Labor & Racism: Construction Trades

Louis R Godena louisgodena at ids.net
Fri Aug 30 11:42:16 MDT 1996



>Have you heard of the reform
>movement in the Laborers?  Do you read Labor Notes?  I don't like their
>politics much but they sometimes give info. on union reform movements.
>I wonder if the reform movement in the Laborers is at all fighting racism.
>
>				-- Jeff Booth


I confess that I have not read Labor Notes in the recent past.    The reform
movement in the Laborers is pretty much taken up with fighting the Coia
family in Providence,  and the mafia--like grip with which they wield power.
I have not heard of any specific actions against racism initiated from
*within* the building trades groups,  though there are a number of cases
pending in federal court regarding gender discrimination.

Back in the late 1980s,  when the Boston Harbor and Tunnel Project Agreement
was being negotiated,  there was some noise from a few "neighborhood groups"
about instituting an apprenticeship program in the trades for inner city
youth.    I remember Barney Walsh,   the business agent from Local 67 of the
Carpenters (Dorchester) telling the State Building Trades Council that "a
bunch of niggers from Haiti" were coming to take the jobs of  "our good
carpenters here in Boston."    Barney went to jail right after that (in the
most comely of Boston traditions) for misappropriating union funds,  but his
sentiments were widely shared--though in more or less discreet silence--by
the other members of the Council.

This is the problem.    Deeply ingrained racism,  fed by both internecine
ethnic "identities" and political loyalties within the Democrat Party
reproducing itself as a sub-strata within the labor relations of finance
capitalism.     The (heretofore) weak opposition is bought off or otherwise
neutralized (Democrat City Counciler Charles Yancey threatened court action
due to the dearth of minority hiring for the Project,  but withdrew when his
own re-election effort foundered for lack of funds--he was back at the
trough within six weeks).    Grassroots action is diverted into
non-threatening acts of non-conformity by social service agencies (sort of
like local NGOs) conscious of their dependency on the local political
machine for their survival.    Nothing gets done.    Local rank and file
will not act until they see an economic threat,  and that "threat",  in
their estimation,  often comes from "minority agitation"--the giving of
"our" jobs to "them",  to redress others for past discrimination for which
most of my brother/sister unionists feel no responsibility.

It is a recurring problem of long duration,  especially in the Boston area.
I am now out of a Providence Local where conditions are improving somewhat
due to a lot of work by progressive circles within the labor movement here.
Has it improved any up your way?

Louis Godena



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