Unity Among the Trades is Crucial For Advancing Workers' Causes

Robbie Column This is my first monthly column since delegates to our quadrennial convention in Santa Monica in October chose me to be the new President of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California. I am grateful for the confidence placed in me by those working men and women.

I am also gratified that my election, and the elections of the other Building Trades officers selected at that convention (Secretary-Treasurer Tom Baca, Northern California Vice President Greg Feere, and Southern California Vice President Sid Stolper), were all made unanimously. For I believe unity among our trades is absolutely crucial if we are to keep moving our cause forward.

During his remarks at that convention, my predecessor, Bob Balgenorth, reviewed his 19 years of battles as Building Trades President. Those battles usually ended in victory, Bob reminded us, because we were tough, tenacious, and together.

Bob told a story about the Huns, the fierce warriors of the 4th and 5th centuries, who battling together, wiped out every enemy that stood in their path. But when they started fighting among themselves, they quickly wiped themselves out and disappeared from history.

And so it is with the Building Trades. If we spend our energy fighting among ourselves about jurisdictional disputes, we are weakened and vulnerable. But when we are one unified fighting force, when we act together with complete unity among the trades, we are an unbeatable power.

That has been the reason for our victories in the past, and it is paramount that we stay unified moving forward. The Building Trades councils were created 111 years ago so that we could speak with one voice; taking the combined might of all the individual trades and bringing it down hard in one spot against our opposition, splitting them up and knocking them out. This was true 111 years ago, and it is even more crucial today.

As we all know, the battles that Bob fought for the last 19 years are never going to be over. The anti-union forces will always be looking for openings, for ways to divide and damage us. They will come back again and again. Divided, we won’t defeat them. But through unity and hard work, we have, and we will.

United under Bob’s leadership, we beat the far-right’s previous efforts to silence us: Proposition 226 in 1998 and Proposition 75 in 2005. And as of this writing, shortly before Election Day, we are fighting fiercely again against Proposition 32 in 2012.  We are fighting billionaires gunning for our very right to exist.

But even with the defeat of Proposition 32, our work will not be over. You can be certain that more attacks are on the drawing board right now to silence our voices and rob us of our livelihoods.

As you may know, I came to California from Ireland. In 1972, at 15, I began my apprenticeship in the Irish Transport and General Workers Union in the shipyards and steel mills of Belfast. I followed my father, grandfather and great-grandfather to become an iron worker. I was raised to know who I was: a blue-collar worker and a proud trade unionist.

So I understood – knew viscerally in my gut from an early age – the incredible power of unity. It is our unity that keeps me optimistic. Building Trades workers and unions can and will have a better future, but only if we stay united; or as Bob said, tough, tenacious, and together.

Let’s work hard together, at the ballot box, in the Legislature, city halls, the courts, and wherever else our fight takes us. Our strength to fight for our rights, our voice, our jobs, our wages and benefits, our safe working conditions, comes from our unity and resolve. We must never let it weaken.

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