions – and calling walkouts when conditions were being violated.

There were no full time business agents or officers, and nobody in these tramping committees got a salary for their leadership position.

Politically, the leaders of these unions were a mix of socialists (from two distinct camps – “utopian” and “scientific”), communists and anarchists, who were anti capitalist and envisioned a society ruled by producers rather than profiteers (often referred to as a “Cooperative Commonwealth”).

The definition of “producer” varied – some felt that masters and workers were both productive classes, who should unite to fight the financiers, while others viewed the masters as being on the same side of the class fence as the bankers were.

And the solutions to this problem varied. Some envisioned rural communes where everybody would have an equal share of ownership, others envisioned some kind of nationalized economy where a worker-run government would guarantee equality and still others felt that the only way the working class could win its freedom was by overthrowing the capitalists and their government.

Some of the more broadminded of these early unionists extended their definition of solidarity to include the entire working class, while others limited the boundaries of their cooperative commonwealth to White male skilled trades workers and in all but a few cases none of these local craft unions challenged racist hiring practices by White masters (who excluded Blacks from all but “hod carrier” – laborer – work).

Beyond the politics, most of these unions were very unstable.

Most unions emerged during springtime ‘trade movements’ (areawide strikes by skilled trades workers) at the start of the building season in years when the economy was healthy.

Either they succeeded in winning their demands and – satisfied with their victory – the workers drifted away, or they were defeated and their leaders (who were full time workers whose labor leadership was a part time after work thing) got fired.

And in bad economic times, local craft unions generally disintegrated entirely.

In any case, it took the Civil War – and, more importantly, the Emancipation Proclamation – to make stable local craft unions possible and for those locals to form permanent national unions.

The masonry trades – bricklayers and plasterers – were, at that time, the highest paid crafts and the most well organized.

New York City and Brooklyn, with their many wood and masonry buildings, had the most well organized “trowel trades” and the local bricklayers and plasterers unions were the center of the national unions that they organized during the Civil War years.

Carpenters – who were paid far less than the brickies and the plasterers – also had their local unions, but they were fragmented, some independent, some affiliated to the British Amalgamated Society of Carpenters, and were very divided by ethnic background and language.

Unskilled workers like hod carriers [laborers] and construction teamsters were unorganized and many of the skilled trades hadn’t yet emerged as separate occupations.

Buildings were still very primitive in those days, not very much changed since the days of the ancient Egyptians and the Romans. Many things that we take for granted today, like electricity, central heat, gas and running water, were unknown back then.

But, a period of massive change was beginning. Things like gas light, indoor toilets, running water, the elevator, central heating and structural steel framed buildings were being pioneered, with New York City and Brooklyn on the cutting edge of new building trades technology.

The construction industry had changed too.

The old masters were being displaced by general contractors and builders – companies who handled all phases of putting up a building – and some of the more specialized new technology was being installed by subcontractors, companies that only did a narrow area of work.

Side by side with new more developed management forms, new types of labor leadership were emerging also.

The railroad unions were far and away the most well organized labor groups in the nation, they’d already evolved permanent labor unions with full time officers and elaborate benefit funds.

They were also pioneers in union racism as well, with all of the railroad worker unions having strictly enforced “Whites only” clauses in their constitutions.

But even with that crippling limitation, the railroad workers still managed to call the first general strike in American history – the “Great Upheaval” of 1877.

That nationwide strike jumpstarted labor organizing among skilled trades workers in every industry and led to permanent local unions emerging in every major city.

As unions began to have more of a permanent existence, rather than just being hastily thrown together organizations that came together during times of labor unrest and disappeared when the strikes ended, there were now more or less permanent local craft unions.

One of the first problems they faced was a leadership question.

The old tramping committees were very vulnerable to having their members fired.

Some of these fired committeemen ended up being “blacklisted”.

Contractors had begun to form employers associations to deal with the unions . One of the main tasks of these associations was to maintain a list of militant unionists. The associations would circulate that “blacklist” and member firms would not hire workers on the list.

In many cases, those guys ended up being unable to get a job in New York City or Brooklyn, and the unions were stuck having to take up collections from the other members to pay their bills and support their families.

This was cripplingly expensive for the new, small, weak and financially unstable unions, so an idea emerged.

Why not pay union leaders a salary?

It would make them immune from blacklisting, because the union rather than a contractor was their employer.

And it would be more financially viable to pay a set salary to a fixed number of union leaders, instead of having no way of knowing how many committeemen would end up being blacklisted and financially dependent on the union treasury after a trade movement.

These new leaders were initially known as “walking delegates”.

Like the tramping committee, they walked from job to job checking wages, hours and working conditions. Unlike the old committees, it was one or two individual delegates, rather than a committee of many workers that would patrol the jobs.

Within a few years, they had a new name – business agents - because they were authorized to make agreements with the employers on behalf of the entire union.

There would be some serious political consequences to this new leadership structure – we’ll see that below.

Initially though, the walking delegate system made the unions much stronger and far more capable of leading resistance to the contractors. Especially since, at least at first, the new walking delegates still had the same revolutionary anti capitalist politics of their tramping committee predecessors.

In the 1880’s, the New York building trades began codifying bylaws and working rules and then using trade movement-style struggles to impose those bylaws on the contractors on the jobsites.

These bylaws covered things like production quotas, the speed of work, maximum weight that a worker could be told to lift (a very important demand for the masonry trades), a limit to how many low paid apprentices could be used on a job, the wage scale, the payment of wages every week in full and in cash and, above all, the length of the work day.

The standard construction work day had been the same since the days of the ancient Egyptian slavemasters 3,000 years before – from sunrise to sunset.

American masters had modified that a bit after the post Revolutionary War ending of indentured servitude – they allowed a half day on Saturday (from dawn to noon) and no work on Sunday.

And in the wake of the Great Upheaval of 1877 the contractors cut the workday to “only” 10 hours a day.

But those were the only workday reductions in the industry in centuries.

The construction unionists felt that workers needed to have time off from work to cultivate themselves intellectually and the shorter work day could also be used to divide the work up among a larger pool of workers.

The unions demanded the 8 hour day – as a slogan at the time put it “8 hours for work, 8 hours for rest, 8 hours for what we will”.

This 8 hour movement spread nationally and had much to do with the unification of most of the New York Carpenters Unions into one unified citywide body in 1872 and the unification of most of the nation’s Carpenters Unions into a unified national union in 1881.

There also started to be more coordination between different trades in the New York City area.

Boards of Business Agents were set up in New York City (Manhattan), the City of Brooklyn, Queens County, Richmond County (Staten Island) and Bronx County (the latter three were still independent counties, divided into dozens of independent villages and towns – they, and the City of Brooklyn, became boroughs of the City of New York in 1898).

The Boards of Business Agents were made up of all of the walking delegates from all of the different construction unions in those five boroughs.

The 8 hour movement also tested the nation’s largest – and most conservative – labor federation, the Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor, who’s “Master Workmen” (their term for walking delegates/business agents) were being forced by worker militancy to abandon their longstanding opposition to strikes (they favored binding arbitration) and to endorse a national 8 hour strike movement.

The building trades took the lead in the 8 hour struggle – in particular the trades in the nation’s largest cities - Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and, of course, New York City and Brooklyn.

They coordinated their struggles through a tiny scientific socialist-led labor federation that would come to be called the American Federation of Labor.

There were simultaneous 8 hour strikes in every major US city on May 1 1886.

Although there was considerable police repression (especially in Chicago and Wisconsin, where there were armed clashes between police and strikers and numerous deaths) many trades were able to win a shorter workday.

This also marked a triumph for the AFofL and its affiliates, who had planned and carried out the strike.

The Knights of Labor – who had resisted going on strike until the last minute – basically crumbled in the wake of the May Day strikes.

In particular, the construction “trade assemblies” (the KofL’s equivalent of locals) seceded from the Knights and joined with the AFofL’s construction craft unions.

In New York City and Brooklyn, almost all of the construction trades assemblies left the KofL, leaving them with only their garment workers, cooks, waiters and transit workers trade assemblies, and the “mixed assemblies” which were largely composed of middle class union sympathizers.

The Carpenters called a national 8 hour strike in 1890, with far more limited aims than the 1886 strike (it only fought for the 8 hour day for carpenters, not for the rest of the working class) it was relatively successful, at least as far as it went.

Carpenters in major cities all over the country won the 8 hour day, including New York City and Brooklyn. Other construction trades were also able to win the 8 hour day based on the Carpenters victory.

This strike basically consolidated the New York construction trades unions. They had arrived and had become a permanent part of the construction scene here, with the contractors having, grudgingly, accepted them as junior partners in the building industry.

But that acceptance came at a heavy price.

The unions had abandoned a lot of their socialist principles. Gone was the call for a construction industry run by the workers, or the less radical version of that demand which called for an alliance between workers and contractors to fight the bankers and their “money power”.

Also, abandoned were calls for social equality – especially when it came to race - as well as demands for equal pay for women, and municipalization of public works.

The unions had come to accept a world were some construction workers (foremen  and those who had family and/or ethnic ties with the bosses) had permanent jobs and worked more or less year round, while most construction workers got hired at the beginning of the building season in April and laid off right before Thanksgiving.

They also accepted the industry’s segmentation by ethnicity and it’s exclusion of Blacks from all but the lowest paying laborer jobs.

The business agents had their own reasons for abandoning revolutionary ideas.  

They were dependent on the unions’ treasuries for their livelihoods, and strikes and militancy, which put the unions as institutions at risk, jeopardized their incomes.

The business agents had also established a social base among the more privileged tradesmen , workers who in modern New York construction terminology would be called “company men”, the small group of foremen and core workers who worked full time for contractors.

Those workers tended to have the same world outlook as the contractors – many of them were actual blood relatives of bosses, and many would go on to become bosses in their own right.

The union leaderships tended to faithfully reflect this same worldview.

The partnership with the bosses tended to reinforce that. The unions had come to be a stabilizing force in the industry. The union apprenticeship programs and union cards were the only guarantee that a worker actually had the skills he said he had, and were the only way that a contractor could tell that the tradesman he was hiring off the street was an actual tradesman.

The unions also could control the supply of labor, and could bring in additional labor from other cities (and in the case of some carpenters locals that were still affiliated to the British Carpenters Union, even from other countries) when work was busy.

Some construction entrepreneurs figured out a way in which the unions could be even more helpful to the bosses.

New York has always been a gateway for immigrant tradesmen – and immigrant bosses as well.

This has historically been one of the reasons that New York construction was so vibrant and so technically advanced, because of the constant influx of new workers and new entrepreneurs willing to try new techniques and having to work harder and smarter to beat the competition.

While this worked out well for building owners and their investors, it made things hard for established contractors, who always had to look over their shoulders at the new guys who might take over their market niche.

This led late 1890’s contractors to look at ways of restricting competition in their industry, to keep the new guys at bay and to stabilize their market share and keep prices high.

One way involved working with the city’s Irish gangs (they ran organized crime in NYC back then – they would later be eclipsed by Jewish gangsters in the 1920’s and the Italian American cosa nostra in the 1930’s – but they’re still a presence to this very day) to keep out competitors.

The gangsters and the contractors found that one of the best ways to keep out competition was to control the labor force, through the unions.

Since unions were drifting towards an alliance with the contractors anyway, it was only logical that they’d form an alliance with their new allies, the wiseguys.

The unions were very much junior partners in this scheme – they would help the gangsters regulate labor markets, on behalf of the larger contractors – and they were used to enforce price fixing cartels, by perverting the strike weapon into an instrument of extortion aimed at contractors who tried to compete with the mob protected companies.

Of course, the corruption of the building trades was an uneven process.

Unions of unskilled teamsters and laborers, which had only just been founded at the time, were the most thoroughly gangster controlled (a pattern that would continue for the next 100 years).

The more recently organized skilled trades unions – operating engineers, plumbers, ironworkers – which had been built when left influence was waning in the trades, were less mobbed up than the unskilled unions, but the gangsters solidly controlled the leaderships of these unions.

And older skilled trades unions – carpenters, bricklayers, plasterers, painters (plus at least one of the newer unions, the electricians) – tended to have the strongest left influence, since the wiseguys had come along a generation after most of these groups were founded.

The electricians were a special case.  

Their union had, from the beginning, led a fierce struggle against on the job electrocution accidents, which had made it by far the most militant of the newer craft unions.

But all of the unions – even the most gangster-ridden teamsters and laborers unions – had to stand up for the underprivileged majority of their members at least some of the time, otherwise they would have no legitimacy.

On the other hand, they couldn’t get too radical, because that would offend the privileged workers and the contractors – which is why many of the more vocal socialists, communists and anarchists were purged from union leadership.

In the Carpenters Union, the purge went so far that the founder of the union, and the father of both May Day and Labor Day, utopian socialist Peter J. McGuire, actually got expelled from his own union – while he was still officially it’s senior national leader!

As construction unions got more conservative and had their radical leaders purged, they began to casually accept on the job injustices, as opposed to the early unions, that had been on the cutting edge of fighting for workers rights on the job.

The same unions that had pioneered the 8 hour movement in the 1870’s and 1880’s now refused to contest the employer’s right to fire construction workers at will and abandoned earlier demands for equal distribution of work opportunities.

Some of the unions – particularly the electricians, sheet metal workers, ironworkers, boilermakers and painters – began to operate hiring hall systems (an institution that is unique to American construction unions,  unknown in the building trades unions of the rest of the world), which tied them even further into defending and participating in the employment practices of the contractors.

But even unions that didn’t yet run hiring hall systems – carpenters, bricklayers, laborers, operating engineers, plumbers, asbestos workers – where workers still had to find a job at the start of the season on their own, but were usually employed for the whole season unless they really screwed up or really pissed off the boss – also became defenders of the right of the boss to fire a tradesman at any time, for any reason, or no reason at all.


























CHAPTER  2 – “…hold what we have, and get all we can…” (1895 – 1916)



This dramatic change in the building trades was starkly illustrated by the failure of the City of Brooklyn Building Trades to make any attempt to show solidarity when 5,000 Brooklyn Manhattan Traction Co. transit workers represented by the Knights of Labor went on strike in 1895.

This indifference continued even when the transit workers were attacked by a force of 4,000 police officers, state militia troops and BMT beakies (in house company detectives) and their strike – and their union – was broken.

That defeat had repercussions far beyond Brooklyn – in the wake of the broken BMT strike, the entire Knights of Labor collapsed as a national labor body.

Even with the bad blood still existing between the KofL and AFofL at that time, that was no excuse for not helping fellow workers under attack – especially when their defeat hurt all of labor.

This would be the beginning of a long pattern of the New York construction unions holding themselves aloof from the battles of other New York City workers.

This was great for preserving friendly relations between the contractors and the unions – but horrible for working class-wide solidarity.

In any case, the backdrop to the conservatization of the building trades unions was the unification of New York City in 1898.

The City of New York formally annexed the Village of Harlem and all the other unincorporated areas in New York County (the Borough of Manhattan); the City of Brooklyn and the unincorporated areas of Kings County  (the Borough of Brooklyn); the independent towns of Bronx County (the Borough of the Bronx);  the cities and villages of Queens County (the Borough of Queens) and the towns of Richmond County (the Borough of Staten Island).

The City of New York displaced London, England as the biggest municipality in the world.

Alongside the unified city was an increasingly unified ruling class, including the rulers of the building and construction sector.

Many of the major contractors were united in associations, which had been built for the express purpose of unionbusting, but were now also used to bargain with and influence the internal politics of the unions.

Now, not only did the builders (contractors who were in overall charge of putting up the building – and who, in that era, usually did most of the masonry and carpentry work with their own in house workforce) have their associations, but the specialty subcontractors (companies that only did one specific type of construction, plumbing, electrical work, painting ect) had their own associations too.

The real estate developers had their own associations too, partly to keep their own building maintenance workers non union, but mainly to deal with the contractors, the bankers and the government in an organized fashion on behalf of their section of the capitalist class.

The industry had gotten more complicated, and with good reason, since the market they served had gotten a lot more sophisticated and complex.

The city was growing by leaps and bounds, and developers were rapidly building a wide variety of structures.

Some of these edifices were on the cutting edge of construction technology (like the subway lines underneath the streets of Manhattan, or the steel framed hirise office buildings, or the multistory reinforced concrete buildings – some housed garment factories or machine shops, others were hirise apartment houses).

Others were more routine, like the 7 floor wood and masonry tenement buildings, 4 story ‘brownstone’ multifamily houses and wood frame single family houses.

Not to mention all the retail construction (from big department stores to the corner grocery store) and all the schools, firehouses, police stations and sanitation garages needed by the new unified city government.

There was a lot of money to be made in building these structures.

This gave the developers a strong incentive to get labor peace at any price – even if it meant paying high fees to their contractors so they could pay union scale wages.

This also gave the bigger contractors a strong incentive to limit competition from entrepreneurial journeymen who were trying to cut in on their action and get a piece of the pie for themselves by undercutting the big boys’ prices.

This made many of the larger contractors very receptive to the idea of working with the gangsters – and their labor junior partners – to restrict competition and keep construction prices high.

This is the origin of the “labor management partnership” that construction labor leaders of our time speak of so frequently. Then as now, it was a “partnership” strictly on the contractors terms, and entirely for the benefit of the bosses (and, to a lesser extent, the more privileged of their workers).

Besides collaborating with contractors to keep construction prices high and to make it harder for new firms to enter the industry and compete with established outfits, the unions also found themselves caught up in battled between the old line builders and the rising specialty subcontractors over which set of businesspeople would be getting paid to install all these new building systems.

These were the jurisdictional disputes, which continue to this day to be a major threat to construction labor unity.

The Carpenters Union fought to have its members install as much of the new work as possible.

This, of course, had the immediate goal of enabling Carpenters Union leaders to get jobs for as many of their members as possible.

But, since most carpenters at that time worked for builders or general contractors, if carpenters controlled the work this would enable the builders and GC’s to do the work with in house labor, rather than have to sub out the work.

Some of the Carpenters Union’s harshest battles were fought with the Ironworkers, a union that represented a craft that had only just broken away from the carpentry trade. Ironworkers had once been “bridge carpenters”.  They became a separate craft when structural steel replaced heavy wood timbers as the main structural members in bridges.

The Ironworkers Union practiced a fierce brand of armed business unionism. They commonly dynamited steel buildings that had been erected by non union labor and many of that union’s business agents got their jobs because of their skills with high explosives.

This was out of necessity, because the main specialty subcontractors in structural steelwork, US Steel/American Bridge and Bethlehem Steel, were giant corporations who were very violently anti union.

They had spent millions on private detectives and guns to bust the unions in their steel mills – US Steel had even called in the Army to crush labor activism in their factories – and they weren’t about to ‘cooperate’ with a construction union unless they were forced to!

Most of the Carpenter-Ironworker battles involved the installation of windows and curtain walls, the new metal and glass exterior walls that had recently been invented

This was also a battle between builders and GC’s, who wanted to install windows and architectural metal trim themselves rather than subbing out the work, and the ornamental ironwork, structural steel and metal & glass contractors that wanted to control the installation of these new materials.

The New York Carpenters and Ironworkers also fought over who would install bridges, piers, shipyards and other waterfront facilities.

The Carpenters Union’s Millwright locals also fought a ferocious – and ultimately spectacularly successful – battle with the Machinists Union over machinery installation work.

The Millwright locals waged similar wars with the Asbestos Workers, Boilermakers, Plumbers, Ironworkers, Sheet Metal Workers and Electricians over whose members would install which machines.  

In this case, it was a little more complicated – with builders and GC’s fighting with machinery rigging subcontractors and machine tool manufacturers over who would control the installation of machinery in the many factories that were being built in this rapidly industrializing country, and a battle between the unions over which union would be able to get work for its members with the winners of that battle for market share.

And in New York, there were a lot of machines to fight over.


The city had the nation’s most elaborate electric power plant network, an extensive system of steam generating plants which supplied heat to Manhattan’s hirise commercial buildings, as well as printing plants, furniture factories, breweries, cabinet shops, shipyards, machine shops and garment factories.

All these plants had machines in them, and that was a lot of machinery installation and repair work …definitely a prize worth fighting for.

Within the builder/GC workforce, the Carpenters also fought with the Lathers, Plasterers, Bricklayers and Laborers union over whose members would take on which work assignments.

Also, the Carpenters Union was claiming jurisdiction over the workers who made wood paneling, furniture, doors, windows and other wood products for the industry.

New York woodworking shop carpenters had their own union – the socialist German immigrant-led Amalgamated Wood Workers, who had always worked closely with carpenters unions in the field.

That cooperation was suddenly terminated by the Carpenters Union, who began aggressively raiding AWW shops in New York and other major cities (as well as shops represented by other woodworking unions).

These wars between unions generated a lot of very bad publicity for the unions – and they also hurt construction worker unity against the contractors.

But, they fit right in with labor-management partnership – and labor racketeering – because if it was a union’s job to collaborate with the bosses that its members were employed by, it was the next logical step for those unions to fight other unions whose members worked for rival contractors.

But not every worker agreed with this kind of class partnership with the contractors

This was especially true for the less privileged workers, the majority of tradesmen who did not have steady jobs.

On the other side of the class divide, the clients who owned the buildings and the bankers who paid for them didn’t appreciate the collusion between unions, contractors and gangsters that kept building costs high.

New York City’s extremes of wealth and poverty, millionaires and even billionaires in gilded mansions on the one hand, and hard working impoverished immigrants in slum tenements on the other (with a narrow layer of well paid privileged workers standing precariously between those two extremes) made these class conflicts extremely sharp.

Both the leaders of high finance and the downtrodden low wage workers had their beefs with business unionism as practiced by the construction trades.

On the labor side, some of the most radical anarchist, communist and socialist elements actually left the AFofL, to form a new labor federation, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

The IWW’s industrial union structure and explicit rejection of craft unionism was a reaction to the widespread practice of AFofL building trades unions fighting each other over jurisdiction (which occasionally degenerated into outright scabbing).

New York’s IWW locals were mainly concentrated in the garment industry, the port and the restaurant trades, but their existence pushed the rest of New York labor to the left.

This was seen most dramatically in the garment trade, where there was a wave of strikes sparked by immigrant Jewish and Italian teenage girl seamstresses, which were barely contained by AFofL garment workers unions dominated by an odd cabal of male Socialist Party-affiliated lawyers and Jewish gangsters.

But even the conservative building trades found it harder to push collaboration with the bosses at any price while the underprivileged majority of their membership was ready to fight for higher pay, safer working conditions and employment stability.

Once World War I broke out, it became even harder to keep a lid on worker militancy.

America wasn’t directly involved in the fighting, but NYC’s factories suddenly became very busy making war materiel for England, France and Tsarist Russia. The city’s piers and steamship lines were doing a thriving business loading all that equipment on Europe bound ships.  Meanwhile, Wall Street banks were making money hand over fist lending the Europeans money to pay for it all.

Much of that massive windfall of “war bucks” got reinvested in high end real estate – both commercial structures (in particular office buildings) and luxury residences – sparking a massive building boom.

The good times in the industry – and all the money that was being expended – gave a lot of construction related folks a lot of ideas.

Construction workers – especially the lower paid ones – saw an opportunity to make up for years of falling real wages. Some of the more radical minded thought the time was ripe for other demands, like equal distribution of work between tradesmen and a shorter work day and work week (the 8 hour day and the 5 ½ day week were the standard at the time – the Saturday “half day” was a real hardship on Jewish workers, who were forced to work on their sabbath).

Construction union leaders, contractors and gangsters saw an opportunity to get rich at the expense of the clients, the bankers and the workers who didn’t have connections.

The leaders of the Carpenters Union took advantage of all the wartime pier and naval base construction – and the willingness of the Navy Department and the steamship lines to pay any price for labor peace - to finally defeat the Ironworkers on the waterfront.

The Carpenters Union won the pier construction war with the Ironworkers by taking over Ironworkers local 177, that union’s NYC waterfront construction local.

The Carpenters had gotten control of local 177 (now renamed Dockbuilders local 1456) by bribing its leader, small time Irish Canadian gangster Robert Brindell (a onetime soda jerk who’d never actually worked in construction prior to becoming an Ironworkers Union business agent!)

Brindell and other like minded labor racketeers began working with lumber yard owners, general contractors and builders to monopolize the New York construction market, to maximize construction prices and to block out competitors who might undercut them.

Problem was, there were a lot of New York construction workers – and even many business agents – who had different ideas.

New York City construction workers, like the rest of the city’s working class, felt an intense need for pay increases to cope with the galloping wartime inflation (a need felt hardest by the majority of New York tradesmen who only worked part of the year – from April to November).

Also, there were many construction workers who, like many other New York City workers, opposed America’s increasing involvement with World War 1.

Some were against the war because they were socialists, communists or anarchists, and were against all imperialist wars on general principle. Others opposed the conflict because they were immigrants from Germany or Austria-Hungary and didn’t want their adopted country to be at war with their homeland. Still others were anti war because they were Irish or Russian immigrants, and didn’t want the US to be allied with the King of England or the Tsar of Russia.

By 1916, this had triggered a massive strike wave in New York City, with workers from many trades represented by unions from all over the political map – from Interborough Rapid Transit subway conductors and motormen in the AFofL’s conservative Amalgamated Association of Street and Electric Railway Employees, to waiters and restaurant cooks in the anarchist IWW to seamstresses in the AFofL’s right wing socialist-led International Ladies Garment Workers Union - all actively involved in the labor unrest.

The Carpenters Union was also a part of this uncoordinated yet still widespread movement.

Back then, New York City building trades agreements still expired on May Day (a legacy of Peter McGuire’s 8 hour fight in the 1880’s) and on May 1, 1916, every union carpenter in the city went on strike.

A building boom was in progress, and the clients needed their buildings put up ASAP, so the contractors quickly settled, on the Carpenters Union’s terms.

The strike triumphed – even though it was isolated from the other strikes going on in the city at the time and was largely insulated from the rest of the trades in the city as well.

But the contractors and their associations were far from happy about that labor victory because they had to pay their carpenters a big raise.

Brindell and the gangsters were also very unpleased about the outcome of this strike because paying higher wages for carpenters hurt their partners in corruption, the contractors.

The strike’s outcome also upset other construction union leaders who were now forced to fight for wage increases for their members.

This was especially true of the Bricklayers Union, whose leaders had a mutual aid pact with the Carpenters Union, and who had not wanted to fight for pay raises for their members, but now had to.

Brindell, seeking to satisfy all of those forces that had a problem with the carpenters victory, approached the Carpenters Union’s general office to get them to intervene against the union leaders who had led the strike.

The Carpenters Union’s national leaders stepped in, ousted the elected local officers, stripped New York carpenters of their right to vote for their contracts, disbanded all 64 of the offending locals and put Brindell and his supporters in charge of the reorganized NYC District Council of Carpenters.

New York carpenters were forced to give back the raise they’d just won and to join Brindell’s new union, or the general contractors and builders wouldn’t allow them to work.

The ousted officers – especially the ones who were socialists, communists or anarchists – were angered at being stripped of their positions.

But they were equally as uncomfortable with the idea of leading a mass movement of carpenters to fight to keep their union posts (because they might lose control of it to radicalized carpenters, a very likely possibility what with all the labor militancy and struggle in the air in the New York of the spring and summer of 1916) so they rolled over and accepted Brindell’s takeover.

Without any organized leadership, the carpenters were unable to resist and had to submit to Brindell and the gangsters.




















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

GREGORYABUTLER

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The High Cost Of Low Wages
« Reply #1 on: April 12, 2011, 10:17:01 AM »
CHAPTER  3 – “..responsible labor leaders…” (1916 – 1930)


With a labor racketeer in charge of the largest construction union in the city the triumph of business unionism in the New York City building trades was complete.

Brindell and his Irish gangster backers took advantage of their control over the Carpenters Union to organize a construction cartel.

Brindell’s cartel was backed by the builders and GC’s , their employers associations, the owners of lumber yards, the officers of the Teamsters lumber wagon driver locals and the leadership of the Bricklayers Union.

Brindell and his associates acted as arbiters and assigned out jobs to contractors that paid bribes to him and his partners.

Contractors who didn’t go along with the deal and who tried to underbid the firms that he’d selected found themselves facing material delivery boycotts from teamster lumber wagon drivers – and also found themselves with labor problems with the Carpenters Union.

Contractors who did go along with the deal were immune from labor problems (even if they actually abused their workers), had no problems with deliveries and were able to pass along the cost of the bribes to their clients.

The real estate developers and building owners – and the banks who financed them – really hated this setup, because it sharply cut into their profits.

But, for the moment, there was nothing they could do. With a war on, and with rampant wartime inflation, they tried their best to pass the increased costs along to the customers.

The other trades – starting with the Bricklayers and the Laborers - followed the Carpenters and Teamsters into the abyss of labor racketeering.

Solidarity with other groups of workers was incompatible with labor racketeering, of course, so support for other groups of workers in struggle went out the window.

This was very significant, because there were great class battles being fought during America’s brief direct combat involvement in World War I.

The normally conservative Metal Trades Council, led by the most right wing union in the AFofL, the Machinists Union, were compelled by their radicalized members to fight the War Department, Navy Department and munitions manufacturers for the right to unionize war plants, naval shipyards and the shops that made that new technological wonder called the airplane.

Some of those plants were right here in New York City, including the huge 20,000 worker Brooklyn Navy Yard, the largest factory in the nation and one of the biggest manufacturing facilities in the world at the time.

The Carpenters were part of the Metal Trades Council (because of their jurisdiction over ship fixture installation on vessels being built at the Navy Yard) but they did little to support this fight.

Carpenters District Councils in other areas – most notably Boston – were a big part of the struggle, even shutting down Navy Department jobsites to back up the rest of the Metal Trades Council unions.

But, of course, the leaders of the Carpenters Union up there weren’t getting bribes worth 20% of the price of the contract to guarantee labor peace for the duration of the job, like Brindell’s crew were down here!

Needless to say, the New York building trades also opposed the anti war movement, even though many construction workers here were against America entering the war.

Instead, the building trades wrapped themselves up in wartime patriotism in public, while continuing the labor racketeering and enforced “labor peace” on the sites.

Once America and its allies won the war in 1918, and all the profits from munitions sales and shipping dried up, the developers and their bankers found it a whole lot less tolerable to be paying substantial bribes to Brindell and his cronies for labor peace.

In other major cities with strong building trades councils – most notably Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles - the clients and their bankers had begun leaning on their contractors to break the unions and go open shop.

This was deeply unpopular among the contractors.

They liked the labor stability of having conservative pro business unions helping them to manage their labor supply (and in the case of some subcontractors, running hiring halls that supplied them with extra labor when they were busy).

And even the contractors that hired “off the bank” [hiring random workers that happened to show up at the jobsite looking for work] found that pretty much the only way to prove that the job applicants in front of them were actually skilled journeymen was to see if they had a union card.

Also, with the unions over two generations old, there were many contractors who had come up through the unions (most of whom were still paid up members) who felt a strong personal loyalty to the union for having gotten them to their elevated stature in life (this would be a persistent problem in client and financier-driven construction union busting drives for the next 70 years).

The clients and their bankers were able to force the contractors to get on board in Chicago for a time – and in Los Angeles and San Francisco for most of the 1920’s.

But they were not able to accomplish that in New York.

The labor-management-racketeer alliance was just too strong and deeply rooted here.

Also, if the contractors didn’t have the conservative union leaders in the position of middlemen, they would have to directly deal with their immigrant tradesmen, many of whom had been radicalized by World War I and the Russian Revolution

This radicalization was especially dramatic among the Jews, Finns, Ukrainians and Russians, many of whom were, at the very least, Bolshevik sympathizers if not outright communists.

There was also widespread pro anarchist sentiment among the Italians, and many of the Irish supported the revolutionary nationalists of the Irish Republican Army which was waging a war of national liberation against Great Britain.

And, among the handful of African American workers in the trades (carpenters in Harlem and housewrecker exterior demolition workers citywide – they were jim crowed out of the rest of the industry) there was widespread support of Marcus Garvey’s radical Back To Africa movement.

Better to deal with conservative business agents than to oust them and have revolutionary-led unions rise in their place!

The developers and the bankers were able to persuade the New York County District Attorney to indict Robert Brindell – a difficult case to make since, at that time, racketeering wasn’t even illegal.

Brindell got convicted of conspiracy ended up doing hard time – the first American labor leader ever jailed for collaborating with organized crime - but his co conspirators did not.

The building cartel collapsed – as much because of the post WW I building industry recession as because of the jailing of Brindell – but the racketeers still played a big role in regulating competition in the construction industry.

The Irish racketeers now faced some competition for their role as the industry’s power brokers.

Their adversaries were Jewish gangsters, who were rising to prominence in the New York underworld due to their role in the illegal alcohol rackets (the feds had outlawed liquor in 1918, which created a massive booze racket almost overnight) and their labor racketeering in the garment and restaurant industries (where they played a similar market regulating role to that played by the Irish gangsters in construction).

As for the unions , they continued on the same gangster unionist path, still the junior partners to the contractors and the racketeers, still strictly enforcing their contracts with upstart contractors trying to break into the industry and letting the dominant contractors (especially the ones with underworld ties) get away with contract violations pretty much at will.

There was a left opposition in some of the trades – most notably in the Carpenters, Painters and Electricians unions, and based among communist oriented Jewish (and to a much lesser extent, Finnish) workers in those crafts. There was one Carpenters local – local 376 in Brooklyn – that was actually run by card carrying communist!

That guy, one Morris Rosen, was bold enough to run for general president of the Carpenters Union in 1924.

He did well enough in the election that incumbent Big Bill Hutcheson actually had to steal the election to stay in power.

Upon Big Bill’s reelection, he had carpenters stripped of their right to vote for general president (a right we have still not gotten back to date).

This touched off a national anti communist purge in the Carpenters Union, with communist union officials – and even entire local unions – expelled from the union.

In Brooklyn, ever single member of local 376 was expelled from the union and was forced to take a loyalty oath to rejoin – their local was disbanded and its territory given to 4 nearby locals. Rosen was not allowed to rejoin the union.

Many other communist and communist sympathizer carpenters were expelled – particularly in the cabinetmaker locals, and in locals with a heavily Jewish or Finnish membership.

This crippled the far left in the Carpenters Union.

Since the Carpenters were the biggest and strongest construction union, that purge weakened the communists throughout the New York City building trades, and helped the gangster unionists to consolidate their rule.

There was a great labor upsurge that broke out in New York City in 1926 – much of it led by pro communist workers.

A coalition of communist and Irish republican IRT motormen seized control of the IRT company union and called a system wide strike across the Bronx, Manhattan and Brooklyn.

The IRT subway strike was in solidarity with a national railroad maintenance shop workers strike which was also communist led – and which tied up all the freight and passenger railroad lines connecting the city with Upstate New York and New Jersey.

Jewish and Sicilian teenage girl sewing machine operators – led by communist women who were only a couple years older - forced the Jewish gangsters and right wing Social Zionists who ran the city’s garment workers unions to call area wide strikes in the factories of Manhattan’s Garment District and Fur Market.

The seamstresses’ biggest demand was “equal distribution of work”, they wanted everybody to get a chance to work during the busy season, instead of some women working 60 hour weeks while others stood out on 7th Avenue looking for a job.

There were numerous other smaller strikes inspired by these two big walkouts, but the building trades, by the mid 1920’s the largest and strongest unions in the city, stayed aloof from these strikes and didn’t even walk out over their own grievances.

On the surface, it seemed like the building trades didn’t need to strike.

After all, there was a huge building boom on, most everybody was working steady during the April to November building season, and the steady employees – or “company men” as they were coming to be known – worked every day during the season and even most days during the off season.

So, it could be claimed that the union alliance with the wiseguys and the contractors had succeeded, even if the price of that success was abandoning solidarity with their brothers and sisters from other trades.

And even solidarity between construction trades was hard to come by.

As construction technology continued to advance – and as the city’s office towers got more and more technologically advanced, and the IRT and BMT continued to expand their subway lines – unions kept fighting over which group of workers (and, more importantly, which group of contractors) would perform which tasks.

The Carpenters and Laborers fought each other, and the independent Tunnel Workers Union that represented the “sandhogs” (tunnel workers), over who would build the IRT and BMT subway tunnels

The Carpenters continued to fight the Ironworkers Union and the Sheet Metal Workers Union to keep as many of the new types of metal trim that were being developed in the Carpenters jurisdiction (and to have those trim pieces put in by carpenters employed by GC’s or builders instead of ironworkers or sheet metal workers employed by architectural metal work subcontractors)

And while numerous unions fought over the core construction workforce, the building maintenance workers on the periphery of the industry were left unorganized, because organizing them would involve struggle, and none of the unions was willing to fight the bosses on those workers behalf.

But, every construction boom eventually comes to an end, and the boom of the mid 1920’s soon started trailing off into a recession. The developers had built more than the market could absorb, and they tapered off in building new structures until they could profitably rent what they had already put up.

By 1929, the New York construction industry was in a full blown depression – soon to be followed by the rest of the economy after the stock market crashed.










CHAPTER 4 – “..beneath the manly dignity of an American tradesman…”  (1930 – 1941)


When the 1930 building season began, the industry was almost dead – there was only two major hirise job going in the city (the Empire State Building on W 34th St and the Chrysler Building up on E 42nd) and hundreds of workers spent their days hanging out in front of those sites hoping that they could get a job if somebody was laid off (or injured or killed – the jobs were run quick and dirty and that’s a recipe for high jobsite mortality rates).

The only bright spot on the horizon was the federal government’s passage of the Davis Bacon Act, which required government agencies to pay “prevailing wages” for construction work – and in a heavily unionized city like New York, that was usually set at union scale.

This was a major victory, since there was no minimum wage at the time, without prevailing wages contractors could pay as little as they could get away with.

Unemployment was appallingly high among New York construction workers, with a majority of the city’s tradesmen out of work.

And being jobless was kind of a big deal in those days. There was no unemployment insurance or food stamps and “outdoor relief” (the City’s welfare program) did not give benefits to working age adult men.

In short, it was an economic disaster for construction workers.

And the building trades union leaders did not have a serious answer.

The official position of all of the construction unions was that they were against unemployment insurance, welfare, social security pensions or any kind of cash benefits for unemployed people.

The official reason the union leaders cited was their belief that it was “unmanly” for an American working man to take any kind of cash benefits if he couldn’t get a job.

Yes, they actually said that.

Not all building trades business agents subscribed to that patently ridiculous world view.

In particular, the communist BA’s who had managed to avoid being expelled in the 1920’s (and the former BA’s who had not) openly advocated for public aid for the jobless and workers who were too old or disabled to work anymore.

Considering the fact that the absolute majority of construction workers were totally jobless, and many of those with jobs were working short weeks and/or being paid less than union scale, this was an incredibly popular position among the many out of work tradesmen (who felt there was nothing “unmanly” about having to get money – by any means necessary - to pay the rent and buy groceries).

Many New York City construction workers were forced into the depths of poverty by the Great Depression. Some ended up homeless and were force to live with their families in the “Hoovervilles” - shantytowns that sprang up in city parks and vacant lots, while others bounced from apartment to apartment, skipping out when it was time to pay the first month’s rent to avoid eviction.

The leaders of the building trades unions really didn’t have an answer for this.

Their line always had been if a construction worker was jobless, it was because he was a bad worker, and it was his own fault.

But how could they still say that now – with close to 90% of construction workers unemployed?

They couldn’t all be bad workers… or “unmanly”.

The best the American Federation of Labor could do was to call for more road and public building construction by the government – and for the legalization of booze!

Yes, the AFofL’s actual official position was that the repeal of prohibition and the legalization of liquor would help restore the economy!

Since many AFofL unions (including the building trades) had ties to gangsters in the illegal liquor business, it’s not surprising that the unions would take a position that would help their organized crime allies “go legit” and become legal businessmen!

It was hard times – in a manner of speaking – for some of the bosses, and even some of the gangsters too.

A lot of the smaller and more marginal subcontractors – and even some of the minor General Contractors and builders – went out of business because of the Depression.

On the other hand, there were firms that actually started up during these years, because of the steep fall in building materials prices and the even sharper drop in labor costs.

Officially, every construction union had a wage freeze.

Unofficially, the lucky handful of union tradesmen who still had jobs had seen their wages sharply cut by the bosses, and didn’t dare complain, lest they end up out on the street jobless!

This greatly helped the bottom lines of the contractors who still were in business.

As for the racketeers – they were far from the poorhouse (even with the decline in illegal gambling proceeds and illicit alcohol sales) but the chronic slowing down of construction activity did cut into their income from tribute from contractors who were under their protection.

The labor racketeers also faced the threat of an increasingly radicalized workforce, pushed to the left by the bony hand of hunger.

The Communist International in Moscow called for a worldwide day of protests against unemployment on March 6th 1930.

Like millions of other workers across the world, New York City’s working class answered the Comintern’s call.

The hundred thousand workers who gathered in Union Square that day were met with police nightsticks and teargas, and were not allowed to march on City Hall, but they still got their point across.

Other than the Salvation Army and their free soup and bread for the poor, the communists were just about the only force in American society that was doing anything about unemployment.

The communists (and their front groups – the Trade Union Unity League and the Unemployed Councils) used a range of tactics from protests at welfare offices to organizing large mobs of unemployed people to stop evictions and forcibly put the tenants back in their apartments.

Unemployed construction workers had a special role in those protests – plumbers would illegally restore the gas service, electricians would bypass the meter and put the lights back on and carpenters would remove the city’s marshal’s padlock and change the locks back on the apartment doors.

This growing communist influence on construction workers made it politically impossible for building trades leaders to continue their opposition to relief for unemployed workers. Some local union business agents even openly endorsed the communists’ call for unemployment insurance benefits.

The unions themselves as institutions were greatly weakened by the Depression, because of the simple fact that long term unemployed workers simply stopped paying their union dues.

This collapse in construction worker standard of living also crippled some building trades backed business ventures – like the Amalgamated Bank of New York and the Amalgamated Life Insurance Co, (both of which were owned by the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union, but many of their clients were construction workers or building trades unions) and the Union Labor Life Insurance Company (owned by the AFofL as a whole).

With workers barely having enough money to eat, it goes without saying that there was nothing left over for savings!

The Democratic Party took full political advantage of the human misery caused by the economic collapse  and New York State Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt, was able to win the 1932 presidential elections in a landslide, with his party winning both houses of congress as well.

The Roosevelt administration promised prosperity.

What they delivered (in the “first 100 days” – the first three months of the Roosevelt Administration, during which he pledged to solve the great crisis besetting the nation) was the repeal of Prohibition – and the National Industrial Recovery Act.

The NIRA (commonly known as the “Blue Eagle” because of its official logo – which was soon posted in front of millions of American businesses) basically involved temporary repeal of the antitrust laws.

The NIRA was administered by General Hugh Johnson, a senior US Army commander and open admirer of Benito Mussolini’s Corporate State fascist dictatorship in Italy.

General Johnson selected employers associations from various branches of the economy, and put them in charge of regulating their industries.

These NIRA-selected associations would be allowed to fix prices, divide up markets among their member firms, drive weaker companies out of business and prevent competition from upstarts who could provide better goods or services for a lower price.

It was a cartel system – a legalized version of what Robert Brindell had set up in the New York construction industry during WW I!

Section 7(a) of the NIRA required that these employers associations consult with labor unions if they existed.

This was intended to allow corporations that had company unions (like US Steel or the IRT) to include them as junior partners in these cartels.

That’s not how the AFofL presented Section 7(a) to their members, nor was it how the great mass of American workers interpreted it.

The American Federation of Labor presented this company unionist law as if it was a presidential seal of approval on labor unions – a “signal from the White House” saying it was OK to join a union.

And – much to the AFofL leadership’s horror - millions of workers, enraged by three years of falling wages and ready to do anything to fight back, took the message dead seriously and flocked into the American Federation of Labor.

The communists also used this as an opportunity to get the “red unions” affiliated with their Trade Union Unity League back into the labor mainstream.

Many of these unions were in New York City – particularly in the Garment District, on the waterfront, in the restaurant trades and in the taxi industry. The arch conservative leaders of the Machinists and the Jewish gangsters who ran the garment unions and the Hotel & Restaurant Employees Union found themselves having to issue local charters to former “red unions”, much to their distress.

In the building trades, there had never been any significant “red union” activity – the communists there had been within the existing craft unions.

But, there was a revival of communist activity within those unions, in particular Painters District Council # 9, focused around pressuring the unions into demanding unemployment relief from the government.

The unemployment relief issue was life or death for the majority of construction workers who were unemployed and it was grotesque that the unions still held to the bizarre and antiquated view that it was “unmanly” for jobless workers to get public aid!

Meanwhile, there was a backlash from the AFofL leadership against all of these new radicalized members flooding into their unions – especially because they were trying to get the federation to actually fight for workers rights.

A number of the metal trades unions actually expelled the newly organized workers – in particular the ones who had originally been organized by the communist TUUL

The New York Machinists were particularly aggressive about expelling the newly affiliated “red unions”, kicking out many large newly chartered communist led local unions that had signed up thousands of electrical factory workers, machinists, taxi drivers, subway and bus workers.

Many New York building trades unions set up special auxiliary divisions of their unions to separate these new groups of workers from their existing membership, to contain the radicalism and keep it from spreading among the other workers.

The Carpenters set up a whole separate New York Industrial Council for all of the furniture factory and fireproof door shop workers coming into the union. These workers had “auxiliary member” status, they had to pay dues, but had no political rights in the Carpenters Union and were ineligible for union death benefits.

The Electricians Union did the same thing. They set up several auxiliary divisions within local 3 for all of the lamp factory, fixture shop, streetlight and electrical wholesaler workers who were flooding into the union. The “B” electrical workers soon outnumbered electricians in what was now known as the “A” division – but only the electricians had voting rights!

The Steamfitters also set up a B division for heating and refrigeration repairmen - as did the Operating Engineers, with B, C, D and E divisions for surveyors, scrap yard crane operators, city road paving workers and heavy equipment mechanics and the Ironworkers, who set up a whole separate local, local 455, for fabrication shop workers.

The Elevator Constructors, an elitist craft even by building trades standards, flat out refused to organize elevator repairmen who tried to join their union (they were considered to be lower class compared to the guys who installed new elevators)!

Those elevator repairmen approached the upstart communist-led United Electrical Workers union (which was composed of “red unions” in the metal trades that had been kicked out of the Machinists Union), which was more than happy to give them a local union of their own.

Workers in the building maintenance sector were also demanding unionization.

For years, the Operating Engineers, Stationary Firemen and the other crafts had left the majority of unskilled building service workers non union

Now, those office cleaning ladies, janitors, porters, elevator operators, doormen and handymen clamored into the labor movement, with porters and elevator operators in the hirise factory buildings in the Garment District taking the lead.

Many of those industrial building service workers were communists or communist sympathizers.

All of them had been radicalized by the struggles of unionized garment workers that went on in the buildings they maintained.

The Building Service Employees International Union, a small and weak Chicago based union dominated by Al Capone’s “Outfit” was finally forced to actually do something for these workers.

The BSEIU had no choice but to organize those workers, but they had to keep them divided.

So, the BSEIU business agents set up several different local 32’s – local 32 for the workers in the office buildings and factories of Manhattan, 32A for doormen, supers and porters in residential buildings in Manhattan, 32E for building workers in the Bronx and 32J for workers in Brooklyn and Queens.

The Jewish gangsters who ran the Hotel & Restaurant Employees Union were forced to lead major strikes in the cafeterias in the Garment District and in the city’s major Midtown Manhattan hotels, and then were forced to demand the bosses give major raises to their new members.

The HREU business agents were able to divide these newly organized workers – by handing over the stationary engineers, stationary firemen, electricians, carpenters and painters to the building trades unions, while only keeping the kitchen workers, housekeepers, bellmen and other unskilled workers in HREU local 6.

And, of course, there was always time for yet another jurisdictional war!

The City of New York was building the Independent Subway line (IND) to compete with the bankrupt privately owned IRT and BMT lines – and the IND job was the biggest construction project in the city.

The Laborers Union, having forced the sandhogs’ independent Tunnel Workers Union to affiliate, and with newly chartered local 731 for heavy construction and excavation workers, now had jurisdiction over most of the work.

But, the Carpenters Union’s Dockbuilders local 1456 also tried to claim as much of the subway work as possible and the Carpenters chartered Timbermens local 1536, an excavation and scaffold carpenters local which also tried to claim tunnel work.

The Timbermens local also clashed with Ornamental Ironworkers local 580 over architectural metal work and metal storefront work, and the regular Carpenter locals continued to clash with 580 over window installation work.

But, the largest group of construction workers in the city, the miserably underpaid workers on the federal relief projects, were largely ignored by the building trades, even though many of them were former building trades union members.

The communists’ Unemployed Councils were the only labor group that actually fought for the relief workers. Unlike the construction unions, who were afraid to call strikes against federal agencies, the communists weren’t afraid to call wildcat work stoppages or to lead militant protests (some of which verged on riots).

Meanwhile, the labor upsurge had become an outright rebellion.

In July 1934, three separate citywide general strikes broke out across the country more or less at the same time. In Minneapolis, teamsters led by Trotskyists [renegade communists who followed the teachings of Bolshevik revolution leader and exiled Soviet dissident Leon Trotsky] shut down the city, in Toledo socialist led auto parts workers led what amounted to a citywide insurrection and in San Francisco communist led longshoremen and sailors shut down the entire city and paralyzed the entire West Coast sea freight industry from Seattle to San Diego.

By 1935, the explosion of worker unrest had gotten out of hand; it was difficult for the labor leaders and the Democratic Party to keep a lid on the workers anymore.

It didn’t help that the NIRA had been ruled unconstitutional.

A kosher chicken processor in New York City filed a federal lawsuit against the NIRA sanctioned cartel in his industry. The federal courts decided to use what came to be known as the “sick chicken case” as the test case for the constitutionality of the law.

The Blue Eagle failed that constitutionality test and was nullified by the Supreme Court.

The Roosevelt Administration scrambled and wrote a new law preserving the labor provisions of the NIRA.

It was written by Senator Robert Wagner (D-NY) and was known as the National Labor Relations Act.

And it had a Section 7 too – it’s clause on union recognition was deliberately given the same number as the NIRA’s labor clause, for propaganda reasons.

Senator Wagner’s bill was designed to bring labor struggles under control through an elaborate bureaucratic net tightly regulating labor relations.

The NLRA was administered by a 3 member national board in Washington, DC appointed by the President and assisted by a corps of federal labor mediators and a local network of regional directors, administrative law judges and labor lawyers.

The government would be the final arbiter on which union would represent which particular group of workers, on what unions were permitted and forbidden to bargain for, and on what fair and unfair labor practices were.

The NLRA system looked an awful lot like the labor courts of the European fascist dictatorships of the day.

The AFofL thought the law was wonderful. They’d always wanted to have labor relations determined by the government (and government assistance when they had to break strikes on behalf of bosses) and now they would.

A lot of other folks disagreed with them. Pro labor groups ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union to the Communist Party, USA opposed the NLRA, because its network of labor tribunals and mediators would be more likely to be used to attack workers rather than defend them.

The Republicans and the employers associations opposed NLRA for their own reasons; they were against any legal status for unions at all.

Lawsuits were immediately filed, and the NLRA was delayed from going into effect until the Supreme Court was able to speak on its constitutionality.

The AFofL faced a crisis of its own; many of the manufacturing, mining and waterfront worker unions had seceded into a body known as the Committee for Industrial Organization.

In New York, all four of the unions in the garment district pulled out of the AFofL and joined the CIO.

They had over 300,000 members in the city at that time – without them, the AFofL’s New York City Central Labor Council was suddenly a whole lot less central to the political and economic life of the city.

Many of the newer and more vibrant unions followed the garment unions into the new labor body’s New York City Industrial Union Council.

The building trades stayed in the AFofL, of course, and were suddenly a whole lot more important in the now smaller federation.

The second class factory worker “B divisions” of the construction unions – which had exploded into existence during the great labor upsurge of 1933 - now had some competition from the new unions.

The United Electrical Workers went head to head with a number of AFofL unions (Electricians, Elevator Constructors, Steamfitters, Boilermakers and Ironworkers from the building trades and the Machinists from the metal trades) in the electrical and metal products factories in Brooklyn and Queens.

UE had the advantage that it could offer workers full voting membership while the AFofL unions treated their factory workers as non voting “auxiliaries” – and, in the case of factories with large numbers of women workers, didn’t even let them join the union in any capacity.

The CIO’s United Furniture Workers challenged the Carpenters Union’s second class, all “auxiliary” member Industrial Council, and the regular cabinetmaker locals of the District Council of Carpenters, in the many woodworking shops and furniture plants in Harlem, Queens and the Bronx.

Like UE in the metal trades, the UFW offered full voting membership to all factory workers, including women, as opposed to the second class status for factory workers in the Carpenters Union, and the third class status for women factory workers, who had to pay dues but were not allowed to be full members or to receive benefits!

The bosses, faced with the prospect of having to deal with a union, preferred the AFofL. The AFofL was conservative, and the no nonsense business unionists (and their gangster business associates) would follow orders and keep the workers in line, as opposed to the less predictable and far more militant CIO unions.

As for construction, it was still anything goes on the commercial and Public Works Administration jobs, with those tradesmen lucky enough to be working often having to work for less than  union scale to keep a job.

The Laborers finally decisively defeated the Carpenters raid on the building of the IND subway – with local 731 laborers and Tunnel Workers Union local 147 sandhogs taking most of the tunnel work from the local 1536 timbermen and local 1456 dockbuilders.

The Laborers were also able to annex the independent Pavers and Rammermen’s Union, putting almost all municipal road paving in the city under their union.

Timbermens local 1536 did manage to get a piece of sewer excavation work – but even there, they had to share the work with Laborers local 731 and the Plumbers.

As for the relief workers on the Works Progress Administration jobs (which, by far, were the biggest jobs in the city – including the Bronx River Parkway, the Grand Central Parkway and the Triborough Bridge) only the communist led Unemployed Councils bothered to fight for those workers, with wildcat strikes on the sites and welfare office protests.

The building trades did occasionally lobby for the handful of WPA workers who were still paid up union members to work for fewer days per month than the non union majority of WPA workers, but still get the same welfare benefits.

Needless to say, this did nothing for the majority of workers on those jobs – including the ex union members who had long ago stopped paying dues.

The CIO’s New York City Industrial Union Council set the pace for labor struggles in the city in 1936 – with the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and the Fur and Leather Workers calling major strikes in the Garment District.

The communist led Fur and Leather Workers had sparked the strike action, and communists in the ILGWU forced the Socialist Party-affiliated Jewish gangsters who ran that organization to follow the furriers lead.

Those unions won massive victories, forcing the manufacturers and sewing contractors to provide a 7 hour straight time day and a 5 day work week. Saturday now became an official day off, a massive victory for those mostly Jewish workers who no longer had to work on their sabbath, and the birth of the modern weekend, which was a victory for the entire working class.

The impact of this dramatic workweek reduction was enormous, the garment industry was the city’s largest at the time, employing over 300,000 workers.

Once the garment workers won the 7 hour day and the weekend, everybody else wanted it.

Building Service Employees International Union local 32’s cleaners and elevator operators in the garment factory buildings were electrified by the garment workers’ 7 hour day 5 day week victory.

They forced BSEIU local 32’s leaders to demand – and get – the 7 hour day and the 5 day week from the building owners.

The officers of the other local 32’s (32A, 32B, 32E and 32J) were also forced by their members to make similar demands from commercial and residential building owners, making the 7 hour day and the 5 day week with Saturday and Sunday off the industry standard.

And once the janitors had the 7 hour day and the weekend, the skilled trades building service workers – stationary engineers and stationary firemen – they worked side by side with wanted it too.

This forced the Operating Engineers union and the Firemen & Oilers union to demand that bosses give their members the same reduced workweek that they’d given to BSEIU janitors.

And once the janitors, and the stationary engineers and the stationary firemen had won that victory, the building trades were forced to demand a 7 hour straight time day and a 5 day workweek, with overtime rates paid for all off hours, weekend and holiday work, in their 1936 agreements.

The Building Contractors Association and all of the subcontractor associations in the various trades were forced to make this massive concession.

The New York Electrical Contractors Association even had to go so far as to hand over almost complete control of hiring to a union run body – the Joint Industry Board of the Electrical Industry.

The Joint Board was technically jointly run by Electricians local 3 and NYECA – but its day to day operations were managed by a union official.

The electrical contractors could still hire their foremen and a small core group of “basic men” – with a cap at 10% of the workforce being selected by the contractors.

But everybody else – a minimum of 90% of the electricians working at each firm – were dispatched to work by the Joint Board.

The New York District Council of Carpenters, Painters District Council # 9 and two of the Laborers Union’s district councils (Mason Tenders and Concrete Workers) won control of the hiring 50% of the workforce of their contractors.

The Carpenters, Painters and Laborers contracts required that the shop steward and a minimum of half the crew with each company at each jobsite be “local men” dispatched by the union, with the foreman and a maximum of half the crew being “company men” selected by the boss.

The only holdout was the General Contractors Association, which represented the contractors on government funded heavy, highway and railroad construction jobs.

The GCA gave in on the 5 day week, and the 50% union dispatched workforce rule, but they refused to give up the 8 hour day – nor would they pay overtime rates for that last hour.

The GCA’s intransigence was helped by the fact that much of the public sector heavy and highway construction was being done by WPA relief workers working for their welfare checks – and those guys had to work an 8 hour day.

With President Roosevelt up for reelection in 1936, and New York’s electoral votes being vital in that effort, the New York WPA had been rapidly expanded, not only the construction projects but also lots of make work jobs for white collar workers as well, the better to get the votes of unemployed people.

This expansion greatly increased the social weight of the WPA program – and its low labor standards pulled down those in private industry.

In any case, the winning of the 7 hour day and the 5 day week by most construction workers was the first major reduction in the New York construction workday since the 8 hour day victory back in 1890 and now New York construction workers had the shortest building trades workday in America.

Unfortunately, after the 1936 elections, the tide turned – against the militant CIO workers and their communist leaders.

Many workers felt that Roosevelt’s reelection was a massive victory.

Most of the leadership of the American working class felt the same, from the officers of the AFofL unions, to their counterparts running the CIO, to the leaders of the Socialist Party, to the Communist Party’s leadership.

In fact, the communists and socialists – along with the communist-controlled Fur and Leather Workers Union and the socialist and gangster controlled ILGWU had buried 20 years of often violent political opposition to set up a front group to get left wing workers to vote for Roosevelt – the American Labor Party.

The ALP was created for the sole reason of giving Roosevelt a “working class” ballot line, so socialist and communist Jewish workers and anarchist Italian workers could vote for a Democrat without having to actually vote for him as a Democrat.

In fact, it was conventional wisdom among almost all working class organizations (with the notable exception of the anarchists and the trotskyists) that Roosevelt’s triumph was also a huge win for the US working class.

Problem was, that was not the case.

As soon as Roosevelt was reelected, there were massive layoffs of WPA relief workers, especially in heavily Democratic communities like New York City.

Once those workers’ ballots had been purchased, they were no longer needed, and the government was not going to keep feeding their families.

The feds also cut the budget for public works programs – like the building of public housing projects in East Harlem and the Lower East Side, and the construction of the city run IND subway lines – where a high proportion of the building tradesmen who were actually working were employed.

This slap in the face caused an explosion of militancy among American workers – most dramatically expressed by the sit down strike by members of the United Auto Workers at General Motors’ Fisher Body complex in Flint, Michigan.

Sit down strikes were a tactic pioneered by communist led miners in Poland and Yugoslavia and anarchist Spanish miners back in 1934. Previously, it’s only use in the US had been by members of the United Rubber Workers at Goodyear’s Toledo, Ohio tire factory in 1934.

Sit down strikes were flat out illegal in every country in the world, including the US.

But, typically, the sheer audacity of workers seizing the bosses’ investment property and holding it hostage until the boss agrees to negotiate pretty much assured that there was no way that the government could even dare to think of using troops or cops on the CIO strikers.

That’s exactly what happened at Fisher Body.  GM was forced to sign a contract with the UAW. US Steel, terrified of even the possibility of sit down strikes at their factories, signed a contract with the Steel Workers Organizing Committee without the workers there even having to spend one minute on the picket line.

The Flint Sit Down Strike inspired literally hundreds of similar illegal workplace occupations across the country – mostly initiated by CIO unions.

Including right here in New York City, where Transport Workers Union members carried out a sit down strike at the BMT’s Kent Av Power House in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in February, 1937.

Almost immediately, the BMT agreed to break off their 42 year long relationship with their company union (founded after the subway line used troops, police and private detectives to crush the Knights of Labor back in 1895) and negotiate with the TWU.

Shortly thereafter, the IRT also terminated its relationship with its company union (founded after they broke a strike by the AFofL’s Amalgamated Street and Electric Railway Employees Union back in 1919) and bargained with the TWU.

Ominously, the city’s supposedly “pro labor” New Deal Republican mayor, Fiorello La Guardia, flat out refused to sign a TWU contract for the IND subway workers, who also wanted to join the union.

La Guardia also broke a strike by city sanitationmen, who wanted to join District Council 37, State, County and Municipal Employees, a CIO union closely allied to the TWU and the communists.

They were forced to join a Department of Sanitation company union, the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association.

La Guardia’s attacks on the IND workers and the sanitationmen was part of his administration’s broader offensive against the city’s municipal workers. The city flatly refused to deal with District Council 37, the TWU or any other independent, non city-dominated public employees unions.

This was a sign of attacks to come.

It didn’t help matters that the sudden cutoff of federal relief funds and public works spending caused a recession even deeper than the Crash of 1929, rendering several million workers jobless.

By Memorial Day 1937, when Roosevelt made his “plague on both your houses” speech condemning striking CIO steelworkers (while Chicago Police fired live ammo at them – killing 10 steelworkers at a peaceful union picnic) it was clear that the party was over for labor.

Unfortunately, neither the CIO nor the socialists nor the communists realized that!

They continued their uncritical support for Roosevelt and the Democrats (and for local Roosevelt allies like Mayor La Guardia) despite the attacks.

With the Supreme Court finally having approved the NLRA, the feds – and the business community – looked to the AFofL to put the working class back in line, with the aid of an elaborate government bureaucracy.

And the AFofL bosses – and their gangster allies – did not disappoint.

The NLRA system, with its petitions, elections, bureaucratic rules and employer veto rights over worker unionization, was designed to squash workplace militancy and to enlist union officials as junior partners with bosses and the government in keeping production going at all costs.

A big part of that was the explicit requirement in the law that unions help bosses crush workplace activism, especially the most dramatic forms of worker resistance, slowdowns and wildcat strikes.

One of the greatest defeats ever suffered by American labor was the enlistment of American union officials as repressors of workplace militancy.

All of America’s labor federations – National Labor Union, Colored National Labor Union, Knights of Labor, American Federation of Labor, Industrial Workers of the World and Committee for Industrial Organization – had all been based on fighting the boss on the job, with the leaders of that workplace resistance – shop stewards – being the backbone of every labor organization ever built in this country.

The NLRA system broke that tie.

Now the union as an institution was based on a government sanctioned agreement with a boss, that could be ripped up by the boss or the feds or the court system at any time, for many reasons.

The irony is, the submission of American labor to the National Labor Relations Act and to the National Labor Relations Board bureaucracy was presented at the time as some sort of huge “victory” when, as the communists and the ACLU predicted, it turned into a major defeat.

The AFofL unions – particularly the more gangster dominated ones – and the more right  wing and racketeer ridden CIO unions, gained the most members from the NLRB regime, often serving as de facto company unions for bosses who preferred payoffs to business agents to workplace militancy.

This was especially true of the AFofL Teamsters and the CIO United Mine Workers of America.

UMWA President John L. Lewis – who was also the president of the CIO, and the most famous union leader in America – put his daughter, Katheryn Lewis, in charge of District 50, the union’s non coal miner section.

Unlike other UMWA districts, that represented coal miners in a state or a part of a state, District 50 covered the whole of North America, and included anybody with a job, no matter how unrelated to the coal industry that job was.

The younger Lewis hired an army of plug uglies and gunmen to be her “organizers” and they offered bosses the carrot of a compliant pro boss union if they signed with District 50 and the stick of robbery, beatings, arson and murder if they said no.

Katheryn’s goons didn’t hear the word “no” very often.

Unless, of course, they were going up against the AFofL Teamsters, the only union in the labor movement that could outgun, outbomb and outrob UMWA District 50.

The Teamsters had been a dying craft union of horse drawn delivery wagon drivers back in 1934, but, a group of trotskyist coal wagon drivers out in Minneapolis had rebuilt the union through a series of citywide wagon and truck driver strikes, culminating in the general strike of July 1934.

They ended up getting attacked by hitmen from Chicago sent by the Teamsters union’s international leadership, but ended up in a bizarre and unlikely alliance with Al Capone’s hoodlums.

The wiseguys and the radicals rebuilt the Teamsters into the second largest union in the United States (only John L. Lewis’ UMWA had more members) under a devil’s pact where the reds didn’t interfere in the wiseguy-led locals and the hoods stayed out of the trotskyist locals.

Various groups of gangsters had a piece of Teamsters Joint Council # 16, the union’s New York City and Long Island affiliate.

They organized pretty much the same way District 50 did, offering the possibility of a weak pro boss union and the threat of gangster violence if the boss didn’t sign a contract.

Neither union cared whose toes they stepped on – unless they were the toes of stronger and better armed gangsters.

That was the only reason that both District 50 and Joint Council # 16 kept their goons out of the Garment District and the printing industry (where already existing gangster-led unions had a long established presence), and preyed on other factory workers and service sector unions instead.

District 50’s most prominent New York City “organizing drives” definitely fit the gangster union pattern.

The Miners union forced workers at a popular fast food restaurant chain called Chock Full ‘O Nuts to quit the AFofL Hotel & Restaurant Employees and join District 50. The UMWA thugs also forced taxi drivers to quit the CIO Transport Workers Union and come into the miners union. The National Labor Relations Board was perfectly fine with all of this baseball bat unionism, and raised no objections.

Joint Council # 16’s hoodlums similarly forced many workers in sweatshop factories to quit their CIO unions and join the Teamsters, with a similar reaction from the NLRB.

The thugs who ran the construction and lumber yard drivers locals in Teamsters Joint Council # 16, also helped the Carpenters fight the International Woodworkers of America, a communist led lumberjacks and sawmill workers union out in the Pacific Northwest and  British Columbia, Canada that had broken away from the Carpenters Union and affiliated with the CIO.

The Carpenters Union’s general president, William “Big Bill” Hutcheson, ordered every Carpenters local and District Council in America to refuse to install any lumber or finished woodwork with the IWA-CIO union label on it, to force West Coast and Canadian sawmills to make their workers rejoin the Carpenters Union.

Local 282, 522 and 1205 teamster drivers and lumberyard workers were ordered by their local officers to go along with this ban, to only deliver Carpenters Union made lumber and woodwork to jobsites in the city and to refuse to load any wood with the CIO Woodworkers union label on it.

This disgraceful act took an old labor tactic – the secondary boycott or “hot cargo” – and used it as an instrument of unionbusting.

It worked – with the full cooperation of the US Department of Labor, the NLRB and the Canadian government, many of those sawmill workers were forced back into a union that denied them the right to vote and treated them like second class workers and, in the case of the Asian workers in the British Columbia sawmills, blatantly racially discriminated against them.

The underworld was going through a massive transition of its own at the time.

The Jewish gangsters – who, enriched by Prohibition-era bootlegging, had displaced the Irish gangsters as rulers of organized crime – were themselves being displaced by a group of Italian American crime syndicates known as cosa nostra (Italian for “this thing of ours”).

The legalization of booze and the rise of communist led labor militancy in the Garment District had greatly hurt the dominant Jewish criminal gangs in NYC. They no longer had the cash cow of illegal liquor profits, and they no longer could get protection money from sweatshop owners, because they could no longer shield those abusive bosses from resistance by their workers.

Italian American cosa nostra, better organized, more disciplined and a whole hell of a lot more violent then either the Jewish or the Irish gangs, was able to fill the power vacuum.

They didn’t totally displace the Jewish and Irish groups – they just subordinated them to cosa nostra, forcing them to pay “tribute” (protection money) to stay in the business of organized crime.

This was especially true in the labor racketeering world, where the Italians took overall control of the rackets, as well as direct control of some of the key unions, but where Jewish gangsters still had a role to play and Irish racketeers ran important unions too.

In the building trades, cosa nostra’s hooks were deepest in the three district councils of the Laborers Union (Mason Tenders, Concrete Workers and a recently annexed independent road building workers union, the Pavers and Rammermen).

Irish gangsters were the dominant racketeers in the Carpenters Union, and the construction drivers locals of the Teamsters, but, they were subordinated to cosa nostra when it came to major issues.

Jewish racketeers were the main organized crime group in Painters District Council # 9 (where, for the moment, they had to coexist with a communist district council president, Louis Weinstock) however, like the Irish wiseguys, they had to defer to the Italian gangs on major issues.

Racketeers were less dominant in the Electricians and the mechanical unions, but they were still a factor in the economic life of the industry.

While the gangsters reorganized, the building trades leadership fully embraced the NLRA regime of labor management government partnership.

The Fitzgerald Act, passed in the wake of the Supreme Court approval of the NLRA, gave official government sanction to union apprenticeship programs.

These once exclusively union run worker training programs were now to be administered by Joint Apprenticeship Committees, composed of an equal number of delegates from union officials and contractors associations. These JACs would also be eligible for city, state and federal funding – as well as financial contributions from the bosses.

These new government approved employer funded apprenticeship programs also could be used as a barrier to entry to the trades. Most disgracefully, the JACs were used to keep “undesirables” like immigrants and African Americans from being able to get entry level jobs in the skilled building trades

That’s exactly how unions like the Electricians, Steamfitters, Metallic Lathers and Plumbers used their JACs . In those trades, all of which explicitly restricted union membership to White American US citizens, only the sons or nephews of members were allowed to enter these new apprenticeship programs.

By 1939, the Great Depression had finally begun to lift, not because of the New Deal economic programs (most of which had been gutted after the 1936 elections) but because of the arms buildup for the coming second world war.

Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Militarist Japan were on the march, and the defense plants of the US were revving up, to expand America’s military and to provide arms for England, France, Nationalist China and Australia.

In New York, this involved the rapid expansion of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the US Navy-run shipyard that had been building American warships since 1781.

The yard rapidly staffed up, hiring thousands of workers off the street.

For the mechanical trades, this was the first time since the late 1920’s when most of their people had jobs.

The Navy Yard was so desperate for workers that they had to hire outside the ranks of the metal trades unions, including bringing in Black men, and women of all races, who had previously been locked out of metal trades jobs.

The unions weren’t happy about it – especially the Boilermakers, Plumbers and Machinists, unions that took great pride in restricting their membership to White men only – but they couldn’t say no to the Navy Department, so they had to deal with it.

The War Department also expanded their huge Brooklyn Army Terminal complex in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, to prepare for large scale sea shipments of military supplies (and, when America entered the war directly, combat troops) to America’s allies.

Brewster Aviation also greatly expanded its Long Island City, Queens based naval aircraft plant, and the New York City Housing Authority built the Queensbridge Houses, a huge sprawling public housing project, nearby to house all the war plant workers (or at least the White ones – Queensbridge was originally built segregated, with no African Americans allowed to live there).

NYCHA also built the Farragut Houses and the Marcy Houses near the Brooklyn Navy Yard, to house that complex’s vast workforce.

Other heavily industrialized areas of the city, like the Soundview section of the Bronx and East New York and Bushwick in Brooklyn, and waterfront areas like Red Hook, Brooklyn and Chelsea in Manhattan, gained large new public housing projects for the war plant workforce as well.

This was great news for the building trades – especially for carpenters, masons and laborers, the primary trades in apartment house building.

Finally, after a decade and a half of mass joblessness, their trades had large scale job opportunities – on jobs that actually paid union scale.

The contractors were happy too.

These were government jobs, with cost plus contracts and very soft deadlines, so the contractors were guaranteed a very handsome profit, no matter how long it took to put the buildings up, or how badly they were built.

The gangsters were happy about this too – poorly supervised government contracts offered lots of opportunity for fraud, so they prepared themselves for a windfall.

In the broader labor movement, the right wing had basically triumphed, two of the biggest CIO unions, the UMWA (which had originally founded the federation) and the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, came back to the AFofL.

Their return to the AFofL actually made a lot of sense, as both the UMWA and the ILGWU were gangster-ridden unions with right wing leaders.

This greatly weakened the CIO’s New York City Industrial Union Council, because the ILGWU had been one of its biggest affiliates, and made the AFofL’s New York City Central Labor Council the dominant labor umbrella group in the city.

Most of the leaders of AFofL and CIO unions supported the war buildup.

The political leadership of the working class wasn’t nearly as unanimous.

The Socialist Party and the two trotskyist parties – the Socialist Workers Party and the Workers Party - were all against US entry into the war.

The Communists had supported military aid for Britain, France and Nationalist China, echoing the Soviet government’s attempts to form a military alliance with those governments.

But, once the Soviet government signed a non aggression pact with Nazi Germany and then helped the German Army invade and partition Poland, the Communists suddenly flip flopped 180 degrees and came out for US neutrality (much to the great consternation of many Jewish communists, who wanted America to fight Hitler, who was just beginning his genocidal campaign against European Jews)

The nation’s most prominent African American workers leader, socialist A. Philip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, had a different view.

Randolph opposed the war but saw it as a chance to force American industry to integrate or face the March on Washington Movement, a nationwide general strike of African American workers.

His plan was for African Americans to leave their jobs en masse, march on the nation’s capital and refuse to leave Washington DC until the feds forced the defense contractors to integrate their workforces. Randolph was the only American labor leader who saw the huge opportunity the war buildup presented for American workers and was willing to go for broke to take advantage of that opportunity.

Two decades previously, even right wing unions like the Carpenters Union had seen the leverage workers had over war production as a tool to make the bosses concede on critical issues, now, only one small all Black railroad workers union was willing to go there.

This time around, with the exception of Randolph, most labor leaders (even the socialist and communist ones) refused to lead working class resistance as the war mobilization stepped up.

Once Germany conquered Western Europe and began open warfare against ships carrying supplies to England (including American flag ships sailing out of New York harbor – some of which were sunk just a few miles off of Rockaway Point by German submarines) – the war mobilization was cranked up into high gear.

Roosevelt announced a so called “peacetime draft” taking over 2 million men into the armed forces and unleashing the Navy and Coast Guard into what amounted to a secret war against German Navy attack vessels in the Atlantic Ocean.

In New York, the Army installed large caliber long range cannons in bunkers on Rockaway Point, the South Shore of Staten Island and Red Hook, Brooklyn and put anti aircraft guns atop the Marine Parkway Bridge to deal with the possibility of German naval attack.

Except for Randolph and his March on Washington Movement, and it’s local counterpart, pro labor city councilman Reverend Adam Clayton Powell Jr’s “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work” campaign in Harlem, the labor movement was totally silent about opposing the war in any way.

The socialists, communists and trotskyists were still against the war, but their voices were muted too (especially with many Jewish marxists, like many other working class Jews, wanting to fight Hitler’s antisemetic regime and save the endangered Jews of Europe, even if it meant supporting an imperialist war)

The economy was picking up at home very sharply, and the draft was pulling lots of unemployed men into the armed forces, which led many working class people to sup
fraternally,
GREGORY A. BUTLER, LOCAL 157 CARPENTER
for GANGBOX: CONSTRUCTION WORKERS NEWS SERVICE
http://gangboxnews.blogspot.com
"UNION NOW, UNION FOREVER"

GREGORYABUTLER

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The High Cost Of Low Wages
« Reply #2 on: April 12, 2011, 10:18:56 AM »
CHAPTER 5 – “…everything for Victory…” (1941 – 1947)


In December 1941, the whole question of US intervention into the war was settled when the Japan Imperial Navy bombed Pearl Harbor Naval Station in Hawaii.

The more vocal opponents of the war, including the Socialist Workers Party’s New York City-based leadership, were swiftly rounded up by the FBI and detained for the duration of hostilities.

The Congress of Industrial Organizations (they changed the name in 1939) and the Communist Party were the most vocal supporters of the war among the working class, with the labor federation making an unconditional no strike pledge to Corporate America for the duration of the war.

Communist led CIO unions like the TWU and UE were the most enthusiastic about refusing to strike, and the quickest to break wildcat strikes that broke out in shops they represented.

The AFofL also pledged its patriotism and support for the war – but they still reserved the right to strike under certain circumstances.

The labor racketeers also made their voices heard.

Shortly after the start of the war, the S.S. Normandie, a confiscated French ocean liner  which was being refitted by shipyard workers as a Navy troopship, mysteriously caught fire and burned to the waterline while anchored at the West Side piers in Manhattan.

Access to that dock was restricted by the Coast Guard – only military personnel and union waterfront workers could go on that pier.

Since most of the waterfront unions in New York had cosa nostra ties, it was clear who set the fire.

The wiseguys quickly made their needs known.

They wanted cosa nostra boss Charles “Lucky” Luciano freed from prison.

He was, and he promptly went to Europe to help the US Army fight Mussolini.

And they wanted a free hand for cosa nostra racketeers to carry out their criminal activity in and around defense industries in New York for the duration of the war.

They got that too, and the New York underworld quickly got into the black market and ration card counterfeiting rackets.

The ration card system had been set up by the feds at the beginning of the war, to prevent black marketeering (the illegal hoarding  and sale of supplies of popular and scarce goods, usually at inflated prices) .

However, almost as soon as rationing was set up, cosa nostra started illegally selling counterfeit ration cards.

Those rackets operated pretty much unmolested throughout the war – with New York and Detroit gangsters being the main offenders, both in their areas, around the country and even overseas with Army and Navy quartermaster and transport units.

In return, the wiseguys did their best to forcibly maintain labor peace in the part of the labor movement that they controlled.

That would include the New York building trades, of course.

It’s not like they had an effective opposition.

The communists were busy supporting the war, so even in the construction unions they ran (Painters District Council # 9 and that small UE elevator repairmen’s local union) they were not about to let the class struggle and the needs of New York tradesmen get in the way of unconditional support of the war effort, at all costs.

Meanwhile, the war was bringing enormous technological innovations to the industry.

The Army Engineers and the Navy Seabees had to quickly build lots of structures. Unfortunately, very few of their soldiers and sailors had any construction experience.

Part of this problem was dealt with through technical training, and the military got very good at rapidly training unskilled troops in basic building skills.

The military also introduced new building materials and construction methods to enable their troops to put structures up faster and more efficiently.

One of those innovations was something called plasterboard.

Originally invented by the US Gypsum Co back in 1928, plasterboard was a solid gypsum board that could be used in place of conventional hand mixed and troweled plaster.

Plasterboard was quicker, less messy and cheaper than conventional plaster.

That was precisely why the product was blocked from widespread introduction by builders and GC’s who preferred the conventional wet plastering method because it was more expensive and they could charge the client more for wet plastering than they could for hanging plasterboard.

The Navy Seabees discovered plasterboard during the war. Since they were exempt from civilian building codes, they widely introduced it as a way of quickly plastering the interior walls of navy barracks.

The product also got a couple of new names.

Since it was a process that let walls be plastered without water, a dry process, it came to be known as drywall.

And the leading manufacturer of the product, US Gypsum, came out with a trade name – sheetrock.

Both drywall and sheetrock came to be the common names for the product.

This was the greatest technological change in construction since the introduction of reinforced concrete in the late 19th century – and led to a revolution in building techniques.

Struggle-wise, the WW II years were very quiet for the New York building trades – unlike other groups of workers – like Bronx machinists or Detroit auto workers – there were few wildcat strikes.

This was in part because a good chunk of the trades workforce were making lots of money at the Brooklyn Navy Yard (who’s workforce reached 70,000 people in 1944, it’s all time peak labor force).

Another reason was that the wiseguys were making money hand over fist from black marketeering and ration card counterfeiting. The gangsters wished the war would go on forever, and did their best to enforce labor peace in the unions they ran.

As for the communists, the only opposition to cosa nostra rule in the trades (or at least among painters and elevator mechanics, the only crafts where they still had a foothold) they supported the war unconditionally, because the Soviet Union was involved, and the official party line was that little things like workers fighting for better pay and conditions on the job were far less important than helping the USSR’s war effort.

A number of communist led unions in New York – UE, the TWU and communist led Machinists Union locals in the Bronx – openly helped bosses break wildcat strikes and helped the government identify strike leaders so they could be drafted into the Army!

This shameless betrayal of working class solidarity was all done in the name of “Anti Fascism” and “everything for victory”.

As the war wound down and the German and Japanese armed forces limped to defeat and collapse, the Navy Yard and the other defense plants began to lay off workers and a steady trickle of returning servicemen began coming home.

That trickle of returning veterans and laid off defense workers turned into a flood with the surrender of Japan in September 1945.

Cosa nostra’s black market and ration card counterfeiting rackets collapsed overnight when President Harry S Truman repealed rationing 3 days after the end of the war.

The Brooklyn Navy Yard layoffs were massive; 50,000 workers lost their jobs in 1945, as the yard staffed down to its peacetime level 20,000 person workforce.

Almost all of the yard’s women and African American male workers were laid off, since they’d been banned from being hired there before the war, they all had very low seniority.

Of course, the leaders of the yard’s two most blatantly racist and sexist unions, the Machinists and the Boilermakers, were thrilled to be going back to an all male and all White workforce – at least for the moment.

But the nontraditional shipyard workers had the last laugh.

Wartime integration had opened the desegregation floodgates at the Navy Yard. Any future hiring would be on a non discriminatory basis, no matter what the business agents of the Machinists and the Boilermakers had to say about it.

Not so the rest of the building trades which – except for Carpenters local 1788 in Harlem and the Laborers Union’s Housewreckers local 95 - still banned African American workers from membership (and were now in the process of imposing a similar system of de facto jim crow job segregation on immigrants from the US colony of Puerto Rico, who were beginning to move to the city in large numbers).

The war’s end also freed up an enormous amount of pent up consumer demand.

With American factories now producing for the domestic market rather than the War Department, and the capital of American banks no longer absorbed by large scale federal borrowing, workers could actually spend all the money they’d saved up from all that wartime OT.

The newly created Veterans Administration and the old Roosevelt-era Federal Housing Administration began subsidizing loans for returning veterans.

Or, to be more precise, returning WHITE veterans.

 African American and Asian American ex servicemen were barred from receiving VA or FHA housing loans, or from buying houses whose construction loans were underwritten by the VA or FHA

Restrictive Covenants were written into the sales agreements on these new homes, barring future sale to “negroids or mongoloids” (to use the actual language used in some of the more blatantly written covenants), even if they had private, non VA or FHA loans to pay for them.

Within the boundaries of New York City, most of the new homes were constructed in areas of the Northern Bronx, Eastern and Southern Queens and Staten Island that had up until recently been farmland or wasteland – suddenly, that land was valuable and it was quickly built up.

This facilitated a shift of New York City’s population.

Previously, about 4 million of New York City’s 8 million inhabitants had lived in Manhattan, with all the new home construction, the outer boroughs filled up and Manhattan became a far less densely populated borough.

But there was VA/FHA subsidized housing in Manhattan too but here, it was all hirise apartment houses.

The largest complexes were Metropolitan Life Insurance Co’s Peter Cooper Village and Stuyvesant Town apartment houses, taking up a square mile of land between 14th and 23rd St (and, like all the other VA/FHA developments, restricted to White tenants only).

Some of the city’s bigger unions also got in on the hirise apartment complex game too.

The Amalgamated Clothing Workers built its apartment complex in the Lower East Side, where much of the city’s garment workforce still lived. The ILGWU put their apartment complex in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, within walking distance of the Garment District. One of the city’s largest printing unions, New York Typographical Union local 6, built it’s apartment complex in the Woodside section of Queens, just a few minutes by subway from Midtown Manhattan, where many of their newspaper typesetter members worked.

All New York apartment dwellers also benefited from a new law – Rent Control.

Thanks to 25 years of communist-led tenants rights struggles, the City of New York took control of rents away from private landlords.

The city set rents on apartments and tightly regulated rent increases, making it possible for even the poorest workers and their families to live in decent low rent apartments.

The city’s ever expanding public housing projects – now being built in all five boroughs – also worked to pull private rents downward, because NYCHA rents were fixed at a set percentage of family income.

Outside the city, in Long Island, Westchester County, and Northern New Jersey, old farming villages were reinvented as bedroom communities and whole new towns were built in what had been potato fields.

One of those communities – Levittown – was developed and built by a firm owned by the Levitt brothers, one of whom had been a lieutenant in the Seabees during the war.

The Levitts adapted the same ultraefficient construction methods that the Navy had used during the war, including that amazing new building product, drywall.

Levitt also used subcontractors to perform almost all of the work. Levitt and Sons just ran the job and supervised the laborers who did the cleanup, all of the rest of the actual construction (concrete work, framing, drywall, interior woodwork, electric, plumbing and gas ect) was done by workers employed by subcontractors.

Breaking the job up like that was much faster – and much more profitable.

It also transformed the role of the general contractor. It made them the owner’s representative on the site, in charge of making sure the contractors got the job done as fast and as cheaply as possible.

In Levitt and Son’s case, they were both the general contractor and the owner.

This was a revolutionary change in construction industry management and created a conflict between the interests of GC’s and their subs, who had previously been on the same side of the table, opposite the owners of the property and their bankers.

There was also a union jurisdictional dispute about the drywall.

Under the old system, carpenters had put up the wooden studs that made up the framework of the wall, lathers nailed wooden strips or metal mesh to the studs, plasterers troweled and finished three coats of plaster on the lath and laborers mixed the plaster, built and dismantled the temporary scaffolds needed to put the plaster up and cleaned up all of the mess created by the process.

Drywall needed a whole hell of a lot less labor to install and there was a whole lot less post installation mess to clean up afterwards.

The question was, who was going to do the work?

The Operative Plasterers and Cement Masons Union could have claimed the work, since drywall was basically sheets of dried plaster, and their union had jurisdiction over all installation of plaster and related products.

But they decided to launch a rearguard action defending wet plaster as a building material instead of drywall.

Considering how much more profitable drywall was than wet plaster, this was an unwinnable war on the Plasterers Union’s part.

The Metallic Lathers union could also have claimed drywall as an extension of the wood and metal lath that their members installed.

Foolishly, they took the same road the Plasterers did, trying to get drywall banned.

Again, that was not going to happen.

The Laborers Union couldn’t claim drywall work, since their members were unskilled laborers who merely mixed the plaster and cleaned up behind the plasterers – so they had no claim on the work independent of the plasterers.

The Carpenters Union claimed drywall work, because it was a product that came in 4 x 8 boards that were the same size and shape as a sheet of plywood and it was nailed or screwed to studs that were installed by carpenters.

The National Joint Board for Jurisdictional Disputes (a joint government-labor-contractors body set up to handle these constant disputes between construction unions) awarded drywall installation to the Carpenters Union.

The Plasterers didn’t even get the drywall taping work. Taping involved plastering over the seams and screw or nail holes in the panels, to give the finished wall a smooth plasterlike appearance, and a case could be made that it was a type of plaster work.

Be that as it may, the drywall taping work went to the Painters Union, a close ally of the Carpenters.

New York City Metallic Lathers local 46 hung on to black iron work – metal ceiling supports – and they, alone among Lathers locals, also installed rebar for reinforced concrete work (that was Ironworkers Union work everywhere else outside New York City and Long Island) but nationally, the Lathers lost almost all of their work to the Carpenters.

Levitt’s methods were copied by other general contractors and builders – especially in New York City.

The idea of subcontracting out all of the actual work and acting as a supervisor for the client on the job was very appealing, and New York GC’s and builders were the first big city contractors in the nation to change over their operations into Levitt style construction management companies.

This had a major effect on carpenters, bricklayers, plasterers and cement masons. Their members had once mainly worked for the GCs and builders directly, now they would increasingly be hired by subcontractors.

This also meant that tradesmen who’d gotten accustomed to having steady jobs for the whole April to November season for one boss would now often end up working for several different subs during the course of the year.

For the carpenters, this meant a major transition for their trade.

Previously, except for carpenters that manufactured and installed fine woodwork, most carpenters did all phases of the trade, from concrete formwork at the start of the job to finish woodwork and door and locksmith work at the end.

But with subcontract carpentry, each sub only had a small part of the job – one company did the concrete, another the drywall, another the hardwood flooring, another the ceilings, another the carpeting, another the metal interior partitions ect.

This fragmented the trade into many specialty areas, a trend that had been coming ever since the Carpenters Union had started claiming so many different types of work earlier in the century.

This also meant that the Building Contractors Association was no longer the dominant employers association that the Carpenters bargained with.

That place was taken by the Association of Wall-Ceiling and Carpentry Industries – a group that came to be the spokesman for the drywall and ceilings contractors, who were now the main employers of carpenters.

Second to Wall-Ceiling in importance was the Cement League, which represented the subcontractors who did the formwork for the reinforced concrete framework of hirise buildings.

There were other associations too – metal storefront and partition contractors, cabinet shops and woodwork contractors, carpet laying contractors, scaffold erecting contractors and heavy construction contractors.

These specialty subcontractors had to push their workers a lot harder than the old GC’s – because their margin of profit on each job was so much slimmer, what with the profits having to be split so many ways now.

While the construction world was being turned upside down, there were other major changes in the New York labor scene.

The CIO had finally succeeded in organizing three of the city’s largest blue collar employers;

The Communications Workers of America (a former company union that had rebelled and joined the CIO) unionized American Telephone & Telegraph.

Utility Workers Union local 1-2 had organized the Consolidated Edison Co, the city’s main power, gas and steam company.

And TWU local 101 organized Brooklyn Union Gas, the natural gas provider to Brooklyn and parts of Queens.

But, the CIO had lurched sharply to the right at that point – with communists under attack in every CIO union, and many communists abandoning their politics and turning on their former comrades.

This accelerated in 1947 when a Democratic majority congress, with the collusion of the Truman Administration, passed the Taft Hartley Act.

This was a package of anti labor and anti communist amendments to the National Labor Relations Act – which proved, as the ACLU and the Communist Party had predicted way back in 1935, that the NLRA would ultimately be used to oppress workers and unions, rather than to help them.

The Taft Hartley amendments attacked the building trades too. The new law let union contractors hire non union workers (but for no more than 7 days at a time – after that, they’d have to join the union), made it a civil law violation for workers to refuse to work with non union made material and made it very easy for contractors to sue unions that picketed scab jobs.














CHAPTER  6 – “…this thing of ours…” (1947 – 1964)


The construction unions were complacent about this – in big cities like New York, they had virtually 100% of the workforce unionized, so they didn’t see this as a threat.

And the building trades unions liked the Taft Hartley rule barring communists from running for union office!

That Taft Hartley amendment is what finally drove the communists from leadership in Painters District Council # 9 (cosa nostra’s Lucchese crime family took charge of the union after the reds were driven out of office).

Of all of the AFofL unions, only the United Mine Workers offered any kind of resistance to Taft Hartley and their effort to stop the anti labor law consisted of UMWA President John L. Lewis making a bunch of speeches against it, and then pulling his union out of the AFofL in protest.

As for the CIO, that federation’s right wing saw the law as a chance to drive the communists out of the federation that they’d basically built.

The CIO came out against Taft Hartley – on paper – but they also launched an anti communist purge throughout the federation .

The CIO expelled its’ third largest affiliate, UE, created a rival breakaway union, the International Union of Electrical Workers, IUE and authorized all CIO affiliates that they were free to raid UE’s membership and force them to join their unions.

UE’s only bargaining unit in the New York building trades – the elevator mechanics – were forced to quit their union and join the breakaway IUE.

They also expelled 10 other unions with communist leaders, including two that were NYC-based (the Fur and Leather Workers union and the American Communications Association, a telegraph workers union), and disbanded the NYC Industrial Union Council.

This was a massive defeat - not only for the communists, but for union members and the working class in general.

But, it probably didn’t seem that way at the time.

On the surface things were never better for the building trades – especially in New York City.

The New York City construction unions had a combined membership of over 250,000 men – and virtually 100% of the construction work in the city was done with union labor.

Work was booming . Even with the end of the military construction jobs and the large scale warship building at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, there were lots of jobs going up. The IND subway’s 8th Avenue line was being extended to East New York, Brooklyn and Southeastern Queens, an area of the city that was also the site of a huge new city airport, Idlewild Field (the future Kennedy Airport) being built on landfill on the shores of Jamaica Bay, the Brooklyn and Manhattan piers were being renovated and for the first time since the 1920’s new office buildings were being built in Manhattan, along with all the hirise apartment houses being built all over the city.

The Taft Hartley amendments had also brought a new revenue stream for unions – benefit funds.

Every construction in New York rushed to set up joint labor-management pension funds and welfare funds (which purchased health insurance for their members).

Between all the patronage jobs at these funds and the money to be made by taking bribes from insurance agents, actuaries, stockbrokers, bankers, investment fund managers and all the other professionals who competed to sell their services to the funds, there were a whole lot of minimally monitored funds to steal.

The money for these pension and welfare funds came from the wages of the workers – a portion of the wage package went into benefits, rather than directly into the pay envelopes of the workers, and in return they got family health coverage and credit towards a future pension.

There were some serious problems created by all of these high financial dealings by the unions.

Even in the unions where there was no corruption, heavy involvement in Taft Hartley fund management tended to pull union officials even closer to the world outlook of the bosses – since they were working closely with the contractors and various Wall Street types to administer these funds.

And for the unions where the funds were administered corruptly, this pulled the gangsters even deeper into the unions, and in effect was a bribe from the bosses to the union officers (especially in unions where the officers put their incompetent or unemployable relatives and/or mistresses on the benefit funds payroll).

All that Taft Hartley fund income also enabled union officials to pay themselves much higher salaries and to afford perks like the union owned Cadillac sedans that many business agents now drove around in.

Of course, there was the positive side – workers in an industry with lots of injuries and occupational diseases could now afford to go to the doctor – and they could also take care of the medical needs of their wives and children.

Also, older tradesmen whose bodies were worn out from a life of hard work could leave the industry while they still had a few years of life left in them.

But even then, unions that had Taft Hartley funds now had a reason to oppose a national health insurance system and higher social security benefits, since the funds took care of their members, and with their membership’s needs taken care of they could ignore the deprivation of the rest of the working class.

The postwar prosperity also had an ideological effect on construction workers.

Tradesmen who’d lived through the hungry 1930’s and the war torn 1940’s were now making incredibly good incomes.

Work was plentiful and even during the slow part of the year there was the New Deal era achievement called Unemployment Insurance to make up for the missed paydays.

Workers who had lived in tenements with no hot water and a shared bathroom down the hall now owned modern homes in the outer boroughs or the new suburbs.

Going to the doctor was no longer a luxury, and workers knew that at the end of their work lives, they’d have another New Deal-era victory, Social Security, plus a union pension.

These were all victories won through struggle, but it was easy to think of them as gifts from President Roosevelt (because that was the propaganda story that both the unions and the corporate media presented as fact)

This tended to cause a rightward shift in the political thinking of many tradesmen.

There were some ethnic factors too.

For Jewish workers, who had once been largely socialist or communist oriented, the Nazi Holocaust had taught many of them that, in a crisis, their Christian neighbors would casually abandon them to their deaths (cause that’s what happened to the Jews in every country in Nazi occupied Europe)

According to this worldview the only hope for Jewish workers was an alliance with Jewish bosses to build a strong Jewish state in the Middle East – the State of Israel.

This new political outlook was most starkly held by the many “DP’s” (“Displaced Persons” – survivors of the concentration camps) who began coming to New York in the post WW II years.

Add to that the dramatic post war upward mobility experienced by many Jewish workers, the move from slum tenements to suburbia and the dramatic decline in workplace antisemitism after the war that enabled Jewish workers to enter fields like banking and education that had previously excluded them, this created fertile ground for a sharp political shift to the right.

Considering that Jewish workers were the backbone of much of the pre WW II New York left, this had a permanent political effect on the New York political scene.

There wasn’t a wholesale exodus of Jewish workers out of construction like there was in the garment trades (which were rapidly becoming Black and Puerto Rican). This was mainly because construction wages went sharply up after the war while garment wages began to sharply decline.

Other large ethnic radical blocks of workers began to break up too.

Italian workers were conservatized by higher wages, suburbanization and the increasing racial conflict in Italian neighborhoods that were seeing an influx of African Americans and Puerto Ricans.

There was a similar phenomenon among Irish workers – between good pay and steady work, suburbanization and the racial conflicts in old Irish neighborhoods that were becoming African American or Puerto Rican communities, there was a sharp lurch to the right.

Many Irish workers were still strongly opposed to the continuing British occupation of the 6 counties of Northern Ireland, but that radicalism on Irish liberation coexisted with increasingly conservative views on American political and racial issues.

Among the small number of African Americans in the trades, there was a strong – and justified – resentment that they were not benefiting from the post war boom like everybody else was.

The iron curtain of segregation around the VA/FHA homes, and the often quite violent harassment African Americans faced when they moved into once all White neighborhoods were only the more blatant examples of this.

The continuing racial discrimination in the workplace was also a daily slap in the face for Black tradesmen.

Only two construction locals in the whole city, Carpenters local 1788 and Laborers local 95 welcomed African American workers. Some unions, like the Plumbers, blatantly restricted their membership to Caucasians (and actually said so in their constitution and bylaws!)

To make matters worse, this situation had not changed since the 1890’s, even with an enormous expansion of the African American workforce, many of whom were experienced tradesmen from the South – some of whom had been union members in their home states!

Despite all the contributions that African Americans had made to the war effort – including the many Black soldiers who had served as Army Engineers in Europe and the Pacific – they were just as shut out of construction as ever.

It was just like the last war – lots of promises were made to enlist Black support for the war effort, but racial discrimination came right back in peacetime!

And now, the discrimination was actually being extended to another group of workers of color – Puerto Ricans, who were rapidly entering the city’s workforce (like the Blacks, many of them also had been union tradesmen back home too).

The low wage rightless “B” divisions of the building trades unions, which they relegated their factory workers to, did find themselves having to admit African American and Puerto Rican workers.

This was NOT by choice. It was due to the hard demographic reality that the city’s factory workforce was becoming increasingly Black and Latino, so the unions had no choice but to enroll those workers in their unions once they were hired, like it or not.

The construction unions would live to regret their institutional racism.

Meanwhile, cosa nostra and the other construction racketeers were enjoying the post war prosperity – all the work in the city gave them plentiful opportunities for various types of graft and criminality.

The rapid transformation of the trades also created a need for somebody to regulate competition in the trades.

GC’s and builders were becoming agents of the owners, rather than the direct builders of the non electrical and non mechanical parts of the building.

Lots of subcontractors were rushing in to do the various building tasks and some of those firms were quickly becoming the dominant contractors in their specialties.

But once they were on top, they had a need to protect their businesses from being undercut by competitors – especially with the GC’s aggressively focused on getting work done by the lowest bidders.

There was a need for cartels – organizations of the major subcontractors to block their smaller competitors from taking their business away from them.

Cosa nostra’s Genovese crime family stepped in to fill that role, in particular, in two sectors – hirise concrete and drywall & ceilings.

Hirise concrete had, until recently, been done directly by the GC’s and had only recently been subbed out – drywall work was a wartime innovation, replacing lathing and plastering which had also once been done directly by the GC’s.

These were major areas of work but were also rough work that didn’t have to be built to too high a tolerance, since there were multiple layers of finished material between those parts of the building and the public (in other words, if the work was sloppily done, nobody would ever see it so who cared?)

Consequently, these were areas where the GC’s, on behalf of the owners, were looking to aggressively cut costs – a serious problem for the subs who had just gotten into those industries.

The Genovese family, through its control of the employers associations in those trades (the Cement League and the Association of Wall-Ceiling and Carpentry Industries, respectively) and through their strong influence on the leaders of the Carpenters, Laborers, Cement Masons and Lathers unions, were able to put some brakes on the worst of the cutthroat competition in those specialties.

And those efforts were worth real money – the leaders of the Genovese family took a 2% “tribute” from the contractors in those fields.

With the inflated costs from the reduced competition, that price was passed right along to the GC’s, who passed it along to the owners, who passed it along to the banks, who ultimately paid for the building.

The construction unions were junior partners in this whole racket. The wiseguys would use them to picket and strike contractors who didn’t go along with the scam, and expected them to go easy on companies that were in on it.

The construction unions would also live to regret their involvement in racketeering.

The Korean War momentarily derailed the post war prosperity. Capital was sucked out of productive sectors like construction and was pulled into federal borrowing to pay for the war, and civilian industry suddenly lurched into military mode.

But Korea was a far smaller war than World War II, so the effect was far less dramatic, both in terms of financial and labor force effects.

The main impact of the war in New York City was additional hiring at the Brooklyn Navy Yard (although not as dramatic as the massive WW II labor mobilization).

And, since the Navy Yard was now a non discriminatory employer, they hired many Black and Puerto Rican men – and even a few women – to fill their war labor needs (and neither the Machinists Union nor the Boilermakers Union could do anything to stop them!)

Since the Korean War was against two communist-ruled countries, North Korea and China, it became a whole lot more difficult to be a communist in the US – even in a city like New York with a long left tradition.

This marked the end of any serious communist political work among construction workers. From then on, there would be no left wing organization carrying on any organized political struggles within the New York building trades unions.

This had its most serious impact in the Painters Union, the union that, by far, had the largest organized communist presence in the building trades (communist Louis Weinstock actually ran District Council # 9 for most of the 1930’s and 40’s).

The destruction of the Communist Party’s section in the Painters Union helped to consolidate Lucchese family domination over that union.

The Luccheses also controlled the Association of Master Painters and Decorators, and they used their power over the employers association to regulate competition in the commercial painting and decorating industry. The now wiseguy dominated DC # 9 was available to be used as a weapon against upstart firms that tried to undercut the major painting and decorating contractors and as a guarantor of labor peace for companies that paid tribute to the wiseguys.

The members of that formerly communist-led elevator mechanics union – once a UE local, which was forced to join IUE – were forced to change unions again, when the new local was raided by the newly chartered Elevator Division of Electricians local 3.

There was some non politically motivated union raiding too.

The Carpenters Union decided to expand its jurisdiction out of the construction trades when it raided the trade show services industry.

All trade show work had belonged to Exposition Employees local 829, an affiliate of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, the theater stagehands and movie set workers union.

But the Carpenters Union was bigger and stronger, so it took jurisdiction over trade show decorating, installation and dismantling from IATSE local 829 – leaving their local with jurisdiction over freight handling, sign hanging and carpenters helper work at the trade shows.

Teamsters local 807 claimed a piece of the freight work. They demanded that their members operate any motorized forklifts used to handle trade show freight – the local 829 workers (known as “expos”) could now only handle crates that could be moved by hand.

Electricians local 3 claimed a piece of local 829’s work too, they took over any trade show work that involved temporary electricity for trade show exhibits.

The Genovese family, which controlled the District Council of Carpenters, Teamsters local 807 and IATSE local 829, had authorized the raid on the expos union, in part to provide legitimate jobs for Genovese family members on parole who had to be employed to stay out of jail.

The Carpenters Union also continued its longstanding war with Ironworkers local 580 over the installation of double hung windows, frames for plate glass windows and metal entranceways to stores and office buildings. There was a whole lot more of this type of work now, which made the struggle over who controlled that work so much more important.

These battles over jurisdiction took on a new importance as technology reduced the number of workers needed to get the job done.

Carpenters faced the replacement of their handtools with powertools;  the handsaw was displaced by various types of power saw (skillsaws, partnersaws, tablesaws, sawzalls, and jig saws), the hand drill was replaced by the power drill, the Yankee was replaced with the screwgun and that classic symbol of the trade, the hammer, was displaced by the pneumatic nailgun and the gunpowder-powered shotgun.

Laborers also had to face the sawzall, as well as the prime mover (a motorized wheelbarrow used to move concrete), the power jack, the forklift, the slipform machine (a far more efficient way of pouring concrete for highways – work that used to take a crew of 40 laborers now only required one laborer and one operating engineer) and the biggest technological threat of all, readi mix concrete.

Laborers used to mix all the concrete on site by hand – now, big trucks could deliver huge loads of premixed concrete, ready to pour, from an offsite batching plant.

Also, a lot of pick and shovel excavation work was now being done by huge earth moving machines – loaders, graders, power shovels, bulldozers, backhoes ect – which had come into wide military use during the war and were now universal on all civilian construction sites.

Ironworkers had to deal with the rivetgun – a rivet driving machine which took the place of the old hand heated and driven riveting process – and the helldog, a power impact wrench which tightened large bolts mechanically, rather than by hand.

Ironworkers – and all the other trades whose members welded (boilermakers, plumbers, steamfitters, sheet metal workers, millwrights and dockbuilders) – also had to deal with the electric arc welding machine, which replaced the old acetylene torch method of welding.

Electricians now faced the bender – a machine which could bend electrical conduit, all of which used to have to be bent by hand.

Plumbers and steamfitters faced the pipe threader, which replaced the old process of threading pipe by hand and the replacement of lead soldering with arc welding as a pipe joining method.

Sheet metal workers now had power brakes to bend the metal for the air ducts they installed, in place of the old hand powered press breaks.

The sheet metal workers and the steamfitters also gained a large amount of work from new heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) technology in hirise office buildings – which somewhat offset their crafts’ technological job losses.

On the other hand, bricklaying, asbestos insulation work and painting were among the few trades that didn’t face major workforce reducing technological change.

For the other trades, these machines did remove a lot of the hard physical bullwork and drudgery out of the trades and made the work much easier.

They also created jobs – but mainly for two trades, teamsters and operating engineers, who operated the larger and more complicated of these machines.

That also opened up a whole new area of jurisdictional disputes as the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the International Union of Operating Engineers now had to fight over who’s members would operate which machines.

But the machines also eliminated a lot of jobs – especially for laborers and carpenters – and on the whole a lot more jobs were eliminated than created.

New technology was eliminating a lot of building maintenance jobs too.

New automatic boilers no longer required having a full time stationary engineer on every shift. Stationary firemen faced the near total abolition of their craft since oil fired and gas fired boilers didn’t have to be fueled by hand the way the old coal fired ones did. Elevator operators faced the total abolition of their jobs by the new automatic elevators that didn’t need an operator.

None of the unions had an answer to this, because that would require that they take a position that was independent of the contractors, and they would not and could not do this.

The contractors wanted these new technologies, so did the clients, but the building trades refused to fight to make these technological improvements benefit workers.

Construction workers in the mid 1950’s were far more productive than they had been back in the 1930’s – but they were still working the same 7 hour workday!

On paper, Electricians local 3 won a 5 hour workday from the New York Electrical Contractors Association, because of the technological changes.

In practice, thanks to technicalities the fine print in the local 3/NYECA union contract, the electricians still actually worked a 7 hour straight time day.

The whole “5 hour day” thing had been an act of propaganda by Electricians local 3’s leader, Harry Van Arsdale, Jr, who had strong political ambitions and planned to use the appearance that he was fighting automation-related job loss to boost his political profile.

Meanwhile, with the end of the Korean War, the post WW II construction boom came to an end.

It wasn’t anywhere near as bad a recession as the Depression had been, but joblessness was still widespread, especially with all the technological change that was happening in the economy (especially in the building trades).

The CIO finally collapsed in 1955 and was reabsorbed into the AFofL, which now became the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations, far more commonly known as the AFL-CIO.

At the same time the CIO disappeared into history, one of the city’s most militant former CIO unions - the Fur and Leather Workers Union – disbanded. The furriers union’s communist leaders left the labor movement (some voluntarily retired – others were deported to Eastern Europe) and they turned over the remains of the union to the Genovese family controlled Butchers Union. That organization’s new leaders rapidly reduced furrier wages and working conditions to sweatshop levels. The industry’s Jewish and Greek workforce quickly fled the industry, and were replaced by African Americans and Latinos.

The Fur and Leather Workers Union had set the pace for garment industry wages and working conditions for 30 years.

With that union now sweatshopized, pay and working conditions in ILGWU and Amalgamated Clothing Workers shops rapidly fell to sweatshop levels too. Just like the White workers in the fur shops, White women fled the garment industry in droves, and were replaced by much lower paid Black women and Latinas.

The garment unions were no longer on the cutting edge of improving blue collar working conditions in the city – in fact, they were on the leading edge of sweatshop labor and subminimum wages.

The beginning of this era of labor decay was marked by the rise of the Teamsters as the dominant factory workers union in the city.

Joint Council # 16’s factory workers locals ranged from weak but legitimate unions like local 810 that signed low wage contracts to “unions” like “local 1034” that were outright scams, existing only for the purposes of fraud and labor racketeering – with most of their locals a whole lot closer to “local 1034” than to local 810.

And even the legitimate Teamster factory workers locals were totally under the thumb of cosa nostra.

The Teamsters weren’t the only sweatshop union in town. There were others like the International Union of Electrical Workers, the Allied Industrial Workers and UMWA District 50. However, the Teamsters was the biggest and they set the low standard that others followed.

This was the beginning of the end of the golden age of the New York City labor movement.

Nobody realized it at the time. On the surface, the New York unions looked very powerful, and none was stronger than the 250,000 worker strong New York City Building and Construction Trades Council!

To a large degree, the construction unions were insulated from the problems that faced the rest of labor. They had an understanding with their bosses, and with the gangsters, and they all worked together to keep the contractors prices high and some of that gravy trickled down to the guys who actually built the buildings.

Part of that understanding involved the construction unions pretty much ignoring the rest of the labor movement, because solidarity with workers in other industries would get in the way of collaborating with the contractors and the wiseguys.

The only exception was Electricians local 3, and that was because of the political ambitions of their leader, Harry Van Arsdale, Jr.

Van Arsdale also ran the New York City Central Labor Council. However he wanted more than that and his post as head of the New York labor movement was his springboard to bigger and better things.

Van Arsdale, unique among construction union leaders of that era, had a real gift for the fine art of bluster, blarney and B.S. – he had a politician’s knack for dressing up liverwurst to make it look like filet mignon.

An example was when Electricians local 3 and the Central Labor Council got involved with helping the Taxi Drivers and Allied Workers Union, a Gambino family-connected independent taxi drivers union, co-opt a taxi drivers mass movement into the dead end of gangster unionism.

Van Arsdale managed to make it look like he was the taxi drivers’ savior instead of their betrayer, and that his union was nobly and selflessly showing solidarity to another union, rather than trading favors with a gangster union (favors that would, sooner or later, have to be paid back in full).

Van Arsdale’s biggest favor was getting the Taxi Drivers Union an affiliation with a legitimate AFL-CIO union, the Building Service Employees International Union, which chartered it as local 3036.

Van Arsdale’s payback was the presidency of BSEIU local 3036 (a part time job with a full time salary – on top of what he was already receiving from the Central Labor Council, the IBEW and local 3).

Van Arsdale also jumped on the bandwagon when Retail Drug Employees Union local 1199 of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, called a hospital workers strike at several not for profit medical centers in Manhattan.

Part of the reason the Electricians leader was so anxious to help this particular union was because the workers 1199 was trying to organize were overwhelmingly African American and Puerto Rican – and Van Arsdale needed the appearance of being willing to fight for workers of color.

This was because he felt the cold winds of the Civil Rights Movement, and he feared, quite correctly, that sooner rather than later, those winds would blow through the de facto segregation of the New York labor market.

His fears were very correct.

As early as 1950, African American New Yorkers had been protesting for civil rights – initially successfully targeting segregation in Stuyvesant Town, Peter Cooper Village and the NYCHA’s Queensbridge Houses.

Those protests had been slowly rumbling across the city, and were now shifting from housing to jobs – specifically, jobs that African Americans were barred from.

Since the building trades were the foremost example of blatant, open, naked race discrimination on the job in the city, they were the logical target.

In light of that fact, it was necessary to make it look like the unions would be willing to clean their own racial mess.

They absolutely were NOT willing to stop being racist, because the contractors wanted an overwhelmingly White workforce.

And the New York building trades were long past the point of actually challenging the bosses on any major issue!

Especially this one – which would also have an effect on the work prospects of their White members, in particular the better off ones.

Opening up the trades racially would mean White job loss, and, more importantly, might jeopardize the privileged status of the company men, and the building trades unions (who had built the social base of their union leaderships on precisely those privileged workers) absolutely could not stand for that, under any circumstances whatsoever.

The metal trades – specifically, the Boilermakers, Plumbers and Steamfitters and the Sheet Metal Workers – drew a hard white line in the sand.

They were flatly racist jim crow unions, and, although they had been forced to let African Americans and Puerto Ricans in the industrial sides of their unions, they’d be damned if they let any workers of color into the building trades section!

Their racism reflected the views of the Association of Contracting Plumbers and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors Association – whose affiliated shops were anxious to preserve the all White workforces at their firms.

The Carpenters, Laborers, Painters and the masonry trades took a middle position. They were willing to continue allowing small numbers of African American and Puerto Rican men into their crafts as long as there were only a few of them and the crafts as a whole remained majority White.

The Electricians took a seemingly radical view.

Local 3 and the New York Electrical Contractors Association abolished their old “father son” system which restricted new admissions to the construction side of the union to the sons, nephews or other male relatives of current members.

Electricians local 3 proudly announced that its apprenticeship was now open to any qualified applicant, no matter what race they were

Any qualified MALE applicant, that is.

Electricians local 3 and NYECA weren’t ready for women yet, despite the fact that there were many New York women with electrical assembler skills who, in the absence of sex discrimination, would have made fine construction electricians.

Of course, the African American and Puerto Rican male applicants would have to compete with all the White men who were also trying to get in the union – and, of course the sons of local 3’s current all White membership.

And, needless to say, African American and Puerto Rican journeymen electricians were very much NOT welcome in the union, unless they were willing to go back to trade school.

Even if they were, the Electricians apprenticeship would not accept an applicant over age 32, which blocked older journeymen from using the apprenticeship as a way to get in the union.

Basically, it was surface compliance – the appearance that Electricians local 3 and the NYECA were actually doing something to abolish institutionalized racism in the industry, without any actual social change really happening.

That tokenism strategy didn’t work for very long.

The building trades had another problem on the horizon – the racketeering question.

The feds had been probing labor racketeering in the Teamsters Union for several years.

This was mainly because collusion between trucking companies and the union had driven up road freight rates, and those rate increases had an impact on Corporate America’s bottom line, which caused the Wall Street interests to demand that the feds do something about the wiseguys.

One result of the crackdown was the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosures Act of 1959, (LMRDA) better known as the Landrum Griffin Act.

Landrum Griffin was a bipartisan piece of legislation, backed by both Republicans and Democrats in both houses and Republican President Dwight Eisenhower.

It required unions to report on the internal details of their financial operations to the federal government, imposed fiscal standards on union officials who handled money on behalf of the union and limited the power of union officials to discipline local unions and individual members.

Landrum Griffin also made it illegal for union members to refuse to handle scab made products. This was a HUGE issue for construction unions, who had traditionally used the union label system as a way of keeping non union made building materials from being used on construction sites.

Landrum Griffin also attempted to put limits on labor racketeers by formally banned felons from union office. Folks who had been convicted of murder, rape, arson, extortion, burglary, armed robbery, kidnapping, grand larceny, narcotics trafficking and any other crime in any way related to labor racketeering were now banned from holding any elected union post.

Landrum Griffin also reinforced Taft Hartley’s ban on communists holding any union offices. Like Taft Hartley, it also required sworn “non communist affidavits” from all union officials, pledging that they personally were not CPUSA members.

Incidentally, there were no bans on Klansmen holding union office or any rule that made union officers pledge that they were not members of the Ku Klux Klan.

This was because – of course – there were a whole lot of union officials in the South who were not only KKK members but actually were officers of their local klaverns!

But – unlike communists – Klansmen weren’t threats to the capitalist system (in fact they helped prop it up), so it was OK if they held union office.

The building trades liked the stronger anti communist language, and they were willing to sacrifice the right of their members to refuse to install non union goods.

But the anti racketeering stuff was hard to swallow!

The restrictions on financial shenanigans and the ban on criminals holding union office really hit home – both for the building trades unions and for the wiseguys.

But, it seemed at the time that those were just minor annoyances, little problems that could be worked around - or evaded, by having facemen hold union posts on behalf of wiseguys.

Especially since New York City authorities were definitely NOT following the feds in cracking down on racketeering.

Far from it – the City of New York had actually handed cosa nostra one of its biggest triumphs when it privatized the collection of commercial waste.

The Department of Sanitation handed over commercial waste collection to a group of 300 private companies, represented by four employers associations – the Association of Trade Waste Removers of Greater New York, the Kings County Trade Waste Association, the Queens County Trade Waste Association and the Greater New York Waste Paper Association .

And all four of these groups were run by cosa nostra – the Association of Trade Waste Removers was run by the Gambinos, and the other three were Genovese family controlled.

They set up a cartel that assigned every private business in the city to one of those 300 firms – and banned those clients from changing waste haulers.

This mirrored the longstanding practice those waste haulers had maintained in the construction industry – which is where these waste haulers had gotten their start, removing construction debris (or “trade waste”) off of jobsites.

Teamsters local 813, the union that represented the garbage truck drivers, and the Mason Tenders District Council of the Laborers Union, which represented waste handlers at these firm’s garbage dumps - were junior partners in this racket.

The unions’ role was to use strikes, tire slashing, garbage truck firebombings, truck driver beating and any other means necessary to stop any upstart firm that tried to take business away from those 300 cosa nostra protected companies.

Teamsters local 813 and the Mason Tenders were also expected to prevent workers at the 300 protected firms from fighting for their rights, and to stop workers from striking or otherwise resisting those abuses by any means necessary.

The Genoveses and the Gambinos took a 2% tribute from each one of those 300 companies, in return for guaranteeing them that huge market and protecting them from strikes and labor disputes.

The waste haulers passed on the cost of that tribute to their clients, who in turn passed on the cost to their customers.

The Department of Sanitation knew very well who ran these firms and their trade associations (1947 and 1958 investigations had exposed the trade waste industry’s organized crime ties) but they went along with it anyway.

And the trade waste racket was far from the only cosa nostra cartel in New York City – just one of the more blatant ones.

In the local trucking industry in New York in that era, pretty much every carrier paid tribute to one or another group of gangsters – and almost every truck drivers union in the city was controlled by wiseguys.

In light of that kind of hospitable attitude towards cosa nostra from city authorities it was understandable why labor racketeers and their allies in the union leadership had no fear of legal reprisals for their rackets.

Meanwhile, the economic recession of the late 1950’s was coming to an end, and a great building boom was beginning.

New York’s economy was shifting, from productive industries like printing, garment manufacturing and shipbuilding to nonproductive services like corporate administration, business services and financial speculation.

This required a massive expansion of office space, and the city’s old Wall Street centered business district didn’t have enough room for all the new floor space.

Consequently, the Midtown business district rapidly expanded, with lots of new office buildings being built.

They weren’t the only new buildings going up.

There were also many huge hirise apartment house developments being built –

Among the biggest were Co-Op City in the Northeast Bronx, Concourse Village in the South Bronx, Starrett City in East New York, Brooklyn, LeFrak City in Kew Gardens, Queens, and Lenox Terrace and Delano Village, both in Harlem.

NYCHA also launched what turned out to be its last big wave of public housing construction across the city as well, with projects going up across all five boroughs.

The new subcontracting system had made construction a lot faster and more efficient, and consequently more profitable.

The value created by construction workers’ labor had greatly increased now too. Workers were adding $ 10 in value for every dollar they earned in pay and benefits and all that surplus value was going into the pockets of the many layers of bosses.

The financiers – who didn’t build the building, they just made the high interest construction loans that helped the jobs move forward – got the biggest cut. Nearly 50% of construction costs were made up of interest payments and real estate costs.

GCs and subcontractors fought over their 30% share of the cost of construction – with cosa nostra taking their 2% out of the contractors share.

The actual building materials made up 10% of costs.

And the wages and fringe benefits of the men who actually built the buildings were barely 10% of total costs.

Despite this reality of the people who did the most getting the least, there was much howling about how “high” construction wages are – an argument still heard today, and as much nonsense now as it was then.

With so much of the profits of construction going to the bankers, developers and GC’s, the subs were very anxious to preserve what they had and, if at all possible, expand their share.

This made them work even more aggressively with the Genoveses to cartelize the construction market.

And no contractors worked harder to keep prices high and competition limited than the hirise concrete contractors and the drywall & ceilings contractors.

The Genovese family-controlled Cement League worked with hirise concrete contractors to set up a system – called “The Club”- where major concrete jobs were assigned by the wiseguys through a bid rigging system.

It worked like this – the Genoveses would decide in advance which firm would get the work, at what price, and they would tell the other contractors that they had to put in a higher bid, guaranteeing that the selected contractor would be the “lowest bidder” and would get the job.

The jobs were rotated, so every company got a shot at the big jobs.

And companies that tried to go against the scheme would find that they suddenly had labor problems with the Carpenters, Laborers, Lathers, Cement Masons and Operating Engineers unions.

Companies that went along with the scheme rarely if ever had problems with the union – even if they had committed labor abuses on the jobsites.

The Genoveses and the drywall & ceilings contractors set up a similar scam, called “The Wheel”.

It worked pretty much the same way – contractors and the wiseguys prearranged which contractors would be the low bidder on jobs, with the other contractors all putting in  higher bids.

A rotation system guaranteed that every contractor in the cartel would get a shot at being the fake “low bidder” (which is why they called it “The Wheel”).

Drywall contractors that tried to cheat the system found themselves with problems with the Carpenters Union. Contractors that went along with the bid rigging deal were protected from labor problems with the Carpenters.

In both industries, the contractors paid the customary 2% tribute in return for the bid rigging facilitation by the Genoveses. As always, that cost was passed on to the client, who passed it on to the public.

The effect of the Club and the Wheel was to raise construction prices, and to make a higher portion of the profits of construction go to the subcontractors, instead of the GC’s, the developers, the bankers and the building owners.

There was bid rigging and price fixing in other market segments but not as well organized or elaborate as in drywall and hirise concrete.

Meanwhile, the Rockefeller interests and Chase Manhattan Bank had gotten the State of New York and the Port of New York Authority to fund the construction of the largest office building complex ever built – the World Trade Center.

The WTC consisted of two 110 story office towers – the biggest hirises ever built – 3 six story office buildings and a 15 floor hotel. The complex had a total of 15 million square feet of first class office space.

The WTC had a revolutionary open web truss design. Instead of using solid steel beams, that took up precious rentable floor space, the architect ordered open web steel roof trusses, originally designed for the roofs of supermarkets, to be used in their place.

This made for big wide expanses of office space on the WTC floors – and it also made the towers dangerously unstable.

Normally, this would have been illegal in New York City – but the Port Authority claimed sovereign immunity, so the blatant building code violation was allowed.

This would later prove to be a tragic mistake, as we’ll see below.

The first element of the WTC project was site clearance.

 The area between Church, West, Liberty and Vesey Streets had been the “Radio District”, where several hundred discount electronics and appliance retailers – most of whom were Syrian Jewish immigrants – had their stores.

These merchants were unceremoniously evicted from their businesses and their shops were demolished en masse. The only remnant of the Radio District allowed to survive was th
fraternally,
GREGORY A. BUTLER, LOCAL 157 CARPENTER
for GANGBOX: CONSTRUCTION WORKERS NEWS SERVICE
http://gangboxnews.blogspot.com
"UNION NOW, UNION FOREVER"

GREGORYABUTLER

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The High Cost Of Low Wages
« Reply #3 on: April 12, 2011, 10:20:15 AM »
CHAPTER  7  – “…the fire next time…” (1964 – 1975)

Now, with the passage of the Civil Rights Act, most forms of construction union institutional racism were flat out illegal, ranging from the blatant in-your-face jim crow unionism of the Plumbers and the Boilermakers (who constitutionally banned African American, Latino and Asian workers from joining) to the more common old boys club type discrimination (members having to have a “sponsor” to join, and the whole “father – son” system).

The Harlem Uprising of 1965 (sparked by a White police lieutenant’s murder of an African American teenager) sparked even greater militancy among working class African Americans.

And in the vanguard of that militancy were the African American members of a Communist Party splinter group called the Progressive Labor Party.

PLP’s members were maoists (supporters of Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong) and the group was very focused on the struggle for African American freedom, including opening up lily white trades to Black workers.

PLP’s Harlem Club included some members who actually had a construction background, so, quite logically, they began a campaign to integrate the building trades unions, through a front group called Harlem Fightback.

Fightback took the picketing strategy to the next level – the shapeup.

At the time, it was still common for construction workers to shape up their own jobs – often as individuals, but sometimes large groups of workers would go to a site and ask to be hired as a crew.

This was a long established right, sanctioned in union agreements and routinely practiced by White union members.

Fightback adopted this tactic, and  had large groups of Black workers go to sites seeking employment – but these shapers were also prepared to stop everybody else on the site from working until they got a shot at employment.

At a time when construction was becoming a more capital intensive venture, with owners, GC’s and subs alike having lots of high interest construction loans that they had to service, even the shortest delay in production could be a financial disaster.

Fightback’s shapeups created a situation where contractors had no choice but to integrate their jobs.

It also helped that most of Fightback’s members were carpenters, laborers and bricklayers.

All three of those crafts were “open trades” where anybody who could get hired by a contractor could automatically join the union.

The civil rights protests on the jobsites had forced Mayor Robert Wagner to act – kindasorta.

Wagner’s plan was the worst sort of tokenism – a handful of carefully selected young African American men with no construction experience would be funneled into an all minority training program.

As usual, older African American journeymen were totally overlooked. Basically the program would allow contractors to use minority trainees as non union cheap labor and then dump them once they made journeyman.

Wagner even trotted out African American socialist and civil rights leader Bayard Rustin as the faceman for this tokenistic program!

The day to day operations of this tokenistic program were run by the Workers Defense League, a legal services agency run by White socialists, giving even more left cover to this liberal racist scheme.

As racist as it was, it was too much for the contractors and the unions, with the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors, the Contracting Plumbers Assoc, Plumbers local 2, Steamfitters local 638 and Lathers local 46 the most outspoken opponents of even token integration of the trades.

Lawsuits ensued – in the case of the Steamfitters and Lathers cases, they dragged on for decades.

And Mayor Wagner’s tokenism didn’t calm down Fightback either, the shapeups continued, and jobsites were disrupted by minority protesters on a regular basis.

Harlem Fightback had its own internal problems. It ended up splitting away from the Progressive Labor Party because their great successes among workers of color came at a time when PLP was shifting all of its political attention to doing anti war activism among White college students and abandoning its labor work.

Fightback also had an internal split – the organization’s Brooklyn leaders (who, unlike the core leadership group in Harlem, were not maoists) broke away to form Brooklyn Fightback.

Other African American construction worker groups sprang up and they all came to collectively be known as “the Coalition” and Coalition shapeups came to be a common event on New York jobsites, as they would be for the next 30 years.

The Coalitions had picked a good time to try and integrate the building trades. The biggest job in the world at the time, the World Trade Center, was coming out of the ground. Initially, ironworkers had most of the work, but as the structure went up there was also lots of work for carpenters.

The Genoveses assigned the drywall & ceilings work at the WTC to P & M Sorbara, a Brooklyn based carpentry contractor. The job was huge (so big that Sorbara had to build their own sheetrock manufacturing plant in the basement of the towers) and a prize like that came at a heavy price.

Not only did Sorbara have to pay tribute, they also had to put a large number of “ghosts” on the payroll – that is, they paid carpenter or taper wages to gangsters who did not actually work there, so those guys could have the appearance of a legitimate source of income for tax and parole purposes.

The wiseguys cashed their checks, and then handed the money back to the company under the table – with some of the money paid to the Genoveses as tribute.

This is also around the time when cosa nostra linked lumberyards began the practice of making imaginary building materials sales to contractors and generating very real invoices.

It was a money laundering scheme, to conceal the proceeds of criminal activity behind legitimate business transactions.

With all the money that was floating around, the contractors could afford to let the Genoveses and the other crime families run scams like that.

Seeing all of that prosperity – and being largely shut out of it – made African American workers struggle even harder for a bigger piece of the pie, and soon Puerto Rican workers also got involved with the Coalition shapeups.

Meanwhile, there was a major power shift going on in the New York labor movement, marked by the rise of the public employee unions.

December 1965 marked the beginning of a new era in the city’s labor movement.

As that eventful month began, District Council 37 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees won a representation election to be the main civilian public employee union (Teamsters local 237 came in second). On New Year’s Eve, local 100 of the Transport Workers Union called a very successful illegal 16 day transit workers strike. Earlier that year, local 1199 of the Retail Wholesale Department Store Union won bargaining rights for workers in private voluntary hospitals in New York City

These rapidly growing unions would soon be the largest and most important labor groups in the city, eclipsing the garment unions and the building trades.

Meanwhile, the building trades – and the rest of the labor movement – had to deal with galloping inflation.

The feds were borrowing heavily to fight the Vietnam War and the massive war expenditures – and the interest payments on the war debt – had a ripple effect on the entire economy and caused prices to skyrocket.

Worker anger over rising prices and declining real wages led unions to fight for wage and benefit increases. This was easiest for construction unions because the contractors could just pass along higher labor costs to the building owners.

The clients – obviously – were NOT too thrilled about this.

Neither were the real estate developers.

Or the bankers who arranged all the increasingly elaborate financing required to pay for these buildings.

Or the GC’s, who supervised the subcontractors on behalf of the clients, developers and bankers – and who got a percentage of the job which made it in their interest to keep subcontractor prices low too.

This battle over construction profits would eventually push the owners, developers, bankers and GC’s to lean on the subs to fight the unions – both in New York City and across the country.

Meanwhile, the city’s building boom continued – with the World Trade Center job at the center of it, but with lots of other jobs going on around the city.

Right next door to the WTC site, there was another major real estate development. The City evicted the Washington Street Produce Market and took over the site for the new Borough of Manhattan Community College.

This was part of a major City University expansion project (City College also expanded its campus in Harlem) and the produce market got sent up to Hunts Point in the swamps of the East Bronx.

Newly elected Liberal Republican Mayor John Lindsay would make the Hunts Point site the focus of his tokenistic construction civil rights program (which was just as bad and as racist as the Wagner program – but still wasn’t quite racist enough for the contractors or the unions)

This was done in large part because the Hunts Point Terminal Market site was located near a mostly Puerto Rican neighborhood (which meant that if the City didn’t integrate the site the Coalitions sure as hell would!)

Lindsay required that every contractor on the huge jobsite hire a grand total of 2 African American or Puerto Rican workers.

Most of the subcontractors complied, except for the plumbing contractor, who refused to hire any plumbers of color, even if they were more qualified than their White plumbers.

The other companies – in particular the GC and the concrete, drywall and masonry subs – really weren’t in a position to refuse. They could either partially integrate for the City on a voluntary basis or get forcibly fully integrated by the Coalitions.

Finally, in 1968, the City forced the plumbing contractor at Hunts Point to do some minority hiring.

The City had located 5 minority plumbers – 4 Puerto Ricans and an African American man.

They were all licensed – that is, they were skilled enough that they could operate their own plumbing businesses (which made them more qualified than most of Plumbers local 2’s White journeymen!)

The contractor had no choice but to hire them.

Now, according to the Taft Hartley Act, they should have been able to join Plumbers local 2 after 7 days on the job.

But, in blatant defiance of the Civil Rights Act and Taft Hartley, Plumbers local 2 refused to let them join and called its first citywide strike since the 1890’s with the only issue being blocking that African American man and those 4 Puerto Rican men from being hired.

Now, Plumbers local 2 was an unusually prominent building trades local because it’s former president and business manager, George Meany, was the president of the AFL-CIO, a post he’d held since 1955.

Meany refused to intervene to prevent the hate strike, nor did he lean on the Plumbers Union’s international leaders to stop the strike.

Meany had once bragged to a National Association of Manufacturers convention that he had “never called a strike” and “never walked a picketline” but he did not lift a finger to stop this disgraceful racist strike.

5,000 union plumbers walked off every jobsite in Manhattan and the Bronx – just to stop 5 plumbers of color from being hired.

Fortunately, the other trades did not respect local 2’s racist picketlines.

There was an impact on some jobs where the other trades had to slow down because certain areas could not be finished until the plumbing work was done.

Mayor Lindsay refused to back down and Plumbers local 2 had to end the strike, and let those 5 plumbers join the union.

Sadly, the local 2 Plumbers strike wasn’t the only hate strike in New York City that year – or even the largest.

The United Federation of Teachers, the union that had organized the city’s 50,000 public school teachers in 1963, had long supported African American civil rights struggles – as long as they happened in other states!

But, when African American and Latino parents in Harlem and Ocean Hill and Brownsville, Brooklyn wanted community control of schools - the same kind of authority over their children’s education that White suburban parents had – the UFT turned 180 degrees on civil rights.

Overnight a union that had supported the Freedom Rides called a citywide strike aimed at crippling the Black and Puerto Rican parents movement.

50,000 of their members walked out – with the tacit support of the City government and the Board of Education, who did nothing to stop the strike – other than a token “arrest” of the UFT’s right wing social zionist president, Albert Shanker, which was mainly intended to make him look militant to his members.

Unlike the Plumbers, the UFT won its hate strike.

And earned the well deserved hatred of hundreds of thousands of African American and Puerto Rican parents -  who had, up til the strike, supported the UFT’s fight for better schools (until the union turned on them).

And Shanker became a rabid public opponent of any kind of economic justice for African American or Puerto Rican workers for the rest of his life.

The racial backlash only made the Coalitions and other grassroots civil rights groups that much more militant.

The Coalitions were also being pulled to the left by other maoist groups active in NYC’s ghettoes; the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, the Young Lords Party, the Communist Workers Party (which ran  its own Coalition – the Chinese Construction Workers Association) and the maoist led union dissident groups based among Black and Latino workers at Lincoln Hospital and UPS.

And, New York was changing. Thanks to the 1965 immigration law, it was now easier for people of color to immigrate to the US and many of those immigrants came to New York City.

The city’s racial transformation – and militancy that many of these foreign born workers brought to their struggles against racism in America – transformed the political terrain that the Coalitions worked in.

This did NOT mean the Coalitions became more unified – actually they got even more fragmented.

Nor did it make the struggle easy – now it was increasingly necessary to bring metal chains, baseball bats and lead pipes on the shapeups to literally fight for jobs.

These radicalized African American workers were the sharpest edge of a general wave of militancy that swept much of the American workforce in 1969

In New York, this was most prominently seen in the city’s many factories which were swept by a wave of wildcat strikes and other forms of workplace resistance.

This is where the first wave of the backlash hit too. When the Department of the Navy began having labor problems at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, they took the ultra drastic step of just shutting down the 188 year old facility and shifting its warship building work to privately owned non union shipyards in Virginia, Mississippi and Louisiana

This left 20,000 shipyard workers jobless, led to a sharp decline in membership for Machinists District Lodge 15 and Boilermakers local 5 and caused much economic hardship in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn and the Lower East Side, where most of their workers lived.

Many of the city’s garment factories followed suit, relocating their production from union shops Manhattan to non union factories in the South.

This happened with absolutely no resistance from the ILGWU, who only demanded that the factory owners make liquidated damages payments to the ILGWU Welfare Fund in lieu of the contributions they would have made if they had stayed in the Garment District.

Those benefit fund contributions did NOT provide coverage for laid off garment workers. Their health coverage stopped shortly after they received their last check and if they worked less than 10 years in the industry, they lost all their pension credits too.

The ILGWU merely put the funds in the Welfare Fund’s bank accounts, and invested the huge surplus of liquidated damages payments in the stock market.

Nobody in the New York labor movement saw these things for what they were; the first wave of a huge tsunami of mass layoffs of industrial workers, and the massive restructuring of a whole vast sector of New York City’s economy. None of the unions had any kind of plan for how to deal with this.

Also, the CEO of US Steel, Roger Blough convened a behind closed doors meeting with the CEO's of 200 leading American corporations.

Blough felt that it was very important for the future of American capitalism to have the wages and benefits of production workers sharply reduced.

He knew that many industrial corporations were actively working on doing just that with their own workers – but that construction contractors, left to their own devices, would keep on giving their workers raises and passing on the cost to the clients.

This was not only bad for the individual corporations that had to pay the bills, but it was bad for the capitalist class as a whole.

If the contractors weren’t willing to bust their unions, Corporate America had to do it for them!

To further that goal, Blough and the 200 other CEO’s organized a corporate junta; the awkwardly named “Construction Users Anti Inflation Roundtable” (later changed to the “Business Roundtable”)

The Roundtable would have regular behind closed door meetings where they would work on this union busting agenda, together with non union employers associations

Hardly anybody in the building trades paid any attention to the Roundtable, even though this would be the beginning of the biggest attack on construction unions in over 40 years.

By 1970, much of the American workforce was in open rebellion.

In April, this labor revolt climaxed with 200,000 freight teamsters launching a nationwide wildcat strike against the nation’s over the road trucking companies (which was also a revolt against the leaders of the Teamsters Union and the cosa nostra gangsters who stood behind them) – which, unfortunately, was defeated.

The same month, the nation’s postal workers – led by Manhattan postal clerks - went on strike for the first time in the US Postal Service’s 191 year history.

Despite President Richard Nixon sending the US Army to break the strike, the postal workers were victorious, even though their walkout was flat out illegal!

This revolt by the more militant sections of the working class, as well as the far more widely publicized middle class student movement against the Vietnam War, triggered something of a backlash from the more conservative sections of the class – and no section of the working class was more conservative than White company men in New York City’s building trades.

The most dramatic example of this backlash was what came to be known as the “hard hat riots” of May 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 Day 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, which at the time was still the largest construction project in the world.

Person or persons unknown at the World Trade Center site mobilized a violent counterdemonstration against the anti war protests.

The core of the counterdemo was 200 workers from the WTC site. However, the workers were reinforced by a large crowd of stockbrokers, commodities traders, lawyers and other corporate executive types from the New York Stock Exchange and the many brokerage houses, banks and 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 had joined the protest as it went 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 wrecking the administrative offices.

150 police officers were on the scene, but the only folks who got arrested were students and other anti war protesters, while the pro war rioters rampaged in full view of the cops.

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 imperialist wars in Southeast Asia. Support for the war only remained high among the upper classes, whose sons did not have to fight in it.

But, the anti war movement had done a poor job of mobilizing anti war sentiment among White workers, or workers of color, for that matter (who were the most anti war people in the country) contenting itself to mobilizing upscale White students.

This was a massive strategic mistake on the movement’s part.

Of course, there was a core element of deeply anti communist workers in the building trades.

Some, in particular tradesmen with roots in the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia or other eastern bloc countries, came by their anti communism honestly, because of the very real abuses that the state socialist regimes had carried out against the working class in those countries.

Those folks opposed the North Vietnamese government because of its ties to the USSR.

Others had a more political reason for their anti communism. Many company men had a real ideological problem with the very concept of socialism and working class power and they were ideologically committed to supporting the Vietnam War for this reason.

Of course, the Eastern European workers and the company men even taken together were a “non silent minority” of tradesmen.

But the company men’s connections to the contractors and the union leadership gave their views a much greater social weight than the views of the local man majority of tradesmen.

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

Company men at the WTC job were, again, the core of this mobilization.

Tishman Construction, the GC – as well as P & M Sorbara, Forest Electric and the other subcontractors, the client, the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey, the banks who were paying for the job and the Genovese crime family, under who’s protection the job operated  – were willing to delay the job and lose money for the far more important ideological goal of supporting the war.

This mobilization 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 and sandwiches 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 flatly refused to attend the rally) were docked 2 hours pay.

Just like the spontaneous march on May 8, there were tens of thousands of lawyers, stockbrokers and bankers intermingled with the actual construction workers at the event

The organizers of the march gave those guys hardhats to wear – since the hardhat had become the symbol of this mass movement - but the Wall Street guys were still 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.

The one thing both rallies had in common was the fact that they were majority White – the pro war rally almost completely, but the anti war rally also had few protestors of color, despite the fact that Black, Latino and Chinese New Yorkers were overwhelmingly anti war (and the rallies themselves were within walking distance from Chinatown).

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

Despite media claims of a “silent majority” mass movement and a campaign to get pro “silent majority” White Americans to wear American flag pins in their lapel, the “hard hat” movement died out quickly.

At the same time the hard hat riots were going on, Colombo crime family boss Joe Colombo organized the Italian American Civil Rights League, whose mass base was same privileged conservative layers of White workers that had sparked the hard hat riots.

The IACRL was originally a front for Colombo’s protest campaign against the FBI, who had arrested his son on counterfeiting charges.

But, it became a legitimate right wing mass movement, mobilizing thousands of working class Italian American New Yorkers – to defend cosa nostra!

Colombo’s “civil rights” group succeeded in getting the FBI and the producers of the motion picture “the Godfather” to stop using the words “mafia” and “cosa nostra” to refer to - the Mafia!

Colombo, despite the fact that he himself was a mafia boss, presented the idea that the mafia was a “racist myth” invented by the FBI and the media to make Italian Americans look bad!

Unfortunately for Colombo, the bosses of the Gambino, Genovese, Bonnano and Lucchese families did NOT approve of his high profile political mobilization.

They preferred to carry out their criminal activities in secret – with no rallies, picket lines or press conferences!

So, person or persons unknown hired African American hitman Jerome Johnson to kill Colombo at one of his “civil rights rallies” (they probably picked a Black hitman as an extra special final slap in the face to Colombo for his “civil rights” efforts).

Johnson shot Colombo 3 times in the head in front of a crowd of 10,000 at a rally at Columbus Circle - and another, unknown, White shooter then shot Johnson dead on the spot – lest he name the folks who hired him!

The shooting caused permanent irreversible brain damage to Colombo -making him a vegetable, alive but comatose.

Colombo died 7 years later in a nursing home from his wounds, but his short lived White “civil rights” movement expired even before he did, collapsing soon after his shooting.

Ironically enough, Colombo’s idea was brilliant.

What better way to defend cosa nostra than to build a mass movement of the privileged workers and small business owners who benefited from the crime syndicate’s racketeering activities?

Had Colombo’s murder not caused the collapse of the IACRL, that group might have been able to defend cosa nostra’s rackets against the massive prosecutions that were only a few years away.

But, despite these right wing movements attempting to mobilize the company men, that did not stop the general working class-wide wave of resistance from hitting the building trades too.

In the New York construction industry this took the form of wildcat work stoppages over safety issues and other grievances, the continuing struggles of the Coalitions to desegregate the workforce and a general pressure on the union leaders by the local men to demand major wage increases from the contractors.

Due to that climate of seething construction worker unrest, the contractors had no choice but to grant pay and benefit increases and pass the increased costs on to the clients and their bankers.

This was an unstable situation, because the financiers were getting increasingly tired of having to absorb those rapidly increasing labor costs (even though labor was now barely 10% of the cost of constructing a major building).

An even bigger backlash against militant New York workers began in 1971.

It started with Mayor Lindsay giving a great huge gift to the real estate developers and the bankers – the repeal of Rent Control.

The Rent Control Law had been won in 1947 after a 25 year communist led tenant struggle – and for 24 years, it held rents down to a reasonable level, so working class folks could afford to live in New York City.

But, the communist led tenant groups collapsed in the late 1940’s, and the Central Labor Council abandoned the fight for tenants who still lived in the city to focus on encouraging their better off White members to buy houses in the new suburbs in Long Island.

By 1971, nobody actively fought to defend Rent Control, even though a majority of the city’s working class directly benefited from its regulations.

In place of Rent Control, Mayor Lindsay imposed Rent Stabilization.

He created a 9 member junta of mayoral appointees – 2 directly selected by the Rent Stabilization Association and representing the landlords, 2 mayoral appointees who, supposedly “represented” the tenants (although they were not elected by them) and 5 “public representatives” who answered directly to the mayor.

They would meet every 2 years to decide if landlords needed a rent increase and if so how much would they get.

[Every 2 years from their first meeting in 1971 to the present, the Rent Guidelines Board has always given the landlords a big rent increase, no matter what]

Alongside of the destruction of Rent Control, the New York City Housing Authority stopped building new housing projects.

Congressman Ed Koch, a onetime liberal and civil rights movement veteran turned Shankerite racist, helped to lead a mass movement that was partially responsible for the ending of public housing expansion.

Koch, who represented the West Side of Manhattan, went to Forest Hills, Queens and led a protest movement among racist Orthodox Jews who did not want projects in their neighborhood because they didn’t want to have Blacks or Latinos living in their community.

The NYCHA used Koch’s racist movement as a pretext to stop not only that project but every new public housing project in the city.

By removing the NYCHA’s high quality low cost nondiscriminatory housing units from competition with the city’s private landlords, this made it possible for them to get away with jacking up rents.

There was a loophole in the new Rent Stabilization law, that if a tenant lived in their apartment before 1971, they could keep their old Rent Control rent and they could let their children and grandchildren have the apartment at that same low rent too.

But, if they moved out, for any reason, they would lose that rent and the new tenant would have to pay the excessive inflated Rent Stabilization rent.

This loophole led the landlords to launch a wave of terror to drive out Rent Control tenants by any means necessary.

In Manhattan south of 96th St and in Downtown Brooklyn, some landlords decided to force out their working class tenants by firing building superintendents, cutting off heat and hot water, breaking locks on outer doors and letting criminals run amok in their buildings, robbing and terrorizing tenants.

Once the existing tenants moved out the landlords launched a process that was known as “gentrification” (a British term – referring to a similar campaign of terror being waged by London landlords against working class tenants).

Some landlords did minor renovations on their property (taking advantage of section J 51 of the Rent Stabilization law, which allowed even bigger rent increases if landlords did so called “major capital improvements” to buildings)

Once renovated, the landlords brought in richer tenants who could pay the higher rents.

Some other landlords tore down their old buildings and built new luxury buildings from the ground up.

This was paid for with public funds – Mayor Lindsay went to the capital markets and borrowed $ 784 million in short term, high interest loans, and then practically gave it to the landlords in the form of long term low interest loans.

That loan was a breathtakingly bad business decision which would literally wreck the city’s finances within just a few years.

In largely Black and Latino areas of Manhattan north of 96th St, the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn, and in Far Rockaway, Queens, a largely White area which was too far from Manhattan to be gentrified - the landlords engaged in a far more brutal type of profiteering.

Landlords in those areas, who had no hope of gentrifying for racial or commuting distance reasons, resorted to arson.

They hired “torches” (a new breed of professional arsonist who quickly sprang up to fill the landlords’ terroristic needs) who simply set fire to the buildings – some would write a note warning tenants of the imminent fire, others just lit a match and put the buildings to the torch with the people still in them!

Hardly anybody went to jail for this blatant illegality – except a few low level torches – while the media blamed “crazy Puerto Ricans” for all the fires!

And the terroristic landlords got their insurance settlements, even though everybody knew who set the fires and why!

The city’s labor movement did absolutely nothing to respond to these attacks on working class tenants – not even locals 32B-32J and 32E of the Service Employees International Union, who’s members worked in some of those buildings!

The building trades were dead silent on the fires – even unions like the Carpenters, Laborers and Bricklayers, most of whose members still lived in the city.

The building trades openly supported Lindsay’s $ 784 million dollar giveaway to the landlords because their members were working on those jobs.

Dozens of firefighters and hundreds of tenants were killed, hundreds of firefighters and thousands of tenants were injured and upwards of 200,000 people were driven from their homes by the fires.

Another attack on New York workers was going on at the same time - the mass exodus of much of the city’s manufacturing base.

Many factory owners in New York were uncomfortable with the growing militancy of their workers – and the utter inability of the unions to control those workers.

The Navy Department had already shifted its shipbuilding work down South – where unions were weaker – and other companies followed suit at an increasingly rapid pace.

Most of the plants were bound for small rural towns in Georgia or the Carolinas – close enough to only be a day away from the New York market by truck, but far enough away to have much weaker unions or no unions at all.

The City had 825,000 factory jobs in 1969 – but only 536,000 by 1975.

The Carpenters Union managed to keep much of the cabinet shop industry in the city, or at the very least in New Jersey – in part because at that time carpenters in the field were still refusing to install finished woodwork that did not have a union label on it.

The other factory workers unions did pretty much nothing at all.

And, as I mentioned above, the ILGWU leadership actually profited from the runaway shops, by making those companies pay liquidated damages to the ILGWU Welfare Fund, and then cutting off benefits for the laid off workers, which meant that as their membership shrank, their funds grew!

Since Blacks, Latinos and Chinese were more likely than White New Yorkers to be factory workers, they were more likely than Whites to lose their jobs to the plant closings.

Consequently, these layoffs had a devastating impact on NYC’s ghettoes. That mass unemployment led to a sharp increase in the crime rate, which, along with a flood of cheap Southeast Asian heroin that was flooding the city at the time, led to a sharp increase in police repression in the inner cities and mass jailing of jobless young men of color.

The building trades were insulated from a lot of this – other than the social chaos from the mass layoffs, the crime wave and the destruction of large areas of the city’s working class residential districts by landlord terrorism.

But, when the World Trade Center was finished in 1972, the construction industry had a crisis of its own.

The WTC dumped 15 million square feet of office space – and a 15 story luxury hotel – in a commercial real estate market that simply did not need that much rentable floor space.

Worse yet, there was a global recession the next year – triggered by the US defeat in the Vietnam War, Egypt and Syria’s successful war against America’s ally Israel and the collapse of American oil company control over Middle Eastern oil prices.

That recession also marked the end of 30 years of economic expansion for American corporations – and the beginning of a long slow decline for Corporate America.

Definitely not a good time to be marketing expensive office space.

The Twin Towers were 110 floor white elephants, with the State of New York and the Port Authority actually having to rent excess office space that they did not need in the towers just to have at least some tenants in them!

The completion of the towers led to the collapse of the office construction sector in the city.

Fortunately, the city was still subsidizing those luxury apartment buildings going up where the pre gentrification working class tenements had once stood.

And the city itself was doing a lot of work, much of it related to the social crisis – the largest job being the expansion of Rikers Island, a small municipal penal colony on an island in the East River between Queens and the Bronx that was rapidly being expanded into the largest city jail on the face of the earth.

But, there was a problem – the ticking financial time bomb of that $ 784 million dollar loan – which was soon coming due, but had not yet been paid back by the developers.




































CHAPTER  8  - “….NYC – Drop Dead!” (1975 - 1982)


The Wall Street bankers who had lent that money to the city were very worried about collecting on that loan.

So, in the summer of 1975, they took control of the City of New York’s finances from Mayor Abe Beame, with a bankers junta called the Municipal Assistance Corporation put in charge of all of the city’s revenues and expenditures.

The MAC’s first priority was paying that debt to the bankers – all other priorities were secondary.

So, they ordered the city to lay off 50,000 of its 200,000 workers.

There were massive service cuts ordered – including the complete demolition of several subway lines in poor neighborhoods.

The city also cancelled almost all of its construction projects – in many cases, abandoning jobsites in mid build, with the unfinished buildings left to rot.

MAC also cancelled the funding for further luxury housing construction, which brought that sector to a halt as well.

Considering the collapse of commercial construction work in 1972 with the completion of the WTC, this was a disaster for the building trades.

The construction unions had absolutely no answer for this crisis – they just rolled over and accepted it.

Then again, the municipal unions also did nothing in the face of the MAC attack.

 Victor Gotbaum and Barry Feinstein, the leaders of the city’s two largest municipal unions, DC 37 and Teamsters local 237, actively collaborated with MAC and the Wall Street financiers in planning the budget cuts and layoffs.

Transport Workers Union local 100 – while not actively aiding the attacks on workers – didn’t do anything to stop them either.

New York City public school teachers forced the UFT to call a brief strike – which was sabotaged from within by Albert Shanker.

City sanitation workers called a wildcat strike, which was broken by their union, the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association.

That was pretty much it for labor resistance to this massive attack on the New York City working class!

It was remarkably pathetic – in the city with the largest local labor movement in America, the unions were going down without a fight!

The building trades faced mass unemployment. Some tradesmen were out of work for so long they had to leave the industry just to find a job, and the construction trade workforce permanently shrank by approximately 20% from 250,000 workers to 200,000.

The city was in a crisis. Landlords were still burning their tenants out of house and home (which accelerated when MAC ended the city’s gentrification subsidies) and the mass job loss sent the crime rate through the roof.

The Wall Street financiers were upset that the Democratic Party machine, which they had allowed to run the city for so long, had failed them so badly and put their investments dangerously at risk.

The 1977 blackout really brought matters to a head.

Thanks to Con Edison’s failure to properly maintain their power distribution network, the entire city was blacked out for two days.

Thanks to the mass joblessness, there was a wave of looting in the city’s poorest neighborhoods, as desperate poor people took advantage of the situation to grab whatever they could from local stores.

That was one failure too many for the old Democratic Party machine – Wall Street had had enough.

So, Mayor Beame’s political career ended and, after a hard fought primary, he was replaced by reform Democrat turned Shankerite racist Ed Koch on New Year’s Day 1978.

Mayor Koch was tasked with the responsibility of restoring normalcy in New York and making damned sure that Wall Street’s investments in municipal bonds and the property values of the city’s real estate developers were protected.

Part of that involved rebuilding the layoff devastated city workforce – Koch brought the total city worker headcount back to 200,000, with the biggest expansion in the NYPD and the Department of Corrections.

One of Koch’s most important tasks was rebuilding the vast wastelands in Harlem, the South Bronx, Central Brooklyn and Far Rockaway, Queens that had been laid waste to by landlord terrorism earlier in the decade.

It was embarrassing to the titans of Wall Street to have huge areas of the “capital of the world” looking like a bombed out wasteland!

The problem was, this was a huge undertaking and Koch had to get it done on the cheap, because he still had MAC looking over his shoulder and approving all of the city’s expenditures.

This would be difficult. The abandoned buildings and vacant lots had become city property when the landlords stopped paying property taxes. City, state and federal Davis Bacon laws required that prevailing wages be paid on any work performed on publicly owned buildings.

Some of the managers in the Department of Housing Preservation and Development – one of Mayor Koch’s newly created agencies – had an idea as to how to evade the Davis Bacon wage and benefit requirements.

It was pretty simple and was basically a type of legal money laundering.

The city would transfer the buildings to be renovated over to not for profit social services agencies, and give those private agencies the renovation funds in the form of government grants. That transfer would  magically make public funds into private monies and Davis Bacon wage requirements could be shamelessly violated.

The building trades did absolutely nothing to stop this attack – nor did the city worker unions in any way try to fight this anti labor attack (which wasn’t really surprising – since those unions couldn’t even defend their own members, how exactly would they be able to fight for anybody else?)

Cosa nostra and the contractors tried to cash in – particularly the drywall & ceilings contractors, who were the main subcontractors involved in residential construction.

The Metropolitan New York Drywall Association and the Association of Wall-Ceiling and Carpentry industries demanded – and got – the Carpenters Union to give a lower “renovation rate” on these jobs.

The other associations that had contracts with the Carpenters demanded -  and got – the same giveback, which was soon extended to all the city buildings where work had been stopped in 1975 and resumed by Koch in 1978.

Electricians local 3 made only very limited concessions to the New York Electrical Contractors Association.

So, Teamsters local 363 began signing up electrical contractors to its low wage union agreement – and began recruiting large numbers of minority “trainees” for those companies to use as cheap labor.

Teamsters local 282 – the local that represented concrete truck drivers and drivers that worked directly for contractors – made its givebacks another way.

Local 282 required GC’s to have working teamster foremen on every big jobsite.

The name was a misnomer – they were not foremen, but were actually teamster shop stewards, and they didn’t do any actual work, their entire job was to check every driver who brought a truck onto a jobsite to see if they were union.

If they found a truck with a non union driver, they were supposed to prevent that truck from being unloaded (or loaded, in the case of a garbage truck) unless the GC or the subcontractor receiving the load hired a teamster for the day as a penalty.

But local 282’s teamster foremen began letting non union trucks be unloaded – in return for a modest bribe, which was far less than the cost of a delayed delivery and a day’s wages and benefits for a local 282 teamster driver.

282 was a mobbed up local, of course – but it was run by the Gambino family, and was a minor player in the construction rackets, which were dominated by the larger and stronger Genovese family.

Only one union resisted the giveback demands – Drywall Tapers local 1974 of Painters District Council # 9.

They refused to accept the lower wages and they also refused to use a new and dangerous technological innovation, stilts.

Tapers wearing stilts on their feet didn’t have to use ladders or scaffolds to reach ceilings and the upper parts of walls and they could work faster – but they were at high risk of tripping and severely injuring themselves.

To block the givebacks and the stilts, Drywall Tapers local 1974 went on strike against the drywall contractors in the Metropolitan New York Drywall Association and the Association of Wall-Ceiling and Carpentry Industries.

This act of resistance was not so much because the leaders of that union were really militant, but because DC # 9 and the Association of Master Painters and Decorators were run by the Lucchese crime family, which was not getting a piece of the action from the “renovation” deal that was being brokered by the Genovese family.

The Genoveses, through Vincent Di Napoli, a drywall contractor who was a made man in the family and ran the Metropolitan New York Drywall Association, set to the task of breaking that strike.

Genovese family member Louis Moscatiello, Sr, a real estate agent who was on the Democratic Party’s Bronx County Committee was told to get a local charter from the Operative Plasterers and Cement Masons Union to set up a scab local.

The Plasterers Union chartered Drywall Plasterers and Tapers local 530, and made Moscatiello its president, despite the fact that he was not a plasterer or a taper and had never worked one day in his life in any construction trade whatsoever.

Moscatiello signed a contract with Di Napoli’s Metropolitan New York Drywall Association, on Di Napoli’s terms (including the stilts), and the local also recruited scabs to send through local 1974’s picketlines to take the striking taper’s jobs.

Drywall Tapers local 1974 didn’t yield on the stilt issue, or the wage cut – but they lost most of their work to the scab Plasterers local and were left with whatever work they could get on Wall-Ceiling Association and independent jobs.

The rest of the New York building trades stood idly by and let the Genoveses break the tapers strike.

But they didn’t stop there.

Contractors, emboldened by the givebacks and the breaking of the drywall tapers strike, started engaging in a practice called lumping.

That is, they would hire a union carpenter off the books, and pay him a flat fee for a certain amount of work, rather than an hourly wage and benefit fund contribution.

This was illegal, and in violation of the Carpenters Union contract and bylaws.

But it went on anyway – with no resistance from the union.

Di Napoli’s companies were among the worst offenders.

Outright non union contractors, who paid far less than even the dirtiest union outfits, began to break into HPD work. The city and their non profit fronts actually went out of their way to hire non union GCs and subcontractors for the housing renovation jobs.

The Coalitions, who had survived the great recession, found themselves in a position to supply labor to these contractors – on a non union basis, of course.

Also, with all the Coalitions roaming around the city – there were around 60 of them by this point – GC’s and not for profits found it useful to have one Coalition protect them from all the others.

So, the Coalitions – many of whose leaders had totally dropped any pretence of radicalism by this point – reinvented themselves as “EEOC Consultants” (they still had the busloads of armed workers to back up those “consultations”, of course).

They supplied GCs and not for profits with Coalition guards for their sites and in return Coalition leaders were given “site coordinator” pay – labor foreman’s wages – to supervise those security squads.

The Coalition leaders got paid from all the sites their groups protected – so it was not unheard of for some Coalition leaders to be openly receiving $ 10,000 a week from contractors in their area.

Had the Coalitions met the Taft Hartley Act definition of labor union, this would have been considered bribery and would have been a federal crime.

But, since they were considered to be community organizations, it was perfectly legal - not very ethical, but legal.

The only two Coalitions still led by maoists – Harlem Fightback and the Chinese Construction Workers Association – kept clear of the whole site coordinator pay and security squad deal.

Their leaders – with ties to the respectable world of the academic left – began positioning themselves and their organizations to get respectable corporate foundation funding as “minority worker advocates”, rather than the borderline bribe receiving the leaders of the less leftist coalitions went for.

It still amounted to the same thing, a workers organization funded by the bosses.

The Coalitions drive for respectability and “EEOC consultant” status was sparked when President Jimmy Carter’s administration announced new Affirmative Action quotas for the construction industry which called for New York City contractors to have a workforce that was 28% minority and 6% female.

This was the end of the construction industry’s longstanding gender bar that blocked women from working in the trades.

The first few tradeswomen began coming into the industry.

Some women entered the industry through the Coalitions. Many were the wives, girlfriends, sisters or daughters of male Coalition members. Some of the site coordinators got their wives – and, in some cases, their mistresses - in the business as well.

Others entered the industry through training programs initiated by not for profit social service agencies.

And still others got into the business through court order mandated integration programs like the ones that had been imposed on Steamfitters local 638 and Sheet Metal Workers local 28.

But wherever they came from, the tradeswomen were definitely NOT welcome on the jobsites.

Many contractors had a basic ideological problem with women being in construction.

These men believed in an ideology of craftsmanship that dictated that only men could do skilled trades work. They felt that “a woman’s place is in the home” cooking and making babies. If women had jobs at all, they should be “women’s jobs” like secretary, nurse or teacher. Having to hire women to do what they felt were “men’s jobs” was appalling to these men – since the ability of women to do those jobs undermined their fundamental view of the world and their sense of self-worth as skilled men.

Also, there was a temporary plumbing expense issue.

It was possible to run an all male jobsite with no temporary toilets. On rough jobs, the men were expected to urinate against the walls, on the finish work end the men were expected to relieve themselves in “piss buckets”.

But you could not do that with women on the job. For obvious anatomical and privacy reasons, women needed real bathrooms, and temporary bathrooms cost money to build and maintain!

There was actually a lawsuit around this very issue – filed by a woman carpenter who asked where the bathroom was on a site and was told to “piss on the columns like the guys do” – and the threat of more lawsuits forced contractors to improve toilet facilities for all of their tradespeople, male and female alike.

The embarrassing thing was, the unions had basically gone along with letting GC’s run jobs with minimal toilets for years – and helped contractors condition male workers to accept those barbaric working conditions – but it was the resistance of a handful of women construction workers that forced GC’s to come roaring into the 19th century and put basic sanitary facilities in all of their jobsites!

There was another great transition on the horizon – the cosa nostra cartel was about to fall.

The clients – and the developers, bankers and GC’s that served them – were sick to death of cosa nostra price fixing. They were tired of paying the “mob tax” and they wanted to have a higher proportion of the profits of construction go to them, rather than to the subcontractors that colluded with the mob.

The financiers were emboldened by the Business Roundtable’s successful attacks on the construction unions in most of the rest of the country.

By 1978, construction had largely been deunionized in the big cities of the South and the Intermountain West and in most of the suburban and rural areas of the East, Midwest and the Pacific states.

New York was one of the few islands of unionism that avoided those attacks – but even here, non union contractors were getting a foothold in HPD funded inner city renovation work.

With the unions on the run, it was time for the financiers to strike.

They couldn’t take on cosa nostra on their own – that would be very dangerous.

But they could ask the government to do it for them.

And that’s exactly what they did.

The FBI launched the LILREX [Long Island Labor Racketeering and Extortion] probe, aimed at the drywall wheel – the first of many government investigations of cosa nostra’s role in the construction industry.

New York County District Attorney Robert Morgenthau and the New York State Organized Crime Task Force soon set up their own investigations.

These efforts were parallel to a nationwide investigation of the Teamsters – which focused on labor racketeering in the 49 local unions of Teamsters Joint Council # 16, the union’s New York City affiliate.

Since at least 31 of those locals were controlled by cosa nostra, there was a whole lot of labor racketeering to investigate.

Of those wiseguy-run locals, among the dirtiest were the construction related ones.

Like local 282, which was being investigated for its teamster foremen taking bribes to let non union trucks onto union jobsites.

The contractors who paid the bribes were NOT investigated – since the feds and the contractors both felt that it was their “right” to use low wage truckers and that they should not have to pay a bribe to violate their Teamsters Union contract.

There would be more investigations – a lot more.

1978 turned out to be a watershed year for the New York building trades. On the good side, it marked the beginning of racial and gender desegregation in the trades. However, on the bad side, it was the beginning of the end of New York City as the last 100% union town in the nation.

HPD expanded its low income housing renovation work, thanks to subsidies from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Developers resumed building luxury housing in neighborhoods gentrified during the wave of landlord terror a few years earlier.

Non union contractors made deeper and deeper inroads into that sector, and into restaurant, bar and store construction work.

Most of the building trades reacted to this with total passivity.

Except for the Carpenters Union, which had a two track reaction; legal picketing by day and mysterious firebombings by person or persons unknown by night.

The Carpenters Union had little choice but to do something. The union, by far the largest in the industry, and the one with the most workers in the residential and retail sectors, had the most to lose from the decay of the union sector.

Also, as the union most involved with the Genovese family’s rackets, their leaders were most at risk of doing jail time.

This led to some Carpenter Business Agents actually going after cosa nostra linked contractors – including Cambridge Drywall and Inner City Drywall, firms secretly owned by Vincent Di Napoli, the Genovese family point man for the drywall rackets.

Two Carpenter BA’s in the Bronx – Daniel Evangelista and William Nordstrom – were actually assassinated because they confronted mobbed up contractors.

In 1980, Transport Workers Union local 100 went on strike against the NYC Transit Authority. That walkout lasted 10 days, was won on the picketline by the 34,000 strikers but lost at the bargaining table by local 100’s leaders, who had not wanted to fight back in the first place.

The building trades, as had been their longstanding pattern for many years, stood aloof from the transit workers struggles. More shamefully, so did the other civil service unions, who left the transit workers to twist slowly in the wind on their own.

Meanwhile, Mayor Koch had proved his value to the Wall Street interests – above all, he had stabilized the city and reduced the crime rate.

This was done party through job creation – the mayor expanded the city workforce from an anemic 150,000 when he took office to 330,000 by the end of his first term.

And partly, Koch stabilized the city by a massive police crackdown in communities of color (which required a similarly massive expansion of the city penal colony on Rikers Island – by Koch’s second term, it was the largest municipal jail on the face of the Earth).

Koch’s “anti crime” crusade very pointedly did NOT include cosa nostra.

But the feds had their own campaigns - the Teamsters investigation and the LILREX probe aimed at the building trades, which were starting to bear fruit.

The first LILREX trial – which involved Metropolitan New York Drywall Association chief Vincent Di Napoli, Plasterers local 530 President Louis Moscatiello, Sr (both Genovese family captains by this point) and New York Carpenters President Teddy Maritas – ended in a mistrial.

Maritas never lived to see the second trial – he ‘disappeared’ the night before opening arguments, at a mysterious meeting with person or persons unknown underneath the Throggs Neck Bridge.

FBI agents found Maritas’ wallet and one of his shoes – but nothing else – and it was presumed that he’d been killed and his body dumped in an unknown location.

But Maritas’ assassination didn’t help the drywall club or the Genovese family one bit, because Di Napoli and Moscatiello were convicted at the second trial anyway.

The New York District Council of Carpenters was taken into trusteeship by its parent body, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, shortly after the Maritas hit and the second LILREX trial.

The Carpenters Union was in a state of collapse.

Thanks to the deunionization of residential construction, it’s membership had fallen from 40,000 to less than 25,000 with the sharpest losses in the Upper Manhattan and outer borough locals, most of whose work had been residential construction.

Numerous locals were disbanded. The Harlem, Washington Heights, East Bronx and West Bronx locals were all merged into one local. All of the Northern Queens locals became one local, all of the Southern Queens and South Shore of Nassau County locals were also merged, as were all of the Northern Brooklyn locals and all of the Southern Brooklyn locals.

Other unions weren’t in as dire a shape as the Carpenters – but on the whole about a quarter of the industry was non union now, and the total industry had shrunk to less than 200,000 workers (only 150,000 of whom were union now).

Fortunately for the building trades, real estate investors, encouraged by the Koch administration’s stabilization of the city, began heavily building in Manhattan.

They began building a lot of office buildings in West Midtown (in some cases, they started building before they even had tenants lined up) – some bold developers even built in the Times Square area, which was still notorious for open drug dealing and street prostitution – but which Koch had promised to clean up.

There was also large scale luxury residential development in Manhattan – especially in the Upper East Side and the Upper West Side.

Virtually all of this work was done union, which enabled the unions to survive the loss of so much union work in the outer boroughs.

In short order, a building boom began, and soon virtually all of the union tradespeople in the city were working on the Manhattan jobsites.

Electricians local 3 had so much work they even let “tramps” - union electricians from other parts of the country - come here to work.

There were a lot of huge jobs going up – the AT&T building, the IBM building, the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, Trump Tower, Worldwide Plaza, the Marriott Marquis, the Viacom Building (the last two were blazing a trail for luxury office and hotel development in seedy Times Square), Seven World Trade Center, the Battery Park City complex (four office buildings, a huge glassed in atrium and several dozen luxury apartment buildings, all on a platform in the Hudson River entirely made of landfill from the WTC job) and many other huge buildings all over Manhattan (on some blocks there were 4 different hirises going up at the same time).

And, in the older existing buildings that were put up in the last building boom, there was lots and lots of interior renovation work and office furniture installation.

Cosa nostra had a piece of all of this too. The wheel may have been broken in drywall, but the concrete club was still in effect, and wiseguys played their usual role as middlemen brokering disputes between contractors – for a price.

The contractors still liked this arrangement, it kept prices and profits up and minimized labor problems and competition.

The clients were furious.

Their counterparts in places like Atlanta, Houston, San Diego, Phoenix, Denver and just down the road in Washington DC were savoring the fruits of the Business Roundtable’s unionbusting efforts.

Meanwhile, they still had to deal with price fixing subcontractors, all union crews, having to pay bribes for the privilege of using scab labor (and even then only being able to get away with non union demolition work) and a percentage of every job they built being paid directly to the mafia.

They leaned on the feds and the city, and the FBI and the New York County DA’s office responded by stepping up the tempo of their investigations.

Meanwhile, the unions ignored just how much of their work had been deunionized. As long as the bulk of their members were working in Midtown and the Financial District, they didn’t care what happened to the rest of the city.

Not only was almost all of HPD’s inner city work non union, but so was the high end renovation and alteration work on the Upper East Side and Upper West Side, and most of the renovation work related to the gentrification of SoHo, Tribeca and the Lower East Side was done non union as well.












































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

GREGORYABUTLER

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The High Cost Of Low Wages
« Reply #4 on: April 12, 2011, 10:23:37 AM »
CHAPTER  9 – “…in return for a plea of guilty to one count of racketeering…” (1982 – 1998)


Even in the Financial District and Midtown, a lot of demolition work had gone scab as well.

When rapidly rising developer Donald Trump had the old Bonwitt Teller building on 5th Av torn down to build Trump Tower, he used a scab demolition firm

Worse yet, Housewreckers local 95 of the Laborers Union was fully aware of the job and the 450 non union Polish immigrants who were being paid grossly substandard wages (when they got paid at all) and they did absolutely nothing to stop the job.

On a lot of the luxury hirise apartment house jobs in Manhattan (the only part of residential that stayed union) some union hirise concrete and drywall & ceilings outfits began to use lumpers (union workers working off the books for non union pay and no benefits) on their jobs.

There were union contractors in painting & decorating, office furniture installation and drapery & venetian blinds that began to do the same thing.

The clients weren’t thrilled about this at all – not because they gave a damn about construction workers being underpaid, but because if there was a reduction in labor costs, they wanted it done openly and to have the cost savings passed on to them.

They couldn’t stand that the labor costs were being cut in secret, but they were still paying as if they were paying for union labor – and they were also paying the cost of the 2% tribute to cosa nostra that made the substandard wages possible.

The State of New York was also outraged that similar things were happening at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center job. Thanks to bid rigging, S & A Concrete, the concrete subcontractor (which just happened to be owned by one Anthony Salerno, a/k/a “Fat Tony” who was also the underboss of the Genovese family) was getting paid $ 40 million dollars for a $ 15 million dollar job, and was almost 2 years behind schedule – and other contractors were similarly profiting at the state’s expense.

 And, of course, the building trades continued to stand aloof from the rest of the labor movement.

When Retail Wholesale Department Store Union local 1199, the union that represented the city’s private hospital workers, called a citywide strike in 1984, the building trades hardly lifted a finger to help them. Of course, neither DC 37, TWU local 100 nor any of the city’s other major unions did anything to help the hospital workers win either. That lack of solidarity greatly helped the private hospitals in their efforts to defeat that strike.

Closer to home, when Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees local 6 and the Hotel Motel Trades Council went on strike the next year, the building trades hardly lifted a finger to help out – even though the Carpenters, Electricians and Operating Engineers were all affiliates of the Hotel Motel Trades Council!

The hotel strike was more successful than the hospital strike – but no thanks to the rest of the labor movement!

Meanwhile, the job loss in the city’s industrial sector continued.

Thanks to runaway shops moving to the South, Latin America and Asia, New York only had 407,000 factory jobs left, down 126,000 from the beginning of the Koch administration.

And a disproportionately large portion of those lost jobs were in the better paying shops, with only the sweatshops staying behind.

Some factory worker unions, like the ILGWU and IUE, actually had $ 3.35/hr minimum wage union contracts!

In the ILGWU’s case, the overwhelming majority of the 20,000 factory worker members they still had in the city were minimum wage workers – and, they had to pay their union $ 40 a week for health coverage out of their tiny $ 117 a week pay checks!

But that didn’t matter to the building trades – they made way more than minimum wage, and there was plenty of work.

Until the day when there wasn’t.

Like all building booms, this one came to an end, in 1988 – thanks to lots of vacant office space in speculative buildings and unsold apartments in luxury buildings – and many tradespeople found themselves on “line E”.

It wasn’t as catastrophic as 1975 – but the days when everybody had a job and there was lots and lots of OT were over.

For the wiseguys, it was the end of an era – because the boom was about to be lowered on them by law enforcement.

The clients and their developers and bankers were tired of having to pay for the cost of tribute, and of price fixing by their subcontractors and their subs instead of them making all of the profits from falling construction worker wages.

It didn’t help matters that the city’s second largest crime family, the Gambinos, was in the middle of a high profile civil war.

The Gambinos weren’t the only New York mob family with internal conflicts, of course.

The Colombos had been embroiled in a low intensity civil war since their boss, Carmine “The Snake” Persico had gone to federal prison.

The Bonnanos had been paralyzed by internal conflict related to many of the family’s soldiers openly defying the cosa nostra rule against open heroin dealing.

Most pathetically, New Jersey’s DeCavalcante family had assassinated their own boss, John D’Amato, after his mistress informed his captains that he was bisexual, another cosa nostra rule violation.

The mistress had apparently long known of D’Amato’s sexual orientation and had tolerated it, as well as his other exotic sexual practices – until she caught him having sex with a Black man! That racial and sexual transgression motivated her to tell D’Amato’s captains, who then asked for and got permission from the Commission to make the hit.

However, those families managed to keep their internal conflict out of the limelight.

Not so the Gambinos.

The highlight of that family’s internal war was when the flamboyant captain of their Kennedy Airport crew, John Gotti, publicly assassinated their boss, “Big Paul” Castellano on a busy Manhattan street during rush hour.

Gotti not only carried out the hit personally but then forced Castellano’s captains to elect him the new boss of the Gambinos before Big Paul’s body was even cold.

Unfortunately for his fellow wiseguys, Gotti was a publicity hound who loved to see himself on TV and read about himself in the Post and the Daily News - an arrogance that pretty much guaranteed that he would inevitably be jailed for life.

Gotti’s high profile stupidity not only jeopardized his own family’s rather limited labor racketeering operations in Teamsters local 282 and at JFK Airport, but it also put the Genovese family’s far more elaborate and extensive rackets at risk as well.

In the end, it was one of his own top guys – Gambino family underboss, garment factory owner and structural steel contractor Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano – whose testimony brought Gotti down, and put him in a supermax federal prison for the rest of his natural life.

But the damage was done.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the subject of a long series of federal investigations dating all the way back to 1952, was put under the control of a federal court consent decree, which gave the Department of Justice veto power over just about every act of the Teamsters Union and its 500 local unions – including the 49 Teamster locals in New York City.

This broke up the Gambino family’s teamster foreman racket in Teamsters local 282, so contractors no longer had to pay a bribe to unload a scab truck on a union jobsite, they just had to unload it off the site – in many cases, that just meant taking the load off the non union truck in the street and carrying it onto the site.

In one fell swoop, that undermined the whole original point of having teamster foremen – to keep scab trucking companies off union jobsites!

Gambino family racketeering corrupted that system, and the feds broke it totally.

The Bonnano family’s racket in the furniture installation industry – which was based in Teamsters local 814, the commercial movers local – was also caught up in the sweep.

Now, furniture installation and venetian blind installation contractors could openly use non union movers to deliver the product, without having to pay tribute to the Bonnanos.

And, of course, the Genoveses, the biggest labor racketeers in the industry, fell and fell hard.

Their rackets had already been weakened by the fall of the drywall club and the jailing of Vincent Di Napoli and Louis Moscatiello, Sr back in 1983 – and now, the feds crushed the concrete club and jailed Genovese family underboss, Harlem pizza shop owner and hirise concrete contractor Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno – who got 100 years in federal prison and had to divest himself of ownership of S & A Concrete.

S & A was sold to a new owner and stayed in business under a new name – North Berry Construction, and was still the city’s leading hirise concrete contractor.

The Carpenters Union and the Painters Union were forced to be a lot more aggressive about collecting delinquent benefits fund contributions.

Both unions ended up setting up a “stamps system”. That is, the contractor would have to buy benefit fund stamps from the union, give those stamps to the workers with their paycheck and the workers would redeem the stamps with the fund to get their benefit coverage.

In theory, this forced contractors to actually pay their union benefits for all of their tradespeople.

In practice, there were contractors who continued to evade benefit fund payments by making illegal side deals with some company men to not pay their benefits in return for them getting steady work.

With the stamp system – and the shop steward reports that carpenter and painter shop stewards filed with their respective unions each week, counting the number of workers on each job and how many hours they worked – it was just a little harder to commit benefit fund fraud now.

The feds used the racketeering issue to go after the unions, furthering another real estate developer agenda, weaker construction unions.

The building trades unions weren’t in a position to organize any kind of resistance to this – in large part because it had been over 80 years since they’d last done any kind of independent mass struggle on their own.

The unions had been junior partners to the subcontractors and the wiseguys for close to 4 generations – they were not able to independently fight for the workers and they had a hard time even defending themselves as institutions.

By 1990, the bottom had totally dropped out, there was hardly any work and unemployment was rampant in all the trades.

There was a lot of anger on the union side from workers who had become accustomed to steady work and steady paychecks who were now jobless and struggling to make ends meet on $ 350 a week from unemployment.

Many tradespeople were losing their health benefits to. This was because health coverage in the construction unions is tied to how many hours you worked the previous quarter or the previous year – and if a tradesperson didn’t work at all, he/she and his/her family did not get any coverage!

In the dead of winter in 1990, the building trades – and the employers associations – called a joint rally demanding that the city, state and/or the feds increase funding for government subsidized construction.

Since the rally was cosponsored with the bosses, in the name of “the industry” it wasn’t a call for UNION JOBS just a demand for JOBS.

Which, considering that by this point, both the Housing Authority and HPD did almost all of their construction non union, was tantamount to it being a rally for scab jobs!

This jobs rally attracted over 20,000 workers, who marched from Downtown Brooklyn across the Brooklyn Bridge to a rally in front of City Hall.

Which is pretty much where it ended – there were no follow up rallies, because the construction unions were very uncomfortable with the idea of mobilizing the local men, who made up the great bulk of their memberships.

Also, the unions made no attempt to unionize all the non union tradespeople – who made up close to a third of the industry in 1990, were facing joblessness issues of their own and who would have been very motivated to try and fight to improve their conditions because of the recession.

Organizing those workers would involve having an independent agenda from the contractors and it had been a very long time since the Building & Construction Trades Council had done anything like that!

The leaders of the building trades had other worries – principally, the New York County District Attorney’s office, which was investigating a number of the larger unions, in particular the Carpenters and the Laborers.

Staying in office and not going to jail were very high priorities, much more important than organizing or leading workers struggles.

Meanwhile, the administration of newly elected Mayor David Dinkins, the city’s first African American mayor, a career clubhouse politician from Harlem and – at least on paper – a socialist, was continuing the city’s policy of building scab on as many jobs as possible.

HPD and the Housing Authority continued building almost 100% non union, using the lowest paying contractors available.

The School Construction Authority, Dormitory Authority and even the Metropolitan Transportation Authority were starting to use scab contractors wherever they could get away with it.

Since private sector construction was so slow during the early 1990’s and most of the work was city funded, this did a lot of damage to the union trades.

Be that as it may, the building trades did absolutely nothing to stop the deunionization of public sector construction.

Nor did they try and do anything to prevent the increasing scabification of private sector renovation work, at a time when almost all high end alteration and repair work on brownstones and other luxury residences (a field that was once all union) was now being done by scab contractors.

Nor did they do anything to stop the decay of union conditions in unionized hirise luxury residential work (where many contractors were paying less than union scale and no benefits to a portion of their company man workforce).

Meanwhile, in 1993, the feds came in and imposed consent decrees on the two biggest construction unions in the city, the Carpenters and the Laborers.

The Laborers also faced a Teamsters-style national consent decree, which the incoming administration of President Bill Clinton – the first Democrat president since Carter 12 years before – tried to limit but still had to enforce.

The feds only focused on one of the three Laborers district councils in New York City, the Mason Tenders District Council. The Cement Workers and the Pavers and Rammermen were virtually untouched.

But the feds takeover of the MTDC was very thorough and sweeping.

The old leadership of the MTDC and its affiliate locals were ousted from office, all of the New York City mason tender, bricklayer tender, plasterer tender and house wrecker locals were merged into one citywide local (Local 79) with a new leadership handpicked by the FBI and an FBI agent assigned to serve as an overseer over the day to day operations of the local.

The feds directed the international Laborers Union to set up a regional organizing department covering New York City and New Jersey (LEROF - Laborers Eastern Regional Organizing Fund).

LEROF’s main focus was on organizing subcontractors in the demolition and asbestos & lead abatement industries.

The demolition outfits were allowed to have a two tier wage scale – A men would get full union scale while B men would be paid at a lower rate – and jobs could be run with only two A men (typically the foreman and the shop steward) and all of the rest of the crew were B men.

A men tended to be disproportionately American born Whites – B men tended to be Mexican or Ecuadorian.

Demolition outfits were also allowed to have half their crew be company men – and they were, in practice, even allowed to use non union laborers, as long as they laid them off after 7 days!

The asbestos & lead abatement subs got an even better deal from the MTDC’s newly chartered local 78.  They got an even lower pay scale, and an inferior benefit package, and the union took over all of the safety and health screening programs that contractors were required to maintain to keep their city and state licenses.

The asbestos business had a similar racial hierarchy to the demolition business; White American foremen and Mexican, Ecuadorian, Polish and Croatian immigrant workers.

There was a gender hierarchy as well, because this trade had, proportionately, more women than any other construction craft (with women abatement laborers in the lower wage tier, of course)

Basically, LEROF legalized and regularized sweatshop labor practices in demo and abatement.

Since those low wages were spelled out in the union contracts, those firms couldn’t hide the profits they made by using cheap labor, and had to pass those profits on up the capitalist food chain to the GC’s, developers, owners and bankers in the form of lower prices

In essence, that was the very purpose of the FBI intervention in the union in the first place.

Meanwhile the MTDC, in a parallel “organizing” measure, recruited over 2,000 non union workers into the union

The massive recruitment of new members was because the contractors claimed they had a “labor shortage”. That is, they wanted a large pool of unemployed laborers even during the busy part of the year, so they could immediately lay off and replace any laborer who displeased them even during the height of the season.

The new FBI-approved MTDC leadership also cracked down on masonry subs who “paid cash” – that is, that paid their company men off the books, at less than union scale and with no benefits.

The feds takeover of the MTDC was a smashing success in a way that no other subsequent federal takeover of a construction union would be.

This was because of the fact that while the MTDC did represent the laborers at masonry, plastering, demolition and abatement subs, the core of the union was the company man laborers and labor foremen that worked for GC’s.

The GC’s – like their clients, the building owners and developers, and the bankers who pay for their jobs – had an interest in forcing subs to stop secretly underpaying their laborers, to make all their wage cuts openly and legally with the union (so the cost savings could be passed on to the GC’s, developers, owners and bankers in the form of lower prices) and an end to cosa nostra price fixing and tribute.

The labor foremen and company men for the GC’s, quite naturally, shared the world outlook of their bosses. This was in large part because labor foremen and company man laborers had some of the highest average annual incomes in the New York trades (as much as $ 125,000 a year for some of the foremen – thanks to the large amounts of overtime worked by foremen and company man laborers).

Those six figure incomes – among the highest construction worker earnings on the planet - brought a lot of political loyalty.

This meant that there was a stable social base within the new MTDC and local 79 for the federally imposed leadership to base itself on.

None of the other federal interventions in New York construction unions would have that advantage, which is why the feds were far less successful in the other unions that they tried to take over.

The government intervention into the New York District Council of Carpenters was a very clear example of that.

The New York Carpenters Union’s leadership voluntarily signed a consent decree (the day before a federal civil racketeering case was going to begin) and the feds did not have a broader national consent decree against their parent union, so the feds couldn’t go as far in reorganizing the NYC Carpenters as they did in the Mason Tenders District Council.

The existing leadership remained in power, although they had a court appointed special master supervising the union’s day to day operations.

The District Council of Carpenters was forced to reorganize its job referral system.

Bosses still retained the right to have a maximum of half the crew on each job be company men, but the union had to change the way it selected the minimum of half the crew who had to be local men.

Basically, locals had to dispatch the local men to jobs off of a list and had to be a lot more open about how jobs were given out by the union.

Also, the feds made the union crack down on contractors who failed to pay benefits to their company men – an increasingly common practice in drywall, hirise concrete and office furniture installation.

The feds – unable to impose a handpicked leadership as they had in the Mason Tenders – also ordered that District Council wide general elections be held to put in a new leadership.

Unfortunately for the feds, whereas the Mason Tenders had a large community of company man laborers who worked for GC’s and therefore had the same world outlook as construction industry financiers did, most company man carpenters worked for subcontractors and were loyal to subcontractor interests (which were in contradiction to what the GC’s and the clients needed).

Since, like all the other construction unions, the political life of the Carpenters Union was dominated by company men, there was no possibility of creating a leadership that would be politically loyal to the feds pro GC/developer agenda.

The feds didn’t know that at the time, of course, so they launched the first of many efforts to impose a pro GC/developer leadership in the New York Carpenters.

Meanwhile, the New York County District Attorney also cracked down on the Coalitions

The “respectable” wing of the movement (Harlem Fightback and the Chinese Construction Workers Association) were able to avoid the repression, but many of the other groups were broken up by a wave of arrests on extortion charges.

Even though some of the Coalitions survived these attacks, this campaign brought a decisive end to the 29 year long era of armed coalition shapeups.

Fortunately, the Coalitions’ biggest victory – the desegregation of the industry – was not reversed. If anything the industry became even more heavily minority.

Meanwhile, Teamsters local 282, its Gambino family dominated leadership greatly weakened by the anti racketeering campaign, went on strike to defend its working teamster foreman system.

They struck every concrete manufacturer in the city as well as all of the smaller GC’s represented by the Building Contractors Association and the big 8 GC’s in the Contractors Association of Greater New York.

The teamster foremen’s strike had zero impact on the jobsites – since they didn’t actually do any work anyway – but the readimix concrete strike shut down every job that involved concrete work.

However, that wasn’t good enough to reverse CAGNY’s demands to gut the teamster foreman system.

Under the new agreement, GC’s didn’t have to hire a teamster foreman unless the job was worth at least $ 5 million dollars (the previous threshold was $ 1 million)

This now made it possible to use non union trucks to make deliveries and pick up garbage on all but the largest union jobsites.

This was a huge victory for CAGNY and their affiliate contractors – Turner, HRH, AMEC, Bovis Lend Lease, Cauldwell Wingate, Plaza Construction, Builders Group and J.A. Jones.

Those 8 companies were the biggest GC’s in the city – and in the case of Turner, AMEC, HRH and Bovis Lend Lease, among the biggest GC’s in the world.

Compared to deunionized cities like London or Houston, or cities where being a union member was a crime, like Dubai and Abu Dhabi, they found New York a very frustrating place to run work in because they couldn’t use and abuse workers as they saw fit, like they could do in other places.

Consequently, they had been struggling for years to weaken union work rules here, because things like coffee breaks and toilets for workers really cost a lot of money, and they resented being forced to treat their workers like human beings instead of disposable production animals.

And there was nothing the big 8 resented more than the work rules that forced them to use all union labor on their New York City jobsites!

CAGNY had been created because those firms felt that the Building Contractors Association wasn’t fighting hard enough to break union workrules that got in the way of them reducing labor costs.

The gutting of the teamster foreman system was a big victory for them.

Finally, CAGNY had achieved that long sought after goal. From that point on, only the biggest jobs in the city would have a union presence on the loading docks. Even there, it would now be possible to have scab trucks in what had once been all union loading docks.

And CAGNY would not have been able to achieve that victory without the help of the government, who had weakened building trades unions to the point where they could launch a frontal attack against one of the most strategic construction unions and win, with the other unions standing idly by while local 282 twisted slowly in the wind.

The GC’s – because of their social power, which comes from their ties to the clients and the bankers – got their pay cuts openly and legally.

In the luxury residential sector – the only area of that market segment that was still union – drywall & ceilings and hirise concrete contractors began imposing secret and illegal pay cuts on their company men, as a way to compete with scab outfits that had come to dominate the residential sector.

It wasn’t as organized as the old wheel or concrete club were – but there were still payoffs to union officials and cosa nostra still took its 2% tribute.

Meanwhile, the feds forced the largest construction union – the District Council of Carpenters – to hold District Council elections (the first such one member one vote election since the overthrow of the old NYCDCofC leadership back in 1916).

The hope was that – like in Laborers local 79 and the Mason Tenders District Council and in the Teamsters Union – a leadership could be elected that would support the federal takeover.

Carpenters for a Stronger Union – the dissident caucus in the NYCDCofC, which had modeled itself on Teamsters for a Democratic Union – embraced the federal monitorship and was willing to provide that pro government leadership.

The problem was, just like TDU in the Teamsters Union, CSU had a very shallow social base among carpenters.

A very small minority of unusually vocal local man carpenters supported CSU, but, the most militant local men, current and former members of the Coalitions, were all but absent from CSU.

Beyond that, thanks to longstanding union practices of job referral discrimination against the more militant local men, most local men either passively supported the incumbents, or – more commonly – quietly and passively opposed the leadership.

On the other hand, the DC and each one of the locals had leaders solidly based among the foremen and company men. That base was active, dominated the political and social life of the District Council and the locals, and was loyal to the interests of the subcontractors and cosa nostra.

They would never turn on the interest of their bosses (who often shared similar ethnic backgrounds and, in some cases, were actual blood relatives of the company men) so they could never be a solid social base for government control of the DC.

Even with the District Council leadership divided among two different slates, CDU still lost the election overwhelmingly, leaving the feds with an administration that solidly supported the subs and the wiseguys.

The state launched its own attack, at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, the largest carpenter jobsite in the city and the main venue for trade show work.

The state got the pro FBI leadership of the Teamsters to impose a trusteeship on local 807, the Manhattan and Bronx freight drivers local, which also represented trade show truck drivers, warehouse workers and forklift drivers.

Then, in June 1995, the state took over the Javits Center itself, staging an armed raid on the venue with 200 state troopers, armed with pistols, shotguns and attack dogs.

The state seized control of all hiring and firing by contractors working at the center and all trade show labor would now be on state payrolls.

Also, 290 workers were banned for life from ever setting foot in the Javits Center ever again, on pain of instant arrest.

200 of those workers were expos, trade show freight handlers and carpenters helpers represented by an International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees local – Exposition Employees local 829. The state also ripped up the expos union contract at the Javits, parceling out most of their work to the now FBI dominated Teamsters local 807.

The state also encouraged the New York media to carry out a huge anti union propaganda campaign, which was mostly focused on the Carpenters Union.

Despite the campaign, the pro Genovese family leadership of the District Council were easily reelected, right in the middle of the state takeover of the Javits.

Meanwhile, conditions continued to deteriorate for the unionized trades. Half the industry was non union now – and the scab half of the business, the residential part, was the half that was expanding.

And the construction unions weren’t the only unions in the building sector that were under attack.

In November 1995, the City of New York reorganized the trade waste hauling industry and its unions, Teamsters local 813 and the Mason Tenders District Council.

The City intervened here on behalf of three of the largest private waste haulers in the nation – Browning Ferris Industries (BFI) Waste Management (WMX) and USA Waste Services.

They had monopolized privatized waste hauling in just about every other major metropolitan area in the US, except for New York, where the Genoveses, Gambinos and Luccheses kept them out.

So they had the City – which had privatized commercial waste hauling back in 1957 and handed it over to four cosa nostra-controlled trade associations – come in and break the power of the wiseguys.

There was no question of handing the work back to the Department of Sanitation – the folks who originally provided that service with unionized civil service workers.

Instead, the City moved against the 300 small family owned carting companies, and the gangsters who protected them from competition.

The wiseguys had assigned every private business in the city to a particular carter, and nobody else was allowed to take that work away from that firm unless the wiseguys approved it.

This system prevented large clients (like the developers that owned major buildings in the city) from using their leverage to force the carters to charge lower rates. It also kept out the big three, who had used their monopoly power everywhere else in the country to undercharge their small competitors, drive them out of business and then jack up rates once they had a monopoly.

The City broke up the four trade associations (parallel to a federal attack on the Lucchese family’s waste hauling cartel in Long Island) and helped the big three muscle into the New York City market.

The feds also used their national control over the Teamsters and the Laborers and their local control over the Mason Tenders District Council to take over the unions.

The Genovese-controlled leadership of Teamsters local 813 (led by one legged Jewish gangster Bernard Adelstein) was overthrown and replaced by a pro TDU leadership handpicked by the FBI.

The three Mason Tender locals that represented waste handlers and yard workers at the firms were replaced by one waste handler local, Laborers local 108, whose leaders were also handpicked by the feds.

In Laborers local 108’s case, the feds picked former 60’s radicals to run the local, to give it the appearance of militancy.

In both locals, the new “reform” leaders presided over large scale layoffs (as the monopolization of trade waste hauling led to the elimination of one third of the jobs in the industry) and the elimination of industrywide bargaining.

Now, every waste hauler had its own separate labor agreement, with different contract expiration dates, which greatly weakened both locals, and led to a sharp decay in the working conditions and workplace safety of the waste handlers.

As for the clients, who Mayor Giuliani was supposedly saving from the mafia?

Big corporations and real estate developers saw their rates fall by as much as 30%

And small businesspeople saw their rates go up by as much as 40%.

In other words, the rich got richer and the poor and middle class got screwed!

But Teamsters local 813 and the government-created Laborers local 108 weren’t the only unions that were under corporate and government pressure.

Local 32b-32j of the Service Employees International Union, the union representing office cleaners and porters in office buildings and supers and doormen in luxury apartment houses, was facing a demand for a two tier wage scale for office building workers, with new hires and vacation replacements to receive a lower pay scale.

The demand for a lower pay scale came from the Realty Advisory Board of New York, an association which, nominally, represented the cleaning contractors who employed 32b-32j’s members, but which was dominated by the building owners who were the bosses of those contractors.

32b-32j was not really in a position to aggressively fight back.

The local had once been very militant and pro communist (this was one of the first unions in New York to have the 7 hour day and a 5 day week with both Jewish and Christian sabbaths as days off).

But the communists long ago surrendered the union to the Genovese crime family, who ran the union on behalf of the building owners for decades and consistently sold out its members

In some cases, workers were literally sold out

Many 32b-32j apartment building supers had to buy their jobs from business agents.

The BA’s would then collude with management to fire building supers to create job vacancies for the job buyers.

The BA’s would make sure that the fired super’s grievance hearings were sabotaged so the super would stay fired.

These union sanctioned attacks on workers were especially vicious when you consider the fact that supers live in rent free apartments in the buildings they service, so getting fired also means getting evicted!

32b-32j’s leadership were also facing the same kind of investigations that all the other building related unions in the city were.

Also, the SEIU had a new leadership at the international level.

Gone were the business unionists who had been content to let racketeer dominated local leaders do whatever they wanted, basically, that strategy had led to the union all but collapsing in the building service industry in most of the country.

In their place was a new leadership composed of Ivy League educated professionals who wanted to “partner” with the large corporations who owned the office buildings their janitor members worked in, with the SEIU building service locals being remade into what amounted to company unions.

32b-32j’s leaders stood in the way of that plan in New York City, not because they were militant (far from it) but because their collaboration with building owners was a brought and paid for commodity, while the new SEIU international leadership had an ideological commitment to unions, bosses and government forming a fascist style “partnership” to make Corporate America stronger.

The new SEIU international leadership, many of whom had been hired as organizers right out of college and had never actually been in the regular workforce, also thought that building service workers were a bunch of dumb immigrants, who were far too stupid to run unions on their own – they needed Ivy League educated American born Whites to lead their unions for them.

Many of 32b-32j’s leaders had, for the most part, actually been building service workers at some point in their lives and many of them were the American born children of Irish or Italian immigrants.

In the view of the SEIU international leaders, they were too dumb to run the union and had to be replaced by upscale folks who never pushed a mop in their lives.

The January 1996 strike came in the middle of this all sided attack.

The union sent 35,000 commercial building service workers on strike with no plan, no leadership, no system of keeping the workers informed of the progress of the strike and no organized strategy for stopping scabs from crossing their picketlines.

The strikers were also only getting $ 7 a day in strike pay and they were on strike in the dead of an unusually harsh winter, with multiple blizzards back to back.

Worse yet, 32b-32j had made no effort to coordinate with either the building trades or the Teamsters Nor had any effort been made to reach out to the Archdiocese of New York or to Latino or Polish organizations, despite the fact that the majority of the strikers were Catholic immigrants from those communities.

The union was horribly unprepared.

Not so the Realty Advisory Board of New York.

RABNY had already hired scabs before the strike and they sent thousands of workers into those office buildings to take the jobs of the strikers.

They also had extra security lined up, although in the end they barely needed it.

Other than one big rally at the World Trade Center, and a march across Manhattan, (both of which were organized by the janitors themselves with absolutely no assistance from 32b-32j’s business agents) there was no mass picketing

 In the end, scab janitors robbing and stealing from white collar workers in the office buildings was RABNY’s biggest security issue during the strike.

The government was also backing RABNY to the hilt. with President Bill Clinton sending in Labor Secretary Robert Reich to be an “impartial mediator” – that is, to twist the union’s arm to knuckle under to the developers.

Liberal Republican Mayor Rudolph Giuliani sent in his top labor mediator, Deputy Mayor Randy Mastro (the architect of the attacks on Teamsters local 813 and the Fulton Fish Market workers union), to help Reich pressure the union to give in.

This was a major strike, no matter how badly run it was, and 32b-32j’s defeat would have a national impact, so breaking the strike was a high priority both for Clinton and for Giuliani.

The only help 32b-32j got from the rest of labor was after 3 weeks, when the Building and Construction Trades Council authorize their members to respect the SEIU picketlines.

The BCTC decided to honor the lines under pressure from its affiliates, who in turn were under pressure from their members, who hated having to work behind picket lines in buildings with scab janitors and elevator operators.

But that help was too little too late, 32b-32j ended up giving RABNY every giveback they had asked for.

The workers, cold, broke and demoralized, returned to work at the end of the month under the new agreement, and thus the biggest building industry strike in New York City since 1936 went down to defeat.

Local 32b-32j’s leadership were soon forced out, thanks to a joint effort by the US Attorney’s Office and the SEIU international leadership, 32b-32j’s officers were run out, and replaced by a team of Ivy League educated SEIU staffers, not one of whom had ever actually worked as a building maintenance worker.

Despite the fact that 32b-32j was a union of immigrants, and was heavily Latino and Polish, none of the new officers were Polish, nor were there any Latino immigrants and only a handful of the new officers were US born Latinos.

There had been a small TDU-like opposition caucus in local 32b-32j – run by a Latino immigrant porter at the World Trade Center and an Italian American doorman at an Upper East Side luxury apartment house, but they were very pointedly NOT offered any leadership positions. Nor were any leadership posts offered to the janitors who had organized the World Trade Center rally and the citywide march.

Those workers were denied leadership positions in the reorganized local basically because they actually worked in the industry, and the new SEIU did NOT want any actual janitors running the janitors union!

The new leadership of local 32bj (they changed the union’s local number too) did the incredible – they actually succeeded in making the local less democratic than when the Genovese family ran it!

It became damn near impossible for members to have even token input in the life of the union, down to and including members losing the right to introduce resolutions at membership meetings!

Technically they could make a motion, but there was an elaborate system of red tape set up to guarantee that no actual janitor could actually make a motion from the floor of a local 32bj meeting.

Sadly, this was not the only defeat suffered by New York building workers in 1996.

The District Council of Carpenters gave up control over 50% of the workforce on the jobsites, through something called the referral system.

Now, contractors could not only have half their crew on each job be company men, but they could  have company men sign the out of work list and, as long as they’d worked for that firm within the last 6 months, they could be dispatched as “local men”, even though they were actually company men.

This made it harder for local men to get jobs, and put carpenters in a position where they had to do whatever they could to get requested – even if that meant working for cash off the books.

This also made it very hard for the shop steward system to function, since, in many cases, the steward was the only actual local man on the job. That made it harder for them to enforce union rules on the sites, since the rest of the crew were company men who were dependent on the boss’ goodwill to stay employed.

This made it much easier for cash contractors to operate, and carpentry outfits that paid off the books began moving from luxury residential into office interior work, the core of the unionized building trades in New York.

And, since the Carpenters were, by far, the largest trade, that set the tone for the rest of the building trades.

There was yet another government intervention in the Carpenters. The feds could not get an administration they liked elected to office, but the state was able to oust the old leadership, by arresting the District Council president.

The international Carpenters Union imposed a trusteeship, dissolved 7 of the weaker locals, merging them with the 10 remaining locals and put in new bylaws that were much more to the feds liking.

One was the creation of an Organizing Department, which, on the surface, was actually a very good thing.

One of the problems was that one of the first “organizing efforts” involved adding 2,000 new members, so the contractors would always have a large pool of jobless members, even during the busiest time of the year.

Another organizing effort was among scaffolding contractors, some of whom had ripped up their union contracts and gone scab, while others were cash outfits that were “union” in name only.

The District Council of Carpenters removed scaffold carpenters from regular carpenter locals, put them into the lower paying Timbermens local 1536 and set up a two tier wage where they got paid 30% less than timbermen – who already made 20% less than other carpenters!

This basically rewarded the cash contractors and it didn’t bring back the scab outfits, who already were paying much lower wages and no benefits to the undocumented workers they’d hired after deunionizing.

There was another effort in Harlem, where HPD low income housing funding was being used to build luxury housing.

The contractors there paid their workers off the books, with skilled carpenters and bricklayers getting only $ 7/hr and laborers and helpers only getting the illegal sub minimum wage of $ 4/hr.

The District Council of Carpenters offered a wage far below union scale, and the right to classify many of these workers as even lower paid apprentices.

The contractors turned it down, because they paid off the books, any union scale would have been unacceptable, since they’d have to pay for statutory benefits like social security, workers comp and unemployment, as well as union benefits.

Any union contract would have entailed a major labor cost increase, simply because of the requirements that workers be paid on the books!

The Carpenters Organizing Department also set up an elaborate picketing system, where every member was obligated to picket one day a year. The Mason Tenders and Painters District Council # 9 had similar systems in their unions.

However, none of the other trades did any significant organizing and most of the outfits signed up by the three unions that did organize were firms that were seeking to bid on unionized commercial work, who would have had to go union anyway.

The Carpenters did carry out several quite lengthy NLRB organizing election campaigns in Harlem.

However, despite the heroic willingness of many non union carpenters to risk their jobs to fight for their rights, all of those ended unsuccessfully, with contractors engaging in the typical union busting campaigns that most non union companies carry out against NRLB election campaigns these days.

What was needed was a citywide campaign, focused on the two big growth areas for scab construction – luxury housing in Harlem and Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

If there had been an attempt to organize all the contractors in those areas at the same time – and to strike those contractors if they refused to sign up – that might have worked.

But piecemeal one shop at a time NLRB campaigns were doomed to defeat even before they started.

The NLRB cases and the picketing did have a harassment effect. Contractors often had to repeatedly change business names to avoid the judgments. Some firms routinely used three different corporate entities – one owned by the husband, the second owned by the wife and the third owned jointly by the couple. Despite those efforts at legal union evasion, some contractors were forced to at least go through the motions of negotiating with the unions.

But those lawsuits and picketlines just weren’t enough to turn the sector around and reunionize it.

In part because of the grotesquely low wages on the scab side of the residential sector, the New York building industry was beginning to pull out of its early 1990’s recession.

Public sector subsidies also helped, like in Harlem, where large areas that had been burned out during the landlord arson fires of the 1970’s were now being rebuilt.

HPD and HUD funds were being used to build so called “affordable housing”. However the term “affordable” was defined in such a way that only affluent people would even be eligible to live in those apartments.

This – along with much of Harlem’s private housing stock being brought up by private equity fund speculators – began to force out the community’s low income Black and Latino residents, replacing them with White professionals.

Williamsburg, Brooklyn, a neighborhood once populated by a mix of Jewish, Latino, Polish and Italian blue collar workers, was similarly being gentrified.

A wave of “hipsters” – young White artists from wealthy families – were moving into the area. They could pay very high rents (because their rich parents paid their rent for them) so landlords could – and did – jack up rents, drive out working class families and replace them with affluent hipsters.

Private developers came into the area, and began to build luxury apartments for these well heeled youngsters, and just like in Harlem, low paid non union labor was used on these buildings as well.

There was a similar upsurge in apartment building construction in heavily immigrant parts of Southern Brooklyn and Northern Queens as well – with underpaid non union workers being used there too.

The same thing happened in Staten Island, lots of single family homes were being built in the rapidly growing borough, with subminimum wage off the books labor used on these jobs too.

This huge building boom could have – and should have – been organized.

Many of the workers were Mexican, Ecuadorian or Polish immigrants, workers from countries with longstanding traditions of labor militancy, living in communities with a well developed network of community organizations and churches which would have certainly supported union organizing.

On many of the Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan jobs, there was a large pool of Russian, Uzbek, Ukrainian and Georgian workers, brutally underpaid, often by bosses from their own countries.

Those workers and their communities could also have been mobilized against the Russian bosses who were superexploiting them.

On the Harlem jobs, many of the African American and Afro Caribbean workers were former or current Coalition members, some were even former union workers driven by unemployment and the request system to work scab, who also would’ve supported a serious mass organizing campaign.

And, the Chinese workers on the jobs Lower Manhattan, Northern Queens and Sunset Park, Brooklyn also had their own traditions of struggle, including the many of those workers who had been in the Chinese Coalition, the CCWA, and there were also community organizations that could have been mobilized on their behalf as well.

Unfortunately, the inadequate organizing campaigns by the Carpenters, Mason Tenders and the Painters – and the utter failure by the rest of the trades to do anything at all – meant that all these workers were left non union.

This was a great opportunity that was totally wasted by the New York Building Trades, an opportunity that, had it been taken, could have been a shot in the arm for the trades, not only here but nationally.

Of course, there were reasons why the unions abandoned these workers.

Basically, it was because any serious organizing campaign would have run right up against the need of the contractors to keep labor costs low, especially in the post cosa nostra era in which there was no strong outside entity fixing prices and limiting the competition for clients.

A big struggle by non union workers would mobilize a lot of union members as well, which would make things like paying cash and violating union work rules a whole lot harder to do.

For union leaders whose natural orientation was towards the company men and, through them, towards the contractors, waging any kind of serious struggle against the contractors was unthinkable.

The feds didn’t want a mass movement of workers either, because that would force up labor costs for the industry, and would cut into the profits of the clients, bankers and developers. Nor did the Mason Tenders, the only union that was on the client’s side of the fence because of the ties of company man building laborers to the GC’s.

Of course, a mass movement by non union construction workers would have greatly helped local men. However, since they had no organized movement that spoke for them, their interests could be, and were, matter of factly ignored by all parties.

Even more unfortunately, many local men had very serious illusions in the feds. Many actually felt that the government was intervening in the unions to help the workers. Unfortunately, as I’ve pointed out above, that was not the case at all.

The deunionization was starting to have a corrosive effect on union conditions, even in a relatively strong union like Electricians local 3.

The union’s J Division, which represented street light maintenance electricians (who were paid a lower wage than construction electricians), was quietly allowing some of the street light contractors to use non union electricians to install street lights in the new housing subdivisions in Staten Island.

Local 3’s A Division – the construction electricians – also had to deal with two unions with lower pay scales in their jurisdiction.

One was Communications Workers of America local 1101, a telephone company workers local, which had been signing sweetheart low wage contracts with datacom contractors that installed voice and data lines in office buildings.

The other was local 363, a former Teamsters local expelled from that union for corruption and was now an affiliate of a cosa nostra connected sweatshop union, the International Union of Journeyman Horseshoers.

Yes, reader, you read right – the Horseshoers Union!

That tiny dying craft union had something of a revival in the 1990’s, by absorbing several independent cosa nostra run sweetheart unions. The company unions got the legitimacy of being part of an AFL-CIO union, the Horseshoers got a huge boost in membership (350 to 50,000 in just a few years) and all the dues income that came with that expansion.

Horseshoers local 363 had sweetheart contracts with electrical shops that did work for the city (363 let them have half the crew be low paid “trainees” – mostly Black and Latino teenagers who’d come out of local 363l’s grossly substandard trade school in Howard Beach, Queens).

The Laborers Union’s Cement and Concrete Workers District Council still, on paper, had good wages and conditions.

However, in practice, with the largest firm in the hirise concrete sector, North Berry Construction (formerly S & A Concrete – Fat Tony’s old company) paying cash and so many other unionized hirise concrete outfits following suit, many company man concrete laborers often had to endure below union scale off the books pay in order to get steady work.

And local man concrete laborers who did not work for cash ended up spending lots of time on the unemployment line, only called to work when lots of labor was needed and the contractors couldn’t avoid paying union scale.

But, by far, the worst of the decay was in the Carpenters Union.

The cash problem had previously largely been confined to drywall & ceilings and hirise concrete contractors who built luxury apartment buildings (the last union island in a sea of non union residential construction) and office furniture outfits and venetian blind contractors in the office interior sector.

Now, you had commercial drywall contractors, including relatively large firms like On Par Construction and Commodore, paying cash on major commercial jobs in Midtown and the Financial District.

On Par’s owner also ran scab jobs in the Bronx, through a front company.

R & J Construction, the city’s largest African American owned union drywall contractor, also ran scab work in Harlem, with workers frequently hired on scab jobs and promised that, if they worked very hard, and put up at least 100 boards a day, maybe they might get shifted to union jobs and actually paid union scale.

The GC’s, developers, clients and bankers – and the feds – did not like this because these illegally paid low wages were kept secret from the financiers and the profits of superexploitation were pocketed by the subs, not passed on to the moneymen.

This is why the Carpenters remained a major target of state and federal probes – because they were illegally helping subs get over on contractors.

Plasterers local 530 – the scab drywall taping union set up after the Genoveses broke the 1978 drywall tapers strike – was involved in similar racketeering acts on behalf of the subcontractors.

Local 530’s founder, Louis Moscatiello, Sr, had gotten out of jail, but was still barred from involvement in the union for life.

So the Genovese family captain used his son Louis Moscatiello, Jr, to run the union in his place.

This was technically illegal, since Moscatiello the younger was himself a drywall taping contractor and therefore barred by federal law from running a union. So the Moscatiellos used a faceman as nominal president of the union, while still actually running the organization.

By the late 1990’s, the bulk of the tapers in local 530 were Latinos, Blacks and White immigrants, much of the membership worked for cash and received no benefits from the local 530 Welfare Fund.

Meanwhile, in 1998, the feds lost control over the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The pro FBI leadership got caught committing ham handed election fundraising fraud, and the feds had no choice but to order a new election.

The TDU backed faction that had run the union on the fed’s behalf had a very weak social base within the union, and lost the election.

They were defeated by a slate that had a solid base in the leaderships of the non FBI controlled local unions.

Those local officers in turn had a solid base among the more privileged high seniority drivers – the trucking industry’s equivalent of company men.

And those high seniority guys tended to have close ties with the managers of the freight carriers, and tended to see the world the same way the bosses of the trucking companies did.

The trucking companies were happy to see the new leadership in the IBT. They had never liked the TDU/FBI regime, because it was loyal to the big corporations who they hauled freight for, rather than to them.

The new Teamsters leadership, led by Jim Hoffa, the lawyer son of the famous Jimmy Hoffa, was so welcomed by the owners of the trucking companies that a trucking industry trade magazine actually ran the headline “In Love With Hoffa”

With IBT headquarters no longer under government control, it became harder for the feds to intervene in Teamsters locals.

Of course, by this time, all of the major Teamsters locals involved with the New York building trades were already under government control to one degree or another, so it was just a question of the feds preserving control over unions that they’d already taken over.

Because of the fact that every construction union except the Mason Tenders was, to some degree or other, allowing union subcontractors to secretly pay below union scale wages to at least a part of their workforce, while still billing the GC’s as if they actually paid union scale, the feds and the state had to continue their investigations of virtually every building trades union in the city.

The original objective of the federal and state probes had failed – the unions were still helping the subs covertly reduce labor costs while keeping prices high.

The original objective, to openly and legally reduce construction worker labor costs and to have the superprofits from those reduced wages passed directly on to the GC’s, developers, bankers and clients, had yet to be achieved.

The feds and the moneymen also had the threat of worker militancy to worry about.
fraternally,
GREGORY A. BUTLER, LOCAL 157 CARPENTER
for GANGBOX: CONSTRUCTION WORKERS NEWS SERVICE
http://gangboxnews.blogspot.com
"UNION NOW, UNION FOREVER"

GREGORYABUTLER

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The High Cost Of Low Wages
« Reply #5 on: April 12, 2011, 10:25:01 AM »
CHAPTER  10 -  “…The Mighty Mighty Union….”  (1998 – 2007)

By 1998, the City of New York had become one of the largest users of scab building trades labor in the city. The Housing Authority (with 130,000 units the city’s biggest landlord) did 100% of its work non union as did HPD, the city’s other housing agency.

The other branches of the city government were not far behind.

This included the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

The MTA had been quietly using the services of Roy Kay, Inc, a scab HVAC outfit from New Jersey for many years. Based on all that MTA business, Roy Kay had quietly expanded from a sheet metal sub to a full service GC.

The MTA was automating its subway control operations and consolidating all of them into one building on 9th Avenue on Manhattan’s West Side, and they hired Roy Kay to build this Subway Command Center.

This was a huge slap in the face for the building trades.

The MTA was doing a 100% non union job in the middle of Manhattan, within walking distance of the all union hirise jobs that were the core of what was left of the unionized sector of the building trades.

The “Organize Unions” – Carpenters, Mason Tenders, Painters – had no choice but to picket this job aggressively.

The licensed trades – Electricians, Operating Engineers, Plumbers, (who had felt that state training and education requirements would protect them) also had to do something – since their work was being done scab too.

And the Building Trades Council had to act as well – because it was just too blatant an attack on them!

The other trades had to follow along as well.

So, on Tuesday, June 30, 1998, the Building Trades Council held a rally in front of MTA headquarters on Madison Av and E 47th St, next to Grand Central Terminal.

The rally started at 10 AM, and the plan was for every union tradesperson in the city to leave their jobs, listen to speeches by union officials, Democratic Party politicians (and contractors!) and then just walk back to their jobs at 1PM to finish out the day

It didn’t happen like that!

Over 40,000 construction workers turned out for the rally, with many not even bothering to go to work before going there.

In effect, it was a general strike of the unionized trades in Midtown Manhattan and the Financial District.

After about a half hour of speeches, a group of plumbers and steamfitters at the front of the rally turned their backs on the speakers, and began marching across town to the jobsite.

Within a few minutes, just about every worker at the rally was following them – except for the few hundred who stayed behind to blockade Madison Av in front of the MTA building, shutting down all the bus lines that ran past that corner.

The workers fanned out, some went as far down as E 40th St, others as far up as E 56th St, forming a human barricade and shutting down all car, truck and bus traffic in Midtown.

There were only a few hundred cops on scene – mostly traffic division officers – because the BTC had promised the NYPD that this would be a “peaceful rally” which would be tightly controlled by the unions.

That handful of cops stood stunned as workers grabbed police barricades and threw them out of the way.

At this point, the union leaders abandoned the stage and rushed to the head of the rally to try and take command of it – which did not succeed (they were carried along by the workers, rather than leading them).

In front of the Subway Command Center, the NYPD rallied. The Mounted Unit arrived on horseback and a contingent of 200+ police cadets from the academy, pulled from classes and rushed to the site, confronted the picketers.

The cops were ordered to attack, and they sprayed the crowd with pepper spray (some of the cadets – with no riot training and not even having been issued gas masks – accidentally maced themselves, accounting for the bulk of the 44 NYPD officer injuries that day).

39 construction workers were arrested – and dozens more were pepper sprayed but eluded arrest.

This was a dramatic event – the biggest construction workers strike in New York City since 1936 and a huge show of militancy.

It could have been the jumping off point for a citywide strike and a mass mobilization of the non union workers, which would have had implications far beyond New York and could have totally shaken the industry nationwide.

But instead of rallying the troops, Paul Fernandes the vice president of the New York City Building Trades went on New York 1 (the city’s 24 hour all news cable channel) and publicly apologized to Mayor Giuliani and the entire real estate industry for the strike!

Fernandes also pledged that never again would the New York Building Trades ever call a strike on that kind of scale.

Not only were there no follow up rallies but, at every subsequent rally since then, the building trades have made damned sure that workers are carefully penned in metal police barricades.

Worse yet, the Laborers Union’s organizers are used to help the cops keep the workers in line, with the Laborers organizers bullying the more militant workers into following police orders.

Worse yet, at the end of the rallies, the Laborers organizers often insist on leading the assembled workers in pro police chants (“the cops need a raise”) and then they go out of their way to thank the cops who are guarding the scab jobsites the workers are picketing!

The “40,000 Man March” (as many New York construction workers came to call the events of June 30 1998) reminded the feds of just how important it was to keep the building trades unions in check, because of the enormous danger that a construction workers revolt would pose – directly for the real estate interests that the government was directly fighting for here, and on a wider scale for the entire ruling class of New York City!

The unions – and the contractors who they collaborated with at the expense of the majority of their members – were equally as terrified of a worker revolt!

A mass movement of construction workers would jeopardize the financial interests of the union subcontractors (which, more and more, depended on sellout deals with the unions – both legal and illegal).

Also, any serious organizing campaign would flood the unions with thousands of militant workers.

And most of those unorganized tradespeople were Latinos, Blacks, Asians or European immigrants – and workers from all of those groups had well deserved reputations for militancy.

That influx of militant immigrants and workers of color would weaken the social base of the present building trades union leadership, which was based on a narrow privileged layer of foremen and company men.

So neither the government, the GC’s, the subs nor the unions wanted any kind of mass organizing campaign, in fact, they were terrified of such a possibility!

And for the mass of local man union tradespeople and non  union workers (who DID want such a movement) there was no organized force to speak for them, so their burning needs and desires were matter-of-factly ignored by those in power.

In 1999 the international trusteeship over the city’s largest building trades union – the Carpenters - had expired and it was time for yet another set of elections.

The feds were even further away from their objective of winning a pro government slate in the Carpenters Union.

The leadership of Carpenters local 608, the biggest carpenters local in the city (made even larger by its merger with a defunct Bronx local during the trusteeship) overwhelmingly won the election, against weak and divided opposition (and with only one opposition candidate supporting the feds – and he came in dead last)

Of course, the vast majority of New York union carpenters didn’t even bother to vote. Participation in the election was heavily concentrated among company men and retirees.

Incidentally, during the election campaign, S & S Construction, a firm owned by the daughter of the boss of the DeCavalcante crime family and her husband, allegedly paid a $ 10,000 bribe to use non union carpenters – and union carpenters getting paid cash – to do part of the drywall work at the Park Central Hotel in Midtown Manhattan.

The alleged bribe receiver?

The winner of the 1999 District Council general elections, Mike Forde, the former president of local 608.

This case proved that the Carpenters Union leadership in New York were still dedicated to the task of helping the dominant, cosa nostra connected section of subcontractors illegally reduce labor costs, and conceal those reduced labor costs from the clients – who were still being charged full price.

The feds and the state still had not achieved their goal of forcing the subs and the unions to legally and openly reduce labor costs, and pass those savings up the food chain to the GC’s and the developers.

While the government continued to try and regulate the construction unions they began to step up the deunionization of that large and rapidly growing part of the industry that they directly financed.

And no public agency was more aggressive about the task of deunionization than the Department of Housing Preservation and Development the main funder of publicly subsidized housing construction in New York City.

By far, HPD’s biggest program was the rebuilding of Harlem, an effort which, on paper, was oriented towards developing “affordable” housing for working class Blacks and Latinos, but, in practice, was largely focused on building luxury homes for affluent White professionals.

And these half million dollar co-ops were built by some of the lowest paying scab contractors that HPD could find.

As I pointed out above, the Carpenters had spent the better part of half a decade trying to organize these firms, using one contractor at a time NLRB methods that were all but useless. Even when the Carpenters won an election (as they often did – since these brutally underpaid $ 7/hr workers badly wanted and needed a union) the firms would do a paper name change and stay non union.

The big pockets of private residential development in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island followed a similar pattern of extremely low wages and aggressive union evasion.

Sadly, with the exception of the Carpenters, Mason Tenders, Painters and Ironworkers local 361, they really didn’t have that many unions to evade, since most trades were doing little to any organizing.

For the first time since 1936, the majority of New York construction workers were now non union.

Normally, building booms push construction worker earnings up – but not this one.

Nominally, the unions were still getting wage increases – some quite substantial – but for the majority of local men, who worked part time, that just meant that they got better paid for the relatively few hours they actually worked.

Union contractors – particularly those that hired carpenters - also increasingly weakened union hiring rules, to let them use mostly or all company man crews.

The excuse was the claim by the subs that local men were less competent than company men.

The reality was, thanks to the weakening of union job referral rules, workers had to be company guys to be assured of any kind of steady employment – and bosses could make those tradespeople work for less than union scale in return for steady jobs.

There was workplace resistance on the union side. There were two brief wildcat strikes in the summer of 1999 – at the Conde Nast Building at 4 Times Square and the MTA Building at 2 Broadway.

Both strikes were led by drywall carpenters, over the issue of no ventilation during punishingly hot summers.

In both cases, the wildcat strikes resulted in quick victories for the workers. Unfortunately, the unions didn’t follow up on the momentum created by these struggles.

But for those two sparks of resistance, union conditions steadily eroded.

On the scab side, wages for skilled workers hovered close to minimum wage.

Tor laborers, subminimum wage was the norm. With no union protection at all, workers had to take whatever pay the boss felt like paying or they would not have any work at all.

This is also when safety conditions completely collapsed on the scab side of the business – especially in brickpointing.

New York City is a very rainy city that has lots of brick veneer buildings. As the City of New York realized going into the late 1990’s, the brick exterior walls of those buildings must be brickpointed (repaired and rewaterproofed) regularly, or they will tend to collapse.

This caused the City to pass Local Law 11, which required that all apartment houses with brick exterior walls in the city get brickpointed every 5 years.

Landlords and developers didn’t like paying to have this done, so they hired the cheapest scab brickpointing contractors available to get the work done.

Most of these non union brickpointers were Sikhs from India and Pakistan, getting very low pay, no benefits and horrendously bad equipment to work with.

Since they work on swing stages (rope supported work platforms that hang off the side of the building) bad equipment is a life of death issue for them.

Literally.

Around 2000, brickpointer scaffold fails become very common in the city, killing half a dozen or more brickpointers a year.

Hirise window washers begin having the same problem.

Most of them are Latino immigrants (mainly from the Dominican Republic) and they work off the same type of equipment the brickpointers do.

The job had once been all union – Window Washers local 2, Service Employees International Union – but the new pro corporate leadership of the SEIU had disbanded their local and merged them with local 32bj.

32bj pretty much abandoned the window washers, letting their trade be slowly deunionized – and, with no union protection (and a weak union at the shops that were still unionized) window washer safety began to collapse as well.

Window washer deaths became as common as brickpointer deaths, for the same reason – contractor negligence.

These were burning issues for both sets of workers, issues that they would have been willing to organize and strike over, had they been approached.

But, SEIU local 32bj had no interest in organizing the window washers, and as for strikes, the new pro corporate SEIU opposed strikes!

The union’s official view was that workers who complained about workplace abuses were “bad workers who deserved to be fired”. The SEIU didn’t like workers like that, they only wanted to represent “shiny happy people” who liked their bosses!

So, fighting for window washers was out of the question.

As for the brickpointers, New York Bricklayers local 1 had shown absolutely no interest in organizing them.

This was not surprising, because many union bricklaying contractors, like their counterparts in drywall and concrete, were paying cash.

This was particularly true in the hirise luxury residential and Davis Bacon public sector work which made up almost the entire brick industry.

So they’d be the last unions to do any kind of organizing work, lest it rile their current membership up.
A mobilized membership might tend to disrupt the secret sellout deals that local 1’s leaders had made with the bricklaying subs at the expense of their membership, and that just would not do.

Also, local 1’s White dominated leadership probably were concerned that if they organized a large group of South Asian workers into the union – which was run by Whites but had a large Black minority – they would disrupt the racial balance of power that kept them in charge of the union.

The Mason Tenders, presumably not wanting to jeopardize their 100 year long relationship with the Bricklayers Union, was not about to cross jurisdictional lines and organize the brickpointers.

The Mason Tenders, Bricklayers and the Carpenters were all part of a racketeering case made by the New York County DA that year, along with bricklaying contractor Saul Heifetz, Joseph Martinelli, the owner of North Berry Construction, the city’s largest hirise concrete contractor, and several other major bricklaying and paving contractors, as well as several senior members of the Lucchese crime family.

Heifetz – a cash contractor – was recorded saying that he refused to pay his mostly African American bricklayers union scale because “I’m not going to pay no niggers $ 600 a day!”

Heifetz was bold enough to actually say what a lot of New York contractors privately thought. It was one thing for them to pay high wages to White male tradespeople, but paying middle income wages to skilled tradespeople of color was a whole hell of a lot less acceptable!

In an industry that was now majority tradespeople of color – and where even the union side was one third Black, Latino and Asian – there were a lot of White bosses who agreed with Heifetz about not wanting to pay workers of color that well.

Sadly, a lot of Black, Latino and Asian contractors had the same attitude towards their tradespeople (even when they were of the same race)!

Even among the White workers, European immigrants faced the same racist attitude that they did not deserve to be paid anywhere near as well as their White American fellow workers.

And it didn’t matter if they were working for their countrymen - in fact, the immigrant owned firms were among the worst exploiters of immigrant labor!

Some scab firms even had an explicit racial hierarchy. White American workers got the most (and even they made less than union pay – and got no benefits) White European immigrants got a lower pay scale, American Blacks, West Indians and US born Latinos got less than them, Latino immigrants got less than them, and Asian immigrant workers were at the bottom of the barrel.

And, other than a few piecemeal one-contractor-at-a-time efforts by the Laborers, Carpenters, Painters and Ironworkers, none of the unions did anything to help these workers (and the efforts of the unions that did organize were grossly ineffective).

There was only one bright spot of class struggle in the building trades in 2000, a brief but amazingly effective strike by Teamsters local 814, the commercial movers.

The local’s administration – installed after the feds drove the Bonnano family out of the union and actually run by a former New York City cop who’d never worked as a mover – had settled into a cozy relationship with the moving van lines and the office furniture installation contractors (not that much different then when the wiseguys had run the local).

The leadership continued the Bonnano era policy of allowing the deunionization of the majority of moving van lines that hauled household goods and only preserving the union at the commercial moving lines, office furniture contractors and high end art auction houses.

There was a small TDU affiliated dissident caucus in the local, that forced local 814 to go on strike in June 2000.

The opposition caucus had to organize the conduct of the strike on the ground, since the local 814 leadership refused to have anything to do with picketing or stopping scab jobs.

And the movers put together an amazingly effective strike organization, more or less from scratch.

Movers were typically sent from job to job by company dispatchers using their cell phones. So, when they organized roving pickets, they used the same method, cell phone dispatched picketers traveled around the city and shut down every scab job in Downtown and Midtown Manhattan.

The Carpenters Union – who represented the furniture installers that worked at the office furniture installation companies – did absolutely nothing to aid this strike.

The only reason those furniture jobs stopped was because the movers picket lines were so effective it was impossible to deliver the office furniture that the carpenters installed.

In the end the movers won the strike on the picket line and the leaders of local 814 gave the victory away at the bargaining table.

And none of the other unions in the commercial building sector took advantage of the movers victory to organize their own resistance.

Nor did the leaders of local 814 use the momentum from the strike to launch an organizing drive among the majority of New York household goods movers who were non union.

That would involve actually launching a fight against the low wage Russian Jewish immigrant owned discount commercial moving lines, and mobilizing their Israeli, Russian Jewish, Latino and African American workers into mass struggle.

Local 814’s leadership had absolutely no interest in carrying out a struggle like that, because fighting sweatshop bosses and mobilizing superexploited immigrant and minority workers was not their type of unionism.

The local 814 leadership’s failure to capitalize on the strike at the bargaining table and use it as a springboard to reunionize household goods moving van lines did eventually cost them their jobs, when they lost the next union election.

In any case, the movers strike was a shining example of the kind of class struggle resistance that building trades workers were capable of – if only their union leaders would let them fight!

As 2001 dawned, the unionized trades faced a steady decline in commercial work. The overbuilding of the 1980’s had never fully been absorbed by the market, and the bulk of the commercial work was renovating existing office space for companies that were being lured by one developer to move out of another developers building.

Only a handful of new office towers were being built.

Those buildings, mostly in the Times Square area (the Arthur Anderson Building, the Reuters Building, the Conde Nast Building and the Ernst and Young Building), and the huge twin tower Time Warner Center mixed use development on the site of the New York Coliseum at Columbus Circle all received big government subsidies, otherwise they would not have even been built.

That game of musical chairs had its limits – and, with the collapse of the speculative internet boom (and the collapse of many dubiously financed web sites – who, in the boom days, had wasted lots of investment capital on expensive office facilities) there was a sharp fall in office renovation.

This accelerated an already growing trend of many contractors in the office interior sector – in particular, drywall & ceilings outfits, office furniture installation firms and venetian blind & drapery contractors – to try and pay cash to at least some of their carpenters.

The Carpenters Union helped facilitate this with the request system – which, as I’ve pointed out above, made it very difficult for local men to get jobs from the list and drove many carpenters to make deals in return for steady work.

The 2001 – 2006 Carpenters contract accelerated this.

The agreement included a huge pay raise (at least on paper) that, in practice, only bumped up the incomes of company men. The contract also made it even easier for contractors to abuse the request system and run their jobs with just one legitimate local man on the job (the shop steward). Now, it became easier to fire shop stewards for “incompetence” (that is, for being militant, standing up for the workers and actually aggressively representing their union on the site)

Falling union wages – and even lower de facto wages on some union sites – made it easier for the scab contractors to keep their wages at the same miserly low levels, at or below minimum wage.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, the New York construction industry was hit by a lightning bolt from out of the sky on the morning of September 11, 2001.

Saudi Arabian-exile terrorists from a group called “al-Qaeda” [“the base”] hijacked 4 commercial airliners that day – two of the planes, both very large Boeing 767 jets, were rammed into the two main towers of the World Trade Center.

Mayhem and carnage ensued.

By 10:30 AM that morning, the two towers – up til that day the tallest buildings on the planet – were piles of rubble, and 2,819 people were dead (including dozens of construction workers employed on renovation jobs in the towers and 4 UPS teamsters unloading their vans at the loading dock).

The two lowrise World Trade Center Towers (WTC 3 and 4), the Marriott World Trade Center and a Greek Orthodox Church were destroyed by the fall of the two great towers.

The Deutsche Bank building had its’ side ripped open by the collapse of WTC 1, caught fire and had to be abandoned.

Seven World Trade Center – ironically enough the site of Mayor Giuliani’s emergency bunker - was hit by one of the huge jet engines of one of the kamikaze planes. The huge white hot turbojet engine ignited the 23,000 gallon diesel fuel tank for the emergency generator in the mayor’s hirise bunker. The ensuing fire burned out of control for over 10 hours and could not be put out by firefighters. The fire’s tremendous heat undermined the structural integrity of the building’s steel frame, causing it to collapse into a giant heap.

Dozens of surrounding office buildings were heavily damaged, over 12,000 windows were broken by the shockwave and all of Manhattan below Canal St was coated with a thick layer of concrete dust from the crushed buildings.

The fall of the towers and its aftermath was a $ 60 billion insurable event, the biggest such incident by dollar value in the history of the world up to that time.

And 2,200 janitors, stationary engineers, carpenters, electricians and painters got laid off by American Building Maintenance (ABM), the maintenance contractor that serviced the towers. The workers were quite literally laid off the moment the towers fell, people on the day shift that day were only paid up to the moment of the collapse – 10:30 AM - and not a second later!

Initially – when there was still hope of survivors – the WTC collapse zone (soon named “Ground Zero” by the media – and that name stuck) was filled with several hundred construction worker volunteers – including lots and lots of ironworkers, because the city had sent out a special appeal for that trade, due to all the twisted steel that needed to be burned through with acetylene torches.

They assisted a mixed force of police, firefighters, marines, Navy medical corpsmen, National Guard troops, federal agents, transit workers and sanitation workers and a lot of random civilians who just wandered into the site to help (or to steal valuables from the dead people and the ruined banks and stores, or to take pictures to sell to the media).

By September 12, the last survivor, Giselle Guzman, a pregnant African American secretary at Port Authority headquarters, was pulled from the ruins, which ended the rescue phase of the operation.

After that point, The Pit (the name civilian construction workers gave the site – cops and firefighters called it The Pile) became what the City’s Emergency Management personnel euphemistically referred to as a “recovery” operation – that is, digging out the lifeless bodies of the slain.

At that point, the owner – the Port Authority – and Larry Silverstein, the luckless billionaire real estate developer who had signed a 99 year lease on the towers just 10 days before the air raid, and who owned one of the wrecked buildings, Seven World Trade Center, outright – shifted to a demolition operation, to clear out the rubble and get some kind of rentable floor space put up above the ruins as soon as possible.

So, the volunteers were tricked out of the site late in the evening of September 14 (for a “meal break” that turned out to be permanent) and they were immediately replaced by paid construction workers.

One of Mayor Giuliani’s deputy mayors gave the contracts to three well connected CAGNY affiliated multinational GC’s – Bovis Lend Lease, Turner and AMEC, and a GCA affiliated road contractor, Tully, who just happened to have a big job on the West Side Highway, so they had lots of equipment, trucks, tugboats and barges in the neighborhood.

There was no pretense of any kind of competitive bidding and Giuliani had another one of his deputy mayors, Rudy Washington, a former union carpentry contractor who had been sued in federal court for paying cash, supervise the site for the city.

The city, state and federal workers, and some of the military folks, stayed, along with the cops and firefighters (cause the site was a crime scene, after all) but any serious attempt to remove all of the body parts from the site ceased at that point.

This decision, which guaranteed that many WTC victims would never get a decent burial, provoked a wildcat strike by city firefighters (the first since 1975), because 343 of the folks who died on 9/11 were members of their department.

The ground zero ironworkers pulled a wildcat of their own in support of the firefighters demands, but they got no support from either the UFA or the Ironworkers Union, or any other building trades or civil service unions, so fast track demolition operations continued at the site.

Despite the highly toxic nature of the debris, only token precautions were taken to protect the health and safety of the 3,000 construction workers, cops, firefighters and federal agents on the site, which lead to serious chronic health problems for hundreds of those workers within a few years.

These workers also had to deal with the extraordinary psychological stress of randomly finding dismembered body parts strewn about the site.

Needless to say, many of the tradespeople at the site – not to mention the firefighters and cops – found this quite traumatic and psychologically painful to endure, with those who had lost family in the terrorist attack suffering most of all.

The workers mental health was as well provided for about as well as their physical health was, which is to say not at all!

Meanwhile, extensive decontamination and repair operations began on nearby buildings – first priority, the Verizon Building, which provided phone service to Wall Street financial houses and corporate headquarters.

The charred Deutsche Bank Building, set ablaze by the flaming wreckage of the first kamikaze plane, and the Borough of Manhattan Community College’s Fitterman Hall, the upper floors of which were crushed by the debris from WTC tower 1 were abandoned, but everything else was set to be cleaned and fixed.

The cleaning was done by 2,100 laid off World Trade Center janitors and a force of several hundred undocumented immigrant day laborers (the latter group of workers were marched in a group through the Army National Guard checkpoints every day, due to the fact that they didn’t have any valid ID).

They had absolutely no safety equipment whatsoever, only handkerchiefs or the occasional 99 cent store dust mask to protect them from the toxic WTC ash.

None of their employers – from multinational cleaning contractor American Building Maintenance down to the fly by night janitorial service sweatshop contractors that employed the undocumented workers – even cared about the predictable consequences of sending untrained workers to do this work.

They should have used specially trained hazardous materials laborers instead of janitors.

The problem was, those guys make union scale construction wages and contractors have to give them respirators, moon suits and decontamination chambers – not to mention regular medical monitoring during and after the job, paid for by the boss.

That was just too expensive – so they sent in untrained and unprotected janitors instead!

SEIU local 32bj was perfectly fine with putting 2,100 of its members at risk doing jobs they were not trained for at substandard wages.

In fact 32bj’s officers had actually negotiated this extraordinarily horrible and lethal sellout deal at the expense of their members!

Meanwhile, work at every jobsite in Manhattan below 59th St had been suspended the day of the raid. Some of those sites never reopened even after the city cleared them to resume work.

The WTC had contained 15 million square feet of office space but the Greater New York market had so much vacant space that all of the WTC tenants were able to relocate effortlessly and the city STILL had a surplus of unrented offices!

Even big flagship tenants like Morgan Stanley, Salomon Smith Barney, JP Morgan and Blue Cross found alternative space for all of their surviving employees.

Even the Commodity Exchange, which needed special trading floors, and the Royal Bank of Nova Scotia, which needed specially equipped high security vaults to house the Commodity Exchange’s vast gold and silver reserves, were able to easily find appropriate facilities.

The economic impact of the bombing – and the 250,000 people who lost their jobs that day – sent the city’s economy into a temporary recession that lasted well into 2002, with the construction sector the hardest hit.

New York City also changed mayors during this time.

Giuliani tried a blatant power grab in the wake of the bombing. He planned to cancel the November 2001 elections and reappoint himself to another – unelected – term as mayor.

The financiers who really rule New York City vetoed that move and, because of term limits, Giuliani left office.

Giuliani – who had long been a servant of Wall Street – was replaced by Michael Bloomberg, who WAS Wall Street.

The richest man in the city, and the 500th richest man on the face of the Earth thanks to the $ 5 billion dollar fortune he made leasing Bloomberg Terminal computers to Wall Street financiers, Bloomberg was a plutocrat mayor, and he continued carrying out the financiers agenda at City Hall (and enriching himself in the process – by the end of Bloomberg’s second term, he had increased his personal net worth to in excess of $ 19 billion dollars).

High up on Wall Street and Bloomberg’s agenda was rebuilding Ground Zero and repairing the war damage to the Financial District.

The Ground Zero jobsite was completely demoed out down to the bedrock by May 2002 – a record that AMEC, Tully, Turner and Bovis Lend Lease took great pride in, as did the New York City Building Trades Council.

Nobody talked about the 1,800 bodies that ended up being mixed in with the trade waste and interred for eternity at the City’s Fresh Kills garbage landfill in Staten Island because of the speed of the debris removal at ground zero.

 Only 300 intact bodies – and 15,000 pieces that added up to another 700 corpses when reassembled – were recovered before the site became a fast track demolition job.

The only ruins still standing were the incredibly contaminated Deutsche Bank Building and the Borough of Manhattan Community College’s Fitterman Hall .

Deutsche Bank wasn’t fully demoed out until 2011, while the ruins of Fitterman Hall still stand to this very day, only partially demolished.

Ironically enough, infighting between the city, the state, New Jersey, the Port Authority, the feds and Larry Silverstein prevented the site from getting rebuilt in a timely fashion – except for the portion of the land that Silverstein owned free and clear, where the new Seven World Trade Center was quickly constructed, atop the ruins of the old Seven World Trade Center.

So all of that rush and haste to clear the site– and the desecration of all those bodies that had been required to demo out the WTC site so fast – had been a total waste of time.

Meanwhile, the commercial side of the industry did pick up with the 2002 recovery – as did the now mostly deunionized residential sector.

Residential – thanks to a scissor effect of rapidly growing home prices and stagnant subminimum construction worker wages – was growing by leaps and bounds.

Young White professionals seeking to live in Manhattan but unable to afford apartments downtown were flooding into the HPD financed “affordable” luxury apartments in Harlem, and young college graduates from the Midwest who lived off the trust funds provided by their rich parents were rapidly moving into Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Both groups were able to pay high six figure – and even low seven figure – prices for co-op apartments (and helped price working class people out of those two communities)

There was a similar wave of working class people priced out of Brooklyn moving to the new tract housing developments in Staten Island as well.

There were also residential development hotspots in Lower Manhattan, Southern Brooklyn and Northern Queens, and, with few exceptions, the workers there were grossly underpaid.

This included many of the union developments as well, where carpenters, tapers, bricklayers and laborers were often paid cash.

Unlike the old days, when cosa nostra had regulated the scale of the graft, it was open season now. The GC’s were upset, because, despite the decade of law enforcement information, they were still having subs that paid scab but billed as if they paid union and pocketed the extra profits, instead of passing it on to the GC’s, the developers, the owners and the bankers.

The construction unions continued on the same path of nominally going along with the government monitorships publicly while covertly aiding the subcontractors in secretly paying cash to a portion of their membership, and secretly pocketing those profits.

This was only natural, since the leaders of those unions had their social base in the company men and foremen who were steadily employed by those subs (in a business where most workers do not have steady jobs) and therefore were loyal junior partners of the subs and fought for the subs interests.

The only exception was the Mason Tenders, the only union where the government had succeeded in its agenda, thanks to the ties between the company men in that trade (the social base of the Mason Tender’s leadership) and the GC’s.

In other words, the government’s grand agenda in putting the New York building trades unions under monitorship had failed.

This did NOT mean that the government stopped. Far from it, they stepped up their efforts to force the unions to go along with the financiers and their effort to subordinate the subs and force them to pass along the profits from falling labor costs in the industry.

And there were subs who did just that, especially in residential, and in particular in the scab sector, where very low wages did translate into low prices for the clients.

This was a very important success story for the government.

In this vast and growing sector, the feds had, thanks to their breakup of the organized cosa nostra price fixing cartels, forced the subcontractors to pass along the superprofits that they were able to extract thanks to deunionization and subminimum wages.

There was a political price for this. Unlike the old construction industry, where a large portion of the workforce lived a privileged lifestyle and almost all workers in the industry earned decent wages, we now had a situation where the majority of the construction workforce lived in deep poverty.

Even the union side had substantial pockets of impoverished members – including some of the company men who worked for cash – with only a small narrow section of tradespeople still living a labor aristocratic lifestyle.

The industry had also had to break the color bar and the sex barrier.

The ultimate “man’s job” had to accept a token number of women, and the one time White American men’s club was now overwhelmingly Black, Latino and Asian on the scab side, with much of the non union White workforce being recent immigrants from Europe, and close to a third workers of color on the union side, with a large population of European immigrants in that sector as well.

This created the potential for a tremendous amount of militant struggle. The bosses had sacrificed the traditional bonds of race and sex solidarity, and had driven much of the workforce into poverty – and had crushed the social basis for conservatism for a majority of the workforce.

The only ace in the hole the bosses had was a submissive and pro contractor labor leadership, who would never in a million years ever try and take advantage of these new social circumstances to lead any kind of militant worker struggles.

Thanks to the failure of the unions to act decisively, the decay of working conditions and wages continued.

And the scab developers got bolder. Some of the more aggressive ones, like Shaya Boymelgreen and Alex Forkosh, built large residential projects with all scab contractors in the heart of Manhattan.

Forkosh did an all scab labor dormitory project for New York University on E 14th St. Boymelgreen brought the former headquarters of JP Morgan, in the  heart of Wall St, and the former Daily News printing plant in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, and renovated both places into luxury housing with 100% scab labor.

The unions held rallies in front of those jobsites, tame, legal rallies, with the Mason Tenders organizers helping the cops corral the workers into protest pens.

But there were other scab projects – large and small – all over Manhattan, in areas that had once been all union, ranging from John Bon Jovi’s recording studio on 10th Av to Hampton Inn hotels in SoHo and Chelsea.

And, side by side with the scab jobs were “union” jobs with companies like On Par as subcontractors, firms that were “union” in name only.

Meanwhile, the feds continued their probes.

In 2004, they went after Plasterers local 530, the Genovese controlled drywall tapers union, and a group of companies linked to Louis Moscatiello, Sr that paid cash to their tapers on union jobs.

Again, the problem wasn’t that the standard of living of tapers had fallen.

The issue was that Moscatiello and the Genoveses had helped the drywall and taping subs secretly underpay their tapers, so the subs could pocket the superprofits themselves, rather than pass the profits on up to the GC’s and the developers.

Painters local 1974’s NLRB case was pushed forward, with the hope that the board could force the drywall and taping subs to replace under the table substandard local 530 wages with legally low wages from local 1974, which would force them  to pass the extra profits on up to the GC’s and the developers.

The Carpenters Union (the only major union besides the Mason Tenders that did any real organizing) had a couple of active NLRB campaigns.

One campaign was at Gateway, a White owned scab residential builder out of Yonkers with a largely Black workforce on a large residential jobsite in Harlem. The other was at Colgate, a formerly union scaffold outfit that had fired all of its union carpenters, laborers and teamsters, broke the unions and replaced those workers with non union Mexican carpenters several years before.

Both the Gateway and Colgate campaigns were typically long drawn out legalistic campaigns that succeeded but failed.

They succeeded in that the Black carpenters at Gateway and the Mexican carpenters at Colgate overwhelmingly voted union.

They failed in that Gateway simply shut down under one name, and a different firm with almost the exact same name [“Gateway Development”] owned by the same guy took over the job, giving them legal license to evade the union.

And Colgate simply committed the usual litany of illegal labor law violations and legal foot dragging that lead to most NLRB victories never leading to signed union contracts.

Of course, at least the Carpenters TRIED – which was more than could be said for most of the other trades (in fact, since so many of the other trades basically didn’t do any organizing, the Carpenters Union had had to organize laborers, truck drivers, tapers and other non carpenters at both of those companies – cause nobody else was going to do it if they didn’t)

And, alone among the trades, the Carpenters actually picketed scab jobs in Harlem, Williamsburg and the South Shore of Staten Island, the main centers of scab work in the city at that time.

The leadership of the rest of the unions had basically resigned themselves to a steady shrinkage of union work, a smaller and smaller island surrounded by a scab sea.

But the Carpenters Union leadership was absolutely NOT prepared to lead any kind of mass movement of non union tradespeople in Harlem, Williamsburg or the South Shore.

This was in part because that would involve changing the union’s racial balance of power by bringing in a whole lot of Mexicans and Blacks.

Also, this was because any kind of large scale class struggle would also trigger a lot of unrest among local men currently in the union, which would destroy all of those special deals and understandings that allowed contractors to pay cash and to use all company man workforces with only the steward actually being from the out of work list.

A mobilized and politically active local man carpenter workforce might very well revolt against all those special deals. That would hurt the carpentry subs, in particular the outfits in the drywall & ceilings, hirise concrete, office furniture and venetian blind industries.

So even the union that did the most organizing stopped far short of what needed to be done, because it would hurt the bosses in their industries.

Union conditions continued to decay, even at the biggest union jobsite in the country, Time Warner Center.

The core of the building had been finished – now there was a whole lot of interior work to be done, on the lower retail, office and hotel floors and the upper residential floors.

The commercial work was all done union, with the usual problems with cash on some of the jobs, and some serious safety problems experienced by the carpenters who framed and sheetrocked for A & M Wallboard - but union nonetheless.

As for the upper floors, some of the extremely expensive luxury apartments were renovated by scab residential builders and subs.

They actually used the same loading dock the union contractors did.

The scab outfits and their workers entered through the W. 58th St entrance, the union shops’ tradespeople and deliveries came through the W. 60th St entrance!

And this in a 100% union building, with SEIU 32bj members servicing the office and retail areas, UNITE HERE local 6 members working in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, IATSE local 1 stagehands working at Jazz at Lincoln Center, union elevator operators running every freight car and a teamster foreman on the loading dock!

There was a half day strike by most of the union trades on the site, except for the local 3 electricians and the local 530 tapers, who scabbed behind a union picketline.

That forced the building’s owner, billionaire developer Steven Ross, to use union labor on his own $ 40 million dollar 4 floor penthouse atop the north tower.

But besides that, practically nothing was done to stop Ross from doing the complex residential interior work with a largely scab workforce in what was supposed to be a 100% union job!

There was a minor bright spot in the residential sector.

Up in Harlem, some scab builders, like Artimus, who had previously built 100% non union, were now deciding to make some of their larger HPD subsidized luxury housing jobs go double breasted.

They began to use unionized electrical and hirise concrete subs on some of their bigger jobs.

There were a couple of reasons for this.

One, having union carpenters, lathers, cement masons, concrete laborers, operating engineers and electricians on the job made it very difficult for the Carpenters Union Organizing Department to picket these jobs, since they had signatory contractors with union labor on the site.

Two, using IBEW electrical contractors was a whole lot safer. Electricians local 3 has a college level electricians apprentice training program, the best in the nation, and union electricians are far more skilled than their counterparts at scab shops and contractors represented by bogus sweatshop unions like Horseshoers local 363.

Since these luxury buildings had elaborate electrical, datacom, cable TV, telephone and other systems hardwired into the apartments, it made sense to use the absolute best electricians available, who would not only be able to guarantee that there would be no electrical fires or system failures, but that the systems would work right the first time.

As for the hirise concrete, since they came on the job first, the builders could bill the owners and the developers at union labor prices for their work. Even after they left, and scab drywall & ceilings, windows, flooring and other contractors came onto the site to do the interior work, the scab builders could bill as if ALL of the subs were union, despite the fact that almost all of them were scab.

In other words, this was a way for the builders to minimize their union problems with the Carpenters and the Mason Tenders, and expropriate the superprofits of using mostly scab labor for themselves, rather than letting those excess profits go to the developers, clients and bankers.

Added into the mix was the fact that Electricians local 3 let residential contractors on these jobs use a mostly apprentice workforce. This enabled those shops to charge lower prices. Also, there were many union hirise concrete subs who paid cash to some of their company man carpenters and concrete laborers, which enabled them to charge lower prices too.

In other words, the scab builders in Harlem were not even paying full price for union labor on these jobs!

That does not mean that they weren’t charging full union prices to the developers, of course!

So, basically they had, in a small scale and decentralized way, reproduced the old lumping system of the glory days of the cosa nostra- run Wheel and Concrete Club era – just without having the mafia as the centralized arbiters of the scam.

And, of course, the double breasted operations were only on the big jobs in Harlem – the small jobs were run with low wage all non union crews.

The city’s scab subcontractor base was expanding.

It was now possible to find scab structural ironwork crews and even scab crane service companies, enabling scab builders in Harlem, Downtown Manhattan, Williamsburg, Downtown Brooklyn and Northern Queens to build steel framed hirises all non union.

Other than sporadic picketing by the Carpenters Union, the Mason Tenders, Painters District Council # 9 and Brooklyn Ironworkers local 361, little was done to stop this trend.

No efforts were made to mobilize non union workers on a mass scale to turn these contractors around, because that would involve struggle against the bosses.

Any workers victory in struggle against scab contractors would endanger the longstanding collaboration between the leaderships of the unions and the union contractors.

This failure to fight had severe consequences for construction workers, union and non union alike.

Despite the fact that a building boom began in 2005, with lots of work in the housing sector, union on the Upper East Side, Upper West Side and Coney Island, scab in Harlem, Williamsburg, Riverdale, the South Bronx, Northern Queens and the South Shore of Staten Island – residential construction wages and working conditions were still in a state of decay.

One dramatic example of this was a series of major scaffold collapses, with 29 deaths and numerous serious injuries.

Most of the city’s scaffolds were built by scab contractors and the remaining union outfits had their labor conditions pulled downwards by the scabification of most of that industry.

One glaring example was the Carpenters Union letting scaffold outfits use area shop stewards, instead of a shop steward at every scaffold job, and, through the request system, the contractors could use all company man crews on every job.

The all company man scaffold crews had nobody to insist on safety standards on the jobs and could be – and were – pushed to work unsafe by the contractors.

And almost all of the brickpointing contractors – the main users of scaffolds in the city – were scab, with only a few union shops in that segment. Of course, labor conditions at the union brickpointing outfits were pulled downwards by the dominance of scab subs in that business as well.

As a result there was blood on the sidewalks.

The Carpenters Union’s reaction was to lobby for stricter licensing standards for the scaffold industry

Which was a damned sight better than the Bricklayers, Mason Tenders, Roofers and the SEIU window washers division – whose reaction was dead silence.

But the licensing requirement demand was grossly inadequate.

The licensing requirements did come through.

However, with no unions at those scab outfits to enforce the new safety rules on the jobsites, all it did was create a black market for scaffold erector licenses, with corrupt instructors selling licenses to folks who did not receive the training.

And even with all the scaffold safety training in the world, if desperate impoverished non union undocumented workers are pushed to do the job unsafe, and know that they will be fired if they don’t, they will work unsafe, just cross their fingers, say a prayer and hope nobody dies.

Meanwhile, in the broader New York City labor world, Transport Workers Union local 100 called a strike at MTA New York City Transit in December 2005. This was the first transit strike in the city since 1980 and by far the biggest strike in the state since 1996.

It might as well have happened on the dark side of the moon as far as the Building Trades Council was concerned, because they made absolutely no efforts to show solidarity with the TWU.

They didn’t even show support for the union when the media attacked local 100 President Roger Toussaint (the New York Post and the New York Daily News demanded his arrest – and a radio DJ at Hot 97 FM went on the air and openly called for the assassination of Toussaint!)

The rest of the labor movement didn’t do much better. Even the other MTA unions only offered rhetorical support and the civil service unions also did next to nothing to aid the transit workers.

Tragically, as has become all too common in modern American strikes, transit workers willingness to fight far exceeded the desire – and, quite frankly, even the ability - of their leaders to lead them into battle.

The transit workers were sent back to work after only 3 days on the line, a defeat snatched from the jaws of victory by their leadership.

Most pathetically, the FBI installed reform leaders of Teamsters local 813 actually used the transit strike as an excuse to cancel a strike against Waste Management Inc.

Their excuse?

The strike would be “too disruptive to the city”!

Of course, strikes are SUPPOSED to be “disruptive” – that’s why strikes work – but the reform leaders of local 813 didn’t believe in that kind of effective unionism!

Instead, Waste Management was allowed to impose its terms on its drivers, and the drivers were ordered by the union to work for another four months without a contract.

As the building boom accelerated in 2006, so did the safety crisis, and it wasn’t just scaffold failures now, but building collapses too.

Granted, these collapses involved small residential lowrises, rather than major structures, but they were still building collapses nonetheless, collapses that involved fatalities.

There was no effort by the Building Trades Council or the affiliated unions to lead any kind of resistance to these abuses at all, just yet another call for new licensing rules (this time, 10 hour Occupational Safety and Health Administration classes).

All this did was create yet another black market, enabling non union workers to buy 10 hour OSHA cards without taking the full class.

And even for those who took the class, it didn’t in any way prevent the number 1 cause of construction safety and health problems – bosses pushing tradespeople to work faster.

In general, most construction safety training exists in a never never land where the boss isn’t pushing the workers to get the job done faster and where working slower to be safe won’t get you laid off.

Most safety training assumes that construction hazards are caused by construction workers being reckless and/or stupid, rather than by bosses who’s first priority is to get the job done fast, with every other priority secondary at best.

Ground Zero was a perfect example of this, the contractors recklessly exposed construction workers, cops and firefighters to all sorts of toxic substances during the demolition operation.

By 2006, nearly 80 workers had died of Ground Zero related diseases and over 1,000 were so sick they could no longer work.

And that’s not including the union apprentice carpenter who fell down an elevator shaft to his death while the contractors were rushing to finish the new Seven World Trade Center.

Despite all the propaganda about the heroism of the Ground Zero workers that filled the airwaves and the newspapers during the recovery operation, city, state and federal authorities were still trying to avoid paying out any workers comp benefits to the victims.

As for the janitors and day laborers who had cleaned out the buildings around Ground Zero – there were deaths, and many many debilitating illnesses, but they also were being denied compensation.

The construction unions were, at best, passively supportive of workers comp for Ground Zero workers - police and firefighter unions, 9/11 activists and even the occupational safety specialists at Mt Sinai Hospital, were far far more vocal about Ground Zero worker health than the building trades unions.

And, one of the city’s most dangerous jobs – the Deutsche Bank demolition job – was right down there in Ground Zero.

Bovis Lend Lease was the GC on the job, which was supposed to be the future site of a JP Morgan Chase office building once the contaminated burned out wreckage was finally torn down.

They’d hired a newly incorporated demolition contractor, John Galt Inc, which had ties to two shady contractors – Safway Demolition, a cosa nostra connected firm with a horrible safety record and Regional Scaffolding and Hoisting, another cosa nostra linked firm with a history of paying cash to union carpenters.

Galt ran the job in a very slipshod way, inadequate toilets for the workers, failure to decontaminate workers removing asbestos and a long list of other violations big and small, including the dismantling of the building’s fire safety system.

This led to a jobsite fire that killed two New York City firefighters and another accident where a handtruck fell off the building and severely injured two other firefighters a few days later.

The demo job was finally stopped after the tragedy with the firefighters, which created yet another delay in the building of the new World Trade Center.

Other than the completion of Seven World Trade Center, the rest of the project was hopelessly stalled. This was in part because of political infighting between the City, the State, the Port Authority and Larry Silverstein, but largely because there simply was no market for all the office space included in the new World Trade Center plan.



















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