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History

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

Hands Across the Sea

As noted earlier the IAM became an "International" with the chartering of Local Lodge 103 in Stratford, Ontario in 1890. In the early years the organization also had several locals of machinists working on the Mexican railroads and at one time the president of Mexico held IAM membership. As also noted Journal editor Hewitt and Canadian GVP McClelland sailed to England in 1919 to persuade the Amalgamated Society of Engineers (ASE) to relinquish their "branches" in the U.S. and Canada.

Prior to World War II, however, the IAM's contacts with labor movements in other parts of the world were scanty and intermittent. Although metalworking unions from Britain, France, Germany and other major industrial nations in Europe set up and International Metalworkers Federation in the 1890's, the IAM turned down early invitations to affiliate. From Talbot to O'Connell the leadership rejected such a link with foreign labor because of the strong Socialist leanings of European unions. By 1915, however, the IAM had a Socialist IP who appreciated the value of ties with foreign workers. By forging connections with European metalworking unions, William Johnston hoped to make the IAM the union of choice for machinists immigrating from Europe. Moreover, through such links the IAM could warn European workers against recruiters seeking strikebreakers to work in the United States. With IMF membership, the IAM could also push the sale of union-made tools to European craftsmen. And, finally, IMP affiliation would validate the IAM's jurisdictional claims in the United States against such European-based metalworking unions as the British Amalgamated Society of Engineers.

The IAM's early affiliation with the IMF was barely established before it was ruptured by the First World War. After the war it was resumed at the direction of delegates to the 1920 Convention in Rochester. Due to the sharp drop in membership following the 1922 railway shop strike the IAM could not afford to send delegates to IMF meetings in the 1920's. However, Johnston met with IMF officers during his aborted mission to Moscow. And the IAM remained affiliated until the Depression forced a lapse in per capita payments in the early 1930's. Even without formal ties Wharton kept in touch with IMF Secretary Konrad Ilg, continuing to send reports on the economic situation in the United States, receiving in return first hand information on the plight of unions under Nazism in Germany and Fascism in Italy.

At the end of World War II Europe's industries lay in ruins. Many leaders of pre-war unions either died or barely survived in Nazi concentration camps. But even as Allied troops swept into Berlin, representatives of American labor were meeting with European workers on the waterfront, in the streets and around what was left of the factories of Europe. As the Marshall Plan took shape and Europe's economy gained momentum, American labor moved to revive the European trade union movement.

While Harvey Brown's vision centered mainly on bread and butter issues at home he recognized that without money and support from American labor, unions struggling to survive in post-war Europe would be destroyed by Soviet-backed subversion. Together with others on the Executive Council Brown also foresaw that as American industry became more international, the wages and working condition of American labor would be increasingly affected by those of foreign workers. Though still outside the AFL, Harvey asked Irving Brown, the head of AFL operations in Europe, to represent the IAM as well as the Federation in dealings with European labor. Irving Brown, in fact, later became a member of the IAM.

The first serious effort to reestablish ties between the labor movements of various countries grew out of a wartime alliance between British labor and Soviet "unions." An organization known as the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) came into being in Paris in October, 1945.* The WFTU attracted a broad membership worldwide, including the CIO in the United States. The most notable holdout was the AFL. George Meany, then Secretary-Treasurer of he AFL, went before the Trades Union Congress of Great Britain and bluntly told them the AFL would not associate itself with the WFTU because, "We do not . . . concede that the Russian workers groups are trade unions. The Soviet worker groups are . . . actually instruments of the state." Meany was roundly booed and jeered but stood his ground. His position was later vindicated when the WFTU tried to sabotage the Marshall Plan to rebuild the devastated nations of Western Europe, clearly revealing Soviet domination of the WFTU. Most British unions and nearly every other noncommunist labor group in the WFTU eventually withdrew. Many of these disillusioned trade unions, including the CIO, then joined with the AFL in setting up the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU).

*This was the organization that Robert Schrank supported, and the Executive Council opposed, at the 1945 Grand Lodge Convention.
By the 1950's the IAM not only reestablished its tie to the IMF, but also affiliated with the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF). The growing importance of these international links demanded more than part-time, hit-or-miss attention. In April 1951 Al Hayes appointed GLR Rudy Faupl as the IAM's first full-time international representative. Born of German stock in Hungary, Faupl came to the United States as a youth and mastered his machinists skills in Milwaukee. Before his appointment to the IAM's Grand Lodge staff he was an AFL organizer in Wisconsin. Though his roots were solidly in the working class, Faupl was a sophisticated cosmopolite who spoke several languages fluently. Over the next twenty-one years he became one of the most widely-traveled, well-known and deeply respected trade unionists in the world. While serving as the IAM's delegate to two decades of IMF and ITF Conventions, he also served as the United States worker delegate to the International Labor Organization (ILO) from his homeland (and other Eastern European countries) by Soviet rule he was inflexible in his loathing for Communism. Unfailingly courteous in human relationships, Faupl was considered a personal friend by thousands of trade unionists world-wide.

Moving Toward the Merger

In the course of steering the IAM back into its traditional affiliation with the AFL, Al Hayes also eased friction between the IAM and other unions. almost as soon as he became IP, Hayes let UAW President Walter Reuther know that he would welcome a no-raiding agreement to end the long and costly organizing battles between the two unions. At one point hardly a week went by without a raid by one union against the other. The years of ugly fights on the organizing front were punctuated with personal animosity. IAM staffers dubbed UAW organizers as "CIO-ski's"--inferring a UAW communist link. IAM records do not reveal what UAW staffers called IAM organizers, but it was probably unprintable. Inevitably, organizing campaigns sank to levels of mudslinging that discredited both sides.

Hayes realized that raiding was self-defeating. As he later told an audience of academic economists he was appalled when he realized the enormity of the damage the labor movement was inflicting on itself. One study showed that over a three-year period AFL unions tried to raid 791 CIO units while the CIO attempted to displace the AFL  in 936 shops. After the two sides spent almost $11.5 million smearing one another, 44,000 CIO members switched to AFL unions and 40,000 AFL members went to CIO unions. And, when the smoke cleared, it was found the labor movement suffered a net loss. No less than 4,000 former union members ended up in shops in which the majority chose no union.

In addition to recognizing the futility of raiding, Hayes wanted closer ties with the UAW because he personally admired Walter Reuther and shared Reuther's concept of trade unionism as a dynamic social force. The two got along well while serving on a number of blue ribbon panels, including President Truman' Commission on the Health Needs of the Nation.*

*This produced one of the first comprehensive studies proving the inadequacy of private health insurance.
Within six months after Hayes became IP and almost a year before he led the IAM back into the AFL, he and Reuther signed an historic agreement not to raid shops where the other had a bargaining relationship. They further agreed that in contesting for unorganized plants, their organizers would "conduct themselves in a manner that built trade union loyalty . . . and not seek  advantage by tactics detrimental to the labor movement."

When CIO President Phil Murray wrote to a number of top AFL leaders appealing for greater unity, Hayes warmly assured Murray the IAM was ready to sit down at any time to discuss ways and means. While nothing seems to have come from this exchange, Hayes worked quietly and steadily over the next few years to improve the IAM's relationships with other unions. In June, 1953 the no-raid pact with the UAW was strengthened by agreement to exchange information on contracts and wage rates where the two unions bargained for employees at different plants of the same company. Hayes and Reuther also took the first steps toward coordinating bargaining in the aircraft industry. In September, 1953 top brass and negotiators from both unions met to plan strategy for upcoming contract talks at United Aircraft in Connecticut.

In September, 1954 the IAM and the Carpenters signed a peace pact finally ending the oldest and stormiest jurisdictional dispute in American labor history. The agreement set up a procedure for arbitrating future conflicts over job rights. By the time the AFL and the CIO finally merged, in December, 1955, the IAM had not only signed no-raid agreements with the UAW and the Carpenters but also with the Plumbers, Printing Pressmen and the Teamsters. In working out these agreements, Hayes displayed the same firmness and tact that characterized his relationships in his own union. He built a network of friendships as well as great respect throughout the labor movement. While Harvey Brown had cared little for what other unions or the public thought of the IAM, Hayes was zealous in his concern for the Machinists Union's reputation for integrity and his own image as its top officer. Without seeking personal publicity--in fact tending to shy away from it--he enjoyed the trust of labor and management alike.

Long before the AFL-CIO merger was achieved both sides were more than ready to unite. The problem was personality, not principle. It was generally felt in labor circles that while Bill Green headed the AFL and Phil Murray led the CIO, it was impossible to get beyond the discussion stage. Green seemed to think the CIO unions "should return to their room in the Hose of Labor" like naughty runaways. Murray  felt the old craft unions that dominated the AFL were waiting to swallow the CIO.

This impasse was finally broken late in 1952 when Murray and Green died within a couple of weeks of one another. George Meany, who had been AFL secretary-treasurer for some years, was Green's unquestioned successor. The Machinist described the new AFL President as "A plain-talking, heavy-set man with a powerful constitution." Accurately capturing the essence of Meany, editor Gordon Cole said "He doesn't believe in wasting time by speaking in vague terms. He wants people to know what he means. So he speaks very plainly, very frankly."

In the CIO Murray's death touched off a power struggle between Reuther and the Steelworker's prima donna President, David McDonald. When Reuther beat out Allen Haywood, a CIO vice-president backed by McDonald and his Steelworkers (by a surprisingly narrow margin), McDonald made it plain he despised Reuther and was considering taking his union out of the CIO. The possibility increased pressure for the merger. Within weeks serious unity talks were underway and the two sides made a start toward formal merger with a no-raid pact modeled on that between the IAM and the UAW.

As the AFL and the CIO began to move closer, Bill Hutcheson of the Carpenters tried to bully George Meany as he had Bill Green in the past. At a meeting of the AFL Executive Council he made a motion to suspend further negotiations with the CIO until all jurisdictional problems were worked out--which would have been never. Hutcheson got one vote, his own. That afternoon his son, Maurice, sent word the Carpenters were withdrawing from the Federation. Without hesitation Meany snapped up the withdrawal and promptly  named a replacement for Hutcheson and the Council. The Hutcheson's were stunned. "Big Bill", as he liked to be called, had always been able to throw his weight around in the AFL. But he was no longer dealing with Bill Green. Within days his bluff began to backfire as Carpenter locals all over the country wired AFL headquarters for federal charters. The Kentucky State Carpenters, meeting at the time, voted to leave their international and affiliated directly with the Federation. Within a week Maurice asked Meany for re-admittance. 

By June 1954 The Machinist reported that ninety-four unions were on record as signing the no-raid agreement. Excerpts of many letters written to Grand Lodge by rank-and-file members reflected a widespread sense of relief and enthusiasm for the merger. Conventions of both organizations formally ratified the new AFL-CIO in December 1955. When AFL-CIO council committee assignments followed, the IAM's Al Hayes was named chairman of the new Federation's Ethical Practices Committee.


The Expanding Role of Women,
The IAM and the Breakup of the UE,
Eight Millionaires and a Plumber

 

History


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