From THE FIGHTING MACHINISTS, A CENTURY OF
by Robert G. Rodden
"Mediation to Finality" on the Railroads
"These are journeymen," Roy Siemiller told a group of
Washington reporters in January 1967, "They must be paid
journeymen wages." In an impromptu press conference he was
explaining why Machinists, along with five other shop craft unions,
were getting ready for the first nation-wide strike on the railroads
in forty-five years. The after effects of that earlier walkout were
still reflected in the substandard wages still being paid skilled
craft workers in railroad roundhouses and repair shops throughout the
When negotiations began, in April 1966, railroad machinists
received $3.04 an hour--$1.82 less than construction machinists, 84¢
behind airline mechanics and from 50 to 96¢ an hour below most
manufacturing. With the railroads fattening their profits hauling
freight headed for Vietnam, the workers asked for increments totaling
20% over three years. The carriers countered with a lone, one-time 5%
wage increase. After six months of negotiations, bargaining reached an
impasse. In most other industries the workers would have been free to
strike but under the Railway Labor Act the shopmen had to wait until a
special board appointed by the President issued a report and made
recommendations. It added a few minor sweeteners, but basically went
along with the carriers' 5% offer. While acknowledging that wage
compression had created inequitable differentials between skilled and
unskilled classifications, the board offered no solution beyond
"speeding job evaluation to rationalize wage structures."
The shopmen set a strike date and began packing their tool boxes. As
in the airline industry negotiations a year earlier, Senator Wayne
Morse led the fight against the workers' right to strike. He informed
the Senate, "We cannot tolerated a shutdown of the railroads of
this country for 48 hours, in this time of crisis, to say nothing of a
As the White House began whipping up semi-hysteria with
statements suggesting that a nation-wide railroad strike "would
sell out our boys in Vietnam and bring the economy to its knees",
only one Senator and eight Congressmen had the courage to vote against
a joint resolution to extend the Railway Labor Act's ban on strikes.
During this extension the parties met daily, often twice a day but,
even with the Secretary of Labor and the Secretary of Transportation
sitting in, the carriers would not budge beyond a general wage
increase of 6%. As a new strike deadline approached, the President
called for another joint resolution extending the no-strike,
no-lockout bar for still another ninety days. Senator Morse introduced
a bill proposing that if the parties could not reach agreement within
ninety days a five member board would file determinations to take
effect for two years or until the parties reached agreement. Morse
called this "mediation to finality." When Siemiller heard
this description he snorted, "Hell, that's a violation of
truth-in-packaging. You can call compulsory arbitration mediation to
finality, but it's still compulsory arbitration."
Testifying before a Senate Labor Subcommittee, the president of
the Railway Employee's Department warned the proposal being pushed by
Morse and the White House would increase the profits of private
railroad corporations while robbing workers of their right to strike.
He noted that the proposed legislation
||Imposes no penalty of any kind
on corporations that have refused for nearly a year to . . .
seriously try to settle this dispute. They have been trying to
goad us into a strike and goad [Congress] into a law taking
away our right to strike.
When the debate reached the Senate floor, Senator Ralph
Yarborough of Texas argued that while Johnson' "mediation to
finality" limited the "right of workers to strike, it does
nothing to limit management's quest for greater profits."
Rejecting the argument that the war in Vietnam crated a crisis,
Yarborough asked, "If the national interest is to supersede
labor's right to strike, should not the national interest impose
some burdens on railroad management?"
According the LIFE magazine, Siemiller triggered
passage o the Morse bill in the House by giving, "If not a
strike call, at least a wink and a nod to some 25,000 railroad
Machinists, who hadn't had a strike since 1922." As IAM members
surged out of the shops, the other crafts scrambled out with them.
For forty-eight hours, just long enough for the House to rush the
Morse bill to Johnson's desk, 137,000 shop craft workers from six
unions walked picket lines outside the nation's railroad yards.
Chiefs of some of the other railroad unions were livid. A vice
president of the Sheet Metal Workers blamed the swift enactment of
compulsory arbitration legislation on Siemiller's
"bullheadedness, egotism and lack of judgment."
Characterizing the Morse bill as "The Strikebreaking Act of
1967," Siemiller snapped back by characterizing some of the
other railroad union chiefs a "gutless wonders."
In a report reviewing the situation, the Washington Post
contended that the biggest casualty was collective bargaining. The Post
pointed out that while many were pinning responsibility for the
Morse bill on the IAM's forty-eight hour walkout, "others blame
the equally hard line of the chief management negotiator and the
carriers unabashed campaign for a government-dictated
settlement." Moreover, the Post said, by making it clear
the White House would not tolerated a strike Johnson "played
directly into the hands of the carriers, which had been lobbying
assiduously for a compulsory arbitration law."
In the end railroad industry bosses had a reason to regret
their pressure for a government-dictated settlement. Investigations
conducted by the special board, headed by the same Senator Morse who
had conceived "mediation to finality", found that railroad
shopmen were far from parity with similar skills in other
industries. According to the Machinist the special boards'
determination left industry chiefs "shocked, stunned,
embarrassed an confused." Their award raised machinist' wages
55¢ an hour, to $3.60, 32¢ above the carriers last offer.
Having demanded government intervention, railroad management
could do little except mutter "We wuz robbed" when they
saw the award. Though pleasantly surprised by the outcome Siemiller
could forgive neither Morse's intervention in the 1967 railroad
negotiations nor his opposition in the 1966 airline strike. When
Morse campaigned for his fourth term the following year, he did so
without the support which had always been automatic and enthusiastic
from Oregon machinists. In the primary, Morse defeated the
MNPL-backed challenger but could not heal the wounds that were left
before going down in the general election.
The Millionth Member
In Southeast Asia, Lyndon B. Johnson was steadily raising the
ante on America's involvement in Vietnam. That involvement, which
began with aid given the French colonial forces by the Truman
Administration following World War II, was increased during the
Eisenhower years and was further expanded by Kennedy. But the
build-up entered a new dimension in March 1965 when Johnson
authorized the first U.S. ground troops, a contingent of 3,500
Marines. By the end of 1966, 375,000 American troops were in
Vietnam, by January 1968, 525,000. As the fighting dragged on longer
than World War II or Korea, Americans became increasingly divided.
On one side were peace marchers who expressed revulsion of
"search and destroy missions" and daily body counts in
chants of "Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill
today?" Just as many, if not more, proudly adorned their car
bumpers with such flag-waving slogans as "America--Love It Or
Leave It" and "No Glory Like 'Old Glory'."
When billions of dollars worth of new Pentagon procurement
were piled on production needed for NASA's projected Apollo 11 space
shot, factory orders and employment surged. As unemployment fell to
post World War II lows, recent workers fears of automation and union
concern about overseas export of jobs quickly evaporated. Rising
consumer debt--up 133% between 1956 and 1967--when added to these
other inflationary pressures, eroded the purchasing power of working
families. While it became increasingly difficult for skilled workers
to subsist on wages ranging from $3.50 to $4.50 an hour* corporate
profits were reflected in such extravaganzas as the Houston
Astrodome--where private boxes rented from $15,00 to $34,000 a year
and spectators bored with the gladiators below could retire to
secluded suites complete with wet bars and color TV.
||*In 1967 the
federal minimum wage was $1.40 an hour.
With labor in short supply more workers turned to unions to try
to keep up with the cost of living. George Meany's report to the
AFL-CIO's 12th Annual Convention in November 1967 showed a
million-and-a-half membership increase since 1965. Moreover, as the
Machinist exulted in a front page story, Meany's report
"disclosed that the IAM scored the greatest increase in
membership of any national or international union during the past
two years." Two months later GST Matt DeMore reported that net
growth of 174,312 since June 1965 had finally put the IAM over the
million member goal that eluded Harvey Brown in the 1940's and Al
Hayes in the 1950's. Total membership, including retired, striking
and unemployed members, showed 951,269 members in the United States
and 51,310 in Canada. A check of the computer revealed the one
millionth member to be Tim Braunstein, a twenty-four year old
assembler at Pratt and Whitney. Braunstein joined Local Lodge 1746
in East Hartford shortly after completing a six-year hitch in the
Navy. He signed up during an intensive company-wide organizing
campaign conducted by an elite corps of stewards know as the
"Green Berets"** set up by GLR, later GVP, Justin Ostro.
||**This was a
takeoff on a much publicized special forces fighting unit in
Vietnam glamorized by Hollywood star John Wayne in a movie
called "The Green Berets."
To commemorated this milestone Siemiller had Braunstein flown to
Washington where he was introduced to such dignitaries as AFL-CIO
President George Meany and Secretary of Labor Willard Wirtz.
Braunstein was also wined and dined as the guest of honor at a
sumptuous "One Million Strong" banquet at one of
Washington's toniest hotels.
About the same time that Braunstein was being feted as a
visible symbol of the progress the IAM had made in its first eighty
years, some 60,000 Viet Cong troops were celebrating Tet--the Asian
Lunar New Year--by overrunning police stations, military, bases,
government building, radio stations, power plants, embassies,
including the U.S. Mission in Saigon, and other key points in 100
This marked the beginning of the end in Vietnam. Realizing
that even America's enormous power could not prop up a regime
lacking the support of its own people, Lyndon Johnson overruled his
generals and began the long, slow and painful process of
disengagement. Total IAM membership hovered above the million mark
for the next thirty-three months. However, the proportion of dues
payers to retirees, striking members and unemployed members began to
fall steadily in the late '60's when America's involvement in
Vietnam and commitment to the space program were simultaneously
Chicago--Turmoil and Tear Gas
When delegates to the 1968 Grand Lodge Convention converged on
Chicago, the headquarters hotel, the Conrad Hilton, reeked with the
lingering stench of tear gas and stink bombs. Along with fresh
bloodstains on the plush carpeting in the lobby, the putrid odors
were reminders of running battles the week before between police and
demonstrators protesting the war in Vietnam. Thousands of young
people had come to Chicago to disrupt the Democratic Convention.
Week-long skirmishes recorded by television climaxed in a
battle between police and young people in Grant Park that spilled
over into the hotel. The blood of a number of
"Clean-For-Gene" young people working for the nomination
of peace candidate, Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota, still
stained carpeting in the lobby.
Few of the IAM delegates arriving at the scene felt any
sympathy for the demonstrators who were clubbed by the police in
full view of millions of television spectators. Those who fought in
World War II or the Korean conflict or had sons fighting in Vietnam
were infuriated by the sight of unkempt "hippies and
yippies" desecrating the American Flag.* In his opening speech
Roy Siemiller undoubtedly spoke for most of the delegates when he
said, "Union members, who have worked long and hard to build
this country, are sick of rioters, looters, peaceniks, beatniks and
all the rest of the nuts trying to destroy it."
||*The term "yippies"
derived from the Youth International Party, a put-on of the
establishment parties. Their Presidential candidate was a hog
they called "Pigasus."
In line with official AFL-CIO policy the IAM viewed the war in
Vietnam strictly as a continuation of the eternal struggle between
democracy and communism. Reporting from Vietnam in 1965, Machinist
editor Gordon Cole sent back glowing descriptions of the Vietnamese
Confederation of Labor as one of the country's unifying forces.
Throughout the decade the Machinist periodically featured
stories and pictures extolling the activities of Vietnam's
"free and independent unions." At various time Cole urged
IAM locals to help rebuild schools, union halls and orphanages in
that stricken country. Until the final years of the struggle, when
the peace movement finally began to seep into union halls, Machinist
state councils and AFL-CIO state federations routinely approved
resolutions supporting U. S. policy in Southeast Asia.
In addition to patriotic reasons for supporting the war,
delegates in Chicago deeply resented the damage the demonstrators
inflicted on the Democratic Party's presidential nominee, Hubert H.
Humphrey. Like most American trade unionists IAM members felt a
special kinship for Humphrey, one of the most progressive and decent
candidates ever offered by any party. In the 1940's, long before
civil rights became a popular issue, Humphrey was battling bigotry
and discrimination. Throughout his long career as a Senator and Vice
President he was an eloquent and effective advocate for laws
improving the nation's health, housing, education, Social Security,
Medicare and labor laws. Humphrey was a brilliant, witty and
powerful speaker who could inspire and electrify union audiences as
no one since Franklin D. Roosevelt. He was a regular and welcome
speaker at IAM conventions and meetings. In the 1968 election
against Richard Nixon and George Wallace, Humphrey was labor's
choice by far. But since he had no course as Vice President except
to support Johnson's policies in Vietnam a bunch of political
crazies came to Chicago to destroy him.
Later investigations and court proceedings showed that much of
the turmoil surrounding the Democratic Convention in Chicago
resulted from overreaction by Chicago's Mayor Richard Daley and the
police. In dealing with demonstrators law officers allowed
themselves to be taunted and tormented into what formal reports
later characterized as a "police riot." But to delegates
attending the IAM's Convention in 1968 Daley and the police were
heroes. Despite some scattered mutters of disapproval, the delegates
cheered lustily when Daley's name was mentioned and enthusiastically
endorsed a resolution commending him and the Chicago police force.
According to the Machinist, "It was adopted with loud
applause and no dissent.
This was the first convention since 1911 in which
constitutional changes did not have to be submitted to membership
referendum for ratification. Prior to the convention, a number of
lodges launched a move to let Siemiller serve at least one more
term. Nearing sixty-five, Siemiller appears to have harbored hopes
the delegates would reward his accomplishments by raising the
retirement age. No less than 199 lodges endorsed a proposition
providing that "any elected officer whose term of office begins
prior to his 65th birthday may serve out his full term of
office." Since Siemiller would not be sixty-five until
September 1969, three months after the next IP's term of office
would begin, this change was expressly tailored to give him another
full term. From the start, however, opposition to the proposal was
strong and outspoken. Almost 300 lodges endorsed resolutions aimed
at reducing the mandatory retirement age and delegate talk in
the corridors, hospitality rooms and bars made it clear the
sixty-five year retirement rule was too deeply embedded to be
tampered with. Members liked Siemiller and the go-go image he
created for the IAM, but they did not consider him indispensable.
Witnesses appearing before the Law Committee agreed almost
unanimously that raising the retirement age in the IAM Constitution
would make it harder to negotiate earlier pensions in IAM contracts.
Responding to the strong sentiment against any change that would
have the effect of raising the retirement age the Law Committee
recommended, and the convention ratified, a proposition that further
tightened the sixty-five year age restriction. This not only
barred Siemiller from seeking re-election but eventually shortened
the tenure of other council members as well.
With the strike fund falling steadily, from a high of $10
million at the start of the 1966 airline strike to less than $4
million when the convention met, the Law Committee proposed that a
50¢ a month per capita increase be made more palatable by upping
weekly benefits from $25 to $35. Having already authorized a 40¢
per capita increase for the general fund (10¢ a year for four
years) the delegates flinched at the prospect of going home after
approving a total of 90¢ in new monthly per capita taxes. They
voted it down on a division of the house.
For the first
time since 1948 neither the Democratic candidate for President nor
his running mate came in person to address a Machinist Convention.
Normally Humphrey would have come, but the wounds inflicted during
the Democratic National Convention were still fresh. Neither he nor
Chicago could risk another confrontation. Talking to the delegates
over a telephone hook-up from California, where he was campaigning
hard to make up ground lost in the chaos surrounding this
nomination, Humphrey made a rousing appeal which, as the Machinist
later reported, touched off "rising cheers, applause and
affection for Humphrey, pollsters gave him no chance toe beat Nixon
in November. With the albatross of Vietnam around his neck, Humphrey
was heckled, jeered and harassed by antiwar protesters at every stop
on the campaign trail. At the time IAM's Grand Lodge convention
endorsed him, he was hopelessly behind many of America's working
people, turned off by the epidemic of riots in the streets and
sit-ins on the campus, seemed ready to respond to the demagogic
racism of Alabama's Governor George Wallace.
regular Democratic organizations broke and demoralized, the labor
movement put on a full-court press for Humphrey's campaign. Unions
card-punched names of members across the country by state, county,
and precinct. The IAM's Univac III computer at Grand Lodge was
commandeered to break down lists of union members by address and
congressional district. Squads of MNPL volunteers manned phone banks
and rang doorbells. To neutralize Wallace's racist appeals, union
members were mailed information exposing his anti-union record on
right-to-work and other labor laws.
In a best-selling
chronicle of the campaign, The Making of the President--1968,
author Theodore White credits America's unions with a "near
miracle" in forging Hubert Humphrey's incredible comeback in
October. According toe White,
||The dimension of the . . .
effort . . . can be caught only by its final summary figures:
the ultimate registration, by labor's efforts, of 4,600,000
voters; the printing and distribution of 55,000,000 pamphlets
and leaflets out of Washington and 60,000,000 more from local
unions'; telephone banks in 638 localities using 8,055
telephones, manned by 24,611 union men and women and their
families; some 72,225 house-to-house canvassers; and on
election day, 94,500 volunteers serving as car poolers,
materials distributors, babysitters, poll watchers . . .
On the eve of the election, the Machinist featured a front
page letter from Siemiller to the members stressing the similarities
between extremists on the right and extremists on the left.
Reminding Machinist readers that campus rioters were responsible for
the election of Ronald Reagan in California and urban disorders had
led directly to defeat of a great liberal, pro-labor Senator, Paul
Douglas in Illinois, the IP warned members against being tricked
into a vote they would live to regret. Matt DeMore campaigned
throughout his old haunts in Ohio, where he had been president of
the State Council and the Northeast Territory, where he had been
Efforts such as these persuaded millions of previously
uncertain union members to pull the lever for Humphrey on election
day. They led a surge which, most political analysts agreed, would
have given Humphrey the victory had the election been held just a
few days later. The final vote was 31.7 million (43.4%) for Nixon,
31.2 million (42.7%) for Humphrey and 9.8 million (13.5%) for
In one of the ugliest and most acrimonious political campaigns
in American history, unions brought their candidate from far behind
to with an eyelash (7/10 of 1%) of victory. It wasn't quite enough.
Thanks to a motley crew of hippies, yippies and assorted political
crazies, America got Nixon, Agnew, Watergate, Kent State, Jackson
State and five more years of Vietnam.
Donnybrook at McDonnell
The Largest Award in Labor History
Siemiller and DeMore Bow Out
Comments or Suggestions? E-mail the Communications Officer
of Siouxland Lodge 1426 IAMAW