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History

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

The Lizard's Trail

One of the most tenacious of Johnston's attackers was Carl Person, a hot-headed young militant from Clinton, Iowa who had written and circulated a series of fire-eating handbills during the strike. When it was finally called off, Person drafted an indictment of Johnston and other shop craft leaders, accusing them of double-crossing the members, leading them out on strike and then deserting them.

A short time later Person was lured into ambush by a company thug, a six-foot 200-pound former Clinton police chief. Person, a bantam of a man, not more than five foot five and 130 lbs., was in danger of being beaten to death when he pulled a gun and shot and killed his attacker.

In the murder trial that followed, other unions joining the IAM in raising funds for Person's defense. Despite the usual newspaper and employer efforts to prejudice the public and the jury, witnesses and the evidence clearly supported Person's plea of self-defense and he was acquitted. Despite the help he received from the IAM, Person continued to rage at the "sellout" of the strikers on the Illinois Central and Harriman Lines. He kept up the attack, going before a convention of the strikers by confiscating funds that were rightfully theirs. Johnston then suspended Person from membership with the approval of the General Executive Board. In Person's appeal to the 1916 Grand Lodge Convention in Baltimore he had many supporters. A resolution by a Louisiana lodge suggested "If we had about a dozen more Carl E. Persons . . . labor conditions would be much brighter."

The Appeals and Grievance Committee recommended the suspension stay in effect until Person gave the GEB written assurance that he would refrain from any such misconduct in the future. Following a long, heated debate in which delegates were assured Person would not be required to apologize for his past actions the Committee's report was approved on a division of the house. Person refused to accept reinstatement on the terms offered. He pursued his vendetta against Johnston by authorizing a vitriolic diatribe, purported to be a history of the Harriman strike, which he titled "The Lizard's Trail." Throughout the rest of Johnston's tenure his enemies used Person's volume to smear and slander him.

Although this particular strike was lost system federation bargaining became the norm in railroad negotiations for many years to come. The IAM's Arthur Wharton was one of the few who came out ahead in this long and dreary dispute. He led the Federation of Federations with such distinction he was chosen to head the new department for railroad employees when it was created by the AFL. As will be seen he was later elected International President of his own union.

The IAM and the First World War

With the outbreak of the "Great War" in Europe in 1914, metalworking industries in America began a rapid buildup to meet an avalanche of armaments orders from the combatants. In Connecticut, for example, the Remington Arms Company was swamped with requisitions from the Czarist Government of Russia for small arms ammunition, artillery shells and weapons of every kind.

Companies not directly engaged in output of weapons worked night and day turning out machine tools and parts. The demand for machinists became frantic. To meet a growing shortage of skills employers began to install specialized machinery and hire inexperienced workers as operators, including great numbers of women. As employment skyrocketed union growth exploded. Between April 1915 and April 1917 membership almost doubled, going from 69,277 to 119,977.

In the spring of 1915 the IAM launched an all-out organizing campaign in armaments' plants throughout New England. In a report to the Journal on his activities in the summer of 1915 GVP Pete Conlon described the militancy of machinists in New England. The policy, he said, was to "1st. Strike the plant of any employer resisting our demands. 2nd. Immediately ship the men to other jobs [and] 3rd. Picket the plant and keep the employer shorthanded for help." Success came on a rush of worker sentiment for the eight hour day. The IAM caught the tide of this powerful and popular appeal. According to Conlon, "Everyone has the fever and all you can hear is eight hours. The sidewalks, the telegraph poles and even the office steps of the factories are chalked in large letters 'WE WANT EIGHT HOURS'."

IAM organizers and business representatives exhorted the membership to, "Talk eight-hours, write eight hours and work for the eight-hour day." Millions of gummed labels with the slogan "For The Eight-hour Day--A Movement Nearer To Justice" were distributed. Members were told to stick them on their letters, lunch boxes and anything else with a flat surface. In Cleveland the slogan became "A Cent a Minute, Eight Hours A Day." And in 1916 more than 5,500 members of District 54 joined a general strike for this goal. A nationwide shortage of skilled labor gave the IAM more clout at the bargaining table than it ever enjoyed in the post. The number of members working under eight-hour day contacts soared from 7,000 in early 1915 to 60,000 a year later.

With lush profits guaranteed from the munitions production. employer resistance to the eight-hour day crumbled. Where employers remained hard-nosed, IAM lodges did not hesitate to strike. Between the summer of 1915 and that of 1916, 28,000 Machinists were involved in 128 strikes in thirty-five cities.

After the eight-hour day was won in the munitions industry it began to spread, first to nearby civilian industries and then into the mines and on the railroads. The Adamson Act, establishing the eight-hour day for the operating unions on the railroads, was hastily enacted by Congress late in 1916 to avert a mass walkout.

 


The Battle of Cincinnati~1915

 

History


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