As we enter the twenty-first century, the electrical industry and our union stand at a crossroads. Starting with little more than electrical skills and a desire for a better life for all electrical workers, the founders of the IBEW built powerful and respected local unions, won for their members decent wages, benefits and conditions, and provided the electrical industry with stability and order.
The IBEW is the only socioeconomic force capable of saving the electrical construction industry from continued decline. By revitalizing unionized electrical construction the IBEW can promote an industry where managerial efficiency, craft pride and skill and progressive labor-management relations are once again honored. As the IBEW strategizes and organizes the electrical construction industry, we now confront a challenge that may be as formidable as that faced by the founding fathers of the IBEW over a century ago. Our founding fathers understood that the basis of union strength, in an industry like ours, was control of the labor supply. For that reason, they defined as their primary goal: To organize all workers who work in the electrical trade.
There was a time, not too long ago, when electrical contractors actually came to the IBEW locals to be “organized,” because the only way to gain access to the skilled labor supply was to become a signatory contractor. In fact, as long as the IBEW represented most electrical workers, contractors had to come to the union. The successful “bottom up” organizing of the electrical workers, in the first half of the twentieth century, enabled many IBEW local unions to organize thousands of contractors to become “union” without appealing directly to their workers. But the truth understood by our founding fathers remained the same: Organizing electrical workers is he best way to unionize the electrical construction industry. Organizing workers requires a genuine commitment to universal membership and to worker-to-worker organizing. History teaches that as the percentage of electrical workers who are union members grows, union strength grows. That is why we organize.