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History

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

"Will You Support the Decision of this Convention?"

The IAM was too broke to hold its regular Grand Lodge Convention in 1932 but was able to report a spectacular comeback when delegates gathered for the 1936 Grand Lodge Convention in Milwaukee.* Wharton demonstrated great skill as a parliamentarian, using that skill to defuse a major assault on his authority and integrity at the Convention. This came in a debate challenging Wharton's revocation of the charter of Local Lodge 284 in Oakland, California. The depth of delegate interest in this issue was indicated in an early roll call on the Executive Council's appointments to the appeals and Grievance Committee. Delegate dissatisfaction with Wharton's action against Local Lodge 284 was reflected in the sizable vote against the council's appointments--307 nay, 440 yea. Literature urging support Lodge 284 had been mailed to lodges throughout the United States and Canada prior to the Convention. The Grand Lodge had responded with an official circular defending its action. The delegates were informed on the situation and both sides came prepared.

*Delegates to Grand Lodge Conventions today might be interested to know that room rates for delegates at the Milwaukee Convention in 1936 raged from $2 to $4 a day. Club breakfast 35, blueplate lunch 50, dinner $1.00.
The real causes of this dispute can only be surmised. On the surface the issue was rooted in a strike called by a business representative without a proper strike vote or Grand Lodge sanction. The appeals and Grievance Committee found that after twice failing to get the constitutionality required three-fourths majority, members of Lodge 284 simply voted, by voice vote, to disregard the first two votes.

At that time many union members in the Bay area were still seething with the leftover hatreds of a general strike two years earlier. In 1934 employers demanded and received an all-out show of police force to break a longshoremen's strike. The result was a spasm of police brutality still remembered in San Francisco as Bloody Thursday. Two workers were killed and hundreds injured. The labor movement struck back with a general strike that paralyzed the city for four days--forcing employers to agree to arbitration in which most of the workers demands were met.

Bloody Thursday and the general strike left a residue of radicalism and militancy throughout the Bay area. The members of Machinist Lodge 284 were among the most militant. Most IAM lodges on the West Coast sympathized with and supported the lodge's position in this clash with the Executive Council.

The case for Local Lodge 284 was ably presented and eloquently argued by Edward Dillon, then recording secretary of Local Lodge 68 in San Francisco. Dillon described how Lodge 284 members were exploited and frustrated by a stubborn and willful association of open shop, anti-union employers in Oakland. He accused Wharton of withdrawing a conditional strike sanction after being visited in Washington by a representative of the employers.

Supported by statements of other delegates from lodges in the Bay area, Dillon also attacked the GLR, Walter Nash, who was assigned to the negotiations and who acted for Wharton in taking possession of Local Lodge 284's assets. Inferring that Nash was in bed with the employers, Dillon asked Nash, directly, if he had been in telephone communication with a representative of the employer's association of Oakland during the convention. When Nash responded by asking, "On what matter?", a chorus of boos swept the hall.

Another delegate, A. L. Wilson, financial secretary of Local Lodge 252 in Vallejo, California, asserted that because of Nash's actions in the Lodge 284 case "the members all wish not to have him in the jurisdiction anymore and that is my instructions in my lodge, 252." The matter was discussed and debated for two days. Delegates heard explanations from various GVP's and statements from individual members of the Appeals and Grievance Committee. In spite of protests and points of order, Wharton permitted GLR Nash to take the convention floor to defend himself. When  the debate was over it appeared that Dillon had carried the day for Lodge 284. In an emotional summation Dillon asked the delegates, "What are you going to do for the machinists who have homes and families?" Adding that the choice was between the manufacturers and the machinists in Oakland, he ended with an impassioned plea, "I implore you that you vote for the machinists of Oakland and not for the bosses.?

Realizing that the mood of the convention had swung toward Local Lodge 284 Wharton played his last trump before calling for a vote. He asked, "Brother Dillon, will you personally support the decision of this convention?" Dillon, in a flush of overconfidence carelessly answered, "It is according the what the decision is."

Wharton quickly adjourned the convention for lunch, giving delegates time to ponder and discuss Dillon's answer. In later years delegated to the 1936 Convention agreed that to that point Dillon had beaten Wharton and the Executive Council. He threw away his triumph when he suggested he might refuse to abide by a decision of a majority of IAM convention delegates. When the convention assembled for the afternoon session Wharton calmly reviewed the facts and assured the delegates that individual members of Lodge 284 would not be punished, that no more than seven members would be suspended. All others would retain membership and be invited to affiliate with another local chartered to take the place of 284. When the question was finally called the committee's recommendation upholding revocation of 284's charter was sustained by voice vote. The present Local Lodge 284 in Oakland was duly chartered in April 1937. Despite losing his fight at the Convention Dillon remained popular with a militant core of rank-and-file members, especially on the West Coast. In the next election for Grand Lodge officers he received 104 nominations and 13,787 votes for GVP--the highest total of any unsuccessful candidate that year.

Raids and Reds

Shortly after the NLRB set up shop, it ruled that craft unions such as the IAM could carve separate units of skilled workers out of larger bargaining units. But with the CIO in the picture, this was easier said than done. The IAM was not only forced to fight CIO unions in new organizing campaigns, but often had to battle to keep long-established craft units from being absorbed into CIO industrial bargaining units.

The IAM's attitude toward the CIO was anything but fraternal. CIO organizers were called traitors, Communists or dual unionists and were usually described as power-hungry, misguided or recalcitrant. This rivalry, along with a generally improving economy, spurred intense organizing on all sides. Although the IAM Old Guard muttered sourly about Communists and dual unions, IAM organizers scrambled to get their share of the new organizing. At one point the pace of organization threatened to swamp Grand Lodge. GST Davison had to apologize because his staff could not get charters out quickly enough. In the first six months of 1937, 152 new lodges were chartered and membership increased by 42,000. The gains in large part reflected the IAM's progress in the aircraft industry in Southern California. In April, 1937, GVP Grow reported that he and GLR George Castleman had organized a majority of the employees at the Consolidated plant in San Diego and were waiting for the NLRB to order a representation election. That spring IAM Lodge 727, with 400 members, negotiated its first agreement with Lockheed.

While these were heady times there were also setbacks. In March, 1936, for example, James J. Matles led twenty-eight locals representing some 8,000 electrical and radio manufacturing workers into the IAM. The agreement provided full membership rights for these members even though production workers and helpers would pay only two-thirds of regular dues and per capita; women and apprentices one-half. Matles later claimed that Wharton agreed to accept blacks into the IAM lodges and also gave him the go-ahead for industrial organization.

Although Wharton appointed Matles as a GLR and assigned him to work directly with the lodges he brought into the IAM, the two were about as compatible as oil and water.* While Matles obviously came into the IAM intending to convert it to industrial unionism, Wharton plainly loathed anything that smacked of the CIO. In a letter to Matles he once expressed his revulsion for "Lewis, Hillman . . . and their gang of sluggers, Communists, radicals and soap box artists, professional bums, expelled members of labor unions, outright scabs . . ." Their alliance lasted a little over a year. Matles and his locals went to the 1936 Grand Lodge Convention determined to take the "White Only" clause out of the initiation. Following a riotous session that had to be adjourned when fists and chairs started flying, the initiation remained intact and Matles' days in the IAM were numbered. The final break came when Wharton issued an official circular forbidding IAM representatives to engage in "sitdowns, sporadic disturbances, slowdowns and other Communist tactics of disruption and disorganization." Realizing that the IAM was not about to transform itself into an industrial union of all workers in the metal and machine industry. Matles resigned and organized UE. He was named Director or Organization and later became General Secretary, holding that post long after the UE was expelled from the CIO as Communist-dominated.

*Subsequent events suggest Matles was probably a Communist. He regularly referred to the Communist Party as "The party of the working class" and the only party to represent "the interests of the entire working population." At the height of the McCarthy era he was scheduled to be deported for falsely swearing he was not a Communist when he was naturalized in the 1920's. He escaped deportation when the Supreme Court overturned his denaturalization in the late 1950's.
During this same period a feisty Irishman named Mike Quill became the leader of an organizing drive aimed at every large and small transit line in New York City. While Quill later renounced Communism and the Party, he either held a Party card in the '30's or was as close as one could get without actually joining. According to Quill's biographer,** the Seventh World Congress of the Communist International in Moscow in 1935 ordered the affiliation that brought Quill into the IAM. Against the advice of IAM District 15, Wharton issued Quill a charter for Lodge 1547, which soon numbered 10,000 members. The charter was issued before John L. Lewis broke with the AFL to form the CIO. Unlike William Green an other AFL leaders, Lewis had no qualms about letting Communists into the labor movement. Welcoming them as tireless organizers, Lewis was confident he could control them. "Red Mike", as Quill came to be know, got a charter from Lewis (giving him jurisdiction over all transportation throughout the United States and Canada) and took his transport workers out of the IAM and into the CIO.
**L. H. Whittemore, The Man Who Ran the Subways.
The IAM suffered another serious loss in Minneapolis-St. Paul when a certain William Mauseth led three large IAM locals into the UE. Known as "Whispering Bill", Mauseth had been expelled from the IAM prior to the Milwaukee Convention. Mauseth persuaded the directing business representative from Minneapolis to argue for his reinstatement before the Convention's appeals and Grievance Committee and his sentence was reduced to six months probation. Mauseth later admitted his Communist connections and the Journal reported that as soon as his membership was restored, he began a campaign to subvert the IAM from within. With the help of a tightly disciplined cadre of party members who mixed parliamentary skill with "muscle" Mauseth's followers won influence far out of proportion to their numbers. The C. P.-led group packed local lodge meetings, heckled opposing speakers and tied up their opponents in parliamentary knots. GVP Nickerson reported that as a result of Mauseth's treachery, the IAM lost 3,000 of its 6,000 members in the Twin Cities. After moving these members to the UE Mauseth was rewarded with a business agency and later headed the CIO's Political Action Committee in Minnesota.

These and other raids, plus a serious economic downturn (a recession within a depression) sent IAM membership into a tailspin in late 1937. From September 1937 to October 1938 membership fell from 174,334 to 151,541 while the number on unemployment stamps rose form 10,850 to 27,649.

 


 Negotiations and a New Generation,
Wharton's Last Stand,
Harvey Brown--The Old Fashioned Machinist
On the Eve of War

History


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