Learn about the UBC’s roots, from our founding through the first turbulent years to growth and today.
The American Plan of the 1920s challenged the status of unions in the United States, but the Great Depression of the 1930s threatened the very existence of working people.
After the stock market crash in 1929, unemployment rose at the astonishing rate of 4,000 workers a week. In 1932, the Chicago Carpenters District Council urged the UBC national leadership to lead the fight for an unemployment insurance system, at the same time that New Deal programs began.
Rank-and-file carpenters and locals welcomed the New Deal. Unemployed carpenters were not advocating welfare or relief. They wanted jobs. They eagerly greeted President Franklin Roosevelt’s alphabet soup of public works agencies (PWA, CWA, CCC, and WPA) instituted to help revive the ailing economy. Initially, conflicts arose between federal desires to put people to work at any price and union commitments to maintaining a decent wage. By 1936, however, federal and union policies coincided to enable skilled tradesmen to move into their customary roles.
New Deal initiatives created jobs for millions of Americans, but the initiatives did not end the Depression. In fact, almost 9.5 million people were still out of work in 1939. Only the monumental task of preparing for entry into World War II was finally able to generate enough work to eliminate the suffering of the jobless. The war-driven building demand and the general post-war prosperity finally provided American carpenters with reasonable opportunities and greater financial security.