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History

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


Eugene D. Glover
1969-1987

Genial Gene--From Journeyman to GST

DeMore's successor, Eugene Glover, was born to a farm family in Jonesboro, Arkansas in 1922. Following his father's death, when Gene was eighteen months old, his mother moved the family to St. Louis where she found work as a seamstress in a laundry. As soon as Gene was old enough, he joined his brother John in peddling newspapers both morning and evening to help put groceries on the family table. After graduating from high school in 1941, he entered a machinist apprenticeship with the Universal Match Company and joined Tool and Die Lodge 688. His apprenticeship was hardly begun when, along with most others of his generation, Glover was swept into the military by World War II. Serving as a mechanic with the 12th Air Force in the invasion of North Africa in 1942 he later flew missions as a gunner with the 9th Air Force over Germany. Honorably discharged in October, 1945, S/Sgt Glover returned to his apprenticeship at Universal Match, receiving his journeyman papers in 1949. With the match industry hit by layoffs and uncertain future, Glover took his skills to the fast growing McDonnell Aircraft Company. He soon became active in Lodge 837 as a steward and a member of the negotiating committee. In 1956 Glover became the first Lodge 837 member to be chosen by the district to serve as a business representative for employees working under its contract at McDonnell.

As a business representative and secretary of the IAM Electronics Committee, Glover became known over the next eight years for his ability to remain calm under stress and for his disarming sense of humor in negotiations. A relatively young forty-six when elected GST, Glover had spent the four previous years as GVP for the Midwest Territory.

Friendly and outgoing, Gene Glover would spend the better part of the next two decades coping with complexities unknown to GST's of earlier and simpler times. In addition to increasingly intricate and voluminous regulations and court rulings stemming from Taft-Hartley, Landrum-Griffin and the Internal Revenue Code, Glover would also be challenged to find the proper balance between his fiduciary responsibilities and increasingly touchy issues of morality in the investment of pension funds and other monies held in custody for union members.

Red Smith--A Break with Tradition

The old-time craftsmen who intended the IAM to be an exclusive and selective fraternity of highly skilled journeymen machinists probably spun in their graves when Floyd Emery "Red" Smith was sworn in as the IAM's tenth International President. Not only was Red Smith not a journeyman, he was not even a machinist.

Born to a family of itinerant farm workers in a long-gone crossroads village in Kansas in 1912, Red Smith's first and apparently only brush with the trade came in 1929 when he went to work for 25 and hour as a machinist helper in a small shop in St. Louis after dropping out of high school at the age of seventeen. A few months later, his metal-working career ended abruptly when the stock market crashed and the great depression began. Like millions of other Americans desperate for any kind of work, young Red Smith tried everything from door-to-door selling to bartending. As construction began to revive under the stimulus of early New Deal programs, Red grabbed a chance to apprentice as a bricklayer. During the war, he moved his growing family to Las Vegas where recently legalized gambling brightened the outlook for a post-war construction boom.  Within a year he was president of the Bricklayers local in Las Vegas. As he expanded his circle of contacts in the local labor movement he became friendly with the business representative for IAM Local Lodge 845. When Nevada's governor was looking for a deputy labor commissioner, the IAM urged Smith's appointment.

In later years, Smith recalled that in travels to remote corners of Nevada he got to know IAM members in every part of the state and gradually began to serve as a sort of informal unpaid business representative for the Machinists Union in Nevada.

While Smith was building a network of friends in the IAM in Nevada, GVP Roy Brown was building a cadre of tough, two-fisted GLR's throughout the Southwest Territory. Needing someone who combined building trades experience with moxie to serve as business rep for a lodge of construction and erection machinists in Long Beach, Brown invited Red to move to California. Big and powerfully built Red quickly gained a reputation for fearlessness in defending IAM members against jurisdictional infringement by the Teamsters or building trades unions.

In 1952 Al Hayes appointed Red Smith to the Grand Lodge staff and sent him to Seattle to help organize and service construction and erection lodges in the Northwest Territory. While die-hard Machinists never forgave Red Smith for not being a journeyman metalworker, sometimes referring to him sneeringly as "the brickie", his reputation for native cunning and raw courage spread throughout the union. In the 1961 election in which Roy Brown led a challenge against the rest of the Executive Council, Red Smith was nominated to attract votes from West Coast lodges to the slate headed by Hayes and Walker. Following eight years as GVP for the eleven state Great Lakes Territory, Red was elected International President in 1969.

By this time more grey then red-headed, Smith sometimes seemed a little surprised to be heading one of America's largest unions. As a leader, Red Smith possessed neither the polished eloquence of Al Hayes not the flamboyant flair of Roy Siemiller. While personally more diffident than his predecessors, Red Smith was nobody's patsy. He was normally cordial and good natured  with employees and staff, but irritability or anger could occasionally bring out flashes of a tightly controlled temper. Meeting Smith soon after he took office, a magazine interviewer wrote:

There doesn't seem to be an ounce of pretense in him; no double talk. A big man--both in physical stature, and in the stature of his office--he has not grown away from his humble beginnings, but rather, somehow, has cemented an indefinable human quality as part of his total being . . . Smith represents the very best example of union leadership, thoughtful but fair; a hard bargainer and decent to the core.
Smith launched his leadership by wading directly into the issue ducked by delegates to the Chicago convention: strengthening the strike fund by increasing monthly per capita. As the result of the growing militancy that surfaced in the 1966 airline walkout the strike fund was dangerously depleted. Having paid out $11 million more than it took in during Siemiller's administration the fund was running rapidly into the hole by the time Smith took over. When he called the field staff together in September the threat of an impending suspension of benefits hung over Smith's first national staff conference.

Meeting with more than 1,000 business representatives and GLR's in Chicago, Smith warned that if the strike fund was not strengthened it would probably have to be discontinued. While inflation was sharpening worker wage demands it was also stiffening employer resistance. With more strikes likely, Smith proposed that monthly per capita allocated to the strike fund be raised from 50 to $1. To generate rank and file support, he linked such an increase to a liberalization of weekly benefits from $25 to $40 and a reduction in the qualifying period of membership from six to three months.

The difference between this proposal and the proposition turned down by convention delegates a year earlier was small, but this time the response was more encouraging. Most of the business representatives lined up to enlist in a newly-formed Committee to Save the Strike Fund. This set the stage for a whirlwind education campaign to gain grass roots support. Posters mailed by the Machinist for hanging in lodge meeting halls proclaimed, "The Stronger the Strike Fund, The Stronger the Contract."

Following a pattern set by Siemiller four years earlier, Smith took to the road, going from state councils to staff conferences to drum up support for a membership referendum on the issue. In the course of this campaign Smith proved, as he would so often over the next eight years, that he could surmount a plodding speaking style with the earnestness of his own conviction. In February 1970 the members responded by voting 69,000 to 24,000 to ratify the proposal Smith outlined at the September 1969 staff conference. At the time the vote was taken some 150,000 members of thirteen international unions, including 14,000 members of thirty-four IAM local lodges, had been walking picket lines outside General Electric plants from coast to coast for almost three months.

Return of the Son of Boulware

Though Richard M. Nixon's margin of victory may have been narrow in 1968, the climate for collective bargaining rapidly took a turn for the worse. This became painfully clear when the coalition of unions that successfully coordinated negotiations with General Electric in 1966 returned to the bargaining table in 1969. Encouraged by the new climate of conservatism emanating from Washington, General Electric decided the time was right for a return to Boulwarism. Though wages in GE plants lagged far behind auto, steel and aerospace (and the company's profits were 22% higher than manufacturing as a whole), GE launched a slick advertising campaign to persuade the public and its own employees that union wage demands were the chief cause of a newly burgeoning cycle of inflation.*

*Most objective economists agree that inflation in the late 60's and early 70's stemmed directly from the Vietnamese war while that of the mid and late 70's was set off by the Arab oil embargo.
Preparations for the 1969 General Electric talks opened at a Spring conference o ten unions in Washington. The sixty-member IAM delegation, again led by GVP Gil Brunner of the Northeast Territory, helped to hammer out objectives described by IUE President Paul Jennings as "reasonable" and "based on the needs of the men and women we represent and the affluence of the company." As a follow-up to the Washington Conference, grassroot meetings were scheduled to brief local lodge leaders  in San Jose, Ft. Wayne, Cincinnati, Cleveland and a dozen other cities. The Machinist reported that in addition to these meetings, seventeen communications centers were set up in thirteen states to keep GE locals informed on developments in negotiations.

IAM Executive Council members were scheduled to keynote rallies around the country: Smith in Lynn, Massachusetts, Gil Bruner in Atlanta, Southwest Territory GVP Bob Simpson in Dallas and Gene Glover, still a GVP, in Chicago. In an unprecedented canvass of rank and file preferences the ten-union Coordinated Bargaining Committee mailed close to 200,000 questionnaires seeking to assess the priorities of both hourly and salaried workers in wages, pensions, insurance, health benefits, working conditions, income security and other contract issues.

Throughout the spring and summer of 1969 GE viewed union efforts to inform and educated the rank and file on the issues with obvious derision and contempt. Reverting to the classic Boulware bargaining tactic, management threw a package on the table and told the union negotiators to take it or leave it. In a confidential memo to top management GE's chief negotiator predicted that if the unions dared to take their members out "at the end of three weeks they will be straggling back."

With the old contract due to expire at the end of October the unions tried to head off a strike by offering a last minute compromise. The company responded with a firm rejection of any modification of its "first and final" offer which consisted of an $8 per week pay raise over three years, eliminated the already inadequate cost-of-living clause and rejected a union-proposed grievance procedure. With no alternative, the original ten coordinating unions, joined now by UAW, Teamsters and UE locals, hit the bricks in thirty-four states on October 26.

Dusting off tactics that had always worked for Boulware--including personal letters and repeated telephone calls to employees and their wives--the company rushed to recruit scabs and strikebreakers. A few workers straggled back here and there but reports form IAM business representatives to the Machinist verified that by the end of the first month the morale and effectiveness of the picket lines remained high at all of GE's 133 plants. With Christmas approaching and the season looking bleak in the homes of its workers, GE tried to tempt them with a second offer which, when analyzed, proved to be little more than a rejuggling of the original take-it-or-leave-it package.

Three days before Christmas management flooded worker mailboxes and saturated the airwaves and newspapers with messages heralding a "back to work by Christmas" movement. Foremen and plant managers dialed phones from morning to night, trying to entice workers strapped for holiday cash back to their jobs. The Coordinated Bargaining Committee estimated that by the end of December, GE spent more than $2 million on anti-union advertising nationally plus substantial amounts locally. A business representative for District 10 in Milwaukee estimated that GE was spending $10,000 a week on newspaper advertising in that area alone--equivalent to $6.67 a wee for each GE worker on strike in Milwaukee.

In response to the company's newspaper advertising, the Coordinated Bargaining Committee ran full page spreads in leading dailies designed to open the public's eyes to the background of Boulwarism, the arrogance of the company's "take-it-or-leave-it" bargaining tactics, and the gross imbalance between the company's profits and the wages it paid its employees.

In addition to collecting $2 million in union contributions for needy striking families, the AFL-CIO declared a nationwide boycott of GE products the day after Thanksgiving, just in time for the Christmas shopping season. The Machinist reported

Picket lines developed around leading department stores in major cities. Visitation Committees started calling on merchants who sold GE equipment. Local union mimeograph machines went into action and local union sound trucks began to blare that no union dollars should be spent for GE products.
In addition the AFL-CIO distributed more than half a million "Support GE Strikers" bumper stickers along with 750,000 "Don't Buy GE" buttons and more than a million handbills. In contradiction to earlier company disclaimers, the chairman of GE's board eventually admitted that the company's profits dropped from $122.8 million in the third quarter of 1969 to $18.9 million in the fourth quarter.

Despite freezing weather and knee-high snow across most of the Midwest and Eastern States, the Machinist reported the strike was still solid at all points on New Year Day 1970. Having failed to break the spirit of the workers over the long winter, the company finally backed away fro Boulwarism and agreed to return to the bargaining table. After several days of hard issue-by-issue negotiations, members of the largest partner in coordinated bargaining at GE, The IUE, ratified a new contract by a five to two margin in early February. In place of the $8 a week offer tossed on the table in the original take-it-or-leave-it package, the total value of the final contract, including improvements in fringes, amounted to $1.12 and hour.

IAM lodges were the last hold-outs. Two weeks after the other twelve unions settled, more than a dozen IAM lodges were still demanding guarantees that strikers would have preference to their old jobs over striker breakers, any layoffs would be strictly by seniority and the company would drop all disciplinary or civil actions against strikers. By the end of February, GVP Brunner reported that these conditions had been met and all IAM members at GE were back to work.

Labor historian Thomas R. Brooks has described the 1969 GE strike as "One of the key strikes of our time," one that marked "a major turn in labor relations." On the surface, the issue appeared to be inflation--and whether a corporation could make workers the victims by branding them as culprits. But the underlying cause went deeper. It was rooted in Boulware's assumption that like a papa who knows what's best for children, a benevolent and patronizing corporation knows what's best for its employees. The purpose of Boulware's "take-it-or-leave-it" tactic was to deny workers any voice in matters that directly affected their daily lives. Throughout the long, cold winter of 1969-70, 150,000 working men and women remained on picket lines rather than return and suffer the indignity of being treated like children.

 


How to Lose Industries and Alienate the Work Force
Obituary For An American-Built SST
Bailing Out Lockheed--And the Bankers
The Big Chill

 

History


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