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A Defining American Experience is Happening Right Now –

The Trades have not cornered the market on racism – but, we have certainly contributed to it!

If you see Brother Floyd as an individual, with the flaws of an individual person – stop reading now. More than likely you are part of the problem! If you saw a Black man lynched in broad daylight, read on. It is why Black Lives Matter – too!

Gut check time for the trades:

  • Failed at accepting Black Americans and women into the trades – from the beginning of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) on December 8, 1886 to the present day
  • Failed at being a business – using its brand of Value on Display
  • Failed as a MOVEMENT defending and advancing workers’ rights – regardless if they are union or not for the last 40 years
  • Failed at organizing
  • And, on the brink of failing to keep the promise of a pension – many pensions have already failed and many more will

Gut check #1 – Failed at accepting Black Americans and women into the trades

Discrimination in The AFL Labor Movement? Most craft unions either refused or, as in iron and steel and meatpacking, failed to organize the less skilled. Since perceived skill lines tended to conform to racial, ethnic and gender divisions, the trade union movement took on a racist and sexist coloration as well. For a short period, the AFL resisted that tendency. But in 1895, unable to launch an interracial machinists’ union of its own, the Federation reversed an earlier principled decision and chartered the Whites-only International Association of Machinists. Formally or informally, the color bar thereafter spread throughout the trade union movement. In 1902, Blacks made up scarcely 3 percent of total membership, most of them segregated in Jim Crow locals. In the case of women and eastern European immigrants, a similar devolution occurred – welcomed as equals in theory, excluded, or segregated in practice.

In some cases, Black Americans and woman are in worse numbers today than they were 140 years ago when the construction trades were founded. Here are just some of the jurisdictions and blended jurisdictions from the 2019 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Population Survey    NOTE: view the entire list for details. Also, this represents union & non-union workers. Some BT unions have a better percentage of Black/woman members – some do not – they come close in net numbers! Question to ponder: Who are the North Americans BT’s going to ORGANIZE, not recruit?                                                                                 

                                                          Percent of:   Female      Male      Black      Asian     Hispanic

Brickmasons, blockmasons, and stonemasons    0.7         91.6       5.2         1.2              37.7

Carpenters                                                                   2.8        89.1       5.1         1.5              37.3

Carpet, floor, and tile installers and finishers       1.9         90.8       5.1         0.5              59.7

Cement masons, concrete finishers                        3.0         89.5       4.4         1.1              53.5

Construction laborers                                               3.5         85.3       8.6         1.6              46.7

Operating engineers & const equip operators     1.7         85.1       8.9         0.9              14.9

Drywall installers and tapers                                    0.7         91.1      2.5         1.7              67.7

Electricians                                                                  2.2         87.4       6.8         2.6              21.1

Insulation workers                                                     3.7         91.8       5.9         1.4              43.3

Painters, construction and maintenance               8.9         87.4       8.1         0.6              55.5

Pipelayers, plumbers, pipefitters, & steamfitters 2.7        87.1       8.4         0.9              27.1

Roofers                                                                         1.9        87.7       5.2         0.7              50.7

Sheet metal workers                                                  6.8         89.1      6.7         2.3              28.9

Structural iron and steel workers – not rebar        0.9        75.7       11.7       7.8              18.7

An example of a white racist trades-person’s post on FB is that Black Americans are privileged because they have Jordan sneakers, Beeps headphones, new cell phones, “free breakfast” at school – all paid for by various social welfare programs as a “privilege”. These kinds of posts are all over the trades’ forums.

But, for most Black Americans having new Jordan’s is like the white trades guy driving a $50,000 pickup and Beeps is their version of a premium sound system in a HOUSE! The fact that many cannot provide a meal to their children should infuriate us and not be viewed as a “freebie”.

All the self-serving FB comments like “I bust my ass” – belie any knowledge of life outside of their own. For those type of trades-persons, and there are many, it is all about “me”. Note to those racists: Black Americans have been and continue to be LOCKED OUT of the ability to bust their ass to secure the same way of life you have! LOCKED OUT! The opposite of that is White privilege, which means that if a White citizen busts their ass, they actually can have a slice (or the whole pie) of the American dream. The playing field of life for a Black American has never been even close to equal to that of a typical White American – NEVER!

At one time in American history “Irish need not apply” dominated the business want ads. Jump ahead to Hispanic Americans, illegal or not, who have “bull-dogged” their way into the trades and a piece of the pie. They were certainly beat down and it was a beating to be sure. However, they were NOT locked out!

From the time of slavery until today some 6,500 Black Americans have been lynched. That is “JUST” lynching’s reported as cause of death! Defining moments are abundantly and clearly anti-Black throughout many milestones of U.S. policy.

Take for example how the GI Bill’s promise was denied to Black WWII Veterans.

Many Black Americans could not access the GI Bill for housing, education & other benefits that helped propel White Americans who were willing to “bust their ass” for a better life. As a White GI if you wanted to be a small business, have the best health care, buy a house – bust your ass, go to college/trade school and it is all available to you. But, not so for an overwhelming majority of Black GIs as their respective states’ politicians meted out availability of the benefits according to their preferences and prejudices. And, the Civil Rights Act was 20 years away from enactment!

From my personal historical perspective, if you are aged 65 years or older, as I am, you witnessed the Civil Rights Bill being enacted in 1964. Shockingly, there are recorded lynching even during the 60’s!

In 1968 I attended Proviso East HS, a majority Black HS, when the Chicago riots were sparked in part by the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Rioting and looting followed, with people flooding the streets of major cities, primarily in Black urban areas.

In August 1968, knowing that there was a draft going on and that I was going to be draft eligible, I went to hear the Vietnam veterans who had returned from the war. At the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, thousands of Vietnam War protesters battled police in the streets, while the Democratic Party fell apart over an internal disagreement concerning its stance on Vietnam. Many Black American soldiers felt that they were fighting a White man’s war yet again.

The next year while at Proviso East HS, the Black Panthers’ Fred Hampton, 21, and Mark Clark, 22, were shot to death by Chicago police on December 4, 1969. Fourteen police officers raided Hampton’s apartment, which was a known Illinois Black Panther Party stronghold in Chicago’s West Side.

Off to the Army – I know that many Black and White soldiers formed enduring interracial friendships while fighting overseas. I was grateful for those friendships; however, inequities and blatantly racist treatment stained their experiences both during and after the war. In Vietnam, Black soldiers were disproportionately sent to the front lines, jailed, or disciplined at a higher rate and promoted less often. Upon their return to the U.S., they were presented with menial job opportunities, often denied support by Veterans Affairs (Agent Orange and other substantial disabilities) and received little empathy from their own communities.

Many local unions, including mine, had consent decrees requiring admission of minorities as early as the late 60’s – all to too little avail.

I taught in the apprenticeship in my Local in the 90’s. I can count on 2 hands the Black apprentices then. We saw our first women in the trades in the mid 90’s, even though the enrollment and workloads had been at their peak and continued until 2008. I literally had guys recruited off bar stools in class – nice! Heaven forbid a Black or woman veteran.

We talk about worker and skill shortages in the trades, yet young Black citizens in huge unemployed numbers are not organized/recruited other than in rhetoric. The trades cannot just snap their fingers and recruit Black citizens after 140 years of locking them out. We need to build trust, and with the comments I’ve see for years on FB, why would Black citizens want to come our way?! Ditto for women in the trades. I have personally been told more than a dozen times that it is NOT the older tradesmen that give the women the most grief. It is the entitled younger white males who do.

And…well indigenous American Indians have yet an entirely separate history of near genocide!

Gut check # 2, 3 and 4 – The trades’ failure as a business, as a MOVEMENT and to organize

BLS: Just 12.6% of U.S. Construction Industry is Unionized – March 3, 2020

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ annual union members summary report published Jan. 22, 2020, union membership in the construction industry increased slightly in 2019. However, just 12.6% of wage and salary workers were members of unions in the U.S. private construction industry. NOTE: The trades’ “net” counts on their respective LM-2 include many tens of thousands non-working participants, such as Honorary members and other designations.

According to BLS data, construction unions gained just 7,000 members in a year-over-year comparison (1.048 million workers in 2018 to 1.055 million workers in 2019), even though the U.S. construction industry added 192,000 workers (8.169 million workers in 2018 to 8.352 million workers in 2019).

This data suggests that fewer workers chose to join unions as the construction industry’s workforce grew in the robust U.S. economy.  Likewise, union membership as a percentage of the U.S. construction industry has steadily declined throughout the last 75 years. In 1947, approximately 87% of its workforce was unionized. During the construction industry’s recession in 2010, just 801,000 construction industry workers belonged to a union (13.1%), the smallest number of union members in recent history.

Visit the BLS’ website to view the news release and the full report

Gut check #5 – Failure of pensions – many have – many more will

Not a fan of 11th hour hyperbole, however it is the 11th hour for Taft Hartley pensions. The last stimulus package provided no PBGC and/or relief for underfunded existing trades pensions. The odds appear long that “IF” there is another stimulus, it will NOT provide for T/H pensions. It then falls to the election and the Ds have to win all 3 branches to even talk about relief. Problematic is the sheer size of the debt being amassed. And, should the Rs really feel they are in a position to lose in November across the board, they will spend everything they can before exiting. With all the “what ifs” possible, MAYBE the T/H plans get $100 billion or so to fund PBGC. That is a long shot today – and NOWHERE near the money needed to pay for the promises made to date! Think of it as 30 cents on the dollar of promised benefits for insolvent pensions. Hours will continue to fall as market share continues to drop. Markets are inconsistent to poor – so no help there either. Most pension funds need approximately 7% out of the box (it is called the actuarial assumption and is set in stone by and large). Only (and Labor Rising means only) ORGANIZING, in which we take both the contractor and workers and IMPOSE a CBA on them, can get us out of this collective hole we have dug for OURSELVES! And while we’re at it, we also need to go after the wallets of those end-users, developers, and CMs that show consistent anti-union sentiment and practices!

The senior leaders of the trades talk smack – stuff like, “We have to be bold”. Our take is that bold means getting a “certain state BT leader who is at the top of his game” to run the NABTU (hint: he may or may not be from a certain large west coast state). BTW, the NABTU has elections in August.

If not that – we can provide 3 women organizing candidates who can and will kick start the trades and break the status quo. This is not being politically correct – these women have proven track records. The trades are different than the unions these women organize in; however, they will adapt and win. I would also take Brother JW in a heartbeat to run organizing – but it has to be his way. The current BT organizers by and large are not the problem – it is the strategy of Value on Display that is the loser. Lose it! What does it say that the most successful unions for the last decade, in an anti-union environment, are All run by women!?!

The trades need to jettison the racist dead weight and again be a MOVEMENT!

This is on you senior leaders – right now you are going down with the Titanic. Time to build a current ship consistent with improving workers’ lives both on and off the jobs. North America is growing activist again. Organizers are learning the ins and outs – out on the streets & with their computers. A new day is here – so suck it up buttercup, it is their time! Another Building Trades can be founded which will be much more in line with the goals of our labor Founders. Ask The Knights of Labor how fast a labor movement can be replaced.

In Solidarity,

“if you see a good fight – get in it” Vernon Johns said this – look him up

Danny L Caliendo


Labor Rising

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