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The purpose of organized labour is for workers to form "a continuous association of wage-earners for the purpose of maintaining or improving the conditions of their employment."

This is primarily achieved by use of the technique of collective bargaining, where labour organizations negotiate wages and working conditions with employers. Closely related is the concept of industrial action, in which an organization will call strikes and resist lockouts. Another characteristic of labour organizations are the provision of benefits for members, such as unemployment insurance, health insurance, pensions, funeral expenses, job training, and legal services. Organizations also often carry out political campaigns, lobbying, and support political candidates or parties. Operating costs are covered by the payment of dues and fees by members, with the expectation that the money be spent to benefit the membership.

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Organized Labour Article of the Day for March 17, 2010

P. H. McCarthy

In office
January 8, 1910 – January 8, 1912
Preceded by Edward Robeson Taylor
Succeeded by James Rolph, Jr.

Born March 17, 1863(1863-03-17)
County Limerick, Ireland
Died July 1, 1933 (aged 70)
San Francisco, California
Political party Union Labor Party, Republican

Patrick Henry McCarthy (March 17, 1863 – July 1, 1933), generally known as P.H. McCarthy and sometimes, more jocularly, as "Pinhead", was an influential labor leader in San Francisco and Mayor of the City from 1910 to 1912. Born in County Limerick, Ireland, he apprenticed as a carpenter in Ireland before coming to the United States in 1880. He moved to San Francisco in 1886, where he rose through the ranks to become president of Carpenters Local 22, then President of the Building Trades Council in 1896.

Leadership in the Building Trades Council

The San Francisco Building Trades Council was one of the most powerful local labor bodies within the American Federation of Labor at the time. It fought off the efforts of employers in San Francisco to impose the open shop on construction workers in the first decade of the twentieth century and was active in local politics. It also feuded with the San Francisco Labor Council, the body that claimed to represent all of organized labor in San Francisco. The BTC barred its members from belonging to the SFLC and often refused to support SFLC activities; it did not support the Teamsters and longshore workers in the City Front Federation strike of 1901, preferring to maintain its dominant position in the construction industry than join in a direct confrontation with the most powerful businesses of the region.

Within its own sphere the BTC was highly effective, coordinating the efforts of roughly fifty unions to police every construction worksite in the City to check that only union members were working there. The BTC was able to turn this control at the workplace level into better wages in the San Francisco construction industry than anywhere else in the country in the first decades of the twentieth century. The BTC was able to do this, moreover, without fighting the drawn-out battles that unions elsewhere had to wage simply to obtain recognition or preserve their rights: only two building trades strikes in San Francisco between 1901 and 1921 lasted more than a week.

The exception to that rule came in 1900, when the BTC unilaterally declared that its members would work only eight hours a day for $3 a day. When mill resisted, the BTC began organizing mill workers; the employers responded by locking out 8,000 employees throughout the Bay Area. The BTC, in return, established a union planing mill from which construction employers could obtain supplies — or face boycotts and sympathy strikes if they did not. That brought the mill owners to arbitration, where the union won the eight-hour day, a closed shop for all skilled workers, and an arbitration panel to resolve future disputes. In return, the union agreed to refuse to work with material produced by non-union planing mills or those that paid less than the Bay Area employers.

McCarthy ruled the BTC like an autocrat: he did not brook criticism, much less challenges to his authority, and he sometimes made decisions concerning local unions without consulting the parties involved. His high-handed style served him for many years, but created enough resentment within the BTC that eventually forced him to resign from its presidency in 1922, following the loss of a strike that allowed the open shop to return to San Francisco in 1921.

Career in politics

Labor unions had helped elect James D. Phelan, a Democrat, to several terms as Mayor of San Francisco. They were outraged, therefore, when Phelan sided with the employers in the City Front Federation Strike of 1901. Labor unions associated with the SFLC organized the Union Labor Party to challenge him. McCarthy and the BTC, characteristically, not only did not join in the campaign, but supported a rival candidate.

The ULP's candidate, Eugene E. Schmitz, won election in 1901. Schmitz' administration, however, was largely controlled by Abraham "Abe" Ruef, a political boss who made few efforts to conceal the depth of his corruption. Reform elements succeeded in bringing about Ruef's conviction and Schmitz' removal from office in 1907.

McCarthy was eager to fill this vacancy. While the criminal proceedings were still underway, and during the midst of a bitter strike by San Francisco streetcar workers, McCarthy ran on a platform of promising to halt the on-going prosecutions. That put him in conflict with the SFLC, while undercutting his own reputation for honesty. McCarthy lost.

McCarthy ran again, this time successfully, in 1909. As Mayor he installed BTC officials throughout his administration, required City employees to become union members, and raised the minimum wage for city employees from $2 to $3 per day. He also required all city employees to be U.S. citizens, in line with the BTC's nativist leanings.

While McCarthy's administration was largely scandal-free, it suffered from a number of political failures, including the contentious effort to import water from the Hetch-Hetchy dam in Yosemite to San Francisco. Reform-minded businessmen chose James Rolph, Jr., known as "Sunny Jim", to run against him. Rolph won and the ULP faded from the scene. McCarthy returned to the Republican Party, serving as a delegate to Republican National Convention in 1920.

External sources

Further reading

  • Kazin, Michael. Barons of Labor: The San Francisco Building Trades and Union Power in the Progressive Era. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1989 ISBN 0-252-06075-X.
  • Galenson, Walter. United Brotherhood of Carpenters: the First Hundred Years. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1983. ISBN 0-674-92196-8.
Preceded by
Edward Robeson Taylor
Mayor of San Francisco
Succeeded by
James Rolph, Jr.
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"The strike is the weapon of the oppressed, of men capable of appreciating justice and having the courage to resist wrong and contend for principle. The nation had for its cornerstone a strike, and while arrogant injustice throws down the gauntlet and challenges the right to conflict, strikes will come, come by virtue of irrevocable laws, destined to have a wider sweep and greater power as men advance in intelligence and independence."

-- Eugene V. Debs.

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