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History

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

The Go-Go Years
1965~1969

In June, 1965, Hayes and Walker retired together with great fanfare amid flourishes of banquet oratory and showers of gifts. In retrospect the Hayes' years seem to have been a golden era for the IAM. Under his leadership the unions' prestige and influence reached a peak both in the AFL-CIO and in the halls of government. These were years of great progress for both the union and its members. Between 1949 and 1965 membership brew from 518,000 to 875,000, from 1,734 lodges to 1,942 lodges, from total assets of $6.5 million to $29.5 million. More importantly the percentage of members covered by pension plans rose from less than 5% to more than 50%, those with health and welfare coverage from 27% to 90%.

Of Elmer Walker it was said that while he had many disputes in his long career, non one ever questioned his honesty. Serving during years in which per capita remained constant while expenses rose steadily, he carefully guarded the IAM's resources. Members sometimes accused him of squeezing each nickel until the buffalo bellowed. When he took over the union's books in the summer of 1959, the strike fund was scrapping bottom with only $561,000 to serve a union of more than 800,000 members. With the fund reorganized and despite paying out some $15 million in benefits during his six years as GST, he left a $10 million reserve for his successor. Walker spent his retirement years at his home in Silver Spring, Maryland, occasionally releasing his pent-up energies in angry letters to editors and politicians. Finding little satisfaction in retirement he suffered a stroke and died shortly after attending the 1968 Grand Lodge Convention in Chicago.

Hayes, always as much at ease with himself as with others returned to his native Wisconsin where he savored retirement to the fullest, playing penny ante poker and fishing the Northern lakes into his early eighties.

Matt DeMore--Vesuvius from Cleveland


Matthew DeMore
1965-1969

Walker's successor, Matt DeMore, was a departure from Machinist tradition. All previous GST's, beginning with Dawley almost eighty years earlier, had embarked on formal apprenticeships, aiming fro journeyman machinist status, at an early age. DeMore's entry into the trade was indirect.

Born in Cleveland in 1903, Matt DeMore began peddling papers in a tough East Side neighborhood at the age of nine and was clerking in a hardware by the time he was eleven. After knocking around at various jobs including blacksmith helper on the Michigan Central Railroad in Detroit and motorman on a Cleveland streetcar line, he got his growing family through the Depression working as a maintenance machinist at a company that later became a division of General Electric.

In 1935, DeMore led his fellow workers into Local Lodge 439. He advanced rapidly, first to the presidency of the local in 1936 and to directing business representative of District 54 in 1938. Over the next twenty-three years DeMore built District 54 into one of the IAM's largest and most progressive units. In the early '40's he once had his skull cracked when mounted police charged an IAM picket line in a memorably bloody strike at the Pipe Machinery Co. Before being elected to the Executive Council in 1961, DeMore became well-known throughout the union as a member of the Law Committee at five consecutive Grand Lodge Conventions and a president of the Ohio State Council of Machinists. When he came on the council, Hayes assigned him to New York to head the Northeast Territory. When he was brought to Grand Lodge to serve as resident GVP many speculated that Hayes was grooming DeMore as his successor. If so, he failed to persuade the rest of the council to ignore the claim of Siemiller's long seniority. A number of other council members were in contention for the GST post but when the council finally reached agreement upon a slate for the 1965 balloting, Siemiller was at the top of the ticket with DeMore in the second spot.

Solidly muscular and compact in stature, DeMore was warm and amiable by nature but could erupt like a roaring volcano if provoked. he had a deep, rumbling, booming voice that could shake the walls and carry for blocks. Whether in a convention hall or at a bargaining table, Matt DeMore needed no electronic amplification to make his point.

About the time he took over as GST, the IAM's new electronic brain, the Univac III, was ready to become fully operational. DeMore made certain the new technology was put to maximum use, not only in keeping membership records and mailing lists, but in speeding the printing and mailing of strike benefits and providing swift retrieval of information on bargaining agreements covering workers in more than 15,000 work places.

Roy Siemiller--Anything But An Old Shoe

Until Roy Brown took himself out of the picture by crossing swords with the rest of the Executive Council at the 1960 Grand Lodge Convention, he seemed destined to follow Hayes as International President. Roy Siemiller admitted as much at a breakfast meeting with the Grand Lodge staff in Washington the morning after he took office. Despite speculation about DeMore and others, Siemiller's seniority on the Council and his successful seventeen years as head of the IAM's key Midwestern territory gave him the edge needed for Council endorsement when the chips were down. When elected he was unknown nationally and widely under-rated by the press. One magazine described him as, "a fairly unobtrusive, old-shoe choice for International President." Roy Siemiller quickly proved to be neither unobtrusive nor an old shoe. In a few short years he zoomed from relative obscurity to a national reputation as one of the labor movement's most militantly hard-nosed leaders, a figure one reporter described as "constantly snarled in controversy and apparently thriving on it."

Tall, lean and bald, Siemiller peered like a quizzical (or, when irritated, a querulous) hawk over glinting, rimless spectacles His conversation was salted with such homespun phrases as, "It don't make no nevermind," and "We busted them guidelines to smithereens."

Christened Paul LeRoy, Siemiller was born in September 1904 on a homestead close by the Platte River in central Nebraska. His father was a Civil War veteran who served at various times with the 4th Iowa Infantry and the 51st Missouri cavalry. While Roy was still a boy his father left the farm to an older brother an began an odyssey that took the family westward and eastward before finally settling down in Arkansas. Striking out on his own in the old-time "strive and succeed" tradition of a Horatio Alger hero, young Roy left school at an early age to become a Western Union messenger. Spotting an "Apprentice Wanted" sign in the window of a machine shop where he was about to make a delivery, he removed his Western Union cap, went in, fibbed about his age and talked himself into working nine hours a day at 11 an hour (with, as he later said, "no deducts"). After completing his apprenticeship and serving a hitch in the Navy, he went to work for the Rock Island Railroad in Herrington, Kansas. Though not yet an IAM member Siemiller joined the parade when union members marched out in the big shopmen's strike of 1922. With no other jobs in sight Siemiller bummed around as a farm hand before finding work as a machinist in Port Arthur, Texas. He was initiated into Local Lodge 823 in September 1929 just in time for his job to be wiped out by the stock market crash a couple of months later. Again taking to the road he eventually wandered into the Ozark town of Harrison, Arkansas, where he pounced upon a rare opening in the machine shop of the Missouri-Arkansas Railroad.

Having kept up his IAM membership Siemiller tried to find other IAM members. He learned that a few years earlier the only IAM local lodge in the area became defunct following a strike in which a mob of company-incited vigilantes hung the financial secretary from a railroad bridge.

With Roosevelt and the NRA creating a more favorable climate for unionism, Siemiller became the catalyst for a union revival in the Harrison shops. After organizing enough machinists to carter Lodge 1093 he was elected general chairman and negotiated the IAM's first contract with the Missouri-Arkansas line. When Siemiller began to help organize the other shop crafts, Wharton began hearing about the IAM's you live wire down in Arkansas. Deciding to check for himself, he arranged a fishing trip to the Ozarks where, after looking Siemiller over, Wharton hired him to help in the organizing drives that were beginning to gather steam in all directions. After a tryout as a temporary organizer Siemiller was given a permanent appointment to the GLR staff in 1937.

As International President, Siemiller immediately set out to lay the groundwork for a new referendum on the per capita and staff salary proposals that were shot down by the members following the 1964 Grand Lodge Convention. He began by going out to build support at the grass roots. Unconcerned by ceremony or such considerations as the dignity of his office, Siemiller reveled in the give and take camaraderie of the lodge hall. Meanwhile back at Grand Lodge, looser, less formal relations between the front office and the staff were signaled the day the new IP came to his des coatless, tieless and decked out in a steward's sport shirt, complete with full color Machinist emblems across both front and back.

In stumping for rank-and-file support for the per capita increase, Siemiller later recalled, "I didn't let my shirt tail hit my back till I covered all the U.S. and Canada like the morning dew." A reporter recording a characteristically rip-snorting Siemiller speech at a banquet of the Pennsylvania State Council of Machinists in Scranton, described Siemiller's itinerary: "After shaking hands and patting backs, he was off again, flying first to Chicago, then San Francisco, then back to IAM Headquarters in Washington."

Hitting the road time and again throughout the fall and winter, Siemiller sat in on local lodge meetings, talked to district lodge stewards and carried the gospel to every state council and regional conference in sight. In covering on of these meetings the Wall Street Journal described Siemiller as "an animated, colorful speaker who would make grammarians cringe but whose earthy, thigh-slapping humor and straight-forward, gutsy leadership appeals to his blue collar constituency." Siemiller was also described as being "as subtle as a bass drum, as diplomatic as a storm trooper, as meek as a monarch."

Seizing upon a spectacular new version of rock dancing, known as "go-go", that featured strobe lighting and non-stop, hip-swinging, disc-displacing gyrations, Siemiller set out to reshape "the good gray Machinist" (as LIFE magazine once called the IAM), into a "go-go" union. Soon, stewards and members everywhere sported the large, brightly colored buttons with the "go-go" logo emblazoned across the Machinists' traditional M. The "go-go" union theme was repeated over the next few years in buttons, organizing leaflets, Machinist editorials, posters, matchbook covers and dozens of other ways that would attract public attention.

In January, 1966, a little over a year after the members rejected convention-proposed increases in per capita and staff salaries, a far larger turnout responded to the IAM's new "go-go" image by reversing the results of the previous count, voting roughly 80,000 to 50,000 to raise monthly per capita 50 and give officers and staff their first salary increase in nine years.

 


The Big Airline Strike of '66
Bye-Bye Boulware
The Referendum to End Referendums

 

History


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