Why are no Blacks working?

Get involved in the fight for economic justice at Bay Area Black Builders’ meeting Saturday, Jan. 16, 12 noon, 1099 Sunnydale, San Francisco

by Joseph Debro, Bay Area Black Builders

Craft labor unions since 1865 have been ambivalent about their racial policies. They were inclusive for a time. But in the 1900s through 1970 craft unions became virulently anti-Black.

Because of public pressure and court actions, craft unions have taken a new approach to racial discrimination. Their discrimination has become subtler. A small number of Blacks are treated fairly in some unions; most, however, are treated badly.

Those Black union members are the last dispatched out of the hall. They are the first laid off. The worst workers in the hall are sent to Black and other small contractors.

These craft unions have forced the political establishment to sign what is called project labor agreements (PLA). These are but another organizing tool designed to break small contractors.

Craft unions have formed a coalition with large white contractors. This cabal controls training and work in the construction industry. When there was an abundance of work in the San Francisco Bay Area, they imported labor from other states.

Their option was to train Black and other people of color in the trades. Their argument against it was that such training would produce too many trained workers. It was in craft unions’ best interest to import workers who would go home after the boom. If resident new workers were trained, these workers would need work in lean times.

Now that most of the construction work is public work, the craft unions exercise another type of control. Only kin and friend can be trained and are allowed to work. Small contractors must not be allowed to perform successful contracts. Black unemployed must be kept out of the work force. So bonds are required, as well as public works experience in order to qualify to bid.

Non-public works contracts are controlled by large white nonprofits, who use small minority nonprofits as fronts. Both public and private agencies use the number of poor Black and other minorities to induce the federal government to send money to help the poor. When the money comes to help the poor, it is diverted into the pockets of those who are positioned to exploit this situation. Public agencies help their cronies and block Black and other poor people from the intended benefits.

Large white nonprofits are usually controlled by outside forces. A non-board member controls Bridge Housing, for example. This person makes his money by selling Bridge land at inflated prices. Bridge uses public money to buy the land, hire white professionals and white contractors. The White contractors contract with white subs, who hire white craft workers. Bridge executives, most of whom are white, are paid more than bank executives. Seldom do these large nonprofits have diverse memberships who care about the Black and poor people of our community.

All successful nonprofits make money. They distribute it to themselves in the form of large salaries and benefits. They spend the money allocated to help the poor with their kin and friends. They build great housing projects. They win awards. They then turn to the community of the poor to service the debt incurred, making them rich.

Mel Simmons and those who support his efforts have decided not to take this anymore. The decision has been made to take it to the streets. The people of the San Francisco Bay Area must be informed.

Bay Area Black Builders will meet at 1099 Sunnydale on Saturday, Jan. 16, at 12 noon to discuss organizing for a job action. Everyone who is or wants to be involved in the construction industry is invited to attend.

Joseph Debro is president of Bay Area Black Builders. He is also president of the Visitacion Valley Community Development Corp., co-founder of the National Association of Minority Contractors, a general engineering contractor and a bio-chemical engineer. He can be reached at transbay@netzero.com.