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History

From THE FIGHTING MACHINISTS, A CENTURY OF STRUGGLE
by Robert G. Rodden

Opening the Door

As noted earlier, the Machinists initially excluded blacks, women and others who could not meet the exacting requirements of training and skill demanded by the Southern founders. In most places, and for many years, IAM lodges had to guard against infiltration by employer agents and spies. In those early years, the IAM was like a fraternity. It wasn't easy to join.

When Harvey Brown retired as International President in 1949 he described the obstacles he met in 1905 when he first tried to join in Allentown, Pa. On a Sunday, his only day off, he and another young machinist traveled to Easton, searching for the financial secretary of the nearest local Machinists lodge. When they finally located him, they were given applications and, after much questioning, were told to bring back the endorsement of a member in the shop where they were employed. Since Brown worked in a rabidly anti-union shop in what was then a notoriously anti-union area, the financial secretary refused to tell Brown which of his fellow workers were members. It was only after days of careful observation and cautious questioning that Brown decided a certain big, rough redhead was the kind of machinist who would belong to the union. When Brown approached to ask him to vouch for his membership, the big redhead looked him up and down. According to Harvey Brown's later recollection, he said "Brownie, I'm going to take a chance on you. Sure, I'm a member of the Machinist Union and I'll sign your application, but if I get fired I'll kick the hell out of you before I go."

Although the need for secrecy remained for decades, other barriers to membership fell earlier. In 1903, when the IAM absorbed a union of bicycle workers, delegates to the Milwaukee Grand Lodge Convention opened membership to "specialists." Two years later, meeting in Boston, the convention authorized limited membership at half the normal fees and dues for apprentices. Until the 1920's however, apprentices were not enrolled directly with Grand Lodge until they became journeymen. They were assigned to separate "apprentice" or "junior" lodges chartered and overseen by sponsoring local lodges.

Women Entering the Trade


Years of Growth~Years of Struggle

 

History


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