United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners

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UNITED BROTHERHOOD OF CARPENTERS AND JOINERS. In 1881, thirty-six carpenters from eleven cities, representing 2,000 members met in Chicago and over a four-day period established the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners. Members elected Peter J. McGuire as the executive secretary. A factory carpenter, McGuire gained national fame for his participation in the St. Louis carpenter's strike in the spring of 1881. Like other carpenters, McGuire saw the mechanization of his trade and the mass production of such items as wooden doors, stairs, and floors as a threat. He also feared the carpenters' loss of control over prices and wages since the end of the Civil War. The Brotherhood, then, was a response to the changes brought on by the modern industrial economy. Shortly after the formation of the union, McGuire moved its headquarters to New York. There he worked with Samuel Gompers to establish what became the American Federation of Labor. With the exception of four years, the Brotherhood had a key officer on the executive council of the Federation for its first seventy-five years.

The slogan that appeared in the union's newspaper, the Carpenter, reflected the union's philosophy: Organize, Agitate, Educate. Although the Brotherhood agitated for an eight-hour working day and better wages, McGuire also campaigned for a day to honor the workers of America. Because of his efforts, he is given credit for establishing Labor Day. By the mid 1890s membership surpassed 100,000 and included African American carpenters, making the organization one of the few multiracial unions in the country. McGuire remained the authoritative figure of the union until his death in 1906, when membership reached nearly 200,000.

In 1915, William L. Hutcheson ascended to the office of the presidency. The son of a migrant worker, Hutcheson held the executive office until 1952 when membership reached a historic high of 850,000. During that time Hutcheson worked to establish the union as a mainstream patriotic organization, untouched by the more radical elements within the industry. In 1918, he dropped German editions of the Carpenter and spoke out against such groups as the Wobblies (see Industrial Workers of the World). He continued the battle against what he perceived as a threat from radical workers by challenging the recruitment efforts of the Congress of Industrial Organizations in the 1930s. But he also defeated challenges to the Brotherhood from the establishment. In 1938 Hutcheson defended the union against antitrust charges brought by Assistant Attorney General Thurman W. Arnold. Following World War II, Hutcheson, a life-long Republican, organized the Stop Taft movement at the 1952 Republican convention. In 1964 the union abandoned its policy of not endorsing presidential candidates and cast its support for Lyndon Johnson. The Brotherhood faced questions of jurisdiction with two competing unions in the 1970s and the challenges of the economic recession of the 1980s. As it had in previous years, the union publicly supported the country's military engagement in the Vietnam and Persian Gulf Wars. In 2000, an estimated 700,000 members belonged to the Brotherhood.


Galenson, Walter. United Brotherhood of Carpenters: The First Hundred Years. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. 1983.

David O'DonaldCullen

See alsoAmerican Federation of Labor–Congress of Industrial Organizations, Labor ; Trade Unions .

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United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners

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