LaborTalk - September 7, 2005

Why is Labor's Notorious Autocrat
A Coalition Partner of Stern’s SEIU?

By Harry Kelber


Douglas McCarron tightened his control of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners at the union’s convention in Las Vegas on Aug. 25, when delegates voted to give him a third five-year term. A pro-democratic opposition slate, Restore the Vote, and its individual candidates could muster only about 12% of the total vote.

Even before the convention, McCarron had amassed enormous power over the union’s 550,000 members by transferring the authority of its 2,200 locals to 55 regional councils, whose officers were handpicked by him and conform to his wishes. In effect, he runs the union like it is his personal property, as he did when he quit the AFL-CIO four years ago without a vote of the membership.

To enshrine his dictatorial powers in the union’s constitution, he had the delegates, most of whom are beholden to him for their jobs, pass Section 10m of the newly revised UBCJA Constitution, which states: “The General President shall have authority to appoint interim officers of newly- established, consolidated or merged Local Unions or Councils” but it also adds two words, “and delegates,” thus further consolidating McCarron’s, tremendous power.

McCarron runs the union like a corporation, claiming that centralized leadership (his) is more efficient and attractive to employers and would produce more jobs for working carpenters.

Opposition to McCarron has grown. In British Columbia, angry carpenters voted to exit from the UBC to escape from his clutches. He is faced with numerous lawsuits challenging his denial of members’ rights. But there was no broad movement at the convention to come close to unseating him as president.

So why did the insurgents, representing themselves as reformers, invite McCarron to become one of the seven “partner” unions within the Change to Win Coalition? Is his ruthless, anti-democratic behavior acceptable to unions like the SEIU and UNITE-HERE, who have always prided themselves as being progressive organizations?

What role are the Carpenters expected to play in the organizing strategy of the Coalition, since they have almost nothing in common with five of its member unions? Or will McCarron, the poster boy of Corporate Unionism, become a model for the other unions in the CTW?

And how will the SEIU and its president, Andy Stern, who have criticized President Bush’s domestic and foreign policies, deal with McCarron, who is Bush’s darling labor leader, who gets to ride on Air Force One? The President, who has never invited Sweeney or any member of the Executive Council to the White House, not even for a cup of coffee and a hello, happily attends the Carpenters’ Labor Day picnics.

The presence of Republican-minded McCarron within the Coalition adds another note of uncertainty about labor’s role and strategy in the 2006 congressional and 2008 presidential election. The Coalition is downgrading electoral politics in favor of focusing on organizing, while the AFL-CIO is counting on a Democratic Party victory that can translate into greater labor influence in government and the economy. Don’t expect the kind of labor unity that existed in the 2004 elections.

Our weekly "LaborTalk" and "World of Labor" columns can be viewed at our Web site: www.laboreducator.org. Harry Kelber's e-mail address is: hkelber@igc.org.