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History

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

Radio and the Radical Right

In an open letter reminding members of the importance of registering and voting in the 1964 Presidential election Hayes noted the multiplication of "extremists, hate mongers and fascist elements trying to impose their ideas . . . on the American people". While every generation must fight to preserve freedom against extremists on both the right and left, Hayes was responding to an unusually strong surge by the radical right in the early '60's.

Parading under such names as the John Birch Society, Americans for Constitutional Action, Christian Crusade, Conservative Society of America and the Liberty Lobby, hate groups saturated the air waves with suspicion and fear. A former head of the USIA in the Eisenhower Administration, Arthur Larson, found that these and similar groups were bankrolling more than 700 regularly scheduled radio and television broadcasts each week. According to Larson they aimed to undermine democracy by convincing the American people that "four successive presidents were traitors, most of the judges on the highest court should be impeached and most of the major legislation by Congress is unconstitutional or socialistic, or both."

Seeking and antidote to this steady drumbeat of reaction from the far right, the Machinist staff developed a radio program, "The World of Labor," for sponsorship by local and district lodges. It was initiated in April 1964 and originally provided a weekly ten-minute look at the positive side of trade unionism. It featured stories of contracts negotiated and benefits won without strikes, told the human side of injustices corrected through the grievance procedure, described ways in which union projects contributed to public welfare, explained why most working families were supporting Medicare, provided a forum for friendly members of Congress and generally projected a positive, upbeat view of the IAM and the labor movement. Tapes were made available to local and district lodges for sponsorship in their home communities. Editor Gordon Cole suggested that scheduling "The World of Labor" on small independent stations during early morning drive times could limit costs to as little as $6.50 a week in Biloxi or $35.00 a week on Long Island. Within six months the program was sponsored by local and district lodges in forty-eight communities. Within a few months the format was changed, from ten minutes once a week to five minutes twice a week, to make "The World of Labor" acceptable to more stations. At the peak of the five years during which the program was produced before falling victim to hard times it was heard twice a week in seventy-five cities and towns from New York to California.

In Your Guts You Know He's Nuts

The Republican Convention that met in San Francisco's famed Cow Palace in July 1964, provided self-evident testimony to the strength and success of the ultra right wing in America. Although always frankly the party of big business, past GOP platforms usually made some small bow toward organized labor. The 1964 Platform Committee, tailored to the ideology of candidate Senator Barry Goldwater, ignored recommendations presented by Meany, Hayes and other union spokesmen. Goldwater could hardly be as kooky as some of this followers on the lunatic fringe. But the intensity of his opposition to unions was almost frightening. A millionaire department store owner from Phoenix, his political career was launched some years earlier when he agreed to head the merchants' section of a right-to-work campaign in Arizona. His biography, Conscience Of a Conservative, described labor's "enormous economic and political power . . . as the real evil in the labor field". Goldwater suggested remedies ranging from the compulsory open shop and prohibition of all union political action to state control of labor-management relations and outlawing industry-wide bargaining.

During his first two terms in the Senate Goldwater registered two right votes on sixty key issues selected by the IAM's Legislative Department as important to IAM members. He opposed Social Security as a form of welfarism, was against health care for the aged and consistently fought federal aid to education and national standards for unemployment insurance. When he condemned graduated income taxes a columnist asked if he thought it fair for someone making $5,000 a year to pay the same rate as someone earning $5 million a year. He responded "Yes I do."

He campaigned for the presidency under the slogan, "In your heart you know he's right." Machinists and other union members looked at some of his more bizarre proposals--to sell TVA for a dollar, to saw off the Eastern Seaboard, eliminate rural electrification and replace the Supreme Court--and in their guts they thought he was nuts.

All The Way With LBJ

The IAM's enthusiasm for Goldwater's opponent was heard in the explosion of cheers that rocked the hall when Lyndon B. Johnson strode into the 1964 Grand Lodge Convention at Miami Beach. The convention hotel, including the hall, was so heavily damaged by Hurricane Cleo two weeks earlier the Executive Council faced the possibility of postponement. But when city and state authorities learned the President was scheduled to speak at the Machinists' Convention, they scrambled to expedite the craftsmen and materials needed to put the Deauville Hotel and its convention hall back together in a hurry.

Johnson's appearance was a first for IAM Convention delegates. Many candidates had come in previous campaigns to present themselves and their programs at Grand Lodge Conventions, but LBJ's stop was the first by an occupant of the White House. With half the population of Southern Florida competing for tickets with spouses and guests of delegates, the convention hall had to be reset; delegate tables were moved out and 4,000 chairs moved in.

Preparations for the President's arrival began ten days earlier when an advance party, including a Secret Service detail, arrived to check security and communications. To insure that the President could be instantly reached by Washington in a national or international emergency, direct telephone lines to the White House were set up in the limousine he would be riding, in the Deauville lobby, just inside the convention door and on the podium. According to the Machinist, LBJ's entourage included

A press plane from Washington with . . . 60 reporters and photographers, and a total of 72 other writers and cameramen from Miami and other nearby Florida cities. A special platform was erected in the convention hall for 12 TV, newsreel and motion picture cameras that photographed the session. Sex bands played fro the President along the route. The crowds cheered. A block from the hotel the President stopped his car to walk the rest of the way and shake hands. The Deauville Hotel lobby was decorated with signs welcoming LBJ. The hall was packed with more than 4,000 people, many of them standing. A ten-piece band played "Hail to the Chief" as the President entered. It was completely drowned out as the delegates roared their greeting . . .
Johnson's remarks were anti-climatic, being mostly a rehash of past triumphs and a call for future progress. He spoke at length about the need for unity, peace and prosperity without once mentioning Viet Nam. But, as was true of Kennedy's speech at the 1960 Convention four years earlier, it really didn't matter what Johnson said. The delegates were with LBJ all the way, interrupting with applause thirty-two times--the loudest response greeting his call for Congress to provide hospital care for the aged under Social Security.

During the convention the delegates debated propositions to increase GLR and Executive Council salaries (the first in eight years), to increase per capita by 50 a month and, the old perennial, to elect GVP's by territory. Though the salary increases were approved by voice vote the propositions to increase per capita and elect GVP's by territory were both shot down by wide margins in roll call votes.

In other noteworthy actions the delegates changed the name to International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, abolished the requirement that one GVP be assigned solely to railroad matters and raised minimum monthly local lodge dues from $3.00 to $4.00. When these and all the other actions taken at the convention were submitted to a referendum of the entire membership in December, the proposed increases in salaries and per capita were voted down. 

14(b)--Part of the Way With LBJ

Union votes contributed mightily to Johnson's 61.1% share of the popular vote in the 1964 Presidential election. Analyzing the returns, MNPL Coordinator Jack O'Brien estimated that following organized labor's most successful registration drive, 79% of the union members who voted cast ballots for the Johnson-Humphrey ticket. Volunteer cash contributions to the MNPL were also the highest to this point. LBJ's coattails were wide enough to add between twenty and twenty-five liberal votes in the House* and two or three in the Senate.

*Including IAM member John Race, chairman of the bargaining and grievance committee of Local Lodge 1420 in Fond-du-Lac, Wisconsin.
Undiscouraged by memories of legislative failures after union votes elected Harry Truman in 1948, the labor movement looked forward confidently to enactment, finally, of Medicare, improvements in the wage-hour law, federal standards for unemployment insurance, creation of a poverty program and federal aid to education. Most of all organized labor set its sights on repeal of Section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act.

The battle for Medicare, which began with Truman in 1945, brought Johnson into direct confrontation with the mighty American Medical Association. The doctors' lobby had checkmated both Truman and Kennedy. In the battle with Johnson they spent $5,000 a day to keep 23 high-powered lobbyists on Capital Hill full time. Johnson, the master politician, not only knew how to twist arms, but which arms to twist. In a little more than six months he was able to got to Independence, Missouri, and lay a Medicare bill for the aged before Harry S Truman. By the time the first session of the 89th Congress adjourned, LBJ had pushed through most of the rest of his program including a stack of education, civil rights, jobs, and poverty bills.

The only bill Johnson did not push was the one organized labor considered most crucial: repeal of Section 14(b). In May, when Congress was already loaded down with the rest of the President's program, he briefly mentioned repeal of Section 14(b) in a message recommending amendment to the wage-hour law and unemployment insurance laws. In what seemed almost an afterthought he appended the "hope" that repeal of Section 14(b) would reduce "conflicts in our national labor policy that for several years have divided Americans in various states."

Secretary of Labor Willard Wirtz did better with a strong statement before the House Labor Subcommittee, calling right-to-work laws "a disruptive competition between the states carried on in the form of efforts to attract industry by representations of a political climate less conducive to unionism and union wages and working conditions." But that was almost the extent of the Administration's support. When the House voted 221-203 to repeal Section 14(b) that was as far as it got. In the Senate GOP Minority Leader Everett Dirksen marshaled a small band of Northern Republicans and Southern Democrats to filibuster the repealer to death. Dirksen was a small-town politician from down state Illinois who was known as "the Wizard of Ooze" for his oily manner and unctuous speaking voice. A majority of the Senate agreed with Tennessee's freshman Senator Ross Bass that "if you ride the buggy, you ought to feed the old mare" and were pledged to vote for repeal. But they never got the chance. With Dirksen calling the signals, the Old Guard-Dixiecrat minority was able to fight off cloture, a motion to end debate and bring the question to a vote.

In the post-mortem, friendly senators told union lobbyists that despite Dirksen's filibuster, 14(b) could have been repealed if LBJ had expressed serious interest in the legislation and if rank and file union members had shown more support through the mail. While John Birchers and other right wing groups generated stacks of mail in favor of compulsory open shop legislation, few workers bothered to write and tell senators how they felt about laws that protected free riders.


The Go-Go Years 1965~1969
Matt DeMore--Vesuvius from Cleveland
Roy Siemiller--Anything But An Old Shoe

 

History


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