Date: Tue, 23 Feb 1999 15:48:16 -0600 (CST)
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Rich Winkel)
Subject: LABOR HISTORY: THe 'American Plan' Hits Oakland
/** headlines: 149.0 **/
** Topic: LABOR HISTORY: THe 'American Plan' Hits Oakland **
** Written 4:02 PM Feb 22, 1999 by labornet in cdp:headlines **
/* Written 1:54 PM Feb 22, 1999 by email@example.com in labr.newsline */
/* ---------- "Journeyman article (fwd)" ---------- */
Building our Unions: The "American Plan" Hits Oakland
By Albert Lannon
22 February 1999
After World War I employers across the nation embarked on a
unionbusting campaign known as the American Plan. Building trades
unions were a major target of the open shop zealots and in June, 1921,
the American Plan hit Oakland, hard.
Builder's Exchange, a group of building materials dealers and
wholesalers locked out the unions and refused to sell materials to
contractors who employed union labor. The lockout lasted four months
and saw two heads of Builder's Exchange indicted and arrested for
restraint of trade. They were released on $50 bail, and the case was
later dismissed by the court.
As had happened in a 1906 Bay Area strike for the eight hour
day, the Building Trades Council did not sit still. Unions began
forming co-ops to bypass the contractors and supply labor directly.
Sheet Metal workers formed the American Sheet Metal Works, financed by
the union, with each member owning a share of the cooperative. Plenty
of work was available to all who wanted it.
Painters Local 127 soon followed suit, setting up a co-op to
supply painters and paperhangers at union wages to anyone needing the
work, again bypassing the contractor and his profit margin.
IBEW Local 595 formed a Contracting Bureau which steadily
employed the membership for the four-month duration of the lockout. One
"There is no reason on earth why the skilled mechanics who
compose this union should wait until the employer gives them the
privilege of placing their skill at the service of the public."
Machinists Lodge 284 past president Jim McMasters headed the
East Bay Cooperative League which set up a union-owned and operated East
Bay Cooperative Store, carrying everything from food to coal, in direct
competition with the non-union Emporium. The IAM also ran a restaurant
at the union hall, staffed by the Ladies Auxioiary, and there was
another union co-op restaurant in the basement of the Oakland federal
GENERAL STRIKE CALL
In August 1921 a call emerged for a general strike of all Bay
Area building trades unions. Leaders were divided, but a rank and file
referendum approved a strike by a 569 - 383 vote. The national and
state Building Trades Councils of the American Federation of Labor came
out against a general strike, declaring that it would be illegal.
A local Building Trades Council meeting was packed with four- or
five hundred rank and file members urging the strike. The BTC moved to
another room where a number of delegates spoke in favor of a general
strike, but the chair ruled that it would be illegal. No one challenged
the chair, and impetus for the strike faded.
RETURN TO WORK
The Oakland Chamber of Commerce, fearful of the general strike
talk, spoke out against Builders Exchange tactics and the stage was set
for a settlement of the lockout. Building trades unions accepted a
seven and one-half percent wage cut at the end of August, but Builders
Exchange continued to limit sales of material to non-union contractors
into October, 1921.
The American Plan drove union membership down to nine percent
nationally by the time the stock market collapsed in 1929. (Albert
Lannon coordinates the Laney College Labor Studies Program; for
information about classes, call 510/464-3210.)