From THE FIGHTING MACHINISTS, A CENTURY OF
by Robert G. Rodden
Back to the Barricades
With the labor movement reeling under daily attacks by the
McClellan Committee the National Right-to-Work Committee prepared to
launch its biggest offensive in January 1958. Fresh from success in
Indiana, right-to-work strategists apparently believed other
industrial states were ready for compulsory open shop legislation.
Right-to-work bills were introduced in two state
legislatures--Delaware and Kentucky--but the real push was made in
right-to-work referendums submitted to the voters in five states. Two
of these states, Idaho and Kansas, were logical targets, being
agricultural states in the Midwest where right-to-work usually
prevailed. But the other three, California, Ohio and Washington, were
traditional centers of union strength. If the National Right-to-Work
Committee could win in these states they could probably win anywhere.
At first blush the revival of the right-to-work campaign in
Washington seemed to defy logic. Only two years earlier, in the 1956
election, the labor movement buried Right-to-Work Initiative 198 by
more than two to one. But in 1956 Boeing was more or less
neutral. While some of the company's top people were known to favor
198, President William Allen did not lend Boeing enormous prestige to
the initiative. In 1958 he ordered foremen and supervisors to collect
signatures needed to put the issue on the ballot, contributed $35,000
to a "Minute Man" radio campaign and saturated the state
with company-sponsored newspaper, TV and radio advertising supporting
right to work. Allen's turnaround carried a lot of weight in
Washington. Another factor was the difference in the election itself.
Since 1958 was an off-year, the presidency was not at stake and fewer
voters were expected at the polls. One of the truisms of American
politics is the smaller the turnout, the more conservative the vote.
The Right-to-Work Committee was banking on a small vote.
In Ohio the Machinists' Council was tipped off early by a series
of ads in various campus newspapers around the state. The State
Right-to-Work Committee was offering $100 a week for "Neat,
personable college men to travel in small groups with
supervisor." More than 150 college students were hired at $18 a
day to collect the signatures needed to put a right-to-work
proposition on the ballot. The anti-labor forces had no trouble
raising money. Before the year was over the Ohio State Chamber of
Commerce spent more than $500,000 in an all-out push for a compulsory
open shop law.
In California the Los Angeles Times noted that the
supporters of the right-to-work proposition "were cloaked in
anonymity. The . . . birth place was a post office box from which it
finally emerged furtively." Though furtive the sponsors were well
supplied with cash. In the drive to get enough signatures to put the
question to the voters, solicitors were paid piece-work--40¢ a name.
A number of the paid solicitors were later arrested and charged with
The National Republican Policy Committee unveiled its campaign
strategy early in the year by releasing a 216-page election manual
titled "The Labor Bosses--America's Third Party." This
manual, a frank declaration of war on the American labor movement, was
sent to thousands of precinct workers throughout the country. Certain
in their belief that the McClellan hearings had soured the public on
all unions, Republican strategists counseled GOP candidates to aim
their campaign rhetoric at "big unions." A number of leading
politicians followed this advice into political oblivion.
In California the Democratic and Republican candidates for
governor were on opposite sides of the right-to-work issue. As
attorney general, the Democrat, Pat Brown, refused to okay the
"right-to-work" title in the California initiative. The
Republican candidate, William Knowland, was frankly anti-union. In
floor debates on Landrum-Griffin in the Senate he teamed up with Barry
Goldwater of Arizona to make the Senate version of the law as tough on
unions as possible. As minority leader in the Senate and publisher of
the Oakland Tribune, Knowland was a political powerhouse.
Winning the governorship of California in 1958 would make him a
serious candidate for the Republican presidential nominations in 1960.
In the anti-union climate created by the McClellan Committee, Knowland
planned to ride the right-to-work issue into the White House.
In Ohio, the Republican candidate, John Bricker, was a pompous,
Northern Senator Claghorn. In a classic study of postwar America,
Inside USA, author John Gunther wrote that intellectually Bricker was
". . . like interstellar space--a vast vacuum occasionally
crossed by homeless, wandering clichés." Nevertheless Bricker
was a three-term governor, had run as vice president on the Dewey
ticket in 1944 and was generally considered unbeatable in Ohio. He,
too, hitched this wagon to the right-to-work star.
As the campaign heated up on the West Coast the California
Conference adopted many of the techniques that proved successful in
Washington in 1956. IAM members festooned their cars with bumper
stickers urging voters to reject the right-to-work proposition. Signs
and billboards repeated the message along the highways.
Bit aerospace, automotive and air transport districts from San
Diego to San Francisco sponsored rallies and organized committees to
insure that every IAM member was registered to vote. Like the
Washington State Council of Machinists, the California Conference
published and distributed thousands of pamphlets exposing the
right-to-work fraud. GVP Roy Brown stumped the state, rallying union
members with stem-winding denunciations of the compulsory open shop.
In the midst of the right-to-work battle in California, three
members of Lodge 727E betrayed the obligation they took when they were
initiated into IAM membership by agreeing to serve as a dummy front
for the California Right-to-Work Committee. All three once served as
local lodge officers and district delegates but joined the
right-to-work cause when defeated for re-election.* Calling themselves
Union Volunteers for Voluntary Unionism the three clearly identified
themselves as IAM members and were highly visible mouthpieces for the
compulsory open shop over radio, TV and in the newspapers.
||*Proving that the
old-time financial pirate known a Jay Gould was not far off
the mark when he boasted that the could always hire half of
the working class to kill the other half.
Their lodge brought charges against them and they were expelled by
membership vote for conduct unbecoming a member. This did not affect
their employment or rights on the job and some old-time members recall
the company seemed to give them preferential treatment thereafter.
Nevertheless the press raged and Representative Phil Landrum of
Georgia blasted Hayes during a special hearing of the House Labor
Subcommittee for denying the right of union members to express views
in conflict with union policies. Carrying bitter memories of times
when unions were as directly threatened by saboteurs and spies
in the union hall as by club-carrying gorillas on the picket line,
Hayes bluntly told Landrum that while these right-to-work advocates
had a right to try to destroy the union, they did not have a right to
remain members while doing so.*
things the Landrum-Griffin Act severely limited a union's
right to determine its own membership. The courts eventually
overturned the lodge's order of expulsion.
In Ohio the labor movement carried out a record-breaking voter
registration drive throughout the state. More than 1,000 members and
their wives turned out in July for a meeting chaired by DBR Matt
DeMore of District 54 in Cleveland. Many of the wives were recruited
for a drive to get every IAM member registered and to the polls on
election day. Scores of volunteers checked the name of every union
member against voter lists in a monumental state-wide drive to
contact every union member at least once before registration closed.
Those not registered were immediately called and told where and when
registration was open. Rides were offered to anyone needing
transportation to register or get to the polls on election day.
Follow ups were made in person or by mail. As election day neared
union members handed grocers, clothiers, dry-cleaners and other
merchants a little printed message reminding them "this
purchase was made with union-negotiated dollars."
On election day the result was a catastrophe for Republicans
and the right-to-work advocates. The Machinist noted
"the Republican Party rode the anti-union issue to bitter
defeat." When the votes were counted Knowland's campaign for
governor in California lay in ashes along with his hope for a
presidential nomination. In Ohio the previously unbeatable Bricker
was buried under a blizzard of union votes.
Record numbers of voters turned out all over the country. They
rejected right-to-work by more than two to one in Ohio, almost tow
to one in California and Washington and three to two in Colorado.
Considered a sure winner in Idaho, political experts were
stunned when labor managed to defeat right-to-work by some 5,000
votes. The compulsory open shop forces salvaged a win in
predominately agricultural Kansas, but the Cleveland Plain Dealer
summed up labor's sweep nationwide with its post-mortem of the Ohio
results: "The voters rejected right-to-work by the biggest
margin ever recorded on any issue on the ballot in the state's
history, The results exceeded the wildest hopes of union
Though not directly on the ballot in Indiana in 1958,
right-to-work was the crucial issue for union members in the primary
and general elections. After the law was rushed through, in the
hysteria of the 1957 tragedy in Princeton, union activists wasted no
time in laying the groundwork for repeal. Every union began with its
own members. The IAM, UAW, Steelworkers, Teamsters, building trades,
CWA, Mine Workers and others coordinated a local-by-local,
shop-by-shop, door-to-door voter registration drive. Comparisons of
wages and working conditions between unionized and right-to-work
states were distributed to newspapers, ministers, high schools and
colleges. Union speakers fanned out, speaking to civic and social
action groups and demanding time on radio and TV Union leaders
screened political candidates for every elected office from
dog-catcher to Governor.
The 1958 election in Indiana was the kick-off for one of the
greatest political turnarounds of all time. The labor movement led a
record outpouring of union voters to the polls. By defeating
thirty-two of forty-six right-to-work supporters, union-endorsed
candidates became a majority in the lower House and narrowly missed
taking over the state Senate. Indiana's Congressional delegation,
which consisted of nine Republicans and two Democrats in 1956,
became nine Democrats and two Republicans in 1958. The
labor-supported mayor of Evansville, Vance Hartke, wiped out
Governor Handley in the race for the United Sates Senate. The
process begun in 1958 culminated with a clean sweep and repeal of
Indiana's compulsory open shop law in 1964.
The election of 1958 proved America was not ready for
legislated union-busting. Despite the corrupt creeps who crawled out
from under rocks turned over by the McClellan Committee, American
voters recognized the need for strong unions as a counterbalance to
Elmer E. Walker
Elmer Walker--The Bull of the Woods
After serving as GST for fifteen years Eric
Peterson retired at the constitutionally mandated age of sixty-five
in 1959. When Peterson was initiated almost fifty years earlier the
IAM was a secret order. Information about local lodge membership and
finances was not given out toe the government or anyone else. By the
time Peterson retired the records and internal operations of local
and international unions were open to annual inspection by a
multitude of federal and state agencies under Taft-Hartley, health
and welfare fund regulations and tax legislation. To help local
lodge financial officers shoulder the new burdens and
responsibilities imposed by law Peterson developed a Financial
Secretaries' Reference Manual and pioneered a union-wide
training program for the mostly unpaid financial officers who serve
voluntarily at the local level. These and other innovations were
continued and improved in later years.
Peterson's successor, Elmer Walker, was born in
Louisville, Kentucky in 1900, and began his machinist apprenticeship
with Swift and Company at age sixteen. After joining Local Lodge 121
in East St. Louis in 1918, Walker knocked around the Midwest as a
tool and die maker for the next twelve years. When the Depression
hit, he returned to East St. Louis and was soon elected president of
Lodge 121. As he sometimes proudly told friends in later years he
had nothing to offer the union in the beginning except two big fists
and a willingness to use them. Evidently that was enough to get him
elected as one of District 9's two business representatives in
February 1934. His first report to the Journal, six months
later, announced a union shop agreement with the General Fire Truck
In 1936 Walker made his mark as a member of the
Resolutions Committee at the Grand Lodge Convention in Milwaukee. A
few months after the convention, the Resolutions Committee
secretary, Pat King, submitted a light-hearted account of his
adventures as a delegate to the Journal.* He told how the
committee decided to let Walker handle the situation when one of its
recommendations was angrily denounced by a powerful business
representative. According to King "Our committee went into a
huddle and gave the ball to our star plunger, Walker, to crash the
line. Walker, who is about six foot three, and weighs around 235
pounds of solid bone and muscle, ran the ball in great style."
Later at the traditional banquet of the Mutual Alliance King himself
seated at a table with this same, still simmering business
representative. He recalled "I looked around for dependable
aid, if required. To my relief I saw Walker a few tables away
exhibiting bull doggedness, as though the would love to pin down
someone's ears just for the fun of it."
||*King was one of
many highly literate journeymen who periodically wrote for the
Journal. He later served for many years as a Grand Lodge
auditor. One of his most memorably poignant submissions
detailed his emotions during the long journey home to his wife
when he received new, while on assignment, that his soldier
son had bee killed in World War II.
After being appointed to the Grand Lodge staff in 1942, Walker
was elected GVP and was assigned to the Great Lakes territory in
1945. When Hayes became IP in 1949 he transferred Walker to Grand
Lodge to serve as resident GVP. Ten years lager, at age fifty-nine,
Walker became the IAM's fifth GST.
In contrast to the quiet and courtly Peterson, Walker was a
rumbling, limbering mass of crude energy. He was built like a bull
and at time literally snorted and pawed the ground like one. At a
time when few machinists would utter even such mild expletives as
"hell " or "damn" in front of "ladies"
his speech was liberally laced with obscenities and profanity. To
Walker this was "shop language." And if it offended
anyone, male or female, that was just too bad. He could be hard as
nails and, claiming the IAM staffers were on duty twenty-four hours
a day, was known to call an auditor, or even a district lodge
financial officer, at one or two o'clock in the morning. But he was
usually gentle in this dealings with rank-and-file members.
Elmer Walker viewed the IAM Constitution as a kind of holy
writ--the final word on any question of controversy--and he was
fanatic in his devotion to the letter of the law. To him the
"members' money" was a sacred trust. Despite his gruff
manner and profane shop talk most IAM members seemed to like him.
Tom many he typified the old fashioned "Fighting
Machinists". Though he served as GST for only six years, he
made a permanent contribution when he became the first chief
financial officer of any union to foresee the potential of data
processing. His willingness to invest in the latest technology gave
the IAM a head start in electronic record keeping. For some years
the IAM was the only labor organization with computer capability.
"Working Class Heroes" and "Disillusioned
Showdowns in St. Louis
Comments or Suggestions? E-mail the Communications Officer
of Siouxland Lodge 1426 IAMAW