Rat Monday 1988
1988 "Near Riot" in San Francisco: 10,000 Workers Protest Rat Contractors Meeting
by Frank McMurray West Coast correspondent
*This first appeared in New York Hard Hat News, a rank and file construction worker publication:*
Rat Monday, March 7, 1988, is a date burnt into the memory of the scab Associated Building Contractors (ABC). It was the opening day of their annual convention in San Francisco. They were expecting to thumb their noses at few pickets assembled by the ineffectual leaders of the local building trades unions, and toast the death of unionism in a city famous for its past militancy. Instead they were greeted by a general strike in construction that shut down every major site in the city and a crowd of 10,000 shouting, chanting, construction workers, who showered them with raw eggs as they arrived at the downtown Moscone Convention Center. The police, who had been told by the San Francisco Building Trades Council to expect "several hundred pickets," were unwilling to tackle this crowd. After several hours they managed to open the street in front of the Moscone to traffic and provide a corridor of access for the rat contractors, but the cops were clearly afraid to go into the crowd and arrest the workers throwing eggs - only three arrests were made that day. The defeated ABC rats packed up their displays, closed the convention early, and called their lawyers. How had this happened? Had the leaders of the local building trades unions suddenly developed a backbone and teeth? It surely did not appear that way - almost every union leader had abandoned the demonstration early on Rat Monday. One exception was Stan Smith, head of the Building Trades Council, who stayed on the police side of the barricade with a bull horn, begging the workers to obey the cops. But perhaps this was all a ruse by the leadership, a ploy to divert attention from them after they had secretly organized this strike and near riot, unleashing the amazing power of the rank & file? The ABC quickly filed a lawsuit against those they felt were responsible for destroying their annual meeting, naming the SF Building Trades Council. Their suit also named "The Rat Monday Strike Committee," an unknown committee whose name had first appeared on a now famous yellow leaflet with a red stop sign. The leaflet called on all construction workers to strike on March 7th and assemble at the Moscone Center to "greet the rats." This committee had given the day its name. The Building Trades Council denied responsibility for the Rat Monday events, but ended up paying damages to the scab association. The ABC was never able to determine who the Rat Monday Strike Committee were, and was therefore unable to bring them to court. Although no one has ever stepped forward as a member of that Committee, Hard Hat News interviewed one worker, "Joe" who admits he was "close to the events," and agreed to speak without using his last name. Joe explained how the Committee put out leaflets. "They would go into the construction sites at 2am and paste up those yellow flyers all over the place. The next morning when the crews showed up the leaflets were just there - calling for a strike on Rat Monday. Nobody knew who was doing it, but we thought it was the right idea.... When I asked my [union] Rat Business Agent about it he waffled - he wasn't for it and he wasn't against it." The Monday Strike Committee were rank & file members of several construction unions, Joe said. "They knew the Building Trades was planning their usual gutless picket line - a few fools walking around chanting they hey -ho ho - ABC has got to go. No strike, no eggs, no mass demonstration...The unions were afraid to call a strike because it would piss off the [union] contractors and they were afraid to call out the rank and file because they would loose control...once the genie is out of the bottle, how you gonna put it back?"
Although Rat Monday was the largest labor demonstration in San Francisco since the General Strike of 1934, and a front page story in the local papers, it was almost totally "blackout" by the national news media, who seem to have a fear that reporting such events will encourage other workers to copy them. Perhaps they are right.