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WWOFD – What Would our Founders do?

Many of the founding fathers were not looking for trouble. An example is Archibald Barnes, 1888 First General President of the Tin-Knockers. Brother Barnes wanted the tin-knockers to be recognized as a valuable partner within the industry and with employers. Sound familiar?

However, employers believed to their core that capital and labor had “nothing to arbitrate.” What made our Founders so compelling was that they shifted tactics when employers did not share their ideas of a “COOPERATIVE” labor-management relationship. The Founders shifted hard and with a passion in a timely fashion. How hard? Well, an organizer back then might as well have been the devil himself if you were an employer. In short order the tin-knockers established over one hundred unions; and a middle class was born. Repeat for the other trades – some even beginning earlier than the tin-knockers. What Labor Rising admires most about Brother Barnes is that he was the most enthusiastic president about labor-management cooperation. But (and this is a big but), he knew when it did not work and what to do about it! That is LEADERSHIP!

For many years I was the Treasurer for the Illinois Labor History Society. Dr. Adelman, Molly West, Les Orear and many other historians worked on the histories of various trades, both local & international. We helped provide the research and gave tours of various labor sites and resting places of more than 50 labor activists throughout the Midwest. ILHS held the deed to the Hay Market Martyrs Monument at Waldheim Cemetery.  

We know the history of the trades since the mid 70’s and what our Founders would most likely think of today’s IPs. We believe our Founders would see management alliances playing the International Presidents and Building Trades Presidents like a fiddle. The Founders most likely would not want the current Rank & File watching over their backs because this generation of both baby boomers & millennials continue to just roll over to both management and senior leadership of the trades.

The Founders would see Maintenance Agreements from the early 70’s thru to today’s garbage, along with the steady loss of market share, wages, benefits & conditions. They would be horrified knowing that approximately 60% of all hours come from PLAs with huge numbers of members living and working on the road even though there are PLENTY OF BOOMS in their own neighborhoods.

Our General Presidents from the 70’s thru today have eroded members’ rights both on the job and in our constitutions.

The electricians just finished their convention. As has been the case with the trades, no serious challenges to the current direction and/or leadership were evident. Everyone just falls in line as though they are afraid of their General Presidents.

As members, we could not run at all with the rank & file back in the day! Now those were bad asses! And our Founders would certainly not support what passes for leadership today. Labor Rising is highly confident the convention floors of the respective trades would look quite different today if our Founders were in attendance based on the histories of conventions past! We present an image of talking and looking tough, but without any actions to back it up on the convention or union floor.

Membership of unions the world over understand that the rank & file has to take back their power when leadership no longer represents the workers, be it with employers or are own internationals. This is confronting the realities of power.

Solidarity Unionism is a model of labour organizing in which the workers themselves formulate strategy and take action against the company directly without mediation from government or paid union representatives.” [author unknown]

Work to Rule is but one strategy of solidarity unionism. It is doing our jobs and tasks to the letter of the safety rules. We recommend keeping it to safety for the time being – it matters. Let’s see if we have what it takes to run with our Founders and step out of the shadows of fear now decades beyond.

Why are we traveling to remote jobs with reduced wages and benefits (hoping our money gets back to our funds) with conditions & compensation being far less than what it takes to raise our families? In many cases we subsidize the job off our own backs. Many times, if our spouses do not work, our household finances falter.

Why are we working to the spirit of safety only to be injured and held responsible for the injury while working on a company’s job site? Why are we letting management, with our own international’s full knowledge, dictate per diems, testing, discipline and much more without any membership input what-so-ever?

Work to Rule is solidarity unionism banding workers together on a PLA job to change outcomes. We do not need to talk to management or unions – just work to the letter until we are compensated for the risks we take. Think about it – are we being paid sufficiently for the risks we take? Can we raise our families on one income? If not, band together in your actions regarding safety. Management built this current environment, but it is up to us to show management and our internationals we own the job. We provided a couple of safety templates in the last blog. This is what is used in court if injured on the job.

Start with revisiting all the safety paperwork you signed when hired and continue to sign, such as toolbox safety meetings. Form discussion groups to educate yourselves on understanding what the letter of safety is – you signed it. Individuals and even groups can get clarifications from the safety officers – but in writing. Union stewards are not going to do this. However, unless they want to be named in a lawsuit – will back working to the letter of safety. Example: Toolbox safety meetings were once thought to protect workers – now they can and will be used against you when injured and to reduce any workers comp claims and compensation.

Of course, we can just keep rolling over until the checks run out, our bodies fail, the pensions fail & our families fail once injured.

“IF” we want to have healthy finances today and be well regarded in history we have to move. Hence a MOVEMENT!

Every ability to measure workers’ progress in the trades in the PLA era indicates we are going backwards. Increasingly, management can even pick the contribution rate within the District Council they want to use on a job. And what about pensions? So many patches have been applied to our pensions to smooth out our funding it would be criminal if it wasn’t the government. More on pensions soon.

Our leadership knows how bad it is and also that management wants out of the pension contribution and liability altogether. How come we don’t know? Bottom line is we are too afraid to demand an answer on the convention floor or union floor! We’re afraid to take on these issues and others that are germane to being a member.

We have to back a member(s) asking a legit question regardless of if we like them or not. The in house animosities need to be checked at the door or jobsite when legit questions are asked. The divisions are killing us.

It comes down to real action. Feel free – in fact we recommend that you rake the statements in our 252 blogs in the last 12 years over the coals. They will stand up. Now, will you?

Unionism is on the rise everywhere except the trades. Recruiting IS NOT organizing. Why? Because we can’t organize when we can’t even go toe to toe with our own internationals to break these alliances with management. BTW, what is currently happening in the trades IS NOT organizing. Our Founders would see through the smoke & mirrors that currently keeps organizers and marketing reps busy but not productive in a heartbeat. Approximately 2,700 paid organizers and marketing reps throughout the trades, and we have continued to go backwards for 5 decades!

How can a troop of 2,700 be this inept unless it is by design caused by undertraining and not cutting them loose to use all organizing and marketing tools available to win? They only know the tools the internationals provide them. It is far from a complete toolbox. Think about it!

“if you see a good fight – get in it”

Danny L Caliendo


Labor Rising

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