Though reserved in manner and reticent in speech Peterson
projected a sense of unruffled calm and dignity that inspired
confidence. He held numerous union offices in Deer Lodge and was
among the first out on the picket line in the disastrous 1922
shopmen's strike. Later, when the shopmen returned to work he was
elected as a delegate to the district lodge.
Peterson attracted favorable notice from the union's top
officers while serving on the Resolution' Committees at the 1928
Grand Lodge Convention. Within a few months Wharton recruited him
for a special organizing assignment on the Pennsylvania Railroad.
Less than a year later he was appointed to the Grand Lodge staff and
posted to the Great Lakes territory. In 1937 he succeeded to the
seat on the Council left vacant by the unexpected death of GVP Bowen
and was sent to head up the Northwest territory. He was immediately
plunged into the IAM's long and bitter struggle against Remington
Rand in the Mohawk Valley. In 1940 Harvey Brown brought him to Grand
Lodge as Resident GVP.
At least fifty years before the health food fad hit the rest
of America and joggers cluttered every highway and byway Eric
Peterson was out running early every morning and urging coarse
ground whole wheat flour on his friends.
During his fifteen years as GST, Grand Lodge annual receipts
rose from $5.5 million to $12.9 million a year. When he took charge
of GST operations many of the procedures for keeping the
organization's books and records were almost quaintly old-fashioned.
On payday, for example, Grand Lodge employees still received their
wages in cash, as had the railroaders years before, in little brown
pay packets. Peterson shook the cobwebs out of the GST's Department,
bringing in modern office machines and introducing more up-to-date
In his contacts with the members Eric Peterson understood that
the appearance of rectitude was as important as its practice. Once,
when being hosted by business representatives of a large urban
district, and evening at the local race track was proposed. Peterson
reacted gently but firmly. "It wouldn't look good." he
said, "for members of the Machinists Union to see their GST
gambling at the horse races."
What Price Affiliation?
As the war wound down government restrictions on travel eased.
By early 1945 Harvey Brown itched to get on with the Grand Lodge
Convention which should have been held in 1944. Increasingly
irritated by Green and the AFL Executive Council, Brown felt he
could now muster membership support for disaffiliation. Sentiment
for withdrawal from the AFL had solidified on the IAM Council,
especially among such younger members as GST Eric Peterson and GVP's
Sam Newman, Elmer Walker, Roy Brown and Al Hayes. Apparently, the
straw that broke the camel's back was an AFL Executive Council
action awarding the Operating Engineers jurisdiction over mechanics
and machinists employed in the repair or rebuilding of excavating,
hoisting, road-building and other power-generated machinery. IAM
members as well as IAM leaders saw this as a gratuitous slap in the
The convention was scheduled to begin in New York in late
October. As the delegates were literally packing their bags Eric
Peterson got work that the Pacific Fleet was putting into New York
for two weeks of R & R and the Navy would be commandeering
enough hotel rooms to house some 35,000 officers and men. Since it
was too late to call off the IAM Convention, Peterson somehow
managed to scrounge up enough accommodations, although the last few
dozen delegates ended up sleeping four or more to a room. The
wartime influx of females into the union was reflected by the
presence of six women delegates at the Convention. In debate on a
resolution to limit immigration, delegate Elma Morgan of Local Lodge
1600 rose to say:
According to the Journal this set off a spontaneous
reaction. Delegates rose, applauded, whistled and shouted "Go
to it, Harvey! We're with you."
The delegates appointed a special committee to study the
problem, hold hearings and make appropriate recommendations. The
report was presented by Don Burrows, directing business rep of Lodge
701 in Chicago, a significant power in the union whose previous
opposition had been enough to back Brown away from disaffiliation in
1943. This time Burrows credited the Executive Council with trying
to seek a fair settlement and recommended the IAM's per capita to
the AFL be deferred "pending fair treatment from the AFL."
Green did not wait for this recommendation to be ratified by
referendum of the IAM's membership. Immediately upon his return to
Washington Green sent a letter to all IAM local lodges notifying
them that their international was suspended. In January the
membership voted, four to one, to defer per capita payments until
the AFL agreed to recognize and enforce the IAM's jurisdiction over
the machinists trade. To ease membership anxiety at being isolated
from the "House of Labor", Brown called a staff conference
in St. Louis in early June. He made it clear that whenever possible
IAM lodges would continue to maintain cooperative relationships with
the other unions. This would include "joint organizing
campaigns, joint strike actions and strikes." Brown announced
that a committee of four IAM GVP's (Peterson, Carr, Hayes and
Nickerson) had already been appointed to meet with AFL
representatives to try to settle the dispute. In the heat of the
first few angry weeks, the president of the AFL's Metal Trades
Department urged IAM members to transfer to federal unions. And
William Green ordered the Canadian Trades and Labour Congress to
expel the IAM. When the Canadians informed him that they had
autonomy over their own membership cooler heads appeared to prevail.
Although the IAM remained out of the AFL for several years, both
sides were careful to avoid actions which might have made the split
permanent and irreversible.
In many local communities throughout the country the IAM's
traditional ties with other AFL local unions remained strong. In
May, for example, the IAM's new weekly newspaper, The Machinist,
reported on the results of joint IAM-Teamster bargaining covering
thirty-three shops in St. Louis. In June, AFL unions of the Bradford
(Pa.) Trades Assembly staged a half-holiday sympathy strike and
paraded through town in support of IAM members picketing Dresser
Public Relations and the Weekly Machinist
nearly sixty years the Journal was the organizations' main
channel of communication and for most of that time the channel was
two way. All Journal editors started in the shop as working
machinists. All were elected to the editorship by vote of the
membership. Within limits of time and space the Journal's pages were
open to any member with something of interest to say to other
members. Over the decades the contents ranged from the technical to
the trivial, from homespun humor to pure corn, from thoughtful
analysis of economic and political issues to pep talks on unionism,
from routine announcements to instructions to local lode officers.
Until the 1920's every issue carried a complete roster of local
lodges, a practice begun to let traveling journeymen know where
local lodges could be found and who to contact in each city or town.
early machinists were self-educated in subjects ranging from
theology and philosophy to economic and political theory. They
tended to be serious readers in an age in which information and
ideas wee mostly spread through the written word. In his formal
study, The Machinists, Professor Mark Perlman judged the
Journal to be "One of the country's finest union
publications", saying that at one point it had developed into
"Something akin to a machinist's version of Harpers,"
high praise indeed.
At the end of World War II the
organization was greatly changed. Starting with the campaign to
organize aircraft workers from wall to wall at Boeing in September
1935, the IAM was steadily transformed from a relatively tight
fraternity of like-minded skilled craftsmen to an industrial union
that included everyone from floor sweepers and assemblers to tool
and die makers and erection machinists.
By the time Hewitt
retired in 1945, after serving as editor of thirty years, the Journal
had lost a significant share of its readership. The new editor, Lee
Thomas, a former business representative from Grand Rapids, tried to
get the attention of the new bred of members by redesigning the
format and making the Journal easier to read. By that time,
however, the Executive Council felt they needed more than a monthly
magazine to keep in touch with the IAM's far-flung membership. By
the end of World War II serious reading was being replaced by les
demanding forms of communications. Even before television
revolutionized everything from family life to the political system,
IAM members were getting their information less from traditional
books and magazines and more from radios, movies, picture magazines
such as LIFE and easy to scan condensations such as The
Local and district lodes began
to edit weekly papers for their members. The president of the New
York State Council, a militant leftist named Robert Schrank,
launched a weekly publication for members in that state. Suspecting
that Schrank had Communist leanings, Harvey Brown feared that
publications such as his might undermine the International. To keep
internal union communications under Grand Lodge control the
Executive Council recommended, and the 1945 Convention authorized, a
weekly newspaper to be known as The Machinist. Although
ostensibly intended as a supplement to, and not a substitute for,
the Journal the introduction of Volume I, Number 1 of The
Machinist on April 4, 1946 was the beginning of the end for the Journal.
After a short break-in period under an acting editor, the Executive
Council chose Gordon Cole as permanent editor. Cole was a solid
professional with experience that ranged from the labor beat on The
Wall Street Journal to a liberal New York daily known as PM.
He was also president of the Washington chapter of the Newspaper
Guild. Over the next thirty years Cole gave the IAM one of the most
readable and widely honored labor newspapers in America.