US–Washington State carpenters take on billionaire bosses to win a decent contract

By Matt Smith, Socialist Alternative–our sister organisation in the United States

Over the past week, hundreds of rank-and-file carpenters have been on strike for family-sustaining wages, fully-paid parking, and basic dignity, including protections against sexual harassment in the workplace and fully-funded benefits like pension and healthcare. They are on strike against the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), a bosses club for the multi-billion dollar construction industry in Seattle and Western Washington. Carpenters are now entering their second week on strike, after courageously voting down four successive tentative contract agreements proposed to them by their bosses and recommended by their union leadership.

The billionaire class and their political allies have attacked unions, undermined social welfare, and worked diligently to further rig the political and economic system in their favor. These attacks by the bosses have made their mark in the building trades. Many trades workers who spend their lives building this city cannot even afford to live here. And to twist the knife further, carpenters are often forced to pay expensive daily parking fees just to go to work. The current rank-and-file rebellion of union carpenters in Seattle and Western Washington represents a historic fightback against these unacceptable conditions.

Rank-and-file carpenters have been fighting to win. They have shut down dozens of construction sites in Seattle and Western Washington, including Microsoft’s mega-project in Redmond, which has cost the company millions of dollars. Yesterday, rank-and-file carpenters organized a march through South Lake Union Seattle, engaging in a roaming picket that succeeded in shutting down many large construction sites in the heart of Seattle. They did this by appealing for fellow union members to join the strike and stop work. These carpenters understand where their power lies: in withholding their labor from the bosses and building solidarity with fellow workers.

Councilmember Kshama Sawant [a member of Socialist Alternative] has supported these rank-and-file carpenters in their fight to build a powerful strike and win the best possible contract. She has sent solidarity letters, attended picket lines, introduced new legislation requested by union members and their leadership, promoted a solidarity petition garnering over 600 signatures in just 24 hours, and even pledged $10,000 of her city council salary to the union’s strike fund, as soon as it is set up. Over 80 rank-and-file carpenters penned a letter to Councilmember Sawant thanking her for her efforts and her solidarity in helping to build a successful strike.

Over the past week, union members have repeatedly called on their union leadership to expand the strike to force AGC back to the bargaining table (the bosses have so far refused to return to negotiations). Unfortunately, the top officials of the Northwest Carpenters Union have moved in the opposite direction. Yesterday, top union officials decided to call off all officially sanctioned union pickets, reporting that “roaming protests headed by a small, unsanctioned group of protestors that includes union and non-union members, have led to the temporary closure of all Northwest Carpenters Union picket activities starting tomorrow, Friday, September 24.”

This is an unfortunate decision by union leadership, and one that has created division in the labor movement.

This morning, hundreds of carpenters chose to reject the decision by the Carpenters Union leadership to shut down picket lines in the middle of a strike. Instead, they have continued the strike at “unsanctioned” pickets at two locations: the Microsoft mega-project in Bellevue and Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena.

As a working class campaign, we strive for unity in the workers movement to win big victories. In every campaign, from $15 NOW to the Amazon Tax to the Kshama Solidarity Campaign, we have built broad coalitions of union members, non-union workers, renters, working-class homeowners, socialists, progressive Democrats, and more. We have united thousands of people behind fighting demands and a fighting approach. This kind of principled unity among workers is crucial for winning major gains. It is also crucial for winning a strike. As rank-and-file carpenter Monty Woods declared on the picket line yesterday, “You cannot defeat such a well-financed enemy as AGC without total solidarity. Solidarity is what will win this strike.”

Our campaign and the labor movement in Seattle are now faced with an unfortunate but necessary choice: support the union leadership’s strategy of suspending picket lines and demobilizing the strike, or support rank-and-file carpenters who are continuing to courageously fight.

We have chosen to stand with rank-and-file carpenters like Monty who are continuing their strike, and we will continue to join them on the picket lines.

Rank-and-file carpenters have informed our campaign that they will be on the picket lines at the Climate Pledge Arena and surrounding jobsites this morning. They have requested that we mobilize as many supporters as we can to support them. So we are taking the crucial step of calling for all of our supporters to join us on the picket line to support these courageous carpenters. Go now to Climate Pledge Arena to show your solidarity! We hope that all working people will join us immediately, as soon as possible, on these picket lines to fight alongside our sisters, brothers, and siblings who are demanding a fair contract.

And please join striking carpenters tomorrow (Saturday, 9/25) at 11 am at Goose Beach (900 Westlake Ave N) for a Carpenters Solidarity Rally organized by the Peter J. McGuire Group of rank-and-file carpenters, alongside local unions UAW Local 4121, the Book Workers Union, the Resident & Fellow Physicians Union, the Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE) Local 1488, and Councilmember Kshama Sawant. Share with your friends on facebook!

We hope that union members and all working people, including the elected leadership of the Carpenters Union, will join us at this rally to continue the strike. Let’s unite the labor movement around a fighting strategy to win.

As the fighting Teamsters in 1934 said, “All workers to the unions — All unions to the struggle!”

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