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History

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

Progress and Prosperity
1950~1965

Al Hayes--A Man For the Times

In many ways the 1950's were like the 1920's. Americans generally were weary of the idealism and sacrifices required by war. Most wanted little more than to forget the troubles of the world and get on with their own lives.

The fat '50's were a time of fads, of Davy Crockett hats and hula hoops, bobby sox and flapping shirttails for girls, crew cuts or duck tails for boys, gold toothpicks and whiskey-flavored toothpaste ("for the man who has everything"), Howdy Dowdy and the "$64,000 Question".

This was the decade in which millions of families left traditional working class neighborhoods to practice "Togetherness" in burgeoning suburban Levittown's. It was also the decade in which the nation's young people turned inward, onto themselves, in retreat from "Cold War" tensions. In the face of McCarthy's anti-Communist hysteria the youth of the '50's became known as the "Silent generation".

Eisenhower was the perfect President for the times. To a nation seeking to forget depressions and wars he offered a sense of serene confidence. Although far removed from the roots of his small town Kansas boyhood and most comfortable in the company of the rich and powerful, he was seen as a decent human being. Most importantly, he rocked no boats and issued no clarion calls.

He could say, in all sincerity, that "only a fool would try to deprive working men and working women of the right to join the union of their choice." And yet while the nation's steel workers were on strike, he would not hesitate to go on a golfing vacation with the magnates who ran the steel industry. Seen as a father figure Eisenhower became the first Republican President in the century to serve two full terms.

Just as Eisenhower was the right man for the time for America, Albert John Hayes was the right man for the time for the IAM. Like Eisenhower, Hayes radiated a sense of calm confidence. Unlike Harvey Brown, who charged head-on into every real or suspected challenge Hayes preferred conciliation to controversy.

Al Hayes was 49 years old when he succeeded Harvey Brown. Except for the UAW's Walter Reuther he was the youngest chief of any major union in America. Two pictures on his office wall symbolized the convictions that guided him to the IAM's highest office. The first was Bob LaFollette the elder, the great Progressive from Hayes' home state of Wisconsin. The other was Franklin D. Roosevelt whose New Deal rescued America's working people from the worst depression in history.

Born on Valentine's Day, 1900, to immigrant German parents in Milwaukee, Hayes was the seventh in a family of ten children.* Like so many first generation children in those days, Al Hayes grew up speaking two languages. He was an exceptionally bright student and a highly competitive third baseman who remained a fierce competitor throughout his life. Hayes apparently hoped to be the first of his family to graduate from college. But this hope ended abruptly when his father was permanently and totally crippled by a freak accident in the coal yard where he worked as foreman. In his early teens Hayes had enrolled in extension courses in economics and history at the University of Wisconsin. But with his help desperately needed at home he was forced to go to work. Settling on a machinist apprenticeship as his best choice for a lifetime career he got a job with the West Milwaukee shops of the Milwaukee Railroad. Though only 17 years old Hayes leadership qualities soon emerged. He became the chosen spokesman for the other apprentice boys. When they formed a committee to protest failure by foremen to provide proper journeyman training they elected Hayes to go and present their grievances to higher management.

*He Americanized the original German spelling, Haese, to the identical sounding Hayes.
Hayes joined Lodge 234 as soon as his journeyman papers made him eligible for IAM membership. According to the custom of the time he boomed around to get wider shop experience in various skills of the trade. In 1921 he returned to Milwaukee where he went to work for the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad. Transferring his membership to Lodge 1052 Hayes was settling into the life of a newlywed when 300,000 railroad shopmen, including 79,000 IAM members, hit the bricks in the Great Railroad Strike which began on July 1, 1922. For the next three months, he walked the picket line by day. With his young bride, Lil, expecting, he also hustled from door to door selling brushes by night. When the strike was called off in the middle of October he returned to the Chicago and Northwestern. After gaining experience as shop chairman in several shops he was elected president of District Lodge 7 two years later. When the National Recover Act (NRA) opened the way for a resurgence of union organizing in 1934, Arthur Wharton tapped him for the Grand Lodge staff. During the next decade Hayes organized and negotiated throughout an area stretching from Port Huron in the east to Rapid City in the west, from Minot in the north to St. Joe in the south. Throughout those fast moving years, he negotiated many of the IAM's first contracts with such large midwestern companies as American Brass, Nash-Kelvinator and the Simmons Company. In 1944 he moved up to the Executive Council and a year later Harvey Brown brought him to Grand Lodge as resident GVP.

Though of average height Hayes was so powerfully built in the torso and shoulders, he seemed, at first glance, to be larger than he actually was. Conscious of his image as the IAM's IP he dressed carefully and conservatively and carried himself with dignity. Calm and unruffled by disposition he could, when challenged, be as hard as nails. If angered Hayes could freeze and adversary with an icy glare. On the whole, however, he was completely comfortable with himself and communicated a sense of serenity to others. As a speaker he was poised and polished, preferring to make his points through reason rather than emotion. As a parliamentarian he was peerless. The four Grand Lodge Conventions he chaired were long remembered as models of democratic trade unionism in action. While smoothly steering proceedings past pitfalls set up by union hall "lawyers" he would leave even those who opposed him feeling he had been completely fair.

Called to serve ever more frequently on various governmental boards and advisory commissions he developed many friendships among the nation's business and political leaders. Though he moved easily among the rich and powerful, Hayes never lost touch with the rank-and-file in his own union. Representatives of other unions were sometimes surprised by the ease with which he was approached and the informality with which he was treated by IAM staffers. On the whole the IAM members considered Al Hayes a very classy guy. And they were proud to have him at the head of their union.

Politically progressive and steeped in the tradition of old-fashioned Milwaukee socialism, Hayes nevertheless believed labor and management in America have more in common than contention, more on which to agree than disagree. His economic philosophy could be summed up simply and briefly: A nation's prosperity begins with its work force. Throughout his long career Al Hayes tried to persuade government and business that higher wages, being the essential spur to higher consumption and productivity, lead to greater prosperity for everyone. Having personally suffered the hardships of the disastrous shopmen's strike of 1922 he was convinced that unions should try to win higher wages and better working conditions through negotiations, not strikes. As a long-time member of the inner councils of the labor movement, first in the AFL and later the AFL-CIO, Hayes was dedicated both to greater unity within the labor movement and grater understanding between labor and management.

Return to the House of Labor

Throughout the period of the IAM's disaffiliation from the AFL, Machinist organizers more than held their own in recruiting new members and winning representation elections. An especially gratifying victory was scored in the Fall of '49 in an organizing drive directed by GVP Earl Melton, when several thousand machinists on the Pennsylvania Railroad voted for the IAM two to one over a contending CIO union. This recaptured the last of the units that were destroyed on the railroads in 1922. Equally encouraging was a hard-fought win at Republic Aviation on Long Island the following year. Republic was one of the last major holdouts against unionization in the air frame industry. A number of previous organizing attempts by the IAM as well as other unions had all failed. Altogether the IAM won 397 NLRB elections--an average of more than one a day--in Hayes' firs year as International President. Undoubtedly the sweetest victory was the stunning upset over the combined opposition of the company and the Teamsters at Boeing.

Despite this success in going it alone Hayes intended, from the minute he took office, to take the IAM back to its traditional home in the AFL. Like most craft trade unionists of his generation Hayes was emotionally attached to the memory of the incomparable Gompers. He had not only grown up in the House of Labor but, man and boy, had fought side by side with other AFL union against enemies ranging from the NAM and the NMTA to the IWW and the CIO.

With Harvey Brown gone and the Old Guard at the AFL passing from the scene the time was ripe for re-affiliation. Hayes was too cunning, however, to return without getting solid guarantees for the future. For months he played it cool in parleys and correspondence with Green.  At one point he bluntly made it clear that Green's radio speech in support for Teamster's scabbing in the Boeing strike had soured many IAM members. The anti-affiliation mood was especially strong in the Pacific Northwest. Hayes warned Green "Unless a way can be found to compose our differences within a reasonable time the passing years will make it more difficult to find a solution." He also assured Green that the IAM was not suing for peace because of any internal financial or membership problems but solely because of "a sincere desire to contribute to a united labor movement."

The IAM's bargaining position during these months of negotiation was strengthened by a series of favorable NLRB calls in cases involving jurisdictional disputes with the Carpenters. In Redondo Beach, California, for example, the Carpenters struck Westinghouse Electric to force replacement of IAM erection Machinists with Carpenter millwrights. In a precedent-setting decision the Board officially denied the Carpenter claim. This decision was soon followed by similar rulings--and back pay awards to IAM members--in cases ranging from Buffalo and Syracuse to Decatur, Portland and Fort Worth.

The IAM's success in enforcing its jurisdiction pushed the AFL toward significant concessions. In March 1950, Green agreed to withdraw a letter giving the Operating Engineers jurisdiction over certain work on ships which traditionally belonged to the IAM. He also agreed to notify the Building Trades Department, in writing, that it had no authority to render decisions in jurisdictional disputes affecting unions not affiliated with it. The Federation further agreed that the IAM could return without payment of back per capita.

With these and other favorable terms in hand, Hayes called the IAM's field staff of 484 GLR's, business reps and general chairmen to Chicago. He told them he would recommend that the members approve re-affiliation in a union-wide referendum. In December 1950, after five years as an independent, the members voted by a four to one margin to return to the AFL.

 


The IAM in the Korean Conflict,
Health and Welfare and Other Fringe Benefits,
Boomer Jones Sings a Song of Labor

 

History


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