The IAM vs. the NMTA
When O'Connell sat down with representatives of the National
Metal Trades Association he hoped to bring about what he called a
"peaceful revolution." He did not understand that across
the table sat men who viewed unionism in any form as a threat. The
collapse of the Murray Hill agreement not only revealed the NMTA's
true colors but ended the fantasy of collaboration. Over the next
four decades the NMTA developed into the largest, richest, strongest
and most viciously anti union employer organization in America. Many
years later an investigating committee of the United States Senate,
the LaFollette Committee, shocked the nation by exposing the
criminal tactics used by this big business organization to
bust unions. During the thirty-five years between the Murray Hill
agreement and the LaFollette hearings the NMTA was the IAM's number
one enemy in every work place and on every picket line.
"King of the Strikebreakers"
The Machinists' aggressive nationwide drive for the nine-hour
day badly frightened the business establishment. The most popular
and influential magazine of that day, The Saturday Evening Post,
suggested that employers could deal with strikes in a more
efficient, business-like manner by setting up a central agency to
provide professional strike-breakers whenever and wherever needed.
Before long an underworld character named Pearl Bergoff
answered this call for business efficiency. Out of the IAM's fight
for the nine-hour came America's most infamous, violent and
profitable strike-breaking agency. Bergoff offered employers the
services of four specialized departments: strike prevention,
undercover, open shop and protection. He advertised his protection
department as being "composed of big, disciplined men with
military or police experience, for the protection of life and
property." In describing the "strike prevention"
service the Journal noted, "They called at a worker's
home and in a chat with the wife mention that her husband in the
event of a strike is apt to be carried home any day on a shutter; or
they go to a saloon, set up the drinks and try to persuade the
workers to renounce the agitators as radicals."
Over the next thirty years Bergoff's thugs, operating with
brass knuckles, rubber truncheons and guns, helped to smash more
than 300 strikes from New York to San Francisco. These plug-uglies
were violent and ruthless, serving leading industries for fun and
profit. An official government report on their activities in a 1915
strike described them as "so vicious and unreliable . . . their
presence alone was sufficient to incite a riot . . . [They] shot
without provocation at everyone who came within sight."
Beginning with the fight for the nine hour day, and for the
next three decades, up to and including the IAM's famous battles to
organize Remington Rand's Mohawk Valley plants in the late 1930's,
IAM organizers and members met Bergoff's mercenaries at countless
factory gates and in many dark alleys. It was here, in such close
encounters, the the IAM earned the right to wear the proud label:
"The Fighting Machinists."