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History

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

"Working Class heroes" and "Disillusioned Liberals"

During the mid and late 1950's Local Lodge 113 in Chicago was the center of a controversy focusing on a union's right to protect itself against subversive infiltration. The episode is worth recounting in some detail because of the great stir it roused among media and institutional liberals, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Lodge 113, chartered in 1914, was one of the IAM's most proudly militant tool and die lodges. Its original headquarters at 113 South Ashland Street inadvertently served as the site of the founding of the Communist Party in the United States in 1919. This came about when the Socialist Party, holding an emergency convention in Lodge 113's Machinist Hall, barred a group of Soviet sympathizers led by a radical newspaperman named John Reed.* Reed's group took over another part of the building and proceeded to found what became the Soviet-sanctioned Communist Party in the United States.

*Reed later wrote a sympathetic history of the Russian Revolution called Ten Days that Shook the World. He is the only American buried in the Kremlin and was played by Warren Beatty in the 1981 film "Reds."
By the 1950's Lodge 113's 2,600 members turned out tools, dies, gauges, jigs, fixtures and precision instruments in more than one hundred job shops and captive tool rooms throughout the Chicago area. They were highly skilled craftsmen capable of machining to within 50 millionths of an inch, on fortieth of the thickness of a single human hair. They were among the best paid workers in American industry. Their skills were crucial to defense industries throughout the country. Thus, when the Korean War began, the Communist Party sent one of its top organizers from the West Coast to Chicago to infiltrate and disrupt Lodge 113. Obtaining employment in an IAM shop, he was initiated into membership and quietly began to form a cadre of supporters. Their excuse for disruption leading to a takeover was provided by a Grand Lodge audit which revealed that Lodge 113's business representatives had been grossly careless in handling lodge funds. Though failing to find intentional dishonestly, the auditor uncovered a number of financial irregularities and recommended that certain specified bookkeeping procedures be brought in line with Grand Lodge policy. He also suggested that if the officers do not follow through "the lodge [should] consider making some changes at your next election". Before that election could be held or corrective steps taken, Lodge 113's internal problems were broadcast to the world at large in a slickly produced, professionally written publication called The Tool and Die Makers Appeal. Over the next several months, succeeding issues continued to spread the lodge's dirty linen before employers and the public. The publication was far too skillfully edited and lavishly financed to be a rank and file effort. Only lager, much later, was it learned that the organizer sent by the Communist Party from the West Coast had a background which included experience as a professional journalist. Maintaining a steady drumbeat of charges against the BR's, the Appeal not only damaged the IAM's credibility in organizing but also in warding off employer-led decertification. Continued public airing of the lodge's problems also brought large turn-outs to monthly meetings. GLR's sent by GVP Siemiller to asses the situation reported that lodge meetings generally ended in chaos. Robert's Rules of Order were being twisted out of shape by a small but disciplined group drilled in classic Communist tactics. At a number of meetings parliamentary procedure gave way to shouting arguments and even fist fights. In the course of one heated exchange, and elderly member became so agitated he had a heart attack and dropped dead in the front row.

As the time for lodge elections neared, the BR's, realizing they were about as popular as skunks at a garden party, decided to cut and run. They resigned as a group, pausing just long enough to clean out the lodge files on their way out the door. The DBR, a former school teacher, who had come into the lodge while employed at a defense plant during the Second World War, showed his true colors by taking a job with the state director of personnel in a Republican administration--where he used his knowledge of labor relations to help break a strike by Illinois highway workers.

With the vacuum left by the hasty exit of the BR's all of the feuding factions in the lodge joined in petitioning Al Hayes to take Lodge 113 under "supervision, direction and control". Appointed to serve as administrator, GVP Siemiller assigned GLR's Joe Ramsey and Paul Burnsky to direct day to day operations.* Moving quickly to put the lodge back in order, Burnsky and Ramsey reduced dues, brought financial procedures into line with Grand Lodge practice, and began to revise the bylaws so that elections could be held for a new set of officers. Though monthly lodge meetings were temporarily suspended, the deputies continued to hold regular steward meetings and kept the members informed through frequent mailings. They also administered and enforced the lodge's contracts with employers.

*Ramsey was later elected the IAM's GVP for Transportation and Burnsky became President of the AFL-CIO's Metal Trades Department in 1971.
About this time certain left-wing journals began picking up on themes taken directly from the Tool and Die Makers Appeal. The problems in Lodge 113 were portrayed as a fight between a group of underdog "working class heroes" on one-hand and a stodgy, overbearing union bureaucracy on the other. In a rebuttal to such charges in one of the more esoteric publications catering to liberal "intellectuals", a group of five rank-and-file members of Lodge 113 attempted to set the record straight in a letter to the editor.
Have you ever come to a local meeting, hoping to transact business, and then see the meeting torn apart by the tactics of an organized minority? Have you witnessed the situation where every letter, bill, motion, recommendation of the officers was distorted and questioned until the meeting seemed like one long brawl? And then, after many members left in disgust, did the self-made "heroes" come up with motions which wouldn't have a chance in a vote of all the membership?

That's the story of what [these "heroes"] were doing to our union.

In accordance with long accepted trade union practice the new bylaws tried to guard against internal subversion by prohibiting members "from conveying unauthorized union information to the management of any shop or circulating printed material detrimental to the best interests of the IAM." These bylaws were ratified by majority vote, but two stewards who enjoyed the notoriety that came with being lionized as "working class heroes" continued to pepper the membership, the press and George Meany with petitions, resolutions and appeals. In a grandstanding bid for newspaper headlines these two "rank and filers" somehow raised enough money to finance a round trip flight to Puerto Rico where they demanded a meeting with Meany during AFL-CIO Executive Council sessions. 

In October, 1958 the two were elected to go to Peoria as members of 113's delegation to the special merger convention of the AFL and CIO in Illinois.  They asked for authority to submit a resolution censuring supervision as a "Gimmick . . . used by corrupt officialdom for the purpose of preventing an effective rank-and-file movement." Their motion was ruled out of order, but when they reached Peoria they immediately began to handbill delegates of other unions despite objections from the majority of their own delegation. Insisting on bringing their resolution to the floor, they were again ruled out of order on the ground that the merger convention, being set up for a special purpose, had no jurisdiction over internal disputes of affiliates.

That night they exchanged hot workers with other Lodge 113 delegates in a hotel barroom. This led to a scuffle involving a Special Representative named Ray Christoffel. According to eye witnesses, no one was bruised or shed blood or needed medical attention. But the next day one of the stewards, who had not been touched in the altercation stormed onto the convention floor to denounce "physical violence . . . perpetrated against myself and a fellow delegate." He called Christoffel a "slugger and thug on the payroll of Siemiller . . . who masquerades as an international representative."

Upon their return from Peoria the two were charged with violation of Article K of the IAM Constitution. In those pre-Landrum-Griffin days Article K prohibited IAM members from circulating false and malicious statements which reflected upon the conduct, attacked the character, impugned the motives and questioned the integrity of other IAM members and officers.* They were tried, convicted and expelled from membership. When Hayes upheld the penalty a firestorm of protest was set off among the sort of intellectuals and academics who get teary-eyed when they sing "I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night . . ." but who have little experience and less understanding of the hard realities of everyday unionism. From one end of the country to the other such "liberal" publications a The Progressive and The Reporter (now defunct) romanticized "self-educated radicals" and flayed Hayes as a hypocrite and tyrant. One writer sneered that Hayes, as chairman of the AFL-CIO's Ethical Practices Committee, was merely a "symbolic enemy of corruption."

*This charge was developed some fifty years earlier as a defense against IWW subversion.

According to Paul Burnsky, who was on the spot (in more ways than one) throughout the time of Lodge 113's troubles, the root of the problem was eventually uncovered with information provided by the FBI. The individual sent in by the party during the Korean War to disrupt defense industries (by creating chaos among a group of workers whose skills were essential to those industries) was expelled and the lodge could finally begin to recover from the wounds that had been inflicted from within. As soon as the lodge's finances were rebuilt and new officers and business representatives were chosen in a free election, Hayes lifted "suspension, direction and control" and he did so even without the forced coercion of a Landrum-Griffin Act.

Today, the Landrum-Griffin Act gives any member a license to harass elected officers and sabotage the union from within. But Hayes had lived through the atrocities that shocked the LaFollette Committee. He knew that in the unequal and never-ending struggle between labor and capital the survival of the group must sometimes take precedence over the rights of individuals. He believed that a democratic union, like a democratic nation, must be able to protect itself against internal spies and saboteurs. Intellectuals, academics and organizations such as the ACLU and the so-called Association for Union Democracy applauded when the Landrum-Griffin Act curtailed union rights. But the experience of America's unions since 1959 proves that Hayes was on target when he accused Landrum-Griffin backers of "attempting to encourage irresponsible minority dissent as a means of obstructing effective action on behalf of the majority."

Showdown in St. Louis

When Hayes succeeded Harvey Brown in 1949 his support on the Executive Council was by no means unanimous. All of the Council members had strong egos. Few found it hard to see themselves as IP. The most serious contender, other than Hayes, was the forty-three year-old GVP of the Southwest territory, Roy Brown (no relation to Harvey). He had first-rate credentials. Though younger than Hayes he had seniority on the Council. After he became a GVP, membership in the Southwest territory grew rapidly. Though largely due to the explosive growth of the air frame industry in California during the war, Roy Brown could justifiably claim credit for the dynamic organization the IAM became in his territory. Over the years he assembled an exceptional corps of tough, smart GLR's who were fiercely loyal to him. At the 1948 Grand Lodge Convention in Grand Rapids they tried to start an undercover groundswell of support for a "Roy Brown For IP" movement at a caucus called for delegates from the Southwest and Northwest territories. But when noses were counted on the Council Hayes got the nod. Some of the older GVP's may have felt that Brown, at forty-three, was too young. Or he may have been passed over because he was not a railroader. By 1949 railroaders were a fading minority of the total membership but still held a firm grip on the Executive Council.

Through out the 1950's Roy Brown's territory continued to grow and prosper as workers from other parts of the country streamed to California's burgeoning industries. In directing operations in the Southwest territory, Brown became increasingly restive and resentful of Grand Lodge. He flaunted his defiance by ignoring convention resolutions directing GVP's to name education representatives. In fact he barred the Grand Lodge education department from his territory. At staff meetings and state Councils he did not bother to disguise his disapproval and disdain for Hayes' service as Chairman of the AFL-CIO's Ethical Practices Committee. Having worked closely with the Teamsters from his early years as a business rep for a lodge of auto mechanics Brown was disgusted that Hayes had played a key role in their expulsion. He admired and emulated the IBT's brand of brass-knuckles unionism. A number of his GLR's packed pistols and were proud to be know as Roy Brown's "muscle."

At the 1960 Convention in St. Louis the schism between Brown and the rest of the Council became apparent in a number of reports and recommendations submitted and pressed by delegates closely identified and allied with him. Many of the delegates were oblivious to maneuvering on and off the floor aimed at curtailing the IP's power and authority. But discussion and debate on a number of committee reports alerted more experienced and sophisticated delegates to Brown's challenge.

The attack opened during debate on a case before the Appeals and Grievances Committee growing out of the tangled financial affairs of District 727 in California. The DBR, John Snider, one of Hayes' staunchest allies, had been accused by a disgruntled and defeated challenger, Joseph Addison, of embezzling district lodge funds. Following an exhaustive audit Snider was cleared of criminal conduct, but Hayes had ordered him to repay certain funds for which he could not account. This did not satisfy Addison. After losing heavily in an attempt to unseat Snider he kept up a campaign of harassment which culminated in a trial and his expulsion from membership. When a majority of the Appeals and Grievances Committee upheld Addison's expulsion at the St. Louis Convention, the two members representing Brown's territory on the committee filed a dissent. This set off a lengthy debate in which a number of delegates from California raised questions about the worked that Addison's charges and Snider's handling of District 727's finances had been fully investigated over a period of two and a half years, not only internally by Grand Lodge auditors and two special trial committees, but by investigators from the Labor Department (under the recently enacted Landrum-Griffin law) and even the FBI. With this assurance the convention affirmed the report of the Appeals and Grievances Committee.

The second attack came when the Automotive Committee reported on a resolution from a group of California lodges censuring Hayes and other Executive Council members for terminating IAM agreements with the Teamsters.* The wording seemed deliberately insulting, accusing the Council of "glossing over factual considerations" and sneering that their decisions "are renown for scarcity of information and facts." Though the resolution was easily defeated after Hayes and Walker explained actions taken toward the IBT, it was plainly calculated to sabotage Hayes' leadership.

*As was required of all affiliates when the Teamsters were expelled from the AFL-CIO.
The third and most direct assault came in a proposal before the Law Committee to elect GVP's by territory. This issue rises regularly at Grand Lodge Conventions, usually being introduced and argued by Canadian lodges. In St. Louis the push for territorial election came as much from California as from Canada. While Canadian advocacy of territorial election reflects a spirit of nationalism, West Coast supporters in 1960 were obviously seeking to limit one of the main sources of the IP's authority, i.e., the power to define and assign territories.

Hayes and the rest of the Executive Council knew that so much support for such a radical change in the IAM's structure could not come from Brown's territory without active connivance on his part. His motive, like his maneuvering, was clear. Brown had a large and loyal following in his own backyard. If the convention could be persuaded to adopt territorial election. Brown would be free to run his territory as Teamster chieftains ran theirs, without restraint from the national body. After lengthy debate, the delegates in St. Louis, as at other conventions before an since, recognized that territorial election of GVP's would fracture the IAM, turning it into a loose federation of independent baronies incapable of coordination and cooperation on a nation scale. They rejected it without a roll call.

In deflating Brown's challenges Hayes presided calmly, impartially and fairly, emerging with even more stature in the eyes of the average delegate. While many were unaware of the power struggle taking place on the convention floor, Hayes and the rest of the Council prepared for the day of reckoning.

A different kind of showdown at the St. Louis Convention matched campaign speeches by the two major presidential candidates, John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon. By 1960 greetings or appearances by Democratic candidates at Grand Lodge Conventions were almost routine. But this was the first personal visit by a Republican candidate and was totally unexpected. While both candidates were issued invitations Nixon's had been sent merely as a token of the IAM's traditional "non-partisan" political stance.

When Kennedy and a large entourage of radio, television and newspaper reporters swept into the convention hall, it was packed the rafters. In addition to 1,500 delegates on the convention floor, at least 10,000 screaming St. Louis area Democrats filled every seat in the galleries of cavernous Kiel Auditorium. Kennedy's speech was brief--less than fifteen minutes-- and brisk. In his clipped, aristocratic Boston accent he raced through the text of the standard speech he would repeat often before the campaign was over. But what he said didn't really matter. The delegates were clearly with him all the way. As he finished they swarmed into the aisles, surged toward the podium and for the next 15 minutes paraded with banners, chanting "We want Jack."

When an army of reporters escorted Nixon and his party into the auditorium the next morning it was again filled to overflowing. This time the balconies were jammed to bursting with cheering Republicans. Before adjourning on the previous day Hayes briefed the delegates, reminding them Nixon had been invited and was entitled to respect and courtesy as a guest of the Machinists Union. The general feeling was probably best summed up by one grizzled old machinist who was heard to say "Al can make me listen, But I'll be damned if he can make me clap for that sonofabitch."

Unlike Kennedy, Nixon spoke informally off-the-cuff, developing his themes directly from the IAM slogans--Justice on the Job, Service to the Community, Security for the Family--emblazoned on banners spread around the hall. He was relaxed and ingratiating but displayed his essential phoniness when he tried to milk sympathy from the audience by describing poverty in his youth in terms of not being able to afford strawberries out of season and having to substitute hamburger for steak. Many of the delegates thought this conception of poverty, which most would have considered affluence in the Depression, was funny rather than sad. While they sat politely through his forty-five minute discourse there was never the slightest doubt that Kennedy would get their endorsement. Over the years many Democratic presidential candidates have spoken before IAM delegates, but Nixon was the first and only Republican presidential nominee to ever address a Grand Lodge Convention.

 


Freezing the Death Benefits
Roy Brown vs. Elmer Walker
Clouds Over Camelot

 

History


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