The Tradition of Guilds and the “U” word

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Master journeyman carpenter and his apprentice

In the earliest years of the skilled trades the journeyman and his apprentice typically worked alone and were isolated from other journeymen and apprentices within their trade.

Master and apprentice woodworkers

Early Tinsmiths

Eventually, the skilled tradesmen within a given skilled trade began to form guilds.  Membership in their guild gave the individual skilled tradesman access to others within their skilled trade outside of their own community who could have new knowledge and techniques that could be shared among their members. 

This was one way in which a skilled trade could evolve and keep-up with the latest materials and methods within their discipline.  Many skilled trade guilds adopted standard practices in order to help maintain consistency in the work of any given skilled trades from one location to another, and ultimately around the world.

Young Abe

Early Industrialists

Fast forward to the 1890's in America.  This country's leading wealthy industrialists were exploiting and abusing America's workforce as they amassed record levels of personal wealth.  Both skilled trade workers and non skilled workers were suffering at the hands of these “robber barons”.

Child Laborers

These industrialists saw no problem with workers being forced to work 12-hour workdays, and seven-day workweeks.  There was no overtime, and no age limits on how young these workers could be.  Children were being literally worked to death.

Early 1900's Electricians Original Group

Groups of non skilled workers began to organize into unions in order to stand up against these powerful industrialists.  In support of these workers many of the the skilled trade guilds began to refer to their guilds as unions as they became affiliated with larger labor organizations.   This picture shows an early group of union electricians.

Pullman Workers Strike

In 1893 the predominantly-black Pullman car workers of our nations railroads organized, and the following year they initiated a strike that would literally shut down America's passenger rail lines.  Over a quarter-of-a-million workers participated in the nationwide strike.  Over 30 people died in the violence between the workers and the Pullman Company.  However, the strike proved what kind of power the workers could amass in unison.  Pay and working conditions for the Pullman car workers improved significantly.  In commemoration of this massive strike finally being settled, President Grover Cleveland in 1895 designated one day each year as a new federal holiday to be called Labor Day.

Toledo Autolite Strikes

For unions, the threat of a strike proved highly effective in forcing employers to improve pay and working conditions for their workforce. Eight hour workdays became the standard as did five-day work weeks.  Moreover, when employees were required to work more hours per week, they were paid at a higher overtime rate.  However, with each strike unions risked often-violent confrontations with management such as this 1934 riot at the Toledo Autolite plant.

Workers on Strike

For striking workers, the more publicity they could receive the better. However, with strikes seeming to capture the attention of the media almost nightly, the nonunion public was becoming weary of seeing parades of disgruntled workers everywhere they turned. Moreover, they were becoming particularly unhappy when a strike disrupted their own daily lives. The buying public literally had to give up its daily bread until this bakers strike was settled.

Unions and Organized Crime

Worse yet, connections between organized labor and organized crime, began to fill the news.  Much of the nonunion public began to question the legitimacy of unions as more and more officials were being convicted of racketeering.  The media began depicting unions as being criminal enterprises with union officials being sent to prison, one after another.

Teamsters Union President Jimmy Hoffa

Workers on Strike

The nonunion people of America had become ever more weary of the inconveniences caused by strikes and lockouts. At the same time union membership in America was continually declining. By 2017 only about 16% of American households included one or more union workers. To the other 84% of the public the term, “union” was becoming demonized. Unions were becoming thought of as groups of workers feeling entitled to special pay and treatment, compared to the rest of us merely because they were protected by their group. Worse yet, they saw unions as causing price rises that could lower the standard of living for the rest of us.

No Strikes – No Lockouts

First and foremost, they do not strike.  Their contract with those who employ Real Journeyman™ Plumbers and Steamfitters and their apprentices prohibits strikes.  On the employer side, the employers' contracts also prohibit worker lockouts.  In other words, all parties are required to cooperatively work through all agreements between labor and management.  On the management side of this equation is the MCAA, with stands for the Mechanical Contractors Association of America.  The  Plumbers and Steamfitters sit down together with the MCAA in working-out all future contracts.  The focus of all is to keep everybody working and all jobs on schedule.  The MCAA also have several trustees who sit on the Plumbers and Steamfitters Health and Welfare Board.


Better Training is Everything

These days it's all about the training.  The time-proven apprenticeship method of training, now enhanced with classroom and lab studies.  Each local is the hub for a given region each has it's own Joint Apprenticeship Training Center (JATC) where apprentice training is conducted.  It is also where current Real Journeyman skilled tradesmen come to learn new skills and to polish existing skills.  The biggest portion of a local's budget goes into this training.  The local is also the connecting point where their workers and their apprentices are connected to jobs where they are needed.  It is the ultimate employment agency for the Real Journeyman™ skilled tradesmen and apprentices.

Better Training Makes for Better Workers

Real Journeyman skilled trades are all about better training within a given skilled trade, and about keeping their journeymen and apprentices working to help build a better world for everyone for tomorrow.