Friday, July 19, 2013
Our City, Our Job: IBEW Local 6 Protests
Thursday afternoon, at the beginning of San Francisco's evening rush hour, a huge protest by the International Brotherhood of Electric Workers Local 6 surrounded City Hall and then marched around the Civic Center neighborhood for the next 90 minutes.
They were protesting the use by the construction behemoth Pankow of a non-union subcontractor, Helix Electric, based out of San Diego, for work on the three-year retrofit at the Veterans Building on the corner of McAllister and Franklin.
The handmade signs all seemed to have been created by the same handful of people since the lettering and the messaging were virtually identical. The slogan "Our City, Our Job" felt somewhat presumptious since most of these marchers looked like construction worker suburbanites who do not live in San Francisco at all. Their parents and grandparents probably did so, but it's doubtful if the majority of this generation lives here.
Though there were a few token women and minorities holding large signage, 95% of the crowd consisted of white guys, which is not exactly San Francisco's current demographic.
The institutionalized racism and blatant nepotism in San Francisco trade unions over the decades has been an ongoing, abysmal story and all the local hiring ordinances out of City Hall have changed little to nothing in that regard.
The crowd was very good at protesting, however, attacking the Pankow construction trailer with placards and finally stopping traffic in all directions for an hour at the intersection of Van Ness and McAllister.
One couple driving the black car above went mad with frustration and just about ran over some of the marchers and a Muni bus driver as they made a right turn onto McAllister against all odds.
Another group marched up Franklin Street between Grove and McAllister, effectively shutting off that street at rush hour too.
The few police who were present did nothing to prevent any of this behavior, possibly because they are mostly white suburbanite union guys themselves. As a security guard at the Veterans Building told me this afternoon, in an impassioned defense of traditional labor organizing, "San Francisco is a union town, and Pankow is trying to break the unions here. It's not right, and if we don't stop it here, this may be the end of an era."
My response to him was that it might help the unions' public relations efforts if they did not put their weight towards building anything, anywhere, in San Francisco, no matter how egregious. At the IBEW website, there is an advisory to pack a city hearing in support of the 8 Washington condos on the waterfront, though most San Franciscans believe it a terrible project for a multitude of reasons, from height to exclusivity to the removal of public space for the super-rich. As a native San Franciscan friend once told me, "If there were a proposal to build 100,000 condominiums in Golden Gate Park, you know every trade union in the city would be supporting it."