The history of the Carpenters Union is a story of a group of workers coming together against tremendous odds to create one of the most powerful trade unions America has seen. This story is about resilience, resistance, action, and struggle. Ultimately it is about demanding a better future and fighting for it against all odds.
The history of the Carpenters Union does not exist in a vacuum, but is part of a general history of working class struggle. Carpenters have been one of the most skillful and critical components of every society. More importantly, however, the carpenter has led the fight for fairness, equality and justice for all workers. It is up to each and every one of us to discover our shared past and spread it in our workplaces and dinner tables. For all that divides us as individuals, this history unites us as brothers and sister.
It is said that the idea of throwing tea into the ocean at Boston Harbor, the event known as the 1773 Boston Tea Party, was first conceived at a meeting of ship carpenters and caulkers intent on protesting British oppression. This would not be the first, or last, contribution that carpenters would make for freedom and democracy.
The Revolutionary War was fought and won by labor, both un-free and free. There is little doubt that among these fighters were skilled carpenters willing to risk their lives to be freed from oppression.
The contribution of women during the Revolutionary War is frequently put aside in our textbooks. The fact is that when men were away at war, the colonies did not stop building infrastructure and women served critical roles as carpenters, shipbuilders and blacksmiths as well as other crucial roles.
The Revolutionary War ended in 1783 and independence was won for the American colonies. Among the different freedoms that would now govern America were the freedom of speech and the freedom to assemble. These two freedoms built the labor movement years later. Democracy was established as the political ideology of the land. It promised representation for every American in their government and in their lives. It is important to note that although the framers of the new constitution promised the people a democracy, only white men with property were given full democratic rights. In fact most workers, regardless of gender or race, were denied the right to participate in the new democratic government, sadly, for many years to come.
Although America was now freed from British dominance, slavery grew in the colonies and workers suffered through more decades of exploitation and abuse. Workers did not have any representation with their employers as the new factory system abused thousands of Americans in the workplace. The spirit of the revolution and the desire for freedom would not leave the working class of America. Unions soon became the voice and the representation of wage earners and craft workers.
For the most part, the Carpenters Company of Philadelphia benefited master carpenters (employers) more than it did journeymen carpenters and apprentices. The fact that master carpenters kept the book of prices secret leads us to believe that they were fearful their journeymen would revolt if they knew how much profit they enjoyed. Certainly the Carpenters Company was good for the trade as it set uniform prices and created some stability for the Carpentry industry, but the majority of carpenters were journeymen and it is difficult to say they were protected from their master carpenter.
It was not until 1791 that we see a union of journeymen carpenters in America. The Union Society of Carpenters was created in Philadelphia to combat the master carpenter’s control of their trade. The journeymen demanded a uniform 12-hour workday, from 6AM to 6PM, and an end to piecework in the wintertime. When the masters refused to grant the journeymen their demands, the Union Society of Carpenters went on strike. In order to apply more pressure on the master-carpenters, the Union went directly to owners and offered to work for 25 % below the masters prices while promising quality work. Although the strike failed, this group of journeymen carpenters took an invaluable step toward building unions made up of workers in the carpentry trade.
Unionism, in its current form, entered American society and the economy in the early 1800’s primarily in port cities like Boston, Philadelphia and New York City. The economy was young, brutal and very unstable so workers joined together to try and curb the competition that was driving down wages and working conditions to bottomless scales. Workers in the North weren’t the only ones organizing. There were free workers in the South, both black and white, and many of them were skilled craftsmen. The southern economy, however, was largely based on un-free labor, especially slave labor, and organizing into unions, at least traditional ones, was nearly impossible.
A northern carpenter’s life in the 1800’s was less than respectable, even if his/her trade was invaluable. The workweek was seven days long and the workday was sun up to sun down. A Carpenters union in Philadelphia even struck for a 10-hour day with one carpenter justifying his demand by saying,
Early carpenter unions usually failed because of frequent depressions and employer tactics. When the economy was strong and work was plentiful, carpenters quickly formed unions to try and protect themselves from exploitation and brutal working conditions. When the economy fell into a depression, however, unions disbanded because workers were desperate and competition between them placed everybody at the employer’s mercy. Employers would destroy early unions even in good economic times by importing un-free and non-union workers to drive down area wages and thus create an economic panic.
Although local carpenters were forming unions as early as 1791 and some Locals were forming state federations as early as 1863, carpenter unions were not able to survive economic panics and employer tactics often enough to build real power. The lack of a national organization and strong central leadership meant that employers were always able to import workers and use competition to break early unions. Quite frankly, there were not enough union carpenters to control the industry for workers and without an increase in union memberships; carpenters would always struggle to protect minimal gains.
Peter J. McGuire (PJ) was born in New York City in 1852 to poor Catholic Irish parents. His father, a porter and a staunch Catholic, signed up to fight the Confederacy in 1862. PJ was forced to quit school at eleven years old to help the family survive.
Although PJ was immersed in work and general struggle trying to keep the family fed, he made an effort to enroll at Cooper Union in New York City and take classes. It was there that he met a young Samuel Gompers. Their relationship blossomed over the next years and together these two idealists would give hope to millions of workers.
In 1873 McGuire was only 21 years old, but he was already a fiery agitator for workers issues and an equal society. That year New York City found itself in yet another depression and many New Yorkers were quickly in poverty. McGuire felt the government should protect the unemployed from starvation. He led a committee of like-minded students to ask the City for a permit to demonstrate for the cause. When the City ultimately refused the grant the protest, McGuire led a sit in at police headquarters. Legend has it that McGuire’s father told the police captain his son was a socialist and should be arrested, an event that traumatized a young McGuire, but the sit in continued. The day of the rally, January 13th, close to 10,000 people assembled at Tompkins Square in New York. The police came too and they broke up the assembly with violence and mass arrests. Sam Gompers wrote of the Tompkins Square protest that police brought and McGuire's education, both read and lived, made him a young and radical socialist. He was active in socialist circles throughout New York City and in 1874 he helped form the Socialist Labor Party. He traveled America starting branches of his new political party and although it grew, it never gained national power. When McGuire confronted the issue of constant economic depressions in the American economy he said,
McGuire traveled the country working as a cabinetmaker and agitating workers into action. In 1877 he moved to Saint Louis, Missouri. It was here in Saint Louis that McGuire found the obsession that would lead carpenters to countless marches and fights—the eight-hour day. In 1879 he helped organize Saint Louis workers in an eight-hour day parade. In that same year McGuire spoke in front of 20,000 workers at yet another rally for a shorter workday. He became active in a newly formed carpenter local and led them on a successful strike for an increase in wages. His quick rise as a labor leader in Missouri led him to the highest labor seat in the state when he was elected secretary of the Saint Louis Trades Assembly. His ability to organize workers into unions and lead them to win their demands convinced McGuire he could build a national Carpenters union.
In April of 1881, Peter J. McGuire called for a national carpenters union in this editorial that appeared in The Carpenter magazine's first issue.
The scene was Chicago, an emerging union city in its own right, where thirty six delegates from eleven cities, representing around 2,042 carpenters, came together to form the United Brotherhood of Carpenters. Ten resolutions followed the first convention and they give us insight into the issues most important for working carpenters in the United States of the day:
McGuire and the 36 delegates that followed his call made sure that democracy was a cornerstone of their new union. Offices were set up for the UBC and elections were held immediately. There could be no Carpenters union without a democracy that supported it.
The Chicago convention passed, but not before these delegates succeeded in creating the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, now the official trade union of working carpenters wherever they may be. It was truly a remarkable convention for all working people in America.
PJ McGuire became a national labor leader because he was an expert agitator, but agitation without action does nothing. McGuire was a firm believer in protest and taking action to win demands. Nothing exemplifies this better than his call for Labor Day, one that has been honored since 1882 and will live forever as the idea of PJ McGuire. In 1882 McGuire wrote in The Carpenter,
"It is now suggested that the first Tuesday in September shall be the labor holiday of New York and be celebrated every year by a parade and picnic. It is also proposed that this day should be likewise observed throughout the country, that labor by its own will should establish its own universal holiday...the ruling classes have their own decoration days and Thanksgiving; why should not labor declare its own holiday?"
The Labor Day march in early September has taken place since 1882. Workers marched in their streets for better wages, better working conditions and most of all respect from their employers. In 1894 the U.S Congress voted to make Labor Day, a day for workers, an official holiday.
The period after the Civil War (1878-1890) is frequently called the Gilded Age in American history. It can be defined as a time period of great wealth for owners and great poverty for workers. In 1890, for example, the wealthiest 1% of Americans earned more than the bottom 50%. By any standard this was a time of incredible inequality.
Monopolists and industry owners were busy accumulating wealth and destroying workers unions. Many felt their wealth was what God wanted. Andrew Carnegie, a steel tycoon who bought police to kill striking workers in Homestead, Pennsylvania, wrote “Individualism, Private Property, the Law of Accumulation of Wealth, and the Law of Compensation were the highest result of human experience.” John D. Rockefeller, an energy tycoon whose company, Colorado Fuel and Iron, brought in the National Guard to kill 66 striking miners in 1913 told Sunday School students, “The growth of a large business is merely a survival of the fittest…This is not an evil tendency in business…merely the working-out of a law of nature and a law of God.” The attitude of monopoly employers could best be summarized by a quote from a wealthy Frederick Townsend Martin. He said,
"It matters not one iota what political party is in power or what President holds the reins of office. We are not politicians or public thinkers; we are the rich; we own America; we got it; God knows how, but we intend to keep it if we can by throwing all the tremendous weight of our support, our influence, our money, our political connections, our purchased senators, our hungry congressmen, our public-speaking demagogues into the scale against any legislature, any political platform, any presidential campaign that threatens the integrity of our estate...The class I represent cares nothing for politics."
The UBC, although struggling through even more depressions and a wicked corporate environment, was growing. The Carpenters started with a little more than 2,000 members in 1881 and by 1890 that number jumped to more than 50,000. Wages for all members had increased and although it is true that great inequality between the rich and the working class was spreading, carpenters were fighting to get their fair share.
In December of 1886 the American Federation of Labor was formed under the leadership of PJ McGuire and his Cooper Union classmate, Samuel Gompers, (a Cigar Maker). Workers were forming unions in every trade and every industry throughout the 1800’s. History is rich with stories of women striking in factories in Massachusetts, miners hanged in Pennsylvania for forming unions, and workers in the South forming unions and political parties of their own. Much like the carpenters, these unions needed a national body to bring them together and make them stronger. For the skilled craft workers, the AFL was the answer.
Without the support of the Carpenters union and the leadership of PJ McGuire, it is doubtful that the AFL would have gained the prominence it did in America. PJ McGuire was offered a chairmanship in the federation, and when he declined because he said he was too busy, they essentially forced him to take it. The Carpenters in the 1880’s were the strongest labor union in America and without their participation and leadership, the young AFL probably would have floundered quickly. PJ McGuire, the UBC’s leader and its greatest organizer for many years, also served as the Federation’s Vice-President for the rest of his career as a trade unionist.
It is important to note that other Labor organizations were forming at this time. The Knights of Labor, for example, was similar to the AF of L, but advocated organizing industrial workers as well as craft workers. For many factory workers and workers that were labeled to be unskilled, the Knights of Labor was the only hope for unionization and a brighter future.
PJ McGuire’s obsession with the eight hour day, at a time when it was not unusual for wage earners to work up to twelve hours a day, grew stronger throughout the early years of the Brotherhood. The labor movement as a whole, which at the time was dominated by the AFL and the Knights of Labor, adopted this idea as a major goal for all working people. Needless to say, employers across the country were adamantly opposed to giving their workers a shorter day and fought it with everything they had.
The labor movement organized one of the greatest simultaneous strikes the nation had seen to date on May 1st, 1886. It is estimated that over 350,000 Americans struck their employers on May Day. One of the larger strikes took place in Chicago where over 65,000 workers took to the streets.
A few thousand workers and protesters met at Haymarket Square in Chicago on May 4th, three days after the citywide strike for an eight-hour day. At around 10:00 PM the crowd was already dispersing when a bomb went off that killed a police officer and wounded thirty-six others, seven of which later died from their wounds. To this day no one knows who set off the bomb.
The bombing of Haymarket Square quickly turned into the “crime of the century” and although evidence was lacking, Chicago authorities were looking at labor as the culprit. For the next three weeks after the bombing, union meetings and labor leaders were constantly harassed and all were considered suspects. Finally, on May 27th, Chicago indicted eight labor leaders and organizers of the eight-hour strike earlier in the month.
The jury was full of Chicago industry leaders and it is little wonder that all eight defendants were found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder. Seven of the eight were condemned to death.
One of them, August Spies, knowing he would face the gallows, addressed the judge:
"If you think by hanging us you can stamp out the labor movement...the movement from which the down-trodden millions, the millions who toil in want and misery, expect salvation -if this is your opinion, then hang us! Here you will tread upon spark, but there and there, behind you and in front of you, and everywhere, flames blaze up. It is a subterranean fire. You cannot put it out..."
Supporters protested their conviction and condemnation from as far away as Eastern Europe, but nothing could stop the corporate government from killing these leaders. They paid the ultimate price for leading a struggle for justice. On November 11th, 1887, four of these leaders faced the gallows and were hanged. It is estimated that 25,000 people marched at their funeral.
By 1890 very few workers enjoyed an eight-hour day as employers, with government on their side, rolled back any early victories. The Haymarket Square example was meant to scare labor and its leaders from further agitation, but no one retreated from the fight.
In 1890 Sam Gompers, President of the AFL, asked the Carpenters to once again lead the struggle for an eight-hour day. The Carpenters, under McGuire’s leadership, accepted the challenge. On March 1st Carpenter locals everywhere went on strike. By May there were approximately 141 strikes, involving 208 locals and 53,000 members. McGuire addressed his membership later that year and reported that the eight-hour day was won in thirty-six cities. In 234 cities the hours of labor were reduced to nine. This tremendous victory changed the lives of thousands of carpenters and set precedent for all workers. Although there would be some employer fight back campaigns, the normal hours for many working carpenters and many wage earners remained at eight after those strikes.
The penalty of leading the working class movement was severe and often included imprisonment or even death during the Gilded Age. Industry power holders were not willing to let workers decide their fates and did unconscionable things to stop the labor movement. Still, early leaders including McGuire were not afraid. They fought against tremendous odds and although some paid with their lives, they persisted. Ultimately workers won some critical struggles that sent a message to everyone in the nation, labor is on the march and it can win.
The Carpenters union started its campaign for justice in 1881 with a little more than 2,000 members. At the turn of the century, 1900, that number had risen to a little over 68,000 members. Just a decade later, 1910, the UBC had a membership of over 200,000 carpenters and growing. The UBC’s growth and power can be attributed to both its aggressive organizing approach and its dominance in the labor movement.
For the Carpenters union, and the labor movement in general, the 20th century introduced one crisis after another for workers. The UBC would have to endure two world wars, numerous others as well, a Great Depression that shook the very foundation of the economy, judicial attacks on unions, full blown government attacks on labor, Congressional legislation meant to handcuff unions, military intervention during strikes, employer associations dedicated to crushing unions and countless other factors that could have weakened the UBC in a changing world. In order to survive the UBC had to change with society at times yet, at others, fight off change itself. It was not easy, but the UBC ended the twentieth century with over half a million members and leading wages, benefits and working conditions for carpenters in America.
The United Brotherhood of Carpenters has always had a special relationship with the AFL and other labor unions. As one of the largest and most powerful trade unions in America, the UBC has led the AFL into many struggles, both victorious and not. Many UBC leaders in fact have sat on AFL executive boards or chairmanships in the Federation for long periods of time. Still, the Carpenters dedication to its members and its jurisdictions has led to some conflicts throughout history.
The UBC was never afraid to voice its opposition if the direction of the labor movement, or some unions in it, would not benefit carpenters. When friction occurred within the labor movement the Carpenters would always make many attempts to come to an agreement, but if none could be made, the UBC would not hesitate to take off in another direction.
There were numerous times in the 20th century when the Carpenters, or some of its locals, decided to leave the AFL or the Building Trades. Frequently the split was heated and passionate from both ends. On many occasions the dispute was over Carpenter jurisdiction, something the UBC was always determined to protect at all costs. The Carpenters have even started their own Building Trade Councils comprised of like-minded unions that were sometimes in competition with the original councils in the area. Each time, however, the Carpenters rejoined the AFL or Building Trades after much discussion and thought.
The emergence of the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations) came at a time when every worker and his/her unions were recovering from the Great Depression. Some in the labor movement thought unions should organize industrial workers into new unions, whereas others, including the Carpenters, believed that special charters should represent these workers. The disagreement came to a boiling point in 1935 when several unions split from the AFL and created the CIO, a new competing organization.
Throughout the next twenty years the CIO organized millions of workers, as did the AFL, and the labor movement was growing. Although these two organizations did not see eye to eye on some issues, they were both dedicated to the same goal- a strong and large labor movement. The split ended in 1955 when the AFL and the CIO merged to become the AFL-CIO. Although the Carpenters did not approve of the CIO at first, it did not block the merger but rather welcomed a new unity.
At the turn of the 21st century the Carpenters Union itself disaffiliated itself with the AFL-CIO. The Carpenters had long disagreed with the Federation’s allocation of resources among other important issues. In 2005, the Carpenters became a founding member of the Change To Win Federation that encompasses some of the largest trade unions in America.
Disputes within the labor movement have always existed and will forever be a part of the democracy that workers demanded in their unions. The vast majority of disagreements have come between leaders with good hearts and passion for unionism. The Carpenters history is one of leadership and it has never shied away from conflict, even in its own house. Although the UBC may have faced serious disagreements with the AFL-CIO and even disaffiliated, it was still dedicated to solidarity and willing to join in important fights. When workers at Yale University went on strike in 2003, Douglas McCarron, the General President of the UBC, was protesting alongside thousands of workers and different unions.
Women have played a critical role in the labor movement in every respect. The early factories of the North frequently employed a majority female workforce. These workers often labored more than twelve hours a day, six days a week. Their working conditions were brutal in factories and abuse, of every kind, was not hard to find in the workplace. Women, however, were not afraid to fight back. The Lowell, Massachusetts strikes were entirely organized by women and their struggles are some of the most inspirational in labor’s history. Some of the greatest labor organizers were women. Just two of the many were Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and Mother Jones.
Construction, of course, has always been a male dominated industry. It should be said, however, that women have done the arduous work of many construction trades especially when America was at war. During war-time the American labor market endured tremendous shifts. The majority of male wage earners were sent overseas, but production at home was essential to winning, thus women entered the labor force in great numbers. Women did everything from factory work in war producing industries to war necessary construction at home. During WWI and WWII thousands of women became union workers and kept unions strong while male membership was away.
Women sustained the labor movement in another, no less important, respect. Union recognition and the meeting of union demands almost always required significant sacrifice from entire communities. Withholding labor in a job action meant unemployment for a period of time and it took the support of the community to win. When husbands, sons and brothers struck employers in any industry, women would rally behind the cause and organize their community. They would march along side picketers, they would organize food drives to sustain the workforce and they would serve as the backbone to many victories. Indeed at the 1910 UBC convention the delegate body noted,
A “Ladies Auxiliary” had already existed at a Carpenters Local in Indianapolis and this convention passed a resolution to support and guide Ladies Auxiliary’s in the UBC. It should be noted that the UBC also resolved to strongly support the women’s suffrage movement, a burning topic of the time.
The Carpenters Union admitted women into its local’s for the first time in 1918 as part of a merger with an existing Boxmakers and Sawyers Local. It was decided that women would in fact be members of the UBC, but would not pay per capita tax or receive all the benefits of membership. It would not be until the mid 1950’s that women would become “official” members of the UBC and enjoy all the benefits.
By 1955, the UBC resolved to allow women into UBC and all rituals were changed to include the term “sister.” In 1955 there were officially over 8,000 women in good standing.
At the turn of the 21st century a group of women organized their own committee within the UBC named, “Sisters in the Brotherhood.” The organization was formed to better assimilate women carpenters into their union and help organize women in the non-union sector. In 2002 the UBC represented over 16,000 women in construction throughout the country and in some apprentice programs women comprised almost 10% of the apprentice class. At the 2005 UBC convention held in Las Vegas, the Women’s Committee gave a report to the entire delegation and received a standing ovation.
Women, much like minority workers, struggled to join the UBC because unions are the most effective organizations to fight workplace discrimination. Women clearly struggled to gain full acceptance into many construction unions, including the UBC, but their efforts and resilience have won them an important place in deciding the future of the UBC.
In 1973 the United Brotherhood of Carpenters represented almost 850,000 members in North America. Wages had risen for all members close to 25% between 1969 and 1971 alone. Fringe benefits, including health care and pensions, were rising with wages and union carpenters were heading into a bright future, both individually and collectively.
It wasn’t long until an old enemy, and a powerful one, had re-emerged for all workers and their unions. The American economy headed into a phase of sharp inflation and stagnation in the 1970’s. The construction economy slowed, leaving many members unemployed for long stretches and even forcing thousands of members into leaving the industry as a whole. Membership in the Carpenters union started to decline by the thousands as the economy faltered.
The downward economy was accompanied by a newly intensified employer assault on unionism in America. More and more companies were turning violently anti-union in the 1970’s and joining together to take on workers. The newest employer strategies included openly violating labor law by breaking union drives with mass firings of workers active in organizing drives. Penalties for such violations were so minimal, and weakly enforced by government agencies, that many non-union companies treated the fines as a business cost. Union companies started to create “alter-egos” or what is commonly called double breasted. This meant that traditionally union companies would establish non-union “sister” companies that threatened market share. Corporate open shop drives gained strength and started to lobby Congress for more and more anti-union legislation. Their lobby efforts were rewarded as President Nixon took the almost unprecedented step of suspending Davis-Bacon protections on February 3rd, 1971. Although his decision was later reversed, it was a sign that construction unions and the labor movement were heading into troubled waters.
The election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 brought in a new economic and social conservatism that would start to cripple America’s labor movement. The emergence of “Reaganomics” was just another name for an excessively pro-corporate and anti-union economic policy. Indeed the gap between the rich and the poor during Reagan’s presidency widened dramatically. Anti-union groups had a new friend in the White House and would use that relationship to try and destroy labor.
The entire construction industry encountered the 1980’s NLRB when the Board ruled in the John Deklewa and Sons case. The Deklewa decision greatly damaged the power of pre-hire agreements, something that construction unions relied on heavily for decades, when the Board essentially “freed pre-hire signatories from 8(d) requirements to bargain successor agreements, thus allowing for greater latitude for employers to walk away from 8(f) labor contracts.” What this effectively meant for construction trade unions was that they could no longer rely on top-down organizing techniques alone and they had to be able to organize workers through grassroots campaigns.
The Carpenters Union was better organized to deal with such an anti-union decision because it had been teaching members how to organize and build worker support for decades. “In 1973, a call goes out to rank-and-file members to help the union grow as the Brotherhood inaugurates volunteer organizing committees in locals around the U.S. and Canada. ’You and your fellow members are the Brotherhood,’ writes Carpenter in announcing the program. ’Organizing is a task which must be accepted as a matter of urgency and necessity by each and every member.’ Today the UBC remains committed to building Volunteer Organizing Committees made up of members and organizers that aggressively organize workers and teach them how to fight their employers and win.
Employer tactics and anti-union governments are not the only reasons that union membership dropped tremendously from 1980 to the mid 1990’s. Unions walked away from their roots of aggressively organizing workers. This led to a far more conservative labor movement. Even with concern to collective bargaining, unions were mired in givebacks to hyper profitable employers throughout the decade. The decades of the 80’s and 90’s saw fewer strikes than most before them. There is little question that a major reason why union power declined in the 1980’s and 1990’s was that union workers were not as active and militant as their predecessors.
Like every union the Carpenters struggled through the 80’s and 90’s. Although wages and benefits for union members did steadily increase, union membership declined.
In 1995 the United Brotherhood of Carpenters elected new leadership dedicated to bringing the union back to its roots of aggressive organizing and winning at the bargaining table. Almost immediately, the UBC hired new organizers from its ranks to hit jobsites and expand market share. The message was clear; the Carpenters’ union would once again be an aggressive organizing union dedicated to making sure that every worker in its trades is protected by the UBC. By 2006, the 125 year anniversary of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, the International Union was devoting over half of its budget to organizing new members and fighting non-union employers that exploit carpenters.
Hundreds of organizers have organized new contractors and brought in more members throughout the United Brotherhood of Carpenters. In cities like New York, for example, the Carpenters union has signed historical contracts that increase the wages and benefits for its members by twenty five percent. New policies have been passed by Carpenter District Councils and their Locals throughout America requiring union members to dedicate at least one day per year to union action. These programs have had a tremendous affect on all organizing efforts and legislative goals and are proof that the Carpenters’ union is dedicated to creating a “fighting” union for the twenty-first century. The emphasis on organizing and strong membership action has forced hundreds of new agreements on projects that would have otherwise fallen to the non-union sector.
In 2005 the Carpenters union joined six other unions in a new labor federation called Change to Win. This Federation is comprised of some of the largest and most powerful unions in the service and manufacturing sectors. The Federation promises to spend a majority of its resources on organizing new members and working in solidarity to bring employers from every sector to the negotiating table.
The Carpenters Union is indeed going back to its roots of demanding recognition in the workplace by hitting employers in the streets. The anti-union environment in America comprised of anti-union employer associations, anti-union government and a general anti-union economy has devastated the American working class, regardless of union status. The Carpenters and the labor movement emerged from the last two decades of the 20th century battered, but not beaten. The beginning of the 21st century marks a new chapter in labor history and the Carpenters are determined to write it in favor of union victories throughout America for all workers.
Anyone interested in the history of labor, and that of the Carpenters union, has many more resources today than at any other time. There is no question that the history of workers uniting against almost insurmountable odds is not only stimulating, but critical to any worker who believes winning is impossible. Everyday workers before us re-defined impossibility and their stories are well-documented. Among many of the great books available, there are three great books that immediately come to mind.
Labor's Untold Story. Richard O. Boyer and Herbert M. Morais.
From the Folks Who Brought You the Weekend, Priscilla Murulo and A.B. Chitty, Illustrations by Joe Sacco. The United Brotherhood of Carpenters. Walter Galeson.
Copyright © 2009 The New York City District Council of Carpenters
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