by Robert G. Rodden

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."

Opening the Door, 
Women Entering the Trade



Comments or Suggestions? E-mail the Communications Officer
of Siouxland Lodge 1426 IAMAW
Greg Enright