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How BC Carpenters Organized Against McCarron by Josh Coles, Member of Local Union 1995 Vancouver, BC

United Brotherhood of Carpenters General President Douglas McCarron opposes union democracy because he risks losing important membership votes.

Votes like last month’s referendum in British Columbia where carpenter union members were asked to support autonomy from their International Union and to create a new stand-alone BC constitution. In one of the highest mail-in ballot returns in our history, over 77% voted in favour of autonomy and 76% approved of our new constitution. This latest BC Provincial Council of Carpenters victory is another indictment against McCarron's brand of business trade unionism.

BC Carpenter members continue to deny McCarron the unilateral power he needs to complete his North American-wide conversion of the UBC into a labour broker. BC’s struggle for union democracy has quaked McCarron’s foundations and now he is frantically throwing mud into the cracks.

McCarron is making every effort to stop our movement at BC’s borders before it reaches beyond. In the past five years he has visited here twice as many times as any other Canadian province and held numerous one-on-one strategy meetings with his dwindling cadre of International loyalists. BC’s efforts could be politically damaging elsewhere to McCarron which explains his direct interest in three major legal suits against the BC Provincial Council, including one still before the BC Supreme Court.

McCarron's threats and promises have failed, however, because he never connected with the larger membership. BC members’ instinctive gag-reflex kicked in as soon as he started force-feeding an unchewable restructuring package in 1996. He has threatened to impose closures and mergers of vibrant locals while supporting loyal ones. He has threatened to transfer millions of dollars in BC assets to his coffers without a whisper of a vote. McCarron has stated that only he knows what is best for BC members and they must accept without question.

We have been successful in defeating McCarron because we have refused to respect his abusive power. We’ve stopped accepting his constitutional authority as General President, because it isn't earned. We've stopped adhering to his hierarchal control, because it is designed to destroy us. We’ve stopped giving him the benefit of the doubt, because he has given us no choice in accepting his 33-bylaws amendments. We’ve stopped obeying the boss and started taking charge of our union.

As soon we identified McCarron as the real threat to our union, we began to win. We became smarter, fought back harder, protested louder and refused to accept his presence in our province (e.g.: the Port Alberni membership meeting walk-out on McCarron and the expulsion of International representatives from our conventions).

BC brothers and sisters have been responding to an attack from a General President who hasn’t been acting like a brother at all.

To win against McCarron we’ve mobilized to win the hearts and minds of fellow members. Legal suits against the International were good public relations darts to throw at McCarron but we knew that they alone wouldn’t create membership solidarity.

Outside agents like labour boards and courts couldn’t defend our union the way our members could. While we used the law to protect members we also sought to directly win the support of those members. Our two-pronged approach has worked. Last month’s overwhelming support from members for autonomy from the International speaks more about solidarity than any labour board ruling.

We gained membership support by answering McCarron's propaganda. Everywhere but in BC, McCarron has been successful in using his brand of “organizing" as an excuse to turn the UBC into a Labour Ready. McCarron’s “organizing” is really about recruiting carpenters on behalf of union contractors to give them a bigger trained labour supply. Non-elected leaders get glossy-eyed about the benefits of “organizing” while in reality McCarron has reformed the union hall into well-oiled, pro-employer recruiting machine.

We answered McCarron's spin doctoring by persistently pointing out that future members are told to vote Union Yes on non-union job sites but can’t vote once in the union. While the aim of real organizing is to improve a members’ condition,

McCarron’s priority is to create a hassle-free member whose full union participation experience is responding to dispatches.

In BC we challenged McCarron’s vision by struggling for our full rights as union members. Being a union member means more than getting a job – it means fighting for a better union and a better way of life. And we shall not give up that fight for we have only started to organize ourselves into an improved, McCarron-free, democratic union.

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Horacio Grana was a retired member of the Carpenters Local Union 1506 in Los Angeles.
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