In machine shops and on the railroads management also attempted
to exploit bad time. IAM members increasingly were faced with
demands for piecework. The result was and upsurge in strikes that
soon drained the union's slender resources. At the time membership,
which had grown rapidly the first three years, leveled off and even
began to fall. Complicating O'Day's problems, the AFL chartered a
rival organization, know as the International Machinists Union (IMU)
the year before he took office. AFL President Sam Gompers adamantly
opposed the IAM's lily-white membership policy. The rival
organization, the IMU, admitted specialists and production workers
as well as journeymen machinists. Perhaps because of this industrial
orientation, it was openly Socialist, even Marxist, in its platform
and philosophy. For a number of years it gave the IAM stiff
competition, especially in such Northern cities as new York,
Philadelphia, and Chicago.
Soon after taking office O'Day angered many members by calling
off a four-month strike (and suspending strike benefits) on the
Pennsylvania panhandle Railroad. The General Executive Board, which
originally agreed, quickly backed away when a backlash developed in
the ranks. The Board issued a statement which shifted the blame to
O'Day. In effect, they said the Grand Master Machinist may have been
"too hasty." They recommended that "more time be
taken before a fixed date be made to declare a strike off."
Despite these troubles, O'Day succeeded in signing the first
Machinist contract with a major railroad, the Sante Fe, and also
approved the organizing of the first district lodge on the Union
Pacific by Pete Conlon.
O'Day spent much of his short time as Grand Mater Machinist
traveling from one crisis to another. It seemed that as soon as he
got to one place to deal with a threatened strike or lockout, he'd
get a telegram to come and put out a fire some place else.
One stormy dispute involved a lodge in Indianapolis where
members protested so-called "chunkers" roughing out
machinist work. The boss told O'Day that if he could not run his
business to suit himself, he would close it up. O'Day reported
"I told the men they had better help him, which they did by
every man walking out."
Another strike of some interest today was touched off when the
commanding officer of the Army Arsenal in Troy, New York, a certain
Major Bryant, ordered machinists to run two machines. When he tried
to enforce this order by firing two IAM members, every machinist in
the shop walked out. O'Day sent a representative who got the Army
and the men together in a face-saving solution. When the Commandant
not to order men to run two machines, the men agreed to "obey
orders." This was an early skirmish in a battle that continues
to this day. Interestingly enough at the time no one seems to have
even suggested that workers employed by the U.S. Government
forfeited any right to strike.
O'Day tried to keep the IAM clear of involvement in the
Homestead strike, explaining "We were not in a financial
position to fight for the principles of our own order and could not
engage in the battles of others." Apparently this did not help
his popularity with hotheads in the heavily industrialized
Pittsburgh area who were eager to demonstrated labor solidarity
against Carnegie, Frick, and the other steel barons. The generally
unfavorable membership reaction to O'Day's handling of the
Pennsylvania Railroad and Homestead strikes may explain why he
was not re-elected nor even re-nominated at the 1893 Grand Lode
Convention in his home town of Indianapolis. The election was
between James O'Connell of Oil City and James Barnes of Boston.
Creamer was nominated but declined acceptance.
The abrupt and unexplained repudiation of O'Day may also have
been triggered by the astounding news, in the middle of the
Indianapolis Convention, that the Grand Treasurer, one J. J. Lamb,
had secretly withdrawn the IAM's entire treasury, $5,300, from the
bank and taken off for parts unknown. Pete Conlon later wrote that
because of the embezzlement, "the international officers had to
borrow . . . from their friends to get back to headquarters."
The Era of O'Connell