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History

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

Years of Growth--Years of Struggle

As membership expanded to include craftsmen in city job shops as well as railroad roundhouses, specialists as well as journeymen, and women as well as men, the IAM grew year by year, from 32,500 in 1901 to 48,500 by 1905, from 60,900 in 1910 to 75,000 by 1915. At a number of early Grand Lodge Conventions chaired by O'Connell, delegates established or modified rules for paying death benefits and strike benefits from the general fund. Business agencies, with Grand Lodge paying half of their "legitimate expenses," were authorized as early as the Buffalo Convention in 1899. But the first special assessment--one day's pay-- on every member was not approved until the membership referendum following the 1907 Convention in St. Louis. Before it went into effect, however, thousands of members were thrown out of work by the historic Panic of 1907. Several extensions had to be granted lodges unable to collect from their members. Nevertheless O'Connell stressed in his report to the 1909 Convention that had it not been for this assessment the Grand Lodge would have been "embarrassed" in trying to meet its strike and victimization obligations.

The struggle never stopped. In the nation's metalworking centers, such as Dayton and Cincinnati, Ohio, Beloit, Wisconsin, Rockford, Illinois and Sedalia, Missouri, the IAM became the special target of employer associations mobilized to stamp out unions. In many cities and towns so-called Citizens' Alliances (in Dayton it was called the "Modern Order of the Bees") recruited businessmen, teachers, doctors, lawyers, supervisors and fraternity boys into the fight against "union tyranny." In 1903 the National Association of Manufactures (NAM) formed a National Citizens' Industrial Association to defend America's working people against "The . . . violence, boycotting and tyranny now being carried out by a majority of labor unions."

With the business downturn of 1903, the National Metal Trades Association tried to rescind the nine-hour day which Machinists won in Chicago, San Francisco and many other cities only a year or so earlier. A number of companies unilaterally rescheduled ten-hour days. When this set off a new wave of strikes, the NMTA retaliated with one of the recurring "open shop" campaigns that have poisoned industrial relations in America ever since. With hard times employers could usually recruit all the scabs and strikebreakers they needed. A number of Chicago's largest metal-working companies, acting in concert, locked out their employees and reopened as non-union shops two weeks later. This touched off so much violence President Theodore Roosevelt himself came to the city, condemned "class hatred" and threatened to send in the Army.

In an early version of today's union-busting "labor-management consultants", the NMTA provided employers with expert advice and assistance on combating the IAM. A nationwide card file on each of the 35,000 machinists employed by 325 firms was compiled. In a massive surveillance operation employers in Portland, Oregon summoned every machinist in the city, one by one, to central office. Those who belonged to the IAM were shown their dossiers--which the NMTA had supplied--and were ordered to tear up their due books on the spot. In addition to honeycombing the labor movement with spies--some of whom served as delegates, organizers and even officers of several unions--the NMTA set up an organization called the "Independent Labor League." It recruited skilled machinists who could be sent wherever struck employers needed scabs and strikebreakers.

 


Injunctions and the Anti-Trust Laws,
 Suffer the Little Children

 

History


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