Thanks for reading! Hey, just want to say thanks for writing, this looks like a really interesting new blog and look forward to reading more from you! Totally agree that yes you need to protect your identity and anonymised details of all your stories, as do most of our contributors so don't feel bad about that! In terms of further reading about the building trades, I agree that The Housing Monster is brilliant.
Black and Brown workers protest White contractor in Harlem
In terms of historical stuff, Dynamite by Louis Adamic has some interesting snippets about the construction unions mostly in California in the early 20th century. And from a UK perspective the Solidarity pamphlet on the lump is pretty specific but has an interesting stuff in there as well. God bless you son, for returning to the commie fold and giving us some nuggets to chew on while you break your back out there. Good luck navigating that world.
Been lurking on LibCom so long, but I had to finally register to say: I really enjoyed this and am looking forward to more. I'm the Greg Butler that brother Max Schwarz references in his article - 22 years in he business, 16 of that a shop steward.
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Welcome to the industry, brother - I'm on the other side of the trade - interior systems, specifically office furniture, and unlike you I don't have a steady job most of us don't - a majority of this union is high priced day labor. I had a hard time finding the parts in Dynamite that are relevant to the building trades, Steven, but the article on the Lump was interesting to the extent that I could follow the regional and historical particularities of it.
What ever became of that struggle, so you know? Greg, I'd love to check out your book. Maybe when I get the second year bump I can afford some discretionary spending haha First off, the 'aristocracy of labor' references were made with a high degree of irony. Notice that I preface 'aristocracy' with 'withered'.
I will be sure to elaborate in further posts, but the title of this blog was a reference to exactly those degraded conditions for tradesmen in the industry that you have experienced and describe so well. There is still the general impression amongst the broader left that union construction workers are this privileged bastion of labor that live high on the hog at the expense of the rest of the class.
You and I know that the last 30 years have completely changed the industry and that that impression is false. Hence the 'withering' of that supposed aristocracy you and I are supposed to reside in. Secondly, I know you have particular definition of 'company man' that you use to distinguish between those who get their work through one outfit and those who get their's through the out-of-work list and shaping. But 'company man' also implies that one puts the interests of the company ahead of the interests of their union brothers and sisters This is not me.
In fact, I will write about a recent experience where the company I've been working for the last few weeks different from the one above was breaking the contract and I had to intervene myself to get them to stop fucking us because my steward wouldn't do shit. Yes, I have been lucky to find steady work at three different contractors since I broke in but that is mostly a result of my membership in one of the specialty trade locals within the district council. I can't speak for conditions in Local , but out local is so busy we can barely fill out gangs at this point.
Lastly, my narrative above included some of my inner thoughts as I tried to navigate a particularly tough situation I faced as a newly-minted apprentice. I respect that you've put your time in and I doubly respect that you've taken on steward duty. I'm sure you've been great at looking out for our brothers and sisters on the job.
Still, I'd appreciate you lay off any assumptions about the thickness of my skin or my ability to make it in the industry. I included the narrative above not because it hurt my poor little feelings, but to highlight the sort of aggressive, macho interpersonal bullshit that is so normal in the industry. And it's that normalcy of the super or foreman breaking you down just to get more productivity out of you for the sake of company profits that is just one of the many issues we need to confront.
Day in and day out I can take it like the best of them, but is that the kind of work lives we want or the kind of world we want to live in?
Hey, yeah thinking about it there probably wasn't that much in Dynamite about construction specifically. However there was mention of construction unions there blowing up non-union-constructed buildings! With the lump, I think basically the "struggle" against it was doomed, because the unions had accepted pay restraint, so workers could get higher wages and dodge tax through this casual work. Nowadays unions in construction are pretty much non-existent apart from a couple of sectional exceptions, like construction electricians who had interesting disputes at the Lindsey refinery and nationally when the eight big firms tried to leave union pay agreements.
So, randomly, a cousin of mine - who I hadn't seen in years - got married a while back. We saw her and her fiance a week before the wedding a cynic might say the visit had something to do with a wedding present Anyway, the fiance was a manager in a construction firm and told this story about a site that was sabotaged when union workers broke in to smash up the work done by non-union builders.
To be honest, I'm not totally sure the story was true - I'm sure stories like this float around the ranks of management in the industry. But what I told him was that if he doesn't want that to happen, he shouldn't hire non-union workers. Yeah, union membership for a year and a subscription to Class War Like Greg, I feel the need to drop a little knowledge, to give a little advice, both as an activist and as a Carpenter. It appears that you have quite a few fans, and judging by your quality of writing, you should.
I had a bit of a chuckle after my first read. I'll have to echo Greg's welcome to the industry, and having seen so many first period apprentices with soft hands come and go, I can't say I blame Greg if he is unsure that you will stick with the trade. When I was just entering the field, there were several apprentices I looked up to who I thought had far more potential than myself who washed up, and cried their way into something easier..
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It is a bit like an army movie where half of the squad dies and in the next scene the replacements show up green and wet behind the ears. It will take time for you to earn the respect of your fellow craftsman. Quite often, those with steady work become loyal to the outfit for job security, and those who are loyal to an outfit get steady work from that outfit. Most guys jump around and have a contact network that they use to get new jobs.
Minority Contractors Say Filtration Deck Stacked Against Them
While nobody likes to burn bridges, if they have to they can take their tools and leave with ease—a company man has no such network built that takes years of time, bouncing from job to job. While I would like to see that you continue writing, and attempting to understand your workplace experience in a political context, I would encourage you to NOT put your local number or any personal identifiable information in your writing.
Greg has a different take on this, but Greg is also an East Coast veteran of the industry with plenty of friends and a plan—you don't have any of that. Remember something as an apprentice, especially as a first period apprentice, you're lower than whale shit. Stay humble. The workers demand respect for seniority for a reason, they don't like a kid with zero experience, fresh out of school with a theology degree bossing them around my boss has a theology degree. Its often the bosses that undermine this seniority. This has nothing to do with macho bullshit, it has to do with respect for the craft, experience and skill.
I think its great that we're getting another leftist in the industry, and I think Greg agrees with me that it is important to bring new leftists up to speed on how things work, but understand that it will take time for you to understand this new situation. Far too often do I meet young leftists who get tiny, little taste of organized labor, and fool themselves into thinking that they have figured it out. Your reputation with veteran leftists in the industry, and with the workers has already begun—don't squander it, it will be remembered!
I do not know your General Foreman, or your Safety Foreman, but most Foremen don't make much more than your average Carpenter. I've had several foremen over the years who get laid off with the rest of them and end up having to scratch up work with the rest. If one played a joke on you, he probably didn't do it for the company—he probably did it to get a laugh for himself and his crew. All I can say is get used to it, because right now, you're the new guy—and until you can prove otherwise, you're the joke.
You bring up an definition that comes from Mao's Three Worlds Theory.
I find this to be a theory that serves the bourgeoisie, by promoting the undermining of internationalism between workers in the dominating nations and the dominated nations. There is some truth that workers in the dominating imperialist nations benefit from that domination, but they are far from the Labour Aristocracy. A Labour Aristocracy implies a partnership with the ruling class. There are some sections of the working class that may be described as Aristocracy, like the Trade Union Leaders, the Police, and maybe the soldiers, but I think it would be gravely mistaken to suggest the Trade Union workers are a part of this as the IWW sometimes suggests.
I hope that as you gain experience working you will understand the silliness of this belief. And, in my opinion, that is the main problem with the revolutionary left in the US, not the silly out dated theories that don't stack up against material reality, but the inexperience, alienation and isolation from labour and the working class.
In the future, if you are confident enough to write to members of your union, you are welcome to submit an entry to a rank and file blog The Control Line at www. I hope that you continue to write, and stick with the trade. Many of the graduate students of the left may think that the working class as backwards, but I hope over time you will see as I see them—as the best hope for humanity.
The workers have always exceeded my expectations despite often having little to no education and a steady diet of bourgeois prejudices. One of these guys and I mean that in a non-gender specific way might save your ass some day. I know that from personal experience - I got in this game as a Black man, who didn't have any family in the union, so I know how harsh it can be. Also, as I pointed out, count yourself lucky that you've been steadily employed - but that's common when you're a first year and your pay is at the bottom of union scale. Also, as Art said, you might want to be careful with your real life identity.
I can get away with being public because I've been in this union a long long time - 22 years this month, 14 of that a steward. Talking about the day to day of the job can get you in trouble - there's lots of carpenters on line, and they are voracious readers. It's embarrassing when your foreman comes to you with an article you wrote that talks about him that actually happened to me when I first started writing about the business in the late 90s. However, if you write about the union as an institution, the industry on a meta scale not just your company, but on the various sectors in the industry and our non union colleagues there's about , non union workers in this town to , union - with carpenters, a majority are non union 25, non union carpenters to 15, union - well, you won't get in trouble for that, and folks will read your stuff and appreciate your efforts.
Also, on a professional note - put in an application at the Javits Center - they're always looking for first and second year apprentices.