PHILIP MURRAY: Biographical Portrait of a Union Man
By P. Angelo
(The full text is available as an E-Book at: www.pjbooksonline.com )
This e-book biography of Philip Murray is meant for workers everywhere in the world to read.
To my knowledge, there is not a recorded life of Philip Murray in any library or bookstore. Among the world’s great labor leaders of the 20th century he is the forgotten man. But he should not be.
Murray is, in my opinion, the single most visionary labor leader of the 20th century, a labor leader who dedicated his life to institutionalizing and putting the finishing touches on trade unionism in America.
There are those labor scholars and historians who seem to think for one reason or another that no biography of Murray is needed. However, I believe that there are those who would like to know more about the man and feel that a biography of Murray is long overdue.
I offer this e-book for any and all to learn about Murray the man and labor leader and decide if he is worthy of the recognition that I am convinced he deserves.
Read the labor history of Murray’s time and his constant, driving, dramatic involvement in it. It is possible that if you are a worker you may wish that a man like Murray were still around today to speak for you. If you already know a thing or two about labor history and the struggles of union making in America, you may read about Philip Murray and his marked contributions to the successful organization of labor and be left to wonder why he has been all but ignored by history and those who remember the most public figures of those days but do not recall hearing anything about Murray.
TALES OF THE DUNGEON: Boy Miner and his Union Come of Age—l886-l9l2
It seems a simple thing to write about a man who was among the pioneers to establish the organized labor movement in America and who went one great step further by institutionalizing trade unionism in this country so that by now it has gained its proper place among the other great institutions in our nation.
It seems a simple thing to do, write a life portrait and tribute to Philip Murray until one stops to think and ask: Why has nobody else done it among labor writers, scholars and historians?
The question is moot of course and has no merit until at least one biography of Murray turns up. Then the answer can be debated and determined by whether or not there’s any proof in the pudding as to why Murray has been orphaned and virtually shunned within the world of union literature.
Philip Murray was born May 25, l886 at 77 Baird’s Row in Blantyre, Scotland to Irish immigrant parents, William Murray and Rose Ann Layden Murray.
Blantyre, about six miles from Glasgow, is located in the District of Lanarkshire. It seems fitting that Murray, born into a fervent trade unionist family and who passed through the fiery trials and tribulations (that included much death and mayhem) of establishing the organized labor movement in America, would be born in a district the likes of Lanarkshire.
At Murray’s birth in l886, Blantyre claimed l5 of the biggest and most productive coalmines in Scotland and was numbered among the “mostly heavily industrial areas in the world.”
But also, Blantyre had the dubious distinction of being one of the major storm centers of trade unionism. It was there, in l8l7, that the first miners’ union was organized. The establishment of the union there was a desperate retaliatory measure by the miners against the powers that be in order to set straight the shameful history of that region. In l606, the Scottish Parliament passed an act where collieries and salters were declared to be necessary servants of ‘lairds’ of estates should they take work on any coal hole on the ‘laird’s’ property. Any miner (and his family) who did became by Scottish law a serf for life.
This shameful history of Murray’s birthplace (which he knew well because he was a studious boy who reportedly always had a book in his hand) seeped into his bones At all stages of his union career, he often raged with indignation when worker-repressive actions on the part of employers turned up in workplaces. Most especially in the ones that employed the workers for which he was personally and professionally responsible..
There would be no slave driving of workers on Murray’s workstation watch without something being said or done about it.
By the time Murray entered the mine at Blantyre at age ten (didn’t every boy in every family enter at that age?) he had already been a union ‘pro’ so to speak. When Philip was only six years old, his father, president of his local, took him to union meetings, at age seven during the brutal strike of ’93, Murray worked the soup kitchen and performed other chores like gathering whatever families could spare from their vegetable gardens to maintain strikers’ food supply.
Again, by the time he entered at ten he already knew the ropes, what to expect, what dangers on the inside to look for and what simple rules of courtesy to his fellow miners he was expected to follow such as thoroughly covering over bowel movements. Fathers and sons, beginning with the walk to work in the morning, usually in the darkness, forged the golden link in the chain of longstanding miners’ traditions.
Even where some fathers may have been loveless and showed little patience or concern for their sons, the partnership of work remained intact. Each depended on the other to achieve his daily quota or warn of impending dangers. It was a survival thing, a necessary alliance in a black hole where within an instant one’s life could be swallowed into a dark nothingness.
Usually where there are blood ties, fathers and sons, uncles and nephews, relatives working together in a dangerous place, the bond among them is bound to become fused. The familial dynamic that spread even to strangers in the miners’ workplace was, in most cases, the core of the miners’ communal life.
Philip Murray was a part of that community. He grew up in it, perpetuated it, protected it however he could: As a worker defending himself or his miner friends, as a checkweighman, union officer and national labor leader.
This communal cling that kept the spirit of mining communities alive, especially during times of strikes and of hardship, was why Murray often returned to his roots to the small mining towns where he had worked no matter how prominent and famous a labor leader he had become.
Murray seemed to need to return ‘home’ in order to draw energy from the places where he’d worked to give him perhaps a renewed sense of who he was and from where he came.
It was as if he needed to step back into the secure confines of a Robert Burns poem and become for a while the humble Scotsman living in his thatched abode awaiting destiny’s call.
The day before Christmas Eve, l902, Philip and his father William arrived in Irwin, Pennsylvania and were greeted by a shimmering white landscape of blowing and drifting snow.
Father and son walked through the snow to their destination three or four miles from Irwin to a town called, Madison. In Madison, both father and son boarded with the family of Pat Fagan whose family had already made the connections with Philip’s uncle and namesake. Boarding at the Fagan’s initiated a life long friendship with Pat Fagan. Two young men close in age, they worked together for the first time at the Arona Mine in Madison.
Motivated to get ahead in life, to make something of himself, Murray took a correspondence course. By working hard and filling three cars per day at a dollar a car in a short time he had earned the sixty dollar enrollment fee to qualify his entrance into the International Correspondence School, an l8 month course that he completed in six. In this course, Murray not only honed his natural math skills but also learned as much as he could about mining, labor relations and economics.
He studied nights and worked days. Being accountable to the requirements of the correspondence course did much to contribute to Murray’s later acumen as a United Mineworkers (UMW) Steelworkers Organizing Committee (SWOC) and United Steelworkers of America (USWA) negotiator. During those sessions he seemed always confident, ready to recite figures or pour over the fine details of proposals that the coal. operators and company presidents lay before him on the table which he hardly ever let pass unchallenged.
Studious Murray was but an excessive drone he was not. He was as good a ‘paddy’ storyteller as there was, a prankster who tied sleepers’ toes to bedposts in boarding houses and a soccer player who played the game (and coached his team) in a fiercely scrappy and competitive way.
A group picture taken during the year he arrived in Madison, shows the young seventeen year old Philip standing among mature middle-aged-looking men, staring out at the camera with a look of daring readiness on his face, telling all who would take notice that he was prepared for whatever challenge, physical or mental, that might be hurled against him.
You could almost say Murray snarled with animated life, energy, and purpose. When the stories and tall tales miners at gatherings liked to tell and tease one another went beyond the pale to the point when enough was enough, you could be sure it was Murray who would redirect the tone of the conversation and get on with the more serious business of speaking out against and dealing with the dirty tricks coal operators and their foremen pulled on miners. Foremost among the insidious tricks that Murray despised were false claims by foremen and weighmasters of bug dust in cars and arbitrary reduction of car poundage according to whatever specious estimate the weighmaster proclaimed. But worst of all, the short weighing of every third car, up to a quarter or half ton, which earned for companies thousands of dollars.
Needless to say, weighmasters were not a very trustworthy bunch in the eyes of Murray and so he was always the one to speak out for checkweighmen, a miner who was selected by his fellow miners and whose salary was paid by them to watchdog the weighmaster.
It is not surprising then that Murray’s frustration would come to a head at the Keystone mine where he and Charlie Dailey, the weighmaster, went at it when Murray had had enough of Dailey’s blatant dishonesty.
Down went Charlie Dailey with one blow from the fist of Murray after which, as Pat Fagan put it in an interview 60 years later, “The dogs of war were after him.”
A man named Tom Hickey who ran a saloon nearby in the town of Hermanie hid Murray, a mere boy of l8, in the cellar where crouching down there among the beer kegs Philip feared for his life.
It was a fear not unfounded for had company guard-thugs gotten wind of his hiding place, he would’ve been murdered in cold blood under the pretense that they had merely been defending themselves against a violent man who might’ve done them in first.
The miners at Keystone, 600 in all, went out in support of Murray but all ended up living in tents for four weeks and being starved into going back to work.
Among the tent dwellers were Murray’s father, his stepmother and eight or so stepbrothers and sisters, his new family created when at the age of two his mother Rose Ann died leaving his sister, Mary, four, and him motherless until not long after his father remarried a Scottish girl.
Needless to say when the air had cleared the local sheriff and his deputies ‘escorted’ Murray out of town. He was put on a train headed for Pittsburgh and was told to stay out of Westmoreland county ‘for good’.
It was the Charlie Dailey incident, Murray said in an interview years later, that determined in his mind what he wanted to do with his life.
His years of unwavering and productive service to the union put an exclamation mark on that statement.
From the Keystone mine fiasco and notoriety went Murray to Hazelkirk Mine #l, in Hazelkirk, PA, a small mining town near Monongahela City, a town on the far outskirts of Pittsburgh.
It was at Hazelkirk where Murray’s career as a union man began to take off. He was elected president of the UMW local at Hazelkirk and soon after was chosen in an election by the Hazelkirk miners to be their checkweighman. For the latter honor, Murray was “rewarded” by a jealous loser of that same checkweighman election by being bushwhacked by him under the cover of night, a beating that Murray did not take lying down. He went to the boarding house, summoned Pat Fagan and one or two other friends and returned the favor to the assailant (a big strapping man nearly twice Murray’s size) by giving him a good going over.
It would not do for Murray, now a respected leader among men, to play patsy to any bully who might come along.
As president of the Hazelkirk local Murray took up miner causes and respect for him grew in the ranks of his fellow miners. He talked up the necessity of organizing the non-union fields and making an all-out assault on the captive mines—non-union mines owned and operated by the corporations which due to their all-in-one vertical operations reduced production (coal transportation for one) and labor costs to the bare bone giving them a decided competitive edge over non-captive and unionized mines.
It was these non-union below scale wages that wrecked havoc on fair-minded unionized coal operators who could do little more than cut the labor workforce in their mines to compete or worse shut down their mines altogether.
Another problem that Murray found intolerable was the high rates of accidents in the mines (too many of them avoidable) and the virtual non-existence of workmen’s compensation for miners many of whom as victims of accidents brought more likely starvation to their families than sympathetic assistance from their operator-bosses.
In Hazelkirk, Murray had lived at the Red Onion Boarding House before moving in to board with his sister Mary, now Mrs. Jimmy Malone.
Was it by design that Mary persuaded her younger brother Philip to move in with her since there just happened to be a pretty girl, Elizabeth Lavery, l8, who lived next door?
The Lavery’s were no less a miner family than the Murrays, even more tragically so since Elizabeth’s father was killed in a mine explosion at the Vorhees mine when Elizabeth was only three years old, a devastating family event that brought on the early death of her mother forcing the issue of baby Elizabeth being raised by her eldest sister, Jane, one of nine Lavery sisters.
Elizabeth’s and Philip’s was a whirlwind courtship and their marriage at Resurrection Church in Mon City was a good place for Philip to begin his new life as a married man, a union that lasted 42 years up until Murray’s death.
It did not take Philip long to perceive that Elizabeth possessed the sterling hallmark qualities which set apart miners’ wives from all others: a fierce loyalty to their men and miners in general, a resistant, wary attitude toward their husbands’ employers and a stoic determination to ride out any storm, regardless of what the future might hold.
Who knew better than Elizabeth that the opinion of coal miners was true, that the loss of a mule in a mine accident caused a coal operator greater concern than the loss of a human life.
By l9l2 Murray had already become a seasoned UMW union officer and the United Mineworkers Union the nation’s first most inclusive industrial union. The union’s burgeoning membership numbers began to cause a mild panic among employer associations who began to form a virtual alphabet soup of organizations like the Citizen’s Industrial Association (CIA) and the National Council of Industrial Defense (NCID) to ward off the threat of a broad base of trade unionism infringing on the free-market forces operating within the American economy.
To the Manufacturers Association, the real villain in the piece was the unrestricted immigration that brought between l904 and l9l4 one million immigrants per year to American shores.
Needless to say a great oversupply of labor resulted in steel, the captive mines and railroads reducing wages to near slave labor rates.
The cry among all unions, not just the UMW, was Organize! Organize! Organize! Especially the immigrant workers. Fight big capital dollars with lowly workers but high union numbers!
Capitalists cared little that by paying low worker wages they were perhaps cutting their own throats by not boosting workers into what might become a dynamic consumerist society who could in great volume be buying their products. However, one could argue that corporations and industrial barons like Rockefeller could earn perhaps more on the interest accrued on the capital structure of their businesses alone than on what a large part of a worker consumerist society buying their product (which many were forced to do on meager wages anyway) might bring to their coffers.
To Murray, worker consumerism had become a near obsession with him. A man works to earn a decent enough wage to put food on his table, pictures on the walls of his house and rugs on the floor.
It’s called a living wage that will bring workers a decent standard of living. It would take no revolutionary uprising of workers to achieve this goal. Just collective bargaining agreements that would permit workers to gain their fair share.
Of course there’s nothing new here. The top labor leaders of the country were already saying this, Gompers, president of the AFL, in the vanguard.
But nobody in the top echelons of government nor among the powers that be within would listen.
It was like speaking into a dead microphone. Spokesmen of the powerless, like Murray, yearned to even hear a feedback squeal.
Leftist political and legal theorists like Laske, Brandeis and Frankfurter presented in their writings arguments that generally favored the rights of labor and the working class. These men of stature brought dignity and a bit of romance to the workers’ cause.
The studious Murray, unlike some labor leaders, did not feel threatened by labor and economic theorists. To the contrary he admired keenness of mind and intelligence.
The battle between labor and capital was a David and Goliath match up, and so far, at the end of the first decade of the 20th century, David was losing the battle. Badly.
So maybe a new strategy was needed. Obviously and of course. But what was that strategy to be?
It would take Murray at least thirty years more and World War II to find out.
Sources for Chapter One: Tales of the Dungeon: Boy Miner and his Union Come of Age. 1886-l9l2
All the sources cited here in Chapter One and subsequent chapters were documented as endnotes in a longer manuscript version of this biography. They are all listed in this shorter version because most if not all of the resources cited at the end of chapters in this e-book were used in a more general and less detailed manner in context of this briefer biography.
Stories of Murray’s boyhood, accompanying his father to a union meeting at age six, helping work the soup kitchen at age seven and entering the mine at age ten, come essentially from an interview I had with Joe Murray, his wife Helen and their two children, Erin and Bethann. That interview took place at the Murray home in Pittsburgh, March 2, l996 and was followed up with several phone conversations during the writing of the biography and afterwards. Also, good background is given on Murray’s boyhood and younger days by John Chamberlain who interviewed Philip Murray from which interview came, “Philip Murray”, an article written by him which appeared in LIFE, February ll, l946. From the Chamberlain source, I believe, came the stories of Murray’s earlier and prime-labor-leader years that appear in newspaper articles (clipped and most of them undated) pasted in two or three scrapbooks among other papers and documents on Murray available at the Penn State Labor Archives. Also good background on the boyhood of Murray come from “Stories of Philip Murray”, Story numbers l, 2 and 3 found in the Murray File Box at the Penn State Labor Archives. Other sources used in this chapter: Joseph Frazier Wall, ANDREW CARNEGIE (Oxford, l970 & Pittsburgh, l979); John Anderson, COAL: A HISTORY OF THE COAL-MINING INDUSTRY IN SCOTLAND WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO THE CAMBUSLANG DISTRICT OF LANARKSHIRE, (Glasgow, no date), l0-ll. John Brophy, A MINER’S LIFE, (Madison & Milwaukee, l964), 37-4l. INTERVIEW WITH PAT FAGAN by Alice M. Hoffman, September 24, l968, Pittsburgh, Pa., Oral History Collection, Penn State Labor Archives, 9. Jaunita Diffay Tate, PHILIP MURRAY AS A LABOR LEADER, Dissertation (New York, l962), 9. Philip Taft, ORGANIZED LABOR IN AMERICAN HISTORY, (New York, l964), l65. “Philip Murray Will Never be Dead as Long as the Things He Built Live on,” STEEL LABOR (l952), l0. Price V. Fishback, “The Miners’ Work Environment: Safety and Company Towns in Early l900s,” THE UNITED MINE WORKERS OF AMERICA: A Model of Industrial Solidarity? John H.M. Laslett, Editor, (University Park, l996), 2l0. Samuel Eliot Morison, THE OXFORD HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE: l869 to the Death of John F. Kennedy, l963, (New York & Scarborough, Ontario, l972), l29. Harold M. Watkins, COAL AND MEN: An Economic and Social Study of the British & American Coalfields, (London, l934), 245-6. Paul M. Angle, BLOODY WILLIAMSON, (New York, l952), l33. Harold J. Ruttenberg Papers, Penn State Labor Archives.
‘SAIRVING’ THE MINERS: Man on a Mission—l9l3-l9l6
On October l5, l9l4, the Democratic congress, under President Wilson, passed the Clayton Act that stipulated that labor was not a commodity or article of commerce and neither were unions “illegal combinations in restraint of trade.”
AFL president Samuel Gompers called the Clayton Act labor’s ‘Magna Carta’, a too enthusiastic perhaps guileless response to the legislation considering the minimal positive impact the law brought to labor.
Which is to say the Clayton Act was treated with disdain by the corporations and, worse, totally ignored in the courts.
But for up and coming union officers like Murray and many of the established ones, recalcitrant attitudes among corporate powers toward unions had become a fact of life. Through their influence those same powers saw to it that most judges, at all levels of the judiciary, ruled in their favor and damn be the law, any law that gave trade unionism the benefit of government support that could ultimately lead (in their mind) to the collapse of the free enterprise system.
It was in this labor-suppressed industrial environment that Murray earned his stripes as a union officer. These economic conditions, stacked against labor, would continue to exist for another 20 years.
But in the early days of union-making and within generally successful unions like the UMW, workers brought their own formidable weapon against their adversaries that kept trade unionism’s survival instincts alive: a fierce solidarity (within the union core at least) among union officers and the rank and file.
In many cases life long friendships among key union officers helped build the foundation of that solidarity. From the first day he set foot in America, Murray’s friendship with Pat Fagan began practically joined at the hip. Beginning with his becoming president of the UMW local at Hazelkirk (a local that sat in UMW District #5, Pittsburgh region), Murray befriended the president of District #5, Van Anberg Bittner (whom he will succeed as president of that district in l9l6) and the three men, Murray, Fagan and Van Bittner, will become a triumvirate of dedicated union men, bound to the same purpose-- organizing the unorganized and increasing by membership numbers union power—a goal they will achieve together not only in the UMW but also the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and the United Steelworkers of America (USWA)
The loyalty among the three men throughout their personal and professional lives was mutual and unshakeable.
The biggest challenge within the UMW the three men faced (under the leadership of John L. Lewis of course) was sorting out the disorganized mess that was endemic to the bituminous coalfields. In Murray’s region alone there were more than 4000 coal companies competing with one another, union, non-union and captive mines. There were also fly-by-night maverick owners out to make a quick buck compounding the problem and creating fierce cutthroat competition spawning wage reductions, bankruptcies, and broken contracts. Needless to say all of the above contributed to the overproduction of coal that for the most part accumulated annually at 200 million tons over demand.
In l9l2 at a relatively young age, Murray, 26, was appointed to the UMW International Executive Board (IEB), a top-grade position that rewarded his worthiness but more importantly gave him the opportunity to put a face on big capital and come to know better the UMW’s organizational structure.
As an IEB member Murray gained access to information revealing to him that the US Steel Corporation, Consolidated Coal Company, the Pittsburgh Coal Company and subsidiaries of all three held the greater chunks of land in the coal industry. US Steel’s land holdings were in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Indiana and Illinois. Consolidated’s 340,000 acres were in Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and Kentucky. Pittsburgh Coal’s l65,000 acres were in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Kentucky. Those were the most controlling landholders in the region where, even still, coal seams were distributed among an estimated 4,000 various persons or companies.
On the union side he acquired first-hand experience of the coalfields and the indigenous features of their surroundings. Especially frustrating to him was the impenetrable captive mine fields whose operators (mostly custodians who answered to corporate board directors) yielded as little wages to miners as they possibly could.
These were only a few of the facts that the young Murray, who seemed to have a limitless curiosity for them, devoured. Not only did a natural curiosity and a penchant for learning drive his ambition, but he was also shrewd enough to know that in knowledge there was power. Arming himself with details about the corporations and the union gave him the advantage of firing it like scattershot at reluctant miners in coalfields who needed to be persuaded to join the union. But it was even more valuable to him at the negotiating table where he had to deal with representatives of the coal operators (and later steel companies) to reach collective bargaining agreements. Finally, the best use Murray made of the storehouse of information he carried around in his head was demonstrated in presentations he gave before House and Senate Hearing committees when dubitable union issues were being publicly debated or aired.
Wherever the forum and however violent the setting, Murray was never at a loss to present the facts, as he believed them to be, of the union’s side of the story.
Studious learner, who could never compile enough facts to arm him at the negotiating table, Murray indeed was, but a behind-the-desk pencil and paper man, no.
Dauntless organizer that he was, he took his own life into his hands by going into coalfields thick with the flak of violence as most in West Virginia were.
Murray, a devout man (about which we’ll get into later) carried about him a mantle of invincibility grounded no doubt in his faith that to him, daily, was a palpable thing. With that faith came fearlessness in the face of death and any man who disdains death in the presence of his enemies is a formidable opponent indeed.
Some marveled at his boldness. During one skirmish in West Virginia, miners raised the flag of rebellion against the state and took over telegraph lines, railroad junctions and signal houses. Murray stepped into the eye of that storm and urged the strikers to put down their squirrel guns. Instead they turned their guns on him and he had to hi-tail it out of there. During his getaway he nearly got killed when his car slipped on a muddy road and slid down the side of a mountain.
With maddening regularity, miners were killed by coal guards who were not even arrested let alone indicted and brought to trial. But anytime a mine guard happened to get killed, scores of miners were arrested and kept in jail for months merely on suspicion of murder.
The worst of the lot of the mining regions where murder, mayhem and cruel injustices were imposed on miners was the state of West Virginia where violence erupted in small mining towns having disarming bucolic names like Cabin Creek, Paint Creek and Holly Grove
In the latter named shots were fired into a tent colony killing one miner and a woman. Sixteen others were wounded in the wake of the violence after which, violating all state laws, the military commission arrested scores of strikers.
It came to a head in the spring of l920. A number of Mingo County operators locked out miners and brought in replacements causing all hell to break loose at Matewan. A gun battle ensued killing ten men including the mayor and two company guards who happened to be brothers. Striking families spent the winter of l92l in tent colonies and the West Virginia governor placed Mingo county under martial law. On July 3l, l92l, Sid Hatfield, the Matewan Chief of Police who survived the gunfire in l920 was ambushed and shot by a gang of company men. Three weeks later between five or six thousand men carrying high-powered rifles and pistols marched over the ridge of the mountain to Logan and Mingo counties and, as expected, gunfire broke out between Logan county coal operator guards--- reinforced by the West Virginia militia—and the marchers. The battle went on for over a week. The marchers’ opposition included company guard shooters, the West Virginia militia and a coterie of armed businessmen. As many as fifty men on both sides were killed when the marchers broke through the lines. The tide turned when federal troops arrived on the scene. Martial law continued in West Virginia until the strike was finally broken.
The slaughter at Mingo County in l92l cost the UMW dearly. In l920 UMW paid-up membership in Mingo county was nearly l00,000. By l929 the paid-ups fell to under l000. As a result, many of the fields in West Virginia eventually fell into the hands of the National Miners Union---a far more militant union than the UMW---organized in l928 under left-wing leadership.
Speaking on the subject of West Virginia as a young union leader and later as a mature and prominent one, Murray seemed to take as a personal affront the corporate and judicial outlawry that went on in that state.
When a company guard kills with deliberate intent a striking coalminer and is not even put in jail or brought to trial because, supposedly, he is merely protecting the property of his employer, or when striking and picketing miners are taken to magistrates (who represent the lowest level of civil law) and through specious so-called legal proceedings are put in jail by them, or when goliath corporations like US Steel might shoot union organizers (like Murray) on sight for merely setting foot on their property, it was enough for Murray to consider it his right in the eyes of God to spew righteous wrath upon the heads of the super rich owners of the coal properties in West Virginia who kept workers and unions there in a ‘pauperized’ state.
In Murray’s mind, West Virginia was Lanarkshire the district in Scotland where he was born and where the miners and their families as late as the l7th and l8th centuries were by law ‘beholden’ to the lairds upon whose estates they worked.
Were judges who imposed their will on workers and unions any worse than the lairds of Scotland who kept the miners who worked on their estates in peonage? Too often and especially in West Virginia, judges through their judge-made laws usurped what was supposed to be the legal rights of workers to join unions. How could these judges—most born with silver spoons in their mouths—possibly know how ordinary working men functioned as human beings? Could they even visualize where or how these workers lived, what their wives and children looked like and what (if anything) they ate for dinner? For that matter how would any judge anywhere in the country know those things?
In a perverse way it seemed that the prime standard judges applied to their legal behavior and decision-making involving working men was to keep their distance, remove themselves as far as possible from an understanding of their lives.
From his experiences as an IEB organizer in the captive mine fields of West Virginia, Eastern Kentucky and Southwestern Pennsylvania, Murray will compile in his memory an anthology of stories that will create a dark spot in his heart. Throughout his union career he will call up these stories to remind his union adversaries why it is necessary for unions to exist. He will also give vivid and emotional accounts to his listeners at convention gatherings, executive board meetings and public forums of having witnessed children in mining towns eating out of garbage cans, or of having guns mounted atop captive mine compounds aimed at his heart, or of helplessly watching coal police evict striking miners from their homes, tromping inside miners’ houses from the mounts of their horses scaring small children nearly to death.
Being an international union officer and especially a field organizer during the first three decades of the century was for men like Murray who took their jobs seriously an unrelenting act of faith in the future of unions that bordered on madness. When one considers such a persistent giving over of oneself to the dangers involved and the failures more often than victories one had to face, one can’t help but look back on the history of those union times and marvel. To this day it seems an inexplicable feat of endurance that borders on mystery.
The offshoot of the death and violence in West Virginia was the establishment of the Committee on Education and Labor of the U.S. Senate in October, l92l. Murray spoke out loudly and clearly before the committee stating that basic freedoms of speech, assembly and movement were treated by the coal industry in West Virginia at best with derision, at worst contempt.
Obfuscating the issue of basic human rights of workers were the loosely applied insidious charges by their adversaries that all unions were made in the image of the International Workers of the World (IWW), an amalgam of radicals, anarchists and Bolsheviks whose sole purpose was to bring down institutions of government and seize control of them by the more ‘deserving’ and ‘dynamic’ working class.
Such demagogic charges against legitimate trade unionism in America galled Murray to the extreme since he himself was an immigrant who had only received his naturalization papers in l9l2, loved America calling the day he became a citizen the greatest day of his life.
To Murray a trade unionist was a trade unionist and an Anarchist, Communist or Socialist were all the same. There was no ‘class-struggle’ in the vocabulary or in the intentions of Murray who never doubted the high merits of the free-enterprise system and who would never think of trying to dismantle it or renounce it and operate outside its capitalistic framework.
At a symposium marking the 50th anniversary of SWOC and Philip Murray’s l00th birthday, one of the invited speakers labeled Murray a Fabian.
Murray was not a Fabian. However, as a union leader he did demonstrate in his actions a political eclectic, but in the end his trade unionism beliefs always transcended whatever he might have sampled from political, social or economic theory.
That’s not to say that Murray could not have lived easily with certain Fabian principles. As the Fabians, he rejected Marxist history and the idea that revolutionary events stirred up by the working classes could change its course; he could embrace the slow pace of achieving for workers the ultimate goal of receiving economic and social rewards due them with no less patience than the Roman general Fabius who held back his troops from battle and starved out his adversaries; lastly, he could accept a state that was neutral so long as it answered to democratic elections and consequent results.
The parts of Fabianism that Murray would not abide was the creation of a labor party and an unyielding national minimum wage to improve the ‘national stock’ since he believed in labor market forces, including industrial classification systems, no less than his adversaries believed in the economic principles of laissez-faire.
Besides all that, the Fabians tended to be elitist. The ideal British state of the future that they envisioned was one, as the authors of HAROLD LASKI. A LIFE ON THE LEFT put it, that was “managed and planned by technocratic, scientifically trained experts.” Where’s the merit in that? Murray would ask. In his mind, government officials elected by the people were to take the full responsibility for keeping the state moving toward the future. Let the scientists, technocrats and ‘experts’ who happen to be called into the government to contribute to its operation answer to them.
As to the debate about whether or not the poor were ignorant and unfit or ‘exploited and oppressed’ as the Fabians believed, Murray’s answer to that would be: They are neither; they are human beings.
And because in his mind it was a straight path to working within the free enterprise system to achieve fair share of the American economic pie for the workers he spoke for, he lost no time indulging in effete social or political disputations about class differences or the saintly ideal of the working man being the Salt of the Earth or any other such high-blown rhetoric of idealization.
He was hands-on always striving to meet for workers their simple needful demands like better wages, safer working conditions which he negotiated in the Voorhees mine the one where the explosion occurred that killed Elizabeth’s father and negotiating the right from coal operators to organize outside day men, employers operators claimed ‘didn’t count’.
Simple, needful one-thing-at-a-time accomplishments for miners such as these was what increased respect for Murray in the eyes of his fellow miners and catapulted him up in the ranks by l9l6 to becoming president of District #5, second (after Illinois) largest district in the UMW.
When Van Bittner took an appointment to the national union staff and resigned, Murray ran for the office as District #5 president and won.
By l9l6, having ten solid years of union activities and field organizing experience under his belt and through his IEB membership inside knowledge of the workings of the union, nobody but Tony Jones, the man whom he beat in the election, was surprised that Murray emerged the victor.
Jones, an Italian who changed his name, went around asking why Murray who had less time in and experience as a union officer beat him. The answer he got back was better to take a chance with the less experienced Murray who was honest spoke up for miners than the man (Jones) he defeated whose reputation for doing the same was questionable.
Lest it be presumed that by anglicizing his name, Jones unwittingly revealed a rather shallow motive of seeking a position of power for its own sake, at that time—among some segments of the rank and file—Italians were no less despised than blacks. It was a fact that the proportions of ethnic populations had not matched up in percentages with top echelon positions held in nearly all unions.
The electors’ faith in Murray did not go unrewarded. He was very soon as popular as he had always been among the miners and workers he represented because he never stopped trying to get the best deal for them.
John Brophy, president of District #2 (region east of District #5, Johnstown-Somerset area) wrote in his autobiography, A MINER’S LIFE that Murray had a solid reputation as a genuine, dedicated union man:
“Murray (was) not the type to raise a row, but was more likely to steer his way carefully through a mess, trying to get the best he could for the union without upsetting applecarts. He would not welcome arranging cozy settlements with coal operators in underhanded ways to give district presidents credit with their…membership…(because)…he knew he had to live with such machinations.”
Brophy goes on to say that considering all the turmoil in District #5, no better choice than Murray could have been made. Murray was a master at reconciling differences. “He had an easy, conciliatory manner and never pushed things to a showdown if they could be allowed to work themselves out gradually.”
Granted, it seems to this point in this life portrait of Murray that the narrative is skewing a bit too much toward sketching a man who had no faults and could do no wrong regardless of the decisions he made as a worker and union man.
Too good to be true is an appellation that suits no human creature and perhaps the most unlikeliest of them a union officer.
Murray was not ‘too good to be true’ but he was a genuinely good man. One of the main reasons was that he was a man of deep faith. Throughout the sixty-six years of his life, he never caved in to the many contradictory urges the world presents on a platter to persons in positions of power.
Again, Murray was a Catholic who attended Mass daily in whichever city he happened to be. This daily attendance at Mass both reinforced his faith and injected a fervor in him that kept him alive, daily, to seeing to the tasks of the union business at hand.
To most Irish Catholics of Murray’s time, the Mass and Catholic faith were no less a natural part of their daily lives as hard work from dawn to dusk. But also there to define and reinforce Philip’s faith and union mission was Pope Leo’s Revum Noveram, an Encyclical that sounded a universal call to the betterment of the working class. Every working man being equal in the eyes of God, cited the Encyclical, had rights and privileges to pursue economic opportunities and to secure his social and moral rights. This charge was held not only in the hands of the workers but employers and governments too who controlled the economic destiny of workingmen.
Murray relied on the canonical spirit of Revum Noveram as the foundation for many decisions he made as a labor leader. The Pope’s encyclical was treated by Murray as one of the most important books on his desk. It served to remind him daily of his obligation.
In his later years, this dedication to the betterment of worker’s lives brought him recognition and acclaim. He received several honorary doctoral degrees (one from Boston University to name only one), acknowledging his lifelong perseverance in pursuing the task of bringing better standards of living to workingmen.
Also, throughout his marriage to Elizabeth, as well as his love his faith established his fidelity and devotion to her. Never to anyone’s knowledge did Murray’s behavior even hint at succumbing to the temptations men of power face daily. In fact so vigilant was he in his marriage vows and fidelity to his faith that as a dutiful Catholic believer he even avoided the occasions of sin. He hired a very young David J. McDonald to be his personal secretary when he was elected vice president of the UMW and brought in his niece Mercedes to be h is secretary. Not until later, past his vulnerable-to-temptation years, did he bring in female office staff. These women who worked with him on a daily basis came to love him and serve him loyally.
On the home front, Elizabeth’s love and loyalty to him remained, throughout their marriage, beyond reproach. When it became apparent to the two that they would not be able to have children they adopted a two-year old boy from the Roselia Foundling Home in Pittsburgh and named him Joseph.
There’s a question that possibly Murray’s devout faith and Catholic beliefs caused some to criticize his union leadership as being too overbearing and dogmatic, especially regarding his methods of union governance. It has been said that while he openly seemed to accept ideas from his close advisors or district officers, he paid little heed to them if it meant disrupting the status quo or changing union policy. After life with John L. Lewis (more about him later), at a time when Murray’s power exceeded that of Lewis, Murray always had the final word on any subject involving union policy.
It was not because he carried the dogmatism of his faith to the workplace; but rather because he knew from his turbulent UMW union days that men of ambition who would be ‘king’ were always ready to take power—often for its own sake—presenting this idea or that one, or making this or that excuse. For eleven years, between l920 and l930, he and Lewis were hounded by such men which, had FDR not come along, might have completely destroyed the union.
Such challenges did not come to him by the time he became president of the CIO and USWA. By then Murray was certain that he had been ‘called’ as a labor leader. Anyone who second-guessed what he thought was best for the union incited in him the same response as a saint grouching at one who has interrupted his prayers.
So perhaps this immutable power that carried in his inner spiritual life is what makes it difficult to put a political label on Murray. Along with being a trade unionist, Murray was politically all these other things: A Catholic-reformist, a liberal-progressive and a neo-corporatist. Within any of the political rubrics one might place him, he worked the limits of their boundaries.
As a practicing Catholic, Murray could not have, as a labor leader, ignored the storm of Catholic reformism that took on a vital (if sometimes dubious) life within the American social, economic and industrial debate during the 20s, 30s and postwar 40s.
Amid the broader scope of the Progressive and Socialist movements, the Catholic reformist movement in the U.S. contributed resonant voices of its own. The voices ranged from the extreme corners of radical conservatism represented on the Left by the Reverend Charles Owen Rice and on the Right by Charles Coughlin, the controversial and contentious radio priest.
Monsignor John A. Ryan’s (and Catholic bishops’) l9l9 STATEMENT ON SOCIAL RECONSTRUCTION that sought capitalist reform in the American economy was a work compatible with Murray’s beliefs. The STATEMENT stressed the value of workers as human beings and not mere commodities of their often too-greedy capitalist employers and urged that workers be paid wages enough to live properly and not in a state of terminal poverty.
On the other hand, Charles Coughlin’s populist zealotry and constant harangues against capital, organized labor and FDR’s New Deal got no endorsement from Murray. The Catholic Workers Movement founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin that took a personalist Francis of Assisi approach to tending to the poor through Houses of Hospitality was one among the new wave of Catholic reformist movements beginning in the 30s that Murray enthusiastically supported. One Catholic priest-reformist who in the city of Pittsburgh practically operated on Murray’s doorstep was Charles Owen Rice. Rice founded in Pittsburgh the Catholic Radical Alliance (CRE) and later a Pittsburgh chapter of the Association of Catholic Trade Unionists (ACTU). The latter organization rendered activist support by clergy (Rice, the most vociferous, in the vanguard) to the trade union movement and the former, CRE, a local Pittsburgh Hospitality House version of the Catholic Workers Movement in New York. Up until the postwar years, Murray for the most part maintained his distance from the publicly outspoken priest but in l948 and l949 he will take advantage of Rice’s anti-Communist zealotry and massive CP membership file and purge the Communists from the CIO so described in Chapter Fifteen of this e-book.
As a liberal-progressive, Murray tolerated left-wing activism as it suited the union’s purposes though he never signed on to their agendas; contrarily, he was as vocally patriotic and loyal to his country as any jingoistic conservative might be: In the face of an angry rank and file and militant factions in the UMWA and later the CIO unions, he insisted during both wars on maintaining the unions’ agreed-upon no-strike pledges. As a neo-corporatist, Murray’s desire to complement collective bargaining with tripartite government boards took him to the liberal edge. He permitted the state to set workers’ wage and entitlement policies, but at the same time yielded to a pluralist consensus that institutionalized the union hierarchy and required the rank and file to ‘lie down like good dogs’ since the union had a seat at the Corporatist Table and was working to accommodate their needs.
Of all the labor leaders of stature in the 20th century, perhaps Murray was the most beloved by unionists at all levels. But he could also be considered the most paternalistic. Ironically then, Murray imposed some of the same attitudes on the rank and file of his own union no less than the paternalistic attitudes ordained on the labor force at the turn of the century by the industrial giants whom he mostly despised.
Sources for Chapter Two: ‘Sairving’ the Miners: Man on a Mission—l9l3-l9l6
COAL AND MEN, 30, 57 & l24, l62, l70, 2l5, l48 & 206-2ll. INTERVIEW WITH PAT FAGAN, 6, l5. Arthur E. Suffern, ORGANIZED RELATIONS AND INDUSTRIAL PRINCIPLES IN THE COAL INDUSTRY, (New York, l926), l5l-52. John Chamberlain, “Philip Murray,” LIFE MAGAZINE, 20 (l946), 78-90. ORGANIZED LABOR IN AMERICAN HISTORY, 243-44. “The Case of the West Virginia Coal Mine Workers.” Opening Statement of Philip Murray, VP of UMW before the Committee on Education and Labor of the U.S. Senate, October 2l, l92l, 5-6. A MINER’S LIFE, 23, 73-74; l36-37, l49-50. CERTIFICATE OF NATURALIZATION, Number 3ll994, September l8, l9l2, Murray Papers, Penn State Labor Archives. PROCEEDINGS OF THE 24th ANNUAL CONVENTION OF UMW DISTRICT 5 Held at Union Labor Temple, Webster Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA, February l8-22, l9l3, 20-28. John H.M. Laslett, “A Model of Industrial Solidarity? Interpreting the UMWA’s First Hundred Years, l890-l990,” THE UNITED MINEWORKERS OF AMERICA, l7. The last pages of Chapter Two make up an essay based on my experience and general knowledge of Catholicism as it was in Murray’s time and the importance religion played in Murray’s life as reiterated in the opinions of nearly everyone who knew him, but especially as revealed in the interview with Joe Murray who told a story of his father rousting him out of bed early in the morning to attend Mass with him. Stories such as Joe’s and others that demonstrated Philip’s deep-seated faith which, lifelong, seemed to never waver.
WAR AND ITS AFTERMATH: New General and his ‘Trusted Lieutenant’ Take Command---l9l7-l92l
When the US entered the war, April 6, l9l7, throughout its duration 60,000 miners entered the military ranks.
That was one of the sacrifices the UMW made to show its support for America’s entry into the war. The UMW memberships’ patriotic response was in stark contradiction to a resolution put forth by District #2 in the l9l6 UMW convention stating that miners were against US involvement in the war. The grounds on which the resolution was based was that countries on both sides of the conflict were basically capitalistic rivals reaping profitable benefits at the cost of young lives being sacrificed on both sides of the ocean..
Not only had the UMW been well represented in the Great War by many of its members but it also demonstrated its support for the American doughboy by agreeing to abide by the Washington Agreement which outlawed strikes during the war..
As president of District #5, Murray urged compliance to the Washington Agreement that thrust him into a maelstrom of discontent within the union’s ranks especially among its militant members. The miners, said the vocal militants, were being locked into an agreement that would subject them to economic hardship because of the outrageously high prices for food and commodities and a runaway inflation that the government seemed unable to control.
In his own district, Murray had rewarded the compliant miners by negotiating a contract with operators that got them (what was then) a lucrative five dollar per day wage rate.
The inevitable rebellion against the Washington Agreement, which throughout the war the miners had only grudgingly accepted, came when at war’s end the administration kept the Washington Agreement in play, a decision contrary to what it had promised the miners. The UMW, led by an angry coterie of militants forced the issue of a strike set for November l, l9l9. The demands the UMW made on operators, some seeming unrealistic if not outrageous, included a 60% increases in wages, a five day week, six hour day, time and a half for overtime and double time for Sundays.
A Coal Commission met and on December l0th agreed to yield to the UMW a 27% increase in wages and that only on the condition that the penalty clause remain in place.
In the face of continuing inflation, swift postwar cutbacks, the lowering of wages and numerous mine closings, the rank and file was adamantly prepared to ignore the Bituminous Coal Commission’s recommendations and stay out until a more acceptable offer was made.
But when on behalf of the government an Indianapolis judge issued an injunction enjoining the union to cease and desist, acting UMW president John L. Lewis yielded and ordered the miners to return to work. Lewis justified his decision by telling the miners it was one thing to go against coal operators but, as good US citizens, a more honorable consideration to yield to the higher authority of the government.
The militants led by a fractious trio of present and former district presidents named Walker, Farrington and Howat, accused (in so many words) Lewis of being a cowardly ‘company’ man and a lackey for a government that would as soon crush the working class as yield even a crumb to it.
This action by Lewis (said his detractors) was insidious and cowardly in the face of the many strikes in industries across the country, especially the one in big steel. Consider the boost strikers across the country would’ve gotten had Lewis scoffed at and ignored the injunction, they argued.
However, what went unsaid by the UMW’s socialist faction, the militants who led the charge against Lewis, was that the steel strike was led by William Z. Foster, an avowed Communist who in his public outspoken ways was already fueling the flames of America’s self-proclaimed sentinels of the free enterprise system (namely big business and the National Association of Manufacturers) who were claiming that the strikes across the country were Bolshevik led, masterminded by a bunch of European immigrant factions of anarchistic and Red conspirators.
In the face of such fear-mongering propaganda that left an impression of dubious trust for unions in the eyes of the American public, Lewis’ decision to heed the injunction could not have been more felicitous. By doing so he reinforced in the public’s mind the idea that the UMW was a responsible union that could not be compared to the radical, irresponsible bunch at the IWW; he demonstrated a fearlessness in his decision-making that established his authority over the rabble-rousing socialist faction in the UMW; he also made it clear that if Foster by some magical hat trick were going to win the victory for the steelworkers it would not be because his power was compounded in a strike-partnered arrangement with the mineworkers’ union; he had calculated that thanks to his friends, Philip Murray, Tom Kennedy and Van Bittner along with the voting blocs each controlled in District 5, l and 2l, his election as president of the UMW (coming up in December l920) was practically assured. But perhaps the most important reason why Lewis did not disobey the injunction was because he dared not, as acting president, jeopardize his chances of winning that election by involving the union in a protracted and costly strike.
So in the end the tables were turned on the militants. The man who became the president of the UMW by a 60,000 vote margin in the December election a year later proved to be a man emboldened by a keen instinct for knowing how to manipulate the reins of power.
Nor could anyone argue with Lewis’ perception: Who else of such an opposite nature, temperament and personality, would have had the good sense to call upon Philip Murray, the quintessential soft-spoken but tough-minded conciliator, to be his choice as vice-president of the UMW so the two could stand side by side atop perhaps the most powerful union in the world?
The first meeting between Philip Murray and John L. Lewis if not apocryphal at least challenges the imagination.
It took place in l9l2 in the Old Labor Temple at the Webster Hall building in downtown Pittsburgh
As the story goes, previous to the meeting between him and Murray, Lewis (at the time an organizer for the AFL under Gompers who had been sent to help organize the Westinghouse plant) had made arrangements to meet Murray at the designated place but when Murray arrived Lewis was going at it with two brutish boilermakers (supposedly Westinghouse watchdogs) one of whom Lewis had already knocked down.
Murray asked if any of the combatants were named Lewis and Lewis answered ‘Yes, but I’m busy now, be with you in a minute.’
So the story goes.
No two men seemed more destined to become professionally partnered than Lewis and Murray. Physically speaking they were worlds apart in their differences. Lewis was a muscular barrel of a man. Into his middle years there was hardly an ounce of fat on him. His voice boomed when he spoke and sometimes growled which along with his bushy eyebrows and mane of black hair made one feel like he was in the presence of a lion, so overwhelming was his comportment.
Murray, on the other hand, was more slightly built, quieter and more controlled in his speech.
No less dissimilar were the two men in their temperaments, personalities and the personal values they embraced.
Lewis was vindictive toward those who opposed him, saw himself as a man of unquestioned authority and among his underlings would not abide disloyalty or disobedience. He possessed a personality that permitted him to move about with ease among the influential rich and powerful. He befriended persons holding high office in government, Herbert Hoover foremost among them, and felt generally at ease in all walks of company except, ironically, within close proximity of the rank and file of the union he led. Heading the list of Lewis’ personal ambitions was his near covetous need to possess power which he believed was necessary to add muscle to the authority he wielded often with impunity not only against his enemies but within the union and later the nation itself. For 40 years Lewis succeeded at being perhaps the country’s most powerful labor leader to the point of institutionalizing himself as an iconic figure in the 20th century movement for organized labor.
Contrarily, Murray was even-tempered, calm, unassuming, and socially and professionally ever ready to yield the limelight to Lewis or whoever in his coterie felt a greater need to bask in it than he.
On personal values, Lewis was no match to Murray. Murray’s whole behavioral spectrum, professional and otherwise, was grounded in humility whose foundation was spiritual in nature. Lewis possessed a moral rectitude, non-spiritual in nature but more situational and subject to the eclipsing shadows it may throw over his ego.
So then when did the two men link together in a mutually satisfying personal and professional partnership that lasted 20 years before differences struck like lightning between them and violently split asunder their friendship?
Differences aside, in the beginning what brought the two together was their singular purpose to create a more powerful union. Murray knew that Lewis was the man to lead the UMW, a union that by l9l8 had become complacent and suffered a vacuum of leadership. It would do the union a world of good, Murray firmly believed, if the man with the coal-seamed brows moved up and took hold of the highest reins of leadership.
Lewis could see the value of a man like Murray who would maintain equanimity at the top. Murray possessed traits of character and temperament that any top-echelon union leader could make good use of. Especially in the UMW where treacherous undercutting from within was becoming rampant and a battle for the union’s soul was being waged against the leadership by the militant socialist faction.
By the time of the l9l9 UMW convention (the one that Lewis presided over as acting president) and the friendship between the two by then had become bonded, Murray became Lewis’ point man in the l920 election campaign.
By that time a popular and trusted union officer, Murray had a broad base of friends throughout the UMW giving him important power-bloc connections that boosted Lewis’ chances of being elected.
The major task that Murray faced was persuading John Brophy and other less recalcitrant militants among the rank and file that the UMW desperately needed a president of Lewis’ formidable force, energy and aplomb to make up for the unproductive leadership of the departed former president, White, and the in-absentia present president, Frank Hayes (in whose capacity Lewis was acting) who was losing the battle to a debilitating alcoholism.
As Lewis’ campaign spokesman, perhaps the biggest challenge Murray faced was the mistrust for Lewis’s among not only his enemies but others in the union who questioned the dubious nature of his rise to the threshold of the UMW presidency.
In his ascension to the top, Lewis seemed to leave a counterfeit trail. His union career had not been as seamless as Murray’s. Lewis was born in l880 in Cleveland, Iowa. In l90l, he became an official at a union local. Apparently restless and dissatisfied with that position, he left Iowa and for five years roamed the west as a casual laborer working copper, silver, gold and coal mines in four states. When he returned to his hometown, he took a mine job and was elected a delegate to the national convention of the UMW. After marrying the daughter of a doctor in l907, he became serious about making a union career. He became president of a local mine union in Panama, Illinois and when in l9ll Gompers appointed him general field agent for the AFL, Lewis had gained access to workers and made contacts with unions (and operators) in the southwest, southeast and northern corners of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. After his first meeting with Murray, he became the UMW’s chief statistician in l9l7, vice-president that same year and, soon after, acting president replacing the aforementioned Frank Hayes. As acting president, Lewis became the candidate for office of UMW president and won the election held in December l920.
In that December l920 UMW international election, Murray’s margin of victory over his opponent, Alex Howat, Lewis bitter enemy, was only ll,000 votes. Lewis margin over Robert Harlin was 60,000. Harlin, from Washington State, was the insurgents’choice to run against Lewis.
Compared to Lewis’ margin, Murray’s narrow victory in that election was a reflection of the man’s self-effacing attitude where the ordering of priorities was concerned.
It was Murray’s dogged persistence to put aside the urgency of his own interests and bring home the vote for Lewis from the eastern Appalachian region, especially the West Virginia, Eastern Kentucky and Alabama fields. Murray garnered for Lewis not only the 60,000 vote margin of victory over Harlin but perhaps more importantly the l639 to 23l convention vote in January 5, l920 approving Lewis’ handling of the l9l9 strike. His perennial enemies, Farrington, Walker and Howat, had accused Lewis of kow-towing to the big business interests by ending that strike which charge they tried to wield against him in the election.
From the beginning to the end of his tenure as president of the UMW, Lewis will follow the lead of John Mitchell, UMW president from l898-l908, who established strong central control over the union’s constituent bodies and who made it known to the rank and file that the president and executive board know best and must take precedence over provincial concerns. Beginning with his election in l920, Lewis in his bombastic and autocratic way will tighten the screws of central control and encapsulate the power of the top UMW leadership which for over 20 years after his incumbency will carry into the early 80s when the democratic reform engendered during the presidency of Richard Trumpka were established.
From the very beginning of their partnership, Murray was a fiercely loyal supporter of Lewis’ high-handed manner of administering union policy. Later, as president of the Steelworkers Organizing Committee (SWOC), the CIO and the United Steelworkers of America (USWA), he will follow the same pattern of leadership. However, the persona projected in Murray’s methods of administration would be, unlike Lewis’, teacherly, casual and almost fatherly.
So then from the beginning the contrasts between the two men’s styles were sharply apparent. When David J. McDonald, as a young man seeking employment, first encountered Philip Murray, Murray was in his mid-thirties. Writes McDonald in UNION MAN, he “was a handsome, dignified, impeccably dressed man with a shock of black hair that bent over rigidly horizontal eyebrows. The eyes, brown and cool, regarded me quizzically as my benefactor—a UMW organizer named Dave Hickey—said, “I’ve found a secretary for you, Phil.”
McDonald describes how ‘scared’ he was in Murray’s presence, but Murray immediately put him at ease by saying, “You sound ambitious. You want to work for me?” The answer to that question is history. Upon the death of Murray in l952, McDonald succeeded him as president of the USWA. His job as Murray’s secretary in the UMW and then secretary-treasurer in the SWOC and USWA lasted for over 30 years.
In the eyes of McDonald, Murray seemed a ‘strange combination of working man and scholar, sharp but no way flashy.” And he always wore conservative suits and was ‘dignified to the point of stuffiness.”
This outward reserve was a means of keeping the focus on what was important, that being his concentration on his work. In that regard Murray was a single-minded man. When he spoke people listened. He spoke in a direct no-nonsense voice and he shone especially in his eloquent articulation of the union’s cause before House and Senate hearings on labor.
As a self-taught labor leader he was especially good at academic one-upmanship as in the case of the senate Hearings on the industry situation in West Virginia, l92l when he turned the tables on big business supportive Republicans on the committee by quoting two Republican presidents, Theodore Roosevelt and William H. Taft, of the former quoting, “I believe emphatically in organized labor…organizing is one of the laws of our social and economic development at this time…” Then quoting Taft, “What the capitalist who is the employer of labor must face is that the labor union is a permanent condition in the industrial world. It has come to stay.”
Even J.D. Rockefeller, said Murray to that same Committee, admitted that “…it is just as proper…for labor to associate itself into…organized groups…as for capital to combine…”
Lewis spoke also to the committee members during those same Senate Hearings but everyone expected him to say what he did with, perhaps and characteristically, more flair than was necessary while Murray, on his end, let the words speak for themselves.
Source Notes for Chapter Three: WAR & ITS AFTERMATH: NEW GENERAL & HIS ‘TRUSTED LIEUTENANT’ TAKE COMMAND—l9l7-l92l
A MINER’S LIFE, ll7; l24; l30; l3l-33; l42-43, l49-5l. ORGANIZED RELATIONS AND INDUSTRIAL PRINCIPLES IN THE COAL INDUSTRY, 94; 96-97; 99. INTERVIEW WITH PAT FAGAN, l5-l6; l9. ORGANIZED LABOR IN AMERICAN HISTORY, 350. William Z. Foster, THE GREAT STEEL STRIKE and its Lessons, (New York, MCMXX), 42-43; 48; l05. Melvyn Dubofsky and Warren Van Tine, JOHN L. LEWIS, A Biography, (New York, l977), 4-l0 (Dubofsky and Van Tine go on in exhaustive detail, over several pages, calling to account the dubious personal history Lewis often laid claim to but for which chronicles facts to support them seemed often to come up wanting. 25-26; 29; 3l; 62-65; 70; 80; 96-97; ll8. Craig Phelan, “John Mitchell and the Politics of the Trade Agreement, l898-l9l7,” THE UNITED MINEWORKERS OF AMERICA, 79 & 86. David J. McDonald, UNION MAN, (New York, l969), 66- 67. “The Case of the West Virginia Coal Mine Workers,” Murray quoting Howard Taft, & J.D. Rockefeller Jr., l6-l7; 25. “The Coal Strike is On”, THE OUTLOOK, l30 (l922), 579. COAL AND MEN, 224-225. Alan J. Singer, “Something of a Man, John L. Lewis, the UMWA and the CIO, l9l9-l943”, THE UNITED MINEWORKERS OF AMERICA, l06.
STATE OF THE UNION: Gathering Forces from Within and Without—l922-24
If ever in his career as a union leader Murray exhibited strong instincts for survival, for his own preservation as well as the union’s, it was during his first four years as Vice-president of the UMW.
During those four years he and Lewis, constantly challenged by the union’s militant faction, had to restructure district, sub-district and local UMW offices to maintain discipline in the ranks, were forced to tighten the purse strings on a financially teetering treasury, and out of necessity had to settle the l922 coal strike a cold hearted move, Lewis’ enemies charged, that may have ended the strike but cost the union its soul.
Though the dust was beginning to settle on the heightened anti-union passions evoked by the Espionage and Sedition Acts of l9l7 and l9l8 that presupposed threats of a class uprising led by organized labor (some parts of the acts refuted in court tests by intellectuals such as Oliver Wendell Holmes), organized labor’s adversaries remained virulent: Many judges at the state level (West Virginia and Kentucky especially), ruled it a crime for the UMW to try to organize non-union mines; the J.P. Morgan dictum that where no unions in mills exist none shall ever come to be remained the ‘law’ of the corporation, and the American Plan, which stressed employers’ rights to maintain complete control over employees by chasing unions from their premises as they saw fit, became, virtually, an institutionalized attitude in the industrial world.
To this union-repressed state of affairs, Murray, speaking at the Senate Hearing on the situation in West Virginia, said that elected public officers have a responsibility to see to it that a “preeminence of human rights over property rights” be established in the government.
Those were the pre-existing conditions that were in place when the UMW stepped out on strike on April l, l922. The strike was essentially called to organize and unionize the non-union mines, especially the captives controlled by the corporations.
6000 mines were affected by the strike involving one half million miners. Most crucial to the success of the strike was the UMW’s expected accountability to the risky Brophy-led walkouts in District #2 that involved l4,000 non-union members in search of union support.
A collapse of the strike’s purpose would have a devastating effect on the miners and their families in that district since scabs by the train-carloads had been brought in, but worse, striking miners and their families were evicted, en mass, from their company homes.
Because of the odds stacked against the UMW, the worst was bound to occur and inevitably it did.
From the beginning, the operators had seen to it that coal in the millions of tons had been stockpiled to take them deep into the strike. Then to maintain the stockpile, scabs in some counties were producing coal up to 70% capacity.
The country seemed to favor the operators’ claim that miners wages contributed most significantly to the high price of coal despite Murray’s public utterances that one could, “Take the entire labor cost out, make the miners produce for no wage and the price of coal would still be exorbitant. Reduce the miners’ wages 25 or 30%”, said Murray, “and the difference to the average buyer, the households, would be infinitesimal.”
The charge was startling enough in itself to be worthy of a public debate. But it went ignored so the situation became ‘hopelessly deadlocked’. Within three months financial conditions deteriorated so precipitously for the UMW that desperate measures needed to be taken to avoid bankruptcy and insure the union’s survival.
The fact that production of coal in non-union fields never fell below 64% of capacity all but sealed the coffin of the UMW.
So Lewis and Murray took what they could get by negotiating contracts with unionized mines district by district. The best they could manage were contracts that maintained existing wages and conditions so that at least no backward steps were taken.
But it was a dubious victory to say the least. By necessity strikers in the non-union fields were virtually abandoned for the simple reason that there was no money in the UMW treasury to save them. So desperately close to bankruptcy was the union that it had to tap its securities and then borrow money from the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and the Harriman Bank of New York just to maintain its ‘penny account’ against the combined USS corporation, banks, trust companies and intermingling directorates that, cumulatively, had a total capitalization of ten (or so) billion dollars and change.
As expected, the up-shoot of the l922 bituminous coal strike disaster was a surge of militants’ power to oust Lewis and Murray on the grounds of abandoning thousands of miners to pauperism and starvation. William Z. Foster was their point man to the takeover whose intent it was to unseat Lewis and take the UMW to a higher level of militancy against the coal operators.
The would-be coup came to a head during the UMW January-February convention of l924. A near bloody riot led by the left-wing faction ensued in the wake of a challenge to Lewis’ right to appoint union organizers in the field.
Lewis won the vote on the resolution by 2236 to 2l06. The margin of victory was too narrow to suit the militants that caused the aforementioned ruckus on the convention floor but the Lewis-Murray supporters prevailed.
This turn-back and ouster of the insurgents by Lewis and Murray put the cap on Lewis’ power over the UMW and established once and for all that the man at the top was unto himself an impenetrable fortress.
Murray followed Lewis autocratic lead as president of the CIO and USWA but unlike Lewis was unassuming and subtle in the ways he manipulated union policy. Threats to Murray’s power were seldom announced. His modest subtle touch would be Murray’s distinguishing characteristic as a labor leader.
Blustering through a series of victories over the militants in the UMW, Lewis seemed unable to transfer this skillful success to other union and industry problems: over- expansion for one and the resulting cut-throat competition that not only caused miners’ hours and wages to be reduced but also sent many honest coal operators into bankruptcy.
Was nationalization of the industry the answer?
Brophy thought so and presented to a post strike House Committee in l922 a plethora of detailed figures why it would be.
Neither Lewis nor Murray thought nationalization was a good idea, Lewis calling government ownership of the industry an impossibility and Murray saying the elimination of industry autocracy and tyranny would be better.
Was the answer to ‘industrial autocracy and tyranny’ the creation of a Labor Party? Lewis, Murray and the AFL top leadership dismissed that idea out of hand but the Chicago Federation of Labor sponsored a labor-endorsed party at a convention held in Chicago November l2, l9l9. There, the Farmer Labor Party was formed which in the l920 election polled nearly 300,000 votes. But the little interest labor leaders and workers in all industries demonstrated toward the idea of a labor party were revealed in the election results: the party’s best showing was in non-industrial areas. In l923 other failed attempts to create third parties to unite labor groups were manifested in the formation of the Federated Farmer Labor Party whose candidate was Senator Robert La Follette of Wisconsin and the Communist based Workers Party whose ticket, headed by William Z. Foster, received only a few votes in the l924 election.
The idea of nationalization of the coal industry may have gained impetus in the minds of its advocates by the surprise victory of the Labour Party in the l923 Parliamentary election in Great Britain. For the first time in English history, the Labour party had taken the reins of power in the parliament.
However, Ramsey MacDonald, the elected leader of the party, was considered by some within his own ranks to be a vain man too enamored by power and the allure of the society in London. MacDonald never did get around to setting coherent economic or labor agendas during his tenure as Prime Minister. Nevertheless, the idea of the Labour Party taking control of the government was a stunning event in its own right. It demonstrated to the world (or the Soviet Union at least) that democratic elections and mechanisms of government upon which they are based did work. The Labour Party victory also rejected the Marxist theory of history that revolutionary overthrow of governments was the only effective way to save the working class from the merciless rule of the economic class.
The Labour Party’s initial foray into national politics turned out to be little more than a political stutter-step, but the fact that a left-leaning government came into national prominence in one of the world’s most staunchly conservative sovereign states caused people to sit up and take notice.
However, other than being acknowledged in this country as a surprising political event, the Labour Party victory in GB took on little importance in the eyes of American labor leaders, especially Lewis and Murray. The establishment of labor parties and nationalization of industries was suited more to the political and economic systems of GB than the US.
The greater problem to be faced in this country was the growing colossus of industrial power causing the economic gap to grow greater between capital and ordinary working citizens trying to eke out a living. That, in Murray’s mind, was the immediate problem that had to be faced. In the case of the miners in particular, it was not nationalization of the coal industry that would solve the near-zero purchasing power problem the workers faced but a fiscal margin for miners and workers in all industries that guarantee them work, food and shelter to help them sustain their families.
By early l923 the whole issue of nationalization was dead. Such a physical and mental toll did it take on John Brophy that he resigned as president of District #2
After being raked over the coals by Lewis for taking a desperate chance and following left-wing reformists, Brophy fell into the great trap of guilt by association a smear which Lewis shamelessly invoked against him and all the other perennial Lewis haters who had (for sure now Lewis could say it) political motives of their own. With that charge Lewis all but sealed the fate of the militants in the UMW at least as a threat to his leadership.
The Jacksonville Agreement too, coming on the heels of the nationalization debate, handily helped reinforce Lewis and Murray’s position of power in the union that by now still looked like a citadel on the outside but on the inside was crumbling.
The agreement was signed February l924. It was considered the contract of contracts, longer than any other in the history of the industry. It was on course to go three years, from April l, l924 to March 3l, l927.
On its surface the Jacksonville Agreement was a triumph of union-industry cooperation. It was greeted with praise by Secretary of Commerce Hoover, president Coolidge and other prominent businessmen, especially when Lewis (sounding like a true Republican) praised a hands-off policy permitting economic market forces to follow their own path.
l924 was a good year for both labor leaders to negotiate agreements. Considering that the recriminations and hardships of the l922 strike still hovered in the air, they continued to maintain the UMW’s stability. The ghosts of ‘betrayed’ miners were hanging about everywhere, ready to pronounce doom on the union should an event similar to the l922 strike seem even remotely possible.
But in fairness, considering the conditional underpinnings of the coal industry and the reverberating effect the shakiness had on the survival of the union, who among the rank and file could ask for more from their leaders than Lewis and Murray gave them?
Before the Jacksonville Agreement, Murray, on September 7th l923, had won a good contract from the anthracite operators, details of that contract worked out right in Pennsylvania Governor Pinchot’s executive office.
The contract was as good as a negotiator could expect to get. Over a two year period it included a l0% wage increase for day and tonnage workers; it also incorporated a voluntary dues checkoff collected not by management but union men, and the icing on the cake, so to speak, was that the coal operators agreed to only minimal increases in the price of coal.
It was that contract settled by Murray that set in motion the incentives to reach the Jacksonville Agreement which would bring to Lewis and Murray accolades in the press for the goodwill terms for both capital and labor stipulated in it.
Never mind that within six months of this history-making Agreement, it would not be worth the paper it was written on. Nevertheless, both Lewis and Murray were riding the crest of their popularity among the UMW membership and the public at large. Upon the death of Samuel Gompers on December 3, l924, Lewis entrenched his power by pushing William Green, a UMW executive officer, to the AFL presidency.
In l924, things were going definitely well for both Lewis and Murray. There were no challenges to his presidency in the l924 UMW election and Coolidge even asked him to be his Secretary of Labor. Lewis of course refused the offer knowing full well from the pinnacle where he now stood, becoming Secretary of Labor would be for him a step down in power.
And Murray? Not just riding the coattails but contributing more than his share to the two men’s tenure. Though most of the power came through the influence he wielded by his skill of holding together voting power blocs in the UMW, he had publicly proven himself to be a peerless negotiator.
Source Notes for Chapter Four: STATE OF THE UNION: GATHERING FORCES, FROM WITHIN AND WITHOUT. 1922-24.
COAL AND MEN, l28; l37. THE CASE OF THE WEST VIRGINIA COAL MINE WORKERS, 5-6; l4; l8; 23-5; 28; 46; 63; 73-74. ORGANIZED LABOR IN AMERICAN HISTORY, 364-65; 374; 383-5. ORGANIZED RELATIONS AND INDUSTRIAL PRINCIPLES IN THE COAL INDUSTRY, l05-6; l38-39; l48. JOHN L. LEWIS, 79; 87-88; 90-l25. Keith Dix, “Mechanization, Workplace Control, and the end of the Hand-Loading Era,” THE UNITED MINEWORKERS OF AMERICA, l95. PROCEEDINGS OF THE 28TH CONSECUTIVE AND FIFTH BIENNIAL CONVENTION OF THE UMWA, City of Indianapolis, Indiana, September 20, l92l, 604-626; 700-705. OUTLOOK, 579. NEW YORK TIMES, April l, l922; April 7, l922; April ll, l922; April l2, l922; April l3, l922; May l5, l922; June l6, l922. INTERVIEW WITH PAT FAGAN, 24-25. THE CASE, l0; 25-26; 46; 63; 73-74. A MINER’s LIFE, l65-69.
DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL: UMWA on the Flametip of Extinguishment. l925-l932
Among the classic works of Catholic literature is St. John of the Cross’ DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL, a journey of the spirit passing through the dark labyrinths of worldly trials and tribulations and the redemptive burn-off of sin.
Whether or not Murray knew of the book and had read it is not known. What is known is that in his role as Vice President of the UMWA, the years between l925 to l932 were crisis years not without their own sort of tribulation. It was a time that tried Murray’s patience. Publicly he disavowed what he called the greatly exaggerated reports that the UMWA was passing out of existence and he firmly believed his own words.
Murray believed that unions were built to survive but to thrive they needed help from the government either through legislation or, as he will suggest later, within a framework of industrial boards and councils.
Again, unlike Brophy and other British immigrants who came to America to work in industry, Murray never embraced the tradition of the dissident Irish immigrants who likened the US government to the hated English monarchy. He remained always a good citizen, patriotic and loyal to his country. The corporation was the ‘monarchy’ to Murray, not the US government. It was the corporation that treated workers harshly in the way the old feudal monarchies dealt with their subjects.
Worse, industries tied into corporations that seemed unable to get their moorings for whatever reasons only compounded problems for workers trying to eke out a living wage because invariably unions took the blame for companies on the brink of struggle rather than those same companies’ own poor decision-making or incompetent management.
The latter cause was what Philip Murray, in so many words, claimed, was perhaps the major reason why the coal industry operated in a state of constant turmoil and teetered on the edge of collapse.
Low resources of coal was not the problem. Billions of tons of coal were available to keep coal operators, mineworkers and generations of their families busy and earning money for years.
But while the coal supply may have been limitless, between l925 and l932, proportionally speaking, there was only a meager number of profitable tons to be mined due to the replacement of coal by oil, natural gas and water-generated electricity. Those changes that operators had to contend with along with a too-weighted miner workforce kept the industry in a state of chronic destabilization.
There seemed to be a myopic view endemic to coal operators and their (as Murray called them) “moronized trade associations” that America was “the land of the golden fleece”. Technological and industrial changes taking place right before their eyes was for the most part ignored by the industry or considered to be just another challenge that the suppliers of coal, the nations’ most crucially needed resource, would eventually overcome.
In their eyes as long as they produced the coal in large quantities and kept selling it at bargain basement prices, coal’s competitors, improved combustion, oil, gas and electricity, could be fended off and held at bay.
Apparently what they weren’t doing was acknowledging the fact that over a fifteen-year period up to l926, the volume of manufactured goods increased 74% while the consumption of coal only 29%. And natural gas consumption for energy production nearly quadrupled within a decade.
The handwriting was on the wall. The coal industry, sitting atop their billions of tons of coal, were sitting too high up on their false hopes to notice it.
To add to the changing economic patterns in the industry, came the advanced implementation of farm electrification, gas heating of small towns and electrified railroad terminals.
As if this weren’t enough to arouse the industry to face up to the new competition in the fields of energy production, Murray implicitly accused coal operators of putting the knife to their own throats by their sheer greed. How long would they continue to put off facing up to coal’s real problems by blaming unions and workers wages and going about spouting murky phrases like ‘national under consumption’?
Indirectly and directly then miners suffered hardships by operator cut-backs in work hours, wages and safety precautions within mines that put too many miners in hospitals and worse on disability rolls that condemned them and their families to a permanent state of poverty.
Small wonder then that scapegoatism became rampant. From without voiced by operators and a misinformed public who believed the company line that coal industry problems centered on high unionized wages. Voices from within, the UMW militants and left-wing radicals accused Lewis and Murray (especially Lewis) of dancing to the industry’s tune by doing little about the blatant contempt operators were showing to the Jacksonville Agreement, the now become worthless piece of paper that promised miners a living wage, improved working conditions and stable employment but instead delivered massive cutbacks, extortionist wage reductions and threats by operators to shut down mines at the first indication of a strike.
So suspicious of Lewis did the militant rank and file become that ugly rumors of corruption spread about him. Mother Jones accused Lewis of the unsubstantiated charge that he was involved in “conspiratorial dealings with business leaders” during the Brophy election challenge of l926 (which Brophy claimed he won but was denied by a corrupt count). Supposedly, a discovery was made that a General Manager of Consolidated Coal’s mines in West Virginia and Kentucky helped raise a l00,000 dollar slush fund (added to a previous l00,000 dollar payoff in l922) to help ‘persuade’ Lewis to run no UMW organizing drives in West Virginia.
As all rumors started by a target’s adversaries that grow into charges that cannot be proven, it becomes difficult to separate motive from fact. So, not surprisingly, those who despised Lewis believed the story and those who remained loyal to him did not.
By the time the collapse of the American economy came in October l929, much of the coal industry and undoubtedly miners, unionized and non-unionized, knew poverty and near starvation long before soup lines formed in cities around the country.
The worst of it for miners came during the long, bitter strike of l927. The slogan of that strike was ‘no backward step’ a charge given the union by the l927 UMW convention delegates.
Considering the abundant availability of non-union coal--- since in the sealed company towns in central Pennsylvania (Districts 2 & 5) alone there were nearly l50 companies operating non-union mines controlled by corporate interests--- the adamant attitudes of many coal operators that the union no longer existed and that the end result of the strike was a forgone conclusion, held firm.
In a cruel irony it was in the coalfields of those UMW districts where near starvation of miners’ families prevailed where the suppression of civil liberties was greatest.
In his book, PENNSYLVANIA MINING FAMILIES: The Search for Dignity in the Coal Fields, Barry Machrina’s first-person interview accounts by miners--- who at the time were still living in the central Pennsylvania areas and had experienced that strike and remembered well the misery it brought--- are a revelation to how repressive operators tactics during that strike were. Said one miner recalling the event, “There was the searchlight mounted on a tower at the end of the town. It was turned on after the 9:00 curfew. A whistle blew and the Coal and Iron police would patrol the town on horses. No congregating was allowed and everybody was ordered to stay 20 feet apart.”
In some places the more fortunate striking families were able to get coal to heat their houses from ‘union-country bank’ mines. The International paid striking workers what it was able to but, adding horror to the hardship, a few union officers in those striking fields fled with strike-relief funds.
Fortunately, charitable help was given in some of the District #2 towns by the Loyal Order of the Moose who distributed surplus flour. Many Cambria County farmers also pitched in and helped the cause. Said one farmer, “We’d be sackin’ potatoes as we were harvestin’ from one end of the field while people would be stealin’ potatoes from the other end.”
At that time federal and state injunctions enjoining a hands-off policy legally binding the union from making attempts to organize nonunion fields were still very much alive. Especially in the ‘deplorable’ bituminous fields of central and western Pennsylvania and the usual, West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky.
So absurd and ridiculous did the injunction impositions get that once when Lewis and Murray were in Fairmont, West Virginia assisting Van Bittner in the nonunion fields, they were issued fifteen of them. By the time Murray and Lewis had gone from the field, forty-one more had been given to them prompting Van Bittner to say injunctions “were like leaves of grass in the lives of labor leaders.”
To add to the injunction-ad-infinitum circus, when Lewis asked Hoover and Coolidge to try to do something about operators breaking union contracts, Hoover told Lewis to ‘try the law’ a perversely ironic suggestion to say the least.
To Murray, injunctions were no laughing matter. About them, said he to the delegates at the l930 UMW 3lst convention: There sole purpose was to keep “miners in a state “…of pauperized misery in the nonunion fields.”
At that same l930 convention a joint report of the International officers revealed that between then and the preceding convention, 650 injunctions had been issued. As court documents, injunctions provided air-tight protection to the employer but denied every legitimate right to trade unions to exercise their economic power. Injunctions were also a convenient coercive device for employers to wield as they pleased iron and coal police against ‘recalcitrant’ workers.
So ubiquitously pervasive did injunctions get that even conservative newspapers called attention to the unfairness of their issuance and became alarmed at their infringements of the rights of not just workers but, in their broad application, all Americans.
Under the legal cover of the injunctions, scabs were brought in by coal operators to work non-union and union fields. Any striking miner in those fields who wished to return to work were permitted to do so but under the employer’s open shop conditions.
Eventually, the union districts that remained strong enough negotiated with operators and, within reason, took whatever they could get. The wage scale of the existing contract was usually the standard of the settlement. Among those were District l2 and l4 (Illinois and Kansas) along with nearly all the Midwestern and western districts.
All the above stiffening only more the back of Murray in the midst of the catastrophe to see to the survival of the tattered union. By l932, in District #5 alone there were only two unionized mines operating adding up to a flimsy 250 UMW members. Worse, in District #2, gone were the checkweighmen resulting in miners being paid pittance tonnage wages for so-called ‘tons’ up to 3000 pounds.
Speaking to the delegates at the 3lst Constitutional Convention of the UMW, l930, Murray, always the man of faith in God, himself and his union, doggedly scoffed at the idea of the so-called death of the UMW so claimed by the usual Lewis-hating faction who were seeking a takeover of the UMW by holding a ‘rump’ convention in Springfield, Illinois at the same time the UMW was holding theirs in Indianapolis.
No such idea of our so-called demise need ever be taken seriously, said Murray to the delegates about the greatly exaggerated reports. “Is such a stupid charge claiming our non-existence against us new?” Murray asks the delegates. “Didn’t Dr. Garfield of the Federal Fuel Administration back in l9l8 say ‘…this mineworkers union was no longer a union…’ and Charlie Schwab of Bethlehem Mines tell a senate committee that he did not violate any contract with UMW because ‘There is no UMW’ and W.G. Warden chairman of the board of directors of Pittsburgh Coal saying, ‘What contract’ claiming there was no such institution as the UMW while right under his eyes l9,000 of his employees were laying barracks and tent colonies in the valleys and hillsides of Western Pennsylvania and Ohio? Nor is there anything new in dual conventions, said Murray, reminding the delegates that on April l, l927 John Brophy formed the National Save the Union Committee which National Miners Union too fell apart? It’s the old story, charged Murray, a ‘traitorous’ labor leader deserts an organization, gets a following and thinks he has a new union going but all he has is dissension and an ultimate goal of disruption.”
Then sticking the fork in the pig, Murray returns to the subject of the so-called convention in Springfield and says, “I have heard it given three different titles. It has been called a ‘rump’ convention, it has been called a ‘rum’ convention and it has been called a ‘rummy’ convention. All three are very appropriate.”
Finally, who could be more qualified than he to make these claims, says Murray to the delegates. “I’ve talked to miners in field during the past three years, addressed nearly 450 meetings in nonunion fields in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia. I know their pulse beats, I know how they feel, I know how they react toward their union…so let’s drive from our midst for all time these devilish individuals who are attempting to destroy the UMWA.”
Now this was not merely the rhetoric of a man whistling past a graveyard, but an expression based on Murray’s deep seated belief that what he was saying to the delegates at that 3ls UMW convention would prove to be not only true, but prophetic.
And the prophecy, right around the corner in time, was about to be fulfilled.
In February l932, there was a birthday to be celebrated, Charlie Schwab’s 70th. Schwab was the man who in the early years of his youth was taken under the wing of Andrew Carnegie and became the famous industrialist’s fair-haired boy. Though Schwab certainly possessed qualities of character and intelligence on his own to recommend him, it was Carnegie’s nurturing that had catapulted him to the top of the corporation like a fireball shot out of a cannon.
Indeed, it was Charlie Schwab’s 70th birthday and many in the corporation enthusiastically helped him celebrate it.
But in an ironic twist of fate, it was Schwab’s 70th birthday that marked the eclipse of the gilded age. An age when industrial giants roamed and prevailed upon the landscape with the same easy arrogance as royalty appraising their domain.
On the threshold of a new age, a new deal for workers and a national recovery program for the country, Murray could look back on the decade probably with some amazement to think that he and his union had survived the seeming onslaught of crises that began in the vituperative storm of his and Lewis’ election in December l920.
The l922 strike for the union began with good intent. A virtual army of nonunion striking miners set out to call the captive mine operators to account. It was time for them to answer to the dismissive arrogance of power they demonstrated toward the possibility of the mineworkers union taking hold in their operations.
But disillusionment was to be the lot of most of the ’22 striking miners. Many returned to the mines bitter and beaten and were left with nobody to rage against but Lewis and Murray.
The ’22 strike was for the union all right. In the end, and in a spirit of quiet desperation, Lewis and Murray set out to save whatever remnant of the union, any piece of its core, they could.
But if the UMW militants led by John Brophy thought that the government should throw a rescue line to the industry and nationalize it, such an idea impressed Murray not at all. If the anti-labor corporatism during the decade was still very much in place then, in Murray’s mind that condition in the long run was better for the union than nationalization. To go up against the corporatism of the conservative controlled state and judiciary and against the big capital interests of the corporations promised more hope that unions, thanks to the Democratic free enterprise system, would one day sit among them at the corporatist table. That was a far better goal to set than accepting economic paternalism.
Paternalism was an insidious method of operation that workers had to put up with in most non-unionized companies. Government paternalism in the guise of nationalization would be no less insulting to any self-respecting American worker.
Murray embraced this idea in the face of contract betrayals by operators many of whom treated their supposed union agreements as worthless paper.
But by the end of the 20s, no less as worthless paper than coal operators’ contracts did unions treat injunctions. Tired of it all, Murray and other union officers who were practically buried in injunctions when they went into the coalfields to organize no longer felt it was their obligation to obey the state since where working men were concerned the state catered only to capitalist interests.
It was Murray’s grandfather Alexander Layden’s belief that so long as Home Rule was denied Ireland citizenry against the majority’s wishes then he and his dissident friends had every right to disobey the laws of parliament.
Applying the same political rationale after their arrival in this country, the spirits of Philip and his father William were surely lifted by Oliver Wendell Holmes’ landmark dissent in the l905 Lochner Case. In that dissent Holmes scoffed at the notion that the law “applies to everyone in the same objective way.” Holmes boldly charged in Lochner v. New York, l98 U.S. 45(l905) Supreme Court of the US, April l7, l905 that it was not “legal abstractions like ‘due process’ and the sanctity of contracts but Herbert Spencer’s social philosophy (abolishing minimum wage laws, central banks, et al in the spirit of laissez faire) and the class interests of the industrialists that lay behind the majority decision overturning New York’s statute regulating the hours of bakery workers.”
It was decisions such as Holmes’ and debates among the thinkers of his time that kept Murray attuned to the idea that the state was virtually a co-conspirator with the interests of capital in keeping workers and trade unions in a mode of pauperized misery.
Practically speaking, laws as they applied to labor questions and especially trade unions were to Murray a joke. So long as the powers that be that controlled and immutably imposed them to gratify their own will against the humane rationality of the natural law, then it was the obligation of those on the short end of that legal equation to ignore such laws and, within reason of course, disavow their existence.
Thus in this spirit of civil disobedience and the UMW’s relentless intent to survive, despite dual organizations like the National Miners union, the canceling of the l928 convention to cut union costs and a severe depression that promised more misery to working men, remarkably the UMW was still standing, a last citadel of miners’ hopes.
An ember of life remained. A spark only but enough of a fire for someone to come along with a spirited breath of fresh air to burst it aflame.
That life-giver came in the person of Franklin Delano Roosevelt who on inauguration day, March l933, promised better things for the American people but especially hope to the workingman.
Source Notes for Chapter Five: DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL: UMWA on the Flametip of Extinguishment. 1925-l932
Part II, Bituminous, l927-l928, REPORT OF THE DEPARTMENT OF MINES OF PENNSYLVANIA, (Harrisburg, Pa., l929), l-8. NEW YORK TIMES, July l8, l925; July 26, l927. A MINER’S LIFE, 206-208; 2l4-2l8; 227-228. INTERVIEW #2 WITH PAT FAGAN, Alice M. Hoffman, Pittsburgh, Pa., October l, l968, ORAL HISTORY COLLECTION, Penn State Labor Archives, 8; 10; l4. JOHN L. LEWIS, l27; l35; l37; l4l; l45; l49; l56; l65-66; l73. THE OXFORD HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE, 28l-2; 286-87; 290-96. Alan J. Singer, “Something of a Man,” THE UNITED MINEWORKERS OF AMERICA, ll5. Barry P. Michrina, PENNSYLVANIA MINING FAMILIES: The Search for Dignity in the Coalfields, (Lexington, KY, l993), l7; 20-2l; 29. PROCEEDINGS OF THE 31st CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION OF THE UMWA, Indianapolis, Indiana, March l0-20, 22-63; 68-77. ORGANIZED LABOR IN AMERICAN HISTORY, 426. Louis Stanley, “The Miners’ Rebellion,” THE NATION, l30 (l930), 356. COAL AND MEN, l92-3. Murray Papers, Penn State Labor Archives.
MURRAY: Public Fame Comes to the Private Man—l933-l934
Perhaps the greatest direct benefit FDR’s victory in l932 brought to the organized labor movement in America was a greater awareness on the part of the public of how resistant corporations and big business had been against unions.
Unions had an advocate in FDR if even sometimes he stutter-stepped in his support.
At least the new president wasn’t Hoover, Coolidge, Harding or Wilson. The first three dismissed virtually out of hand any idea of trade unionism becoming an American institution; the last, Wilson, did little during his administration to enforce the labor laws already in place, the Clayton Act to name one.
Overnight, Philip Murray, a man of calm, was hurled into the eye of the storm of FDR’s first l00 days in office during which a virtual revolutionary change of economic policies in government took place.
The agent of change was the NRA, the National Recovery Administration led by the inimitable Hugh S. Johnson, an often loud, blustery and impatient man who demonstrated little tolerance for adversarial parties who took too long to resolve their differences.
The broad philosophical base upon which FDR’s recovery program was determined, i.e., his ‘New Deal’ for the American people, was put down in a book, THE INDUSTRIAL DISCIPLINE, by Rex Tugwell. The book laid out a plan of liberalized capitalism that sought cooperation and coordination within the context of government boards whose purpose was to establish a common coherent policy among industries.
The latter idea, in a heretofore virtually neglected economy, was enough to cause consternation among big business and expressions of fear that a socialist state was being put in place by FDR under the noses of the American people.
Worse for the anti-administration vocal ones, the major construct in Tugwell’s plan was the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA). Its ostensible purpose (FDR’s detractors charged) was to achieve peace between business and labor to help stabilize the economy, but its ‘true’ intent was to undermine employers’ rights by permitting unions to intrude on the free flow of market forces.
FDR put Johnson in charge of drafting the NIRA, a bill Kenneth Davis reports in his book, FDR: THE NEW DEAL YEARS—l933-l937, that FDR wanted to be “wide in scope but short in language.”
To be included in the bill, said the president, were codes of ‘fair practices’ made up by trade association members (a fox in the henhouse submission to big business by FDR that did not please the liberal and labor side) and enforced by a partnership of association members and the government.
The ‘code’ became Section 3a of the NIRA.
But the keystone section of the NIRA (thanks to Robert Wagner (D) of NY who fended off a fiercely resistant big business) was section 7a which gave labor the right to organize and bargain collectively with employers legally bound by the law to not interfere with the process.
The bill reached the desk of FDR in mid-may l933 and on June l6th became the law of the land.
The floodgates were opened for workers in industries around the country to organize or join unions. Tens of thousands of miners flocked to join the UMW signing up at an accelerated rate that surpassed the numbers UMW organizers were able to sign up in the fields.
The initial thrust of enthusiastic response for the law by the workers—who were urged along even more by Lewis’and Murray’s acclamations that ‘your president wants you to join the union’—was beyond what any union officer, Murray included, could have imagined.
However, to the dismay of workers, the trusting promise of the law seemed too soon to turn out to be as nearly worthless as the paper many UMW contracts with coal operators during the 20s were written on.
Nobody moreso than Murray and Lewis suspected this to be so but with one major difference than was the case during the pre-FDR years: There was a public debate going on now. Unions and the idea of collective bargaining were getting near equal time in the headlines of newspapers across the country. But perhaps to labor’s greater benefit, Philip Murray--- whom many on both sides considered to be an honest and trustworthy union man--- was whose face and voice appearing and speaking for labor (chosen by FDR by design perhaps?) was going to be presented to the American public. .
It was Murray who became the point man for organized labor when FDR (with Lewis’ blessing of course) assigned to him the hard-scrabble task of sitting down with captive mine owners to solve one of the nation’s most exasperating industrial and economic problems.
To settle with the captive mines would be a significant beachhead for the union to establish in the coal industry. For years not just the UMW and miners but the industry itself were practically held hostage by the owners of those mines who manipulated control of the markets. By the time FDR came into office, the destabilizing effects on the American economy caused by the actions of those mine owners had reached crisis proportions.
FDR put such a high priority on the solution of the problem that when Murray and Thomas Moses, President of H.C. Frick Company, sat down in a Pittsburgh hotel early October l933 to begin the negotiations, big city newspapers like the New York Times and the major radio networks gave ongoing reports of the meeting.
Not surprisingly, the center-stage-attraction of the talks turned out to be Hugh Johnson. During the first meeting, Johnson---dressed in a bathrobe in a room at Walter Reed Hospital and acting under an order telegraphed by FDR on a train enroute to Chicago---kept in touch with the interested parties on both sides and reported to them how the talks were going.
In the end, and as it went in subsequent meetings between the two, even the national attention given to the talks could not save them from being much ado about nothing. The corporations held to their hard line. Murray and Lewis took advantage of their adamant position by playing the public card and accusing the resistant captive mine owners of going against the wishes of the president and the American people.
During the talks, Moses offered to Murray and the union recognition of a checkoff system so long as dues payments deducted from employees’ wages were voluntarily permitted by individual workers. Which followed then that Moses also demanded that an employee be given the right to join any union he so desired including Employment Representative Plans (ERP), i.e., company unions. Any employee who made that choice, said Moses, would receive full support of the company should he face threats of coercion by ‘outside’ representatives, i.e., the likes of Lewis, Murray or Kennedy.
So while the law was in the books, implementation of the law the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) Section 7a, suffered from ambivalent interpretations by not just the corporations but Hugh Johnson himself, his assistants and even FDR In the language of the law, the word ‘intimidation’ which each side applied in strict context according to the choice an employee made to join or not join the union, was loosely twisted to suit either side’s interpretation and position.
So the bill “wide in scope but short in language” that FDR had called for and which Hugh Johnson, reportedly, drafted in long hand on two sides of a legal-sized sheet of paper, turned into a bill broadside in scope and, seemingly, interminably long in language.
The offshoot was that the NIRA, in fact the whole of the National Recovery Administration (NRA) and its so-called legal protection for workers, was mocked and referred to by disillusioned union officers and workers as the national run-around. Also, since employers paid little heed to workers’ wishes in companies where a majority of them--- under the legal auspices of the National Labor Board---had voted to have a union, strikes abounded. 1100 within 5 months. It was beginning to seem like the NIRA had not been written at all.
A renewed public awareness of the workers’ plight began to be publicly debated on the front pages of newspapers practically every day. Sympathy for the workers and annoyance at corporations’ dismissive attitudes toward them began to gain momentum around the country. Reinforcing these sympathies were the dynamic daily goings-on in the White House since the man who resided there was labor friendly if, considering the national economic conditions, sometimes appearing vague in his loyalties
The group that perhaps received the most negative public exposure was the Iron and Steel Institute, a collection of powerful men---described by Harvey O’Conner in his book, STEEL DICTATOR---who were “elderly, close-mouthed, tight-lipped and suspicious.”
In due time, in the face of the surprising media surge that swept across the country on the long coattails of president Roosevelt’s landslide victory and the light of the mandate of the people shed on the arrogance of power often wielded with impunity by capital, the National Labor Board (NLB), broke the Murray-Moses deadlock. On January l4, l934, the Board rendered its decision against the (captive) Maxwell Mine of the H.C Frick Coke Company (whose majority of employees had voted to have a union).
Said the Board, workers were entitled to an 8 hour day, 40 hour week, election of checkweighmen, pit committees and agreed upon methods for settling disputes. Also, the basic 2000 pound ton was reestablished and boys under l7 were not permitted to enter the mines.
It was a stunning decision. A breakthrough into the captive mine dilemma had finally occurred. Was the old autocratic order about to be replaced by a new industrial democracy?
Murray was more than slightly optimistic that a new industrial order was in the making when in a stirring speech at the 33rd UMW convention in l934 he said to the delegates:
“To the boys of the coke field who have laid for a period of 54 years without
a union and have been beaten and have been assaulted and have been murdered, evicted from their homes and robbed, economic freedom is theirs today! It has come today through the processes of good, old fashioned trade unionism such as is exemplified in the halls of the UMWA”
It was a glorious moment capped by that convention’s Resolution No. R-l8l honoring the achievement of the UMW’s top officers. But it was really Philip Murray’s moment, the jewel in his crown as a union officer who had gone into the coalfields a very young man, dodged bullets, was pushed off wagons and cursed by miners there. At last recognition had come to him as being an indubitable union leader.
True, the talks with Moses failed. But by being resistant against the hard-nosed intimidating tactics of the corporation---this time out there where the public could hear, see and historically experience for themselves first hand how difficult labor’s enemies were to deal with---Murray in the end got more. The law moved in and tapped Murray and the union on the shoulder. From then on the question became not whether or not unions would ever permanently come to stay but how long before.
When three months later the Supreme Court ruled that the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was unconstitutional, stunned union leaders like Murray faltered only a bit in the wake of the news because another bulldog of persistence named Robert Wagner came to the union’s rescue.
Before the NLRA was wiped off the books on June l6, l935, Senator Robert Wagner (D) from New York created a non-bustable act called the Wagner Act, a more permanent law making Section 7a legally binding. When the Wagner Act was ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court on April l2, l937, many inside and outside the union considered it to be a great piece of legislation that balanced the economic power structure in America.
Philip Murray was there at that pivotal moment in labor history and in the name of the union took every advantage of it.
Thanks to FDR and a broad sweep into office of a cadre of liberal-progressive power brokers, a new order was established in the government. The law, at last, was on the union’s side. Unions were about to become legal entities in their own right and the workers who belonged to them were no longer considered commodities of their employers.
It was a time for union leaders like Murray to speak out in righteous tones that any worker if he so chose had a legal right to join a union. The law of the land said so. The injunction was now a boomerang to be hurled back at the conjoined forces of the judiciary and capital. Murray took to the union pulpit on the workers’ behalf and urged them to embrace their new freedom.
In the field the workers heard it over again: Your president is on your side; your government is on your side; you are no longer in the eyes of the law considered to be the ‘property’of your employer. Join your union; fear no consequences. Employers now are the ones who will pay if they don’t abide by the law.
Murray must’ve heard himself speak those words in his sleep.
Of course it was an exaggeration of how quickly and directly the ‘good’ things for the union would come because the ambiguities and imprecise interpretations of Section 7a were still in play. Nevertheless the law was on the books and the legal underpinnings that insured workers’ rights to organize were there.
But while on the legal end a silver lining shone brightly over the labor movement, a cloud passed along its edges. A dispute arose within the AFL between the old guard craft unionists and Lewis, Murray and the new guard who failed to convince the federation’s entrenched cadre of reactionaries to create an industrial union that would include all workers. Wasn’t it time for the AFL to tap into the 39 million wage earners in the US? After 55 years only 3.5 million of that army of wage earners were enrolled in the AFL.
With the new law encouraging unions came challenges within the AFL that needed to be addressed: How much longer were the top brass in the federation going to continue to protect only the highly skilled, i.e., elite, workers among the mass industrial workforce? Murray believed inherent in the Wagner Act was the unwritten law of industrial equality and civil rights, both at the doorstep of an opportunity to take their proper place in industry.
For every argument top officers of the AFL made for the sanctity of maintaining jurisdictions at their workplace, Murray charged that as long as that spirit of clubby exclusivity remained there was no organized labor movement at all. If the AFL were going to persist in keeping out semi-skilled and unskilled workers, the balkanization of the workforce was bound to come with unions jockeying for positions to establish enclaves of power within companies.
In the face of the AFL’s continuing adamant elitism, what choice would he, Lewis, and leaders of other industrial-type unions have but to create within the AFL a committee for industrial organizations (CIO) so that workers at any skill level could eventually become ‘members of the club’?
Lewis in blunt words told the delegates at the AFL’s 55th Annual convention held in October at Atlantic City in l934, that the dismissal by the AFL of the powerful untapped resource of industrial workers out there waiting to be organized reveals the federation’s policies of the past 25 years “as one(s) of unbroken failure.”
But the old guard prevailed at that convention when a resolution vote was taken that scored l8,025 votes for craft unionists to l0,924 for the Lewis side. Thus for the time being at least the idea of forming an industrial union was nixed by the AFL officers and the membership.
As a result of the vote, an embittered split was about to occur within the ranks of the AFL from which a new federation would emerge. At the top of it would be John L. Lewis and his loyal union partner, Philip Murray.
During this time of virulent union growth, vocal up-starts personified in young union officers like Walter Reuther were beginning to make their presence felt. Reuther, president of the largest local in the United Autoworkers Union (UAW), possessed an amalgam of political proclivities based on democratic Socialism.
To Murray, Reuther, the new kid on the block, sometimes unwisely expressed the union line through fiery rhetoric and actions that evoked public outcries against unions. Such bombast, that drew more attention to the person than the cause, did not sit well with Murray who knew only too well the bloodied history of the organized labor movement. Murray had a long memory to remind him how anti-union forces, bankrolled by big capital, would assign provocateur motives to the movement’s leaders and, as during the l9l9 strikes, play on the fears of the American public by proclaiming that radical political elements in the union were making the decisions and their subversive purpose was to topple the Democratic system of government.
Along these lines, Reuther, who had spent time in Russia during his early youth (during which time he had more good than bad things to say about the Communistic system of government) was a posterboy prototype of the dangerous left-wing radical that the union’s opposition brought to the attention of the public.
When the UAW began its ascension to becoming the largest union in the CIO, on more than one occasion did Murray remind Reuther that unionism was intended to benefit all the American people by achieving for the workforce economic balance and stability. From that would follow a well-fed and well-educated middle class.
This of course is what Reuther also sought. By the mid l950s and after Murray’s death, Reuther will give substance to Murray’s words. But Murray from the beginning of his union career was guided by that vision; Reuther early on groped his way to it, stumbled upon it and when he had it in his grasp realized that was what he was looking for all along.
Thus the political climate during FDR’s New Deal decade spawned open debates about theories of the state comparing that which best served the free enterprise system with that which threatened to dismantle it.
For those voicing the interests of capital, FDR’s New Deal was Socialist to the core. The transformation it was more likely to bring would not be new government constructs and processes to revive the nation but changes in the traditional governing mechanisms of the state leading to a takeover of the reins of power of government by the working class or at least a worker-based management system giving workers, especially trade unionists, virtual governing control.
Though the indications of this drastic transformation of power actually coming true were minimal, capital interests saw Section 7a of the NLRA giving unions the power to organize a precedent dangerous enough to sound an alarm.
What FDR was actually doing in his often, cocky Keyseanian way was spending huge amounts of the government’s money so that thanks to the government’s occupation largesse the people acquiring the resulting jobs could finally earn enough money to buy food, clothing and shelter. It was simple economics but anathema to spendthrift businessmen who believe that to gain a profitable return on one’s investment one never increases labor costs. In theory that business practice may be sound but in practice, considering that the US government being the world’s largest corporation had a greater market volume to work with, it was a risk worth taking. Roosevelt took on the venture and it worked, only imperfectly in a broad economic sense, but triumphantly in restoring to all levels of society the health of the national psyche.
If the FDR plan to bring about national recovery only spurred on the Socialist/Bolshevik mongering he had to hear from his enemies, it was only so much crying in the wilderness on their part. The Socialist Party, such as it was in the 30s, was moribund. Its remaining thin remnants had become amalgamated with the left-wing cadres of the American Communist Party whose own membership at the peak of their growth during the New Deal decade never surpassed 35,000. Even though mainly on strikers’ picket lines the dedicated activist core of the CP made noise enough to draw attention to the fact that in America they were becoming a real subversive force, especially in the ranks of labor, their strongest adversaries were their own highly visible and prominent labor leaders, Lewis, Murray and Green who quietly used them to their purpose but publicly scoffed at the idea that the CP were about to take control of their unions.
And if---so stated by the authors of LASKI: A LIFE ON THE LEFT---an example needed to be cited that the growing new power of trade unionism in America could well lead to the creation of a labor party wielding if not equal power with the two existing parties then considerable power in its own right, one needed only to look at the Labour Party in Great Britain whose leaders, said the politically dedicated far left advocates of the Socialist League, were not left enough, not literate enough and not loyal enough to its own class.
Even the Labour Party in Great Britain which indeed sought the nationalization of industry did so not with any intention to reconstruct society upon a worker base and under worker control but more so to create a ‘public corporation’ run by efficient managers following principles of good economic planning.
The Labour Party in GB under the leadership first of Ramsey MacDonald and later in the 30s and 40s under the triumvirate of Dalton, Morrison and Bevin, rejected out of hand socialist doctrine and theory. In fact they wanted no part of the ‘melodramatists’ of the Socialist League and sought to maintain the Labour Party on a pragmatic socialist base.
All of which is to say that any fear in America that FDR in a tacit collaborative effort with trade unionists was on a course of transforming America into a nationalized socialist state was greatly exaggerated. When one considers that a galaxy of the world’s most intellectual and vibrant socialist minds were located in Great Britain—GB Shaw, HG Wells, Harold Laski and Beatrice and Sidney Webb—none of which were able to influence the working class Labour Party to accept wholeheartedly their theories of what a socialist state is and how it is supposed to function in the interests of the people, then how much of a chance in this country did Socialism have of displacing the free enterprise system?
Source Notes for Chapter Six. MURRAY: PUBLIC FAME COMES TO THE PRIVATE MAN l933-l934
PROCEEDINGS OF THE 33RD CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION OF THE UMWA, Indianapolis, Indiana, January 23 to January 3l, l934, 83; 265-70; 380. NEW YORK TIMES, October 2, l933; October 3, l933; October 9, l933; October l3, l933; October l7, l935; December 30, l935; December 3l, l935. Kenneth S. Davis, FDR: THE NEW DEAL YEARS—l933-l937. A History, (New York, ?), ll5-ll9; l22; 236; 238-63; 325; THE NATIONAL RECOVERY ADMINISTRATION, Volume l, (New York, l972), 8-l3. THE OXFORD HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE, 320. ORGANIZED LABOR IN AMERICAN HISTORY, 428. Steve Fraser, “The ‘Labor Question’”, THE RISE AND FALL OF THE NEW DEAL ORDER, l930-l980, Edited by Steve Fraser and Gary Gerstle, (New Jersey, l989), 56-59.
There is a photograph of him on the front page of the New York Times. It shows Philip Murray at 50, balding, features less chiseled, jowls fuller and dark shading beneath the brows enhancing the weight of solemn purpose shining through his eyes.
By now he is a well-known public figure. If one did not know him to be a union man he could be taken for a prosperous businessman sitting across from ‘himself’ at a negotiating table.
However, as to Murray resembling a man of affluence, that’s as far as it went.
The story is told of an occasion when Murray was invited to the White House for dinner. Thinking it would be a formal affair, he turned up in a tuxedo only to discover that neither Roosevelt nor anybody else had dressed formally for the occasion. So he returned to his hotel, changed into less formal attire and he and Elizabeth went to dinner alone. To begin with, it was not in Murray’s nature to embrace pomp. Ironically for the one rare time he got caught up in it, he would be the one fleeing form himself!
But to be uncomfortable in those kinds of situations or events did not mean that Murray was lacking in social sensibilities or grace. He was by no means out of his element mingling in the crowds of haute couture events. Not unlike most aspects of his personal or professional life, Murray chose to involve himself in social situations which best suited his temperament, style or purpose.
In the Fall of l936 he was already more than just nationally known. He was a very influential and highly respected figure in Pittsburgh. He was head of the Central Labor Union there and for years a member of the Pittsburgh school board. As a school board member he was vocal in speaking out for improvements in education to benefit all children in the district. Especially the children of the workers he represented in the union. Murray also made sure that the school district he represented got their fair share of appropriations from the state and was not subject to political interference.
By the time Philip and Elizabeth had celebrated their 25th anniversary, both had come a long way from the Red Onion Boarding House where they lived during the early months of their marriage. A great distance indeed had they come from Philip’s expression of confidence to Elizabeth when once in the early days she asked him: “Philip, are we always going to be up here?” and he answered, “No, I’m going to make something of myself.”
But their marriage was rooted in Hazelkirk. Their love for the residents of that town never waned especially for Aunt Jane, Elizabeth’s older sister who raised her after their parents’deaths.
Hazelkirk was the tiny Pennsylvania mining town (little more than a hollow) where he and Lizzie fell in love and where Philip’s career as a labor leader began to take off.
During his ascent to power and at the peak of his fame, Philip and Elizabeth nearly every Sunday got into Philip’s Cole-8 and headed for Hazelkirk (‘where they made everything homemade up there’) to visit Aunt Jane.
The family to-do over religious differences and Elizabeth’s conversion to Catholicism (which had caused her sister much anguish) was long over by then. Sister Jane had been so angry at Elizabeth for marrying a Catholic that she refused to button her wedding dress. She did however bring herself to attend the Catholic wedding ceremony at Resurrection Church in Mon City so Elizabeth’s special day would not be a complete disaster.
During those Sunday visits to Hazelkirk stories of the old days were told and passed about. By then being a prominent public figure, Murray ‘sounded an alarm’ wherever he went but especially in Hazelkirk where his miner friends, with whom he worked for years, had become like loving family to him. Throughout his life Philip kept bloodline ties to his miner friends.
There were many stories to tell, many reminiscences to share up at Hazelkirk, some funny ones and others not so. The popular stories that made the listeners laugh were the ones telling of Philip’s prankster tricks pulled on boarders at the Red Onion. Other stories were grim and listened to with all seriousness. For example there was the gunman who came to shoot Pat Fagan but in an ensuing struggle Fagan accidentally shot and killed him, a tragic happenstance that haunted Fagan’s memory for the rest of his life. There was the story of the bomb being planted in the hedge outside Philip’s house in Brookline that went off with quite a bang but which fortunately caused no serious damage or harm. And of course there were the stories about the two children Philip and Elizabeth brought along with them to Hazelkirk, Joseph and Mercedes.
In an interview many years later with the author, Philip’s son Joseph told the story of his adoption: “Dad was in New York…in negotiations for the miners…I had an aunt who was in the hospital, Aunt Mary, dad’s (older) sister…she said to my mother, ‘I saw a little girl you’d just love…’ and mother said, ‘Well, how old is she, this little ‘Lizzie’ you say?’ ‘Oh, she’s about three (said Aunt Mary). (Turned out) this ‘little girl’ was not a girl but a boy who had all this curly hair. ‘I’m going to surprise Philip’, mother said…so my first trip was to New York…to meet my father…”
Needless to say the delightful shock and surprise Philip experienced that day in New York, when his wife presented to him the precious gift of a son, endeared him to foundling homes everywhere but especially the Rosalia Foundling Home in Pittsburgh where Elizabeth found Joseph.
The story of Mercedes is much simpler. Mercedes was Elizabeth’s sister’s child. On a given day, out of poverty and desperation, Mercedes was brought to the Murray home. ‘I can’t take care of her, you raise her’ were the words of the transaction. It wasn’t an outlandish request in those times. More common than not in families. So Elizabeth and Philip took in Mercedes and loved her and raised her as their own.
Besides his immediate family, Elizabeth, Joseph and Mercedes, the only known survivors of Philip’s larger family into the late 30s were his own sister Mary and stepbrothers and sisters Janet, William, Joseph, Maggie and Katy, all of whom lived in the area and were miners and wives of miners but none , according to son Joe, with whom Philip established a close relationship. On Elizabeth’s side, besides her sister Jane, there were nine girls and one boy. But big sister, ‘aunt Jane’ with whom she was as close as a daughter to her mother, was the family member Elizabeth visited most and was nearest to.
Around people outside her immediate family, Elizabeth never lost her girlhood shyness. This social disinclination was compounded by a very serious hearing problem that was later relieved when more efficient and less cumbersome hearing aids came into practical use. Elizabeth’s recessive outward appearance was deceiving. Until the day she died, she remained, in her own right, a willful, persistent and headstrong person.
According to Elizabeth her hearing loss came about when she was a little girl. A boy classmate brought a snake to school. When he held it up for Elizabeth to see, she became so frightened that it was from that day on, she insisted, her hearing went bad. And though Philip was surely sympathetic to Elizabeth’s hearing problem, it did not stop him from one day subjecting her to one of his pranks. When Elizabeth got into bed and under the covers one night, she was startled by a toy snake that Philip had put on the mattress. Philip laughed but “Mom hollored and screamed so loud,” said son Joe, “I heard the scream from some far corner of the house. Jesus, I thought the windows were going to come out!”
Of course the windows were not put out and fortunately—chalk it up to Irish good luck—neither was Philip.
After Hazelkirk, the Murray’s moved to Carnegie, and then not too many years later to Brookline, an upper middle-class neighborhood in the city area.
The house in Brookline, where Elizabeth remained all her life (dying there 30 years after Philip’s death) became the center of the Murray’s personal and social life.
Says Joe’s wife Helen about the Murray’s house in Brookline: “…oh she had beautiful stuff in her house…her house was beautiful. She had a minimum…of ten sets of dishes, and oh yes a gold-plated set…he (Philip) was at the White House one day and he was so taken in with the dishes that at Christmas…he was in Washington…he sent her those (same type, gold-plated) dishes and they arrived in a barrel! Oh, she had pretty glass bowls, beautifully designed mirrors…gorgeous, everything she had…”
Contrary to what some people believed, the Murrays did entertain. They opened their house to a variety of guests. Besides the Lewis’, who visited often, they held their annual New Year’s Eve party at the house to which Murray invited his entire office staff to help celebrate the bringing in of the New Year. So jammed with people would the house be, son Joe recalled, that many would be lined up along the stairway. During the Christmas season, Elizabeth filled her living room with poinsettias and on especially festive occasions, like the New Year’s celebrations, Philip would get in a supply of liquor and champagne along with a variety of distinctive holiday foods.
But Philip himself was not a drinker.
“He had a drink at Christmas,” said son Joe. “That was it.”
John and Marta Lewis were more than occasional dinner guests at Philip’s home. John, who “used to eat and eat”, said Joe, loved roast beef and apple pie. Food in those days was prepared on a coal burning black stove and of course there was no other way than homemade, cooked and baked from ‘scratch’. After dinner they usually played cards, Bridge or 500.
As expected, socially speaking, the Lewis’ reciprocated. On one occasion the Lewis’ invited Philip and Elizabeth to their house in Virginia, a house that was once the house of George Washington’s physician. When Philip and Elizabeth entered it, both were struck by the plethora of antiques Marta had collected that “filled (the house) up to the attic.”
Young Joe too socialized with the Lewis boys, often going swimming with them, being picked up by the Lewis’ chauffeur and taken to the hotel pool. Joe describes the experience:
“John had a chauffeur (and) young John and I used to ride in the limousine and he would say ‘Gatewood (chauffeur’s name) you go get Phil Murray’s son so the boys can go swimming together in the pool…We’d ride in royalty (to the hotel) you know…Gatewood would drive up, let us off at the hotel and then come back, pick us up and take me home…”
Joe thought it was great fun to be showered with such luxurious accommodations, a typically regal act on Lewis’ part. But the idea of it offended Philip’s acetic nature. An indication that Philip feared such worldly rewards would have an adverse effect on Joe’s character (since he had by no means earned them) is suggested by the fact that Philip passed word on to Joe’s WPA boss to put the boy on a pick and shovel.
What was good enough for the father as a boy was good enough for the son.
This time of public prominence for Philip was a crucial time in his spiritual life. Mammon beckoned. Murray was being offered worldly goods, honors and privileges on a silver platter. These were tempting wares and tributes to a man who attended Mass most mornings. To partake of worldly things yet be detached from them was what a devout practicing Catholic like Murray believed was necessary to maintain an uncorrupted spiritual life. To keep the ‘world’ at arms length and be guided by ‘God’s will’ was one of the basic tenets of the Catholic faith. If not so much so today, during Murray’s time one of the doctrinal foundation blocks of the Catholic Church.
Philip Murray was a man of God, one who consistently served him as best he could. He took seriously the scriptural admonition: You cannot serve God and mammon.
He was always wary of spiritually corrupting influences. Whether it be his son’s riding in a limousine to a hotel to go swimming, or himself being the recipient of gifts such as cases of champagne at Christmas (which he always accepted graciously) from one of his many friends who held prominent positions in Pittsburgh.
By the same token the Murray’s by no means lived a monastic life as has already been attested to by Elizabeth’s many sets of dishes (at least one set of them being gold-plated) and the beautiful furnishings that filled the Brookline house. Still, shining through the eloquence of the Murray’s household trappings was the modest middleground lifestyle a man in Murray’s position was expected to live. .
Among the Murray’s outer display of the rather affluent objects they possessed was a Cole-8, one of the eye-catching, luxurious cars of the day and especially conspicuous since they were the first owners of a car on the Brookline street where they lived.
Both Philip and Elizabeth recreated when they were able to by going to the races and betting the horses though neither were heavy bettors. Philip certainly knew that it would not be wise for a man in his position to become a serious gambler; Elizabeth, however, saw things differently. She may not have been a heavy bettor but she was certainly a regular. For years after Philip’s death she went to Wheeling Downs or Waterford Park, two tracks within driving distance of her home.
The quiet Elizabeth, called by grandaughter Erin “the most genteel woman I ever met in my life,” was a surprise package of revelations to those who knew her. The kind, generous and not at all stuck-up Elizabeth dressed all her life with a sense of style and always looked nice adorned in her beads and earrings. But around her family and friends when she lost at cards or when the horse she bet on at the track did not perform the way she thought it should have, she was a holy terror.
The shy and not too talkative in public Elizabeth was such a fierce competitor somewhere beneath her muted countenance and gentle heart that not a few times after losing a hand at cards she would pick up the deck and throw it against the wall. And in a heightened state of frustration, she was also known to have prematurely torn up the winning ticket at the track.
Elizabeth’s persistence served her well in her attempt to teach herself how to drive. Being the only car owner on the Brookline street she took advantage by repeatedly driving up and down it until she taught herself.
Her incentive to learn to drive to assure her independence was fueled by Philip’s nearly always being off somewhere negotiating contracts, leading organizing drives or making rounds of union districts.
Later, after Philip’s death, she was involved in a nearly fatal accident (“she never was a good driver…TERRIBLE!” said Helen) that put her in the hospital for months. But no sooner had she been pronounced well again by her doctor, than she asked son Joe to drive her to South Park, a suburb of Pittsburgh. As soon as they got there she slid behind the wheel---fear and anxiety be damned!---and was off to the races again.
And so was Philip Murray’s lifelong wife and companion, Elizabeth Lavery Murray, shy woman with a tender heart, stylish beads around her neck and trim earrings attached to her lobes nearly touching the inconspicuous hearing aid, really a rock hard and enduring person. Like most miners’ wives she knew well the game of survival and remained no less ingot-tough during her husband’s tenure as president of the SWOC, the CIO and the United Steelworkers of America.
Seeing her sitting demurely up on some platform or stage while her husband Philip was giving one of his patented public speeches, who could ever guess that Elizabeth Lavery Murray, up from the Red Onion Boarding House in Hazelkirk, was made of the same tough mettle (perhaps moreso) of the persons who were the enduring ilk of that old company town?
Her husband Philip and family could. Hardly anybody else ever would.
Source Notes for Chapter Seven: FAMILY ALBUM
Chapter Seven is based almost entirely on the interview the author had with Joe Murray, March 2, l996. Some information based on an interview the author had early morning on that same date with Monsignor Charles Owen Rice is also included.
Because of the exclusive nature of the content of the interview with Joe Murray and his family, identification of the date of the interview only is being cited here pending mass circulation of the Philip Murray biography.
SWOC: The Chairman Takes Command—l935-l936
Up until l955 and the merging of the AFL & CIO, craft guilds in this country were virtually no less exclusive in their clubbiness than the old secret society craft guilds formed in the Middle Ages.
Up to the time Lewis and Murray challenged them at that historic convention in l934, top officers of the AFL seemed incapable of accepting the idea that, by the sweat of their brow at least, all workers were created equal.
As a union leader, Philip Murray seemed to have a true sense of the natural equality that existed among workers. There was no doubt in his mind that skilled workers had no right to foolishly assume that the ‘affluent’ wage or lifestyle gap that existed between them and unskilled workers in any proportional way matched the differences between workers, in any classification, and their moneyed employers.
To Murray the difference was apples and oranges. A worker was a worker was a worker.
Perhaps that’s why in the face of the resistance top officers of the AFL brought to bear against unionizing the industrial workers, Murray blasted the federation’s executives. He accused them of ‘lolling in the sands of Florida’ and acting like industrialist types while millions of workers were looking for unions to join.
For example in the Pittsburgh region alone, charged Murray, there were over l00,000 molders. Not one of them was a member of a union.
Implicitly, the AFL were judging industrial workers as not measuring up to the standards of the federation’s membership. That was as much as saying they were doomed to belong to company unions.
Stretching it a bit, an indignant Murray warned that by excluding them from AFL membership industrial workers could become more vulnerable to the enticements of the Communist party, an unhealthy prospect for any union.
In the end when all was said and done on Lewis’ and Murray’s part, by the beginning of l936 it was clear that the differences were irreconcilable between the AFL and the committee formed to organize the industrial workers.
The split became a publicly visible fact when during the January 9th UMW convention the delegates voted to split from the AFL and, with urgency, set out to organize the unorganized.
Murray put the exclamation mark on the delegates’ vote by announcing to the convention, “the sooner we get the hell away from them the better it will be for us.”
The strident remark evoked a resounding cheer from the delegates.
A reflection of the support from liberal-progressive voices that abounded in the new FDR environment came from two prominent people who spoke to that UMW convention: Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor, who told the convention that collective bargaining and trade unionism should ride the rising wave of the present economic recovery (weekly payrolls were 52% above l932), and Governor Earle of Pennsylvania who said that the greater their power the better opportunity for unions to see to the regulation of uncontrolled production in America.
By February l936 the CIO, presided over by Lewis, was going under a full head of steam. Along with the UMW the committee was composed of representatives of seven other international unions, the major one among them the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (ACWA) whose president was Sidney Hillman.
Surprisingly, John Brophy was appointed by Lewis to supervise the activities of the CIO whose office was opened in D.C.
The Committee’s only function at the time was to promote industrial organization Its intention was not (yet at least) to separate itself from the AFL.
To have brought in John Brophy, Lewis’ bitter rival in the UMW, only proved how serious Lewis’ intent was to bring in experienced hands to grapple with the task at hand.
Said Brophy in his book, A MINER’S LIFE, about being appointed by Lewis to the CIO position: “In the first years of the CIO, Lewis showed his best side: His readiness to se a fight through…his colossal self-confidence.”
But perhaps moreso than Brophy, the Committee could not have had, as one of its charter members, a better union partner than Sidney Hillman, President of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America.
Hillman, a Jewish immigrant, at age 20 came from Russia to the US in l907. Within ten years of his arrival he had become a wunderkind among trade union leaders. Thanks to his patience that rubbed off on people and gifts of persuasion, he was able to get employers in the clothing industry to see things his way. Hillman urged and succeeded in getting clothiers to realize that real labor peace could only be achieved through cooperative trade-union agreements. From such agreements would come more efficient and intelligent methods of production achieved not just in local markets but in markets across the clothing industry insuring against risks of cut-throat competition which had become the curse of the mining industry.
Besides possessing a great heart, compassion for workers unjustly treated in all industries, and a penetrating mind that could sort through complex problems, Hillman brought to the CIO astounding trade union achievements during a time of organized labor failures.
First and foremost (and as often as he could), Hillman expounded on the merits of trade union self-sufficiency. He stressed that the organized labor movement would move forward only by applying its own mechanisms of efficiency, discipline and intelligence. Such achievements would not come, Hillman believed, on the winds of noisy platitudes expressed by political ideologues.
Hillman’s union policies were driven by pragmatic practices of doing trade agreements on a broad-based scale. He persuaded clothiers in different markets to combine into clothing associations and sought more efficient methods of achieving production, scientific methods if need be so long as they were under union control and democratic in nature. The substantive basis for realizing many of the ACWA’s policies was the union’s own research department’s findings, another union idea established by Hillman early on before the other unions got around to relying less on economic advisors and more on in-house repositories of information.
Because the ACWA was independent of the AFL and therefore out of range of grumbling AFL executives, Hillman expressed over again his belief that until industrial workers were organized a real union would never come to pass.
From the beginning the ACWA, as the UMWA, was an industrial union. However, the clothing industry being ranked tenth among major industries made barely a ripple against the tide of the American Plan which by l932 had all but succeeded in achieving open shops in nearly all industries. The fact that the ACWA up to l930 was still 80% unionized was a tribute to Hillman’s staying power as a union leader during a time when so many unions around him were collapsing.
To top these, there were more achievements that Hillman brought to the CIO table that less recessive, ego-ridden labor leaders like Lewis could well have bragged about.
By the time of the New Deal, Hillman had established a mutually admiring friendship with Felix Frankfurter who encouraged him to stay the course and advised him on the legalities of union policies. Along with Frankfurter, he became connected to prominent New Deal liberals in high places, at the top, FDR, the president himself. During the 20s he had solidified an ACWA unemployment plan funded by a tax split evenly between employers and employees and last but not least he brought a corporate slate of mind to trade unionism by creating labor banks, cooperative stores for workers and low-cost housing projects.
Small wonder Lewis took to Hillman immediately and for the time being at least (before Hillman began to ‘steal’ Lewis’ public thunder) welcomed his fine-tuned mind into the CIO mix. By embracing Hillman Lewis demonstrated for a change that the survival and triumph of the organized labor movement was a prize to be achieved that took precedence over the possible eclipsing of his ego that might easily happen by having an ambitious man like Hillman around who even in his middle years many considered to be a wunderkind.
The CIO in place its main challenge was to first inform the workers and the public of the necessity of organizing the industrial workers as its only means of assuring organized labor’s survival.
On this matter, said Murray to a specific audience of the 34th UMW constitutional convention delegate’s late January l936 but really to workers everywhere, “Government relief is not going to cure this economic sore, employment is going to cure it. Industrialists are not going to elevate the standard of the workers. Industrialists are not going to lower the hours unless labor, by sheer force and determination, seeks the establishment of a universal organization.”
Philip Murray, as John L. Lewis, possessed a voice deep, resonant, easy on the ear and, if sometimes stilted, almost always articulate and clear.
Radio was a relatively new medium in the 30s. Both Lewis and Murray took advantage of the airways (as if they were born to the wireless) to reach mass audiences of workers and labor supporters.
Said Heywood Hale Broun a prominent New York journalist and president of the Newspapers Guild to the delegates at that l936 UMW convention: radio was the best hope for union organizing. “Go to a hall to organize and how many will show? But radio goes through the walls…”
The push was on by the CIO to draw attention to the plight of the steelworkers. In a scathing radio speech given in March l936, Lewis ridiculed and attacked bankers of the corporations like J.P. Morgan and other corporate directors. He compared steelworkers’ wages with miners, and building & construction workers among others. Steelworkers wages ranked 20th in a list of 2l industries.
In the face of such figures Lewis charged US Steel with profiteering on the backs of steelworkers since WWI. Millions of radio listeners burned with anger. But not nearly so agitated were they as steel officials who happened to be listening.
The need for organizing big steel was dire. Union numbers were rising among the rubber and autoworkers but not in the second biggest industry of them all: steel. Part of the problem of getting steelworkers to sign up with the CIO SWOC was the perennial recalcitrance and covetedness of Tom Tighe. Tighe was the president of Amalgamated, a craft union of iron and foundry workers that seemed virtually satisfied in contract negotiations to accept for Amalgamated’s membership whatever allocations in wages and improved working conditions management would allow.
But the new public urgency Lewis and Murray put on organizing big steel began to break down Tighe’s resistance to changing the Amalgamated’s status quo.
By now AFL president William Green was steaming at Lewis and Murray. He charged that the CIO was overstepping its bounds by pressuring Tighe to capitulate and turn the Amalgamated into an industrial union. Green set a deadline for Lewis: Dissolve the CIO by September 5 or face suspension from the AFL
The description that follows giving an account of the organization of the Steelworkers Organizing Committee (SWOC) is not new to informed readers of labor history. Listed in the bibliography at the end of this book are many works that give detailed descriptions and analyses of the crucial often violent years of the 30s depicting the organized labor movement’s struggle to come into its own. What is new here, however, and not qualified in most books on labor history, is Philip Murray’s significant contribution to the ultimate success of the movement in no small part due to Murray’s administering of the SWOC, (later to become the USWA), the jewel in the crown of industrial workers’ unionization.
Before the first SWOC organizing meeting, Lewis had written a letter, dated April l5, to Mike Tighe. In the letter, Lewis stated that since the Amalgamated “jurisdiction was not respected by the craft unions in the last big steel drive” and Green gave no guarantee that big steel would be organized along industrial lines, the CIO was going to offer financial and organizational backing to organize steel itself. Lewis put two conditions on the CIO proposal: All steelworkers were to have the right to remain united in one industrial union regardless of jurisdictional claims made by the craft unions; also, inspired leadership was needed to assure success in the campaign. A joint committee was to be established and appointed as its head would be “a responsible and energetic person, in whom all members of the committee would have confidence to direct the actual organizing work.”
Enter Philip Murray.
Quickly taking charge, Murray worked through his good friend, CIO organizer and president of UMW District #5, Pat Fagan. Fagan’s immediate aim was to bring the Amalgamated into SWOC, a task by no means easy. He made a heated address to the delegates at the Amalgamated convention held in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania and used Amalgamated ‘informers’---sympathetic to the CIO cause and tired of Tighe’s inaction--- to keep him posted on what the top Amalgamated officers were up to. Meanwhile Tighe managed to stall the Amalgamated-joining-SWOC-resolution vote for three weeks.
Who then paid Fagan’s and other CIO organizers’ hotel bills to attend a convention which lasted three weeks? “Phil gave money to pay the hotel bills,” said Fagan in an interview with Alice Hoffman in l972. “We got expenses, no salary.” Murray gave Fagan and some of the organizers enough money to stay there and outlast Tighe who figured to keep them there until they ran out of money and would have to go home.
“When you’re organizing people,” reminisced Fagan about the Canonsburg convention in that same interview, “you gotta have all kinds…to take care of the situation. We used to look out for bartenders who were the greatest stool pigeons (for coal operators) that there were in the coalfields. Guys would go to the saloons, their tongue would loosen and…(well) we fixed that. We organized the bartenders!”
Mike Tighe, not nearly so compliant with Murray and the SWOC as he had been as president of the Amalgamated in his dealings with big steel, proved to be resistant to the end before finally giving in to the CIO.
The Amalgamated demonstrated their myopic provincialism and inability to see the larger picture by sending a CIO-Amalgamated unifying proposal to the AFL Executive Council weighted down with details that revealed the union’s greater concern about how much the dues charged to incoming industrial workers were to be and whether or not the large influx of new memberships into the Amalgamated would dilute its death-benefit plan.
This swallowing of camels and swatting at gnats led Murray, Brophy and Fagan in a meeting with Amalgamated officers on May l5, l936, to state outright to the representatives of that shell of a union that whether or not they planned to join the SWOC, the intention to organize the steel industry was going forward anyway. According to Walter Galenson in his book THE CIO CHALLENGE TO THE AFL, it was only after this ultimatum and the absence from the meeting due to illness of Mike Tighe (who in abstentia sent word to his staff to make the decision as they saw fit) that the Amalgamated finally agreed to become part of the CIO.
Finally, by June lst the battle of the Amalgamated was won and an agreement dated June 3, l936 was signed and delivered.
Then was when Murray set up the SWOC organized mainly through an appointment system so he could establish for himself full executive and administrative powers to put staff in place, make contacts with the mills, and start organizing the industry’s 480,000 wage-earning steelworkers.
So SWOC, headed by chairman Murray, was in business, June l7, l936. Present at that first meeting were stalwarts Van A. Bittner, Pat Fagan, David McDonald and John Brophy. The relative newcomers were Clinton Golden, former Pittsburgh Regional Director of the NLRB, Lee Pressman attorney for the Rural Electrification Administration and Vincent Sweeney, labor writer and Sunday editor of the Pittsburgh Press. Golden was put in charge of the Eastern part of the country, Van Bittner the West and Canada and Bill Mitch, Alabama’s UMW district president, put in charge of the South. McDonald was appointed Secretary Treasurer, Sweeney publicity director and Lee Pressman named general counsel.
Basic SWOC policy put in place by Murray and the committee followed these guidelines: To establish a permanent organization for collective bargaining with management; to keep strife and strikes to a minimum; to meet with management only after there were enough workers in the union fold to assure victory in the NLRB elections; to make sure local unions toed the line with the national.
In keeping with the Lewis line that a professional union should at least match the upper reach appearances of those whom they must deal and negotiate with, SWOC chose a suite on the 36th floor of the Grant Building, Pittsburgh’s tallest building. It then opened an account and credit rating at the Commonwealth Trust Company of $500,000 in the form of a loan from the CIO, really the UMW. So word got out quickly that SWOC, solvent, was in business to organize steel.
To head SWOC in the right direction, Murray played down the idea of industrial strife especially with cooperative employers. He urged organizers to not work in a vacuum but to follow local conditions and go from there. The supervision of SWOC, by no means lax, would come from both the national office and regional directors.
It seemed a crowd was already gathering in an arena to witness the slugfest sure to come between big steel and SWOC. In a June 2l article in the New York Times, Louis Stark reported that SWOC chairman, the “tall, broad-shouldered vice-president of the miners” promised that soon 200 field men would be on the SWOC staff, “The largest group of organizers ever.”
The opponent he and SWOC would go up against was the ubiquitous and formidable behemoth, US Steel. The ‘beast’ will have a 2 billion dollar capital structure and its far-reaching power will carry to 200 subsidiaries holding 38.4% of the nation’s ingot capacity in plants in l00 towns.. US Steel was in control of half of the nation’s known iron ore, the Mesabi Range, 4000 miles of tracks, had at its disposal 78 boats carrying ore down the great lakes and 28 freighters to send finished steel products to all parts of the world, reported Stark in that same article.
And if US Steel would not be challenging enough for Murray and SWOC then, in order of tonnage rank, there was Bethlehem, Republic, J&L at Aliquippa and National Steel owned by the inimitable E.T. Weir.
Says Stark in concluding the article: “Look out for industrial ‘warfare’. Strikes bloody and violent are bound to happen.”
Truer words were never spoken.
But came the war of words before the violent clashes and bloody strikes. The Iron and Steel Institute took out full-page ads in newspapers across the country claiming ‘outsiders and troublemakers’ were behind the CIO and SWOC.
Murray publicly attacked the Institute’s determination to dismiss SWOC as a virtual outlaw organization. They look upon it, charged Murray, as if the organized labor movement wasn’t involved with it. As if the workers it was meant to protect were mere phantom board pieces in a game of chess between the steel industry and so-called dark, subversive forces set out to destroy the free enterprise system.
In a blistering indictment of the Institute, Murray, quoted in the June 30 issue of the New York Times, charged that it reflects the worst side of the “the nation’s business…gradually drifting from one of private enterprise to that of private privilege…economic royalists chiefly interested in depriving workers their right to enjoy…constitutional freedom.”
The Institute took a punishing blow when the La Follette Senate Committee sent shock waves throughout the country. The committee revealed that the corporations, having in their hire l00,000 spies, had spent 80 million dollars per year to fight unions. Testimony given the committee by the president of the laboratory who sold tear gas to the corporations said it is “better to gas a striker than kill him!” The corporations tried to justify their arsenals by telling the committee that they were needed to fight Communism.
Applying carefully planned propaganda techniques, big steel began to spread fear of mass strikes to offset the steel organizing campaign that was in full swing. Murray, the campaign commander in chief, closely monitored strategies and techniques. Organizers took stacks of pledge cards to plants for individual workers to sign. As workers came off their shifts, organizers spouted the union line to them emphasizing a need for unions to establish industrial democracy to increase workers’ wages, insure better working conditions and protect workers from arbitrary firings.
However, during those early organizing days in steel, workers were locked into old fears of losing their jobs for being seen anywhere near an organizer. Needless to say, few signed up. Worse, many who did sign as members did not pay monthly dues. Since there was no dues checkoff then, SWOC, says David McDonald in UNION MAN, had to scratch for money to stay solvent.
The strategic SWOC target Murray set was the Carnegie-Illinois plant in Clairton, Pa., l5 miles south of Pittsburgh. 4000 steelworkers were employed there. Clairton was a strategic mark because it was a coke outlet closely tied to the captive mines. Shut down Clairton and a domino effect of plant closings would likely follow because Clariton and the whole steel valley complex, Murray knew, was where the heart of the corporation was.
But the corporation and smaller steel companies countered Murray’s SWOC strategy with their own and gave no indication that they were running away from the fight. 14 workers were fired at J&L for union activities. Murray’s public outcry over the ‘illegal’firings were countered by J&L officers who claimed the workers were fired for ‘inefficiency’.
Also, Ernest T. Weir, CEO of National Steel was implementing a terrorist campaign against organizers, charged Murray, by hiring thugs with criminal records to ‘deal with them’.
By the end of the year, l936, and SWOC’s first six-month period of existence, predictions of the committee’s future were neither bleak nor cause for celebration. By the onset of the new year, l937, only about 82,000 of 600,000 workers in basic steel were in the fold. And that figure was by no means firm.
That was the background then established by Murray’s firm directorship of SWOC that contributed to a surprising turn of events few if anybody could ever have predicted: A historic contract (virtually elicited by Myron Taylor, President of US Steel) was reached between SWOC and US Steel permitting unionism to come to the giant corporations’ plant floors.
It all began when John L. Lewis encountered Myron C. Taylor in the dining room of the Mayflower Hotel in Washington D.C. Both men struck up a conversation and began exchanging ideas about a possible collective bargaining agreement between US Steel, all its plants and subsidiaries, and the Steelworkers Organizing Committee.
The initial Lewis-Taylor meeting at the hotel set the wheels in motion toward an agreement, but nothing substantive came from the encounter. Not until that is Lewis took Murray along with him and Taylor Thomas Moses to a meeting on February 28th l937.
That’s when the real groundwork was laid for an agreement to be reached between US Steel and the SWOC.
As described in Chapter Six, Moses and Murray had sat down together often during l933 to try to resolve the captive mine situation. By l937 each knew the other well, and from the beginning there had never been any animosity between them. Their familiarity of each other’s modus operandi combined with Taylor’s willingness to make a contract with the SWOC promised better results in their latest negotiations than had been the case with the deadlocked captive mine discussions.
When all was said and done, however, the historic contract signed on March 2, l937 between US Steel and the SWOC was not exactly what Murray or Lewis could call a triumph.
The only substantive thing the SWOC gained from the contract was having the steel industry’s major producer practically fall into its lap. It was a contract mainly of future considerations. This was indicated by Taylor’s and Moses’ demand that SWOC organizers not press their demands on steelworkers who did not want to join the union.
In later interviews, David McDonald claimed one of the major reasons Taylor wanted to sign up with the SWOC was because during a visit he and his wife had taken to Babylonia, he Taylor, had a ‘born again’ experience there standing amid the remnants of that ancient nation’s past glories. Hadn’t that once great civilization (Taylor supposedly asked himself) been brought down by its rulers’ too strict adherence to a class system?
Perhaps that may have been one among other reasons Taylor sat down to talk to Lewis at the Mayflower Hotel that day. But more likely Taylor in l937 knew that keeping the labor peace would pay great dividends for US Steel because for the first time in eight years the corporation’s income had surpassed l00 million.
There were other reasons Taylor had to make a contract according to Galenson in his THE CIO’s CHALLENGE TO THE AFL. The president of the British Board of Trade was waiting in the wings to make a deal with the corporation to supply steel to rearm Great Britain. One of the board’s major contract stipulations was a guarantee from US Steel that production would go on uninterrupted by strikes or labor disputes. Another sound reason Taylor had to choose the SWOC to represent its workers was because the SWOC, a broad based industrial union, would be a far more practical union to deal with than a balkanized lot of craft unions.
The latter reason was a fitting tribute (payoff if you will) to Lewis and Murray who during the previous two years had to deal with a Machiavellian AFL whose adamancy—individually and collectively—was granite-hard-set against any sort of reconciliation with the CIO.
Also, Murray and the SWOC in previous months had to endure a seeming interminable patience with Mike Tighe and the Amalgamated who seemed completely out of touch with the high-reaching organized labor movement Lewis and he had envisioned and were bringing to fruition.
Source Notes for Chapter Eight. SWOC: THE CHAIRMAN TAKES COMMAND. 1935-36
PITTSBURGH SUN-TELEGRAPH, March 3, l937. PITTSBURGH PRESS, March 2, l937. PHILIP MURRAY AS A LABOR LEADER, 51-55. PROCEEDINGS OF THE 34th CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION OF THE UMWA, Washington, D.C., January 28-February 7, l936, 62-65; l54; l62-64; 169-70; 560-6l. NEW YORK TIMES, January 3l, l936; June 2l, l936; June 30, l936; July l2, l936; October 26, l937. UNION MAN, 90-92; 95-98; l02-l03; 256. JOHN L. LEWIS, 242. INTERVIEW #3 WITH PAT FAGAN, Alice Hoffman, August 8, l972, Oral History Collection, Penn State Labor Archives, l6-l7. Murray Papers, Penn State Labor Archives. William Serrin, HOMESTEAD: The Glory and Tragedy of an American Steel Town, (New York, l992), 209-l2. See Christopher L. Tomlins, THE STATE AND THE UNIONS. Labor Relations, Law, and the Organized Labor Movement in America, l880-l960, (Cambridge, l985); Craig Becker, “Individual Rights and Collective Action: The Legal History of Trade Unions in America,” HARVARD LAW REVIEW, l00 (l987), 672-89; David M. Rabban, “Has the NLRA Hurt Labor?” THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO LAW REVIEW, 54 (l987), 407-43l.
CHAPTER NINE: THE LITTLE STEEL STRIKE: Victories that led to Defeat—l937
Between l936 and l94l, Philip Murray stood in the crossfire of the civil war between the AFL & CIO. He also got caught in the middle of the personal animus Lewis felt for FDR then later on, Sidney Hillman when Hillman became a highly visible figure in the Roosevelt administration.
During those years the air around Lewis virtually quivered with contention. At the same time, however, the CIO made great gains in membership between l935-l937 when nearly 4 million workers joined the federation.
Murray took potshots of his own amid the civil and personal wars. He directed his fire especially at those who masqueraded as friends of organized labor, i.e., AFL officers like Hutchinson of the carpenters and secretary-treasurer Frey. Their covetous elitism in the eyes of Murray made them no less the enemies of workers than presidents of steel companies (whom he would soon be encountering).
Lewis, not overtly, made demands on Murray to side with him against the president, but Murray never really yielded. He did, however, choose his spots in his criticisms of Roosevelt according to circumstances that turned up, actions (or non-actions), for example, that FDR took that Murray believed harmed labor. Though he was lukewarm in his support for Lewis against FDR, Murray in every other way remained loyal to him, followed the Lewis line relating to CIO and UMW policies.
For example, during an October l936 conference with the AFL, Murray, on the CIO reconciliation committee that included Hillman, skipped a crucial meeting that set back the talks between the two federations. During the time Murray absented himself the two federations seemed close to reaching an agreement that Hillman especially wanted to see come to pass. Murray had left the meeting to confide in Lewis. He told Lewis that the AFL committee had accepted all the CIO’s demands (including autonomy within the federation) but for the one that would keep the 20 newly created unions in the CIO. But, Murray reported to Lewis, there seemed to be a good chance that the committee might accept that CIO demand too.
Evidently realizing that integration between the AFL & CIO might actually come about, Lewis told Murray to take a hard-line position and demand that the AFL give an accounting of authority guaranteeing an amicable integration between the two.
When Murray returned to the conference and made that demand, the tone of the talks changed. The negotiating broke down and it became obvious to committee members on both sides that Lewis, sure of the power in hand he wielded as president of the CIO, had no intention of yielding that authority. Nor the iconoclastic public image and influence that went with it.
Here’s where the personal animosity between Hillman and Lewis began to fester. Hillman wanted to reconcile with the AFL and Lewis, Hillman suspected, never really had any intention to. It was a silent taunting of sorts of Hillman by Lewis because John L., annoyed by Hillman’s growing reputation, knew that had a reconcilation come about it would probably be the popular Hillman who’d be given credit as organized labor’s peacemaker.
On this issue Murray did the younger brother, older brother thing and remained steadfastly loyal to Lewis. Hillman, who believed Murray had been leaning toward reconciliation with the AFL, tolerated Murray’s decision to stick with Lewis. He knew the blunt force tactics Lewis used against the people around him to get his way and Murray, in the long run a man more likely than Lewis to bring order out of chaos, could use all the support he could get from his resolute union friends. Especially during and after the time (imminent by then) he sat in the hot seat as Chairman of the Steelworkers Organizing Committee during the bitterly controversial so-called Little Steel strike.
The year, l937, had begun on a high note for Murray who was finally moving out of John L. Lewis’ shadow and gaining public recognition as a popular and effective union leader.
In a New York Times Magazine interview, Valentines Day l937, Murray is described by his interviewer as being a contract negotiator of repute “who despite his age, 5l, never permitted his physique to deteriorate.”
The interviewer, R.E.S. Thompson, was also impressed by the fact that Murray “seldom makes a grammatical mistake in speaking and his vocabulary is well-rounded.” Mastery of the English language contributed considerably to the reason why Murray, wrote Thompson, “shines at open forums where questions are hurled from the floor.”
The New York Times feature of Murray profiled a man important to the union movement and perhaps even on the threshold of fame. But if destiny were indeed leading him there it was certainly not in l937 to come.
Still, before the troubles came to Murray midsummer of that year, during earlier months he had contributed to historic union victories that perhaps caused him to rush to a decision that even some of his assistants (and Lewis implicitly) thought was a fatal error in judgment.
There was the now-famous sit-down strike by the autoworkers in the first two months of the new year that resulted in a GM agreement with the CIO. That victory increased the federation’s numbers in the hundreds of thousands and led to the creation of a more solidly built autoworkers union, the UAW. Spun from that event was a call to Murray by Henry Ford that he would be willing to listen to what Murray had to say about unions. Though it would do Murray and the CIO no good at the time (since Never! would a union ever come into a Ford plant, swore Henry), Murray made a chink in Ford’s armor. His personal encounter with Ford helped remove from the industrialist’s mind the idea that unions and their leaders were a demonized group. Ford saw with his own eyes that the amiable Murray was certainly a contradiction to that thought.
Murray knew Ford to be a ruthless man, single-minded in his purpose to keep unions out of his plants. He knew well the storied ‘career’ of Harry Bennett, Ford’s top assistant who ‘managed’ the infamous ‘Service Department’, a group of thugs who quashed at Bennett’s bidding any hint of union building in Ford plants. The Service Department’s most notorious act of violence took place at the River Rouge a Ford mill that employed nearly l00,000 workers and where at the gates of that plant four workers were killed in a l932 hunger strike. Later, in l937, there was the bloody Ford Overpass skirmish where Walter Reuther and Richard Frankensteen were violently and brutally beaten.
Nevertheless, face to face with the implacable genius-inventor who revolutionized the industrial workplace, Philip Murray, according to reports he passed on to his son Joe, found Henry Ford to be an amiable, if eccentric, man.
In a May l937 NLRB election, out of 80,000 votes cast, 5l,886 went for the UAW-CIO to 20,354 against, more than a 30,000 vote majority. But the results of that election meant nothing to Ford.
Instead, rather than accepting the union in Ford plants, he threatened to close down the company. And he might well have shut down Ford had it not been for his wife’s ultimatum that if he did she would leave home. Either way, though the union won the big election victory, Ford managed for four more years to hold off until June l94l when a contract agreement with the UAW-CIO was finally reached.
Other union victories that year that influenced Murray’s decision to strike Little Steel was, of course, the one in March when the contract with US Steel was signed. But perhaps an even larger feather Murray could put in his cap was the great SWOC victory that came in mid-May l937 when the citadel of entrenched anti-unionism, the J&L plant in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, agreed to a contract with the SWOC. When the company lost an NLRB sanctioned election by a l0,000 workers-for-the-union vote margin, J&L accepted the election results and signed the agreement, a boon to SWOC’s membership and a boost in national prestige for the CIO.
There’s where Murray was, in the flush of one victory after another that came during the preceding five months, when he and the SWOC officers held a ‘war council’ at Youngstown, Ohio to establish a strike strategy to get ‘Little Steel’ companies to follow suit with GM, US Steel and J&L.
Murray’s blueprint was to “encircle” the chief independent steel corporations, especially Bethlehem Steel under Eugene Grace which had 70,000 employees and National Steel which employed l8,000 workers presided over by E.T. Weir. But both were expected to be formidable challenges to SWOC so Murray and the council agreed to first take on Republic, Youngstown Sheet and Tube and Inland Steel.
Prospects for victory at the onset of the strike were promising. There were now more than 399,000 steel employees covered by union contracts of which l40,000 of them were turning out 68% of the nation’s output. “By unanimous action”, said Murray quoted in the May 27th edition of the New York Times, “representative delegates of the 80,000 employees of the Republic, Youngstown and Inland companies voted to close down the properties of these companies beginning at ll:00 PM May 26th.”
The presumption by Girdler, president of Republic, and Thomas Purnell, president of Youngstown S&T, that a signed SWOC contract would bring with it a guarantee of a closed shop evoked a public disclaimer by Murray. He charged the struck companies with using the idea as a ploy to give workers the impression that once the union took control of the plant they’d have no choice but to belong to the union and pay dues whether they wanted to or not. To that Murray, quoted again in the same NYT article, said “Let no one be confused by the bugaboo of a closed shop which these independents are merely using as a smoke screen to persist in an antiquated policy of the ‘workman be damned’. We don’t want him to have the protection of a written contract. A written contract guarantees wages and hours for its duration. We might want to slash wages and lengthen hours any time’.”
Charging a conspiracy among employers to defy not just the union but the NLRB to protect ‘bad-tempered bosses’ from firing workers at will, Murray cited Republic Steel and its inexorable anti-union president Tom Girdler as the leader of the pack. They have instituted a policy of ‘mass persecution’ all but saying directly to the workers that it “intends to starve them into submission.”
But the war of the words was one thing: No lives have ever been lost by one group of antagonists hurling barbs at another.
A far worse event was hovering. The beast of uncontrolled violence had been breaking loose from its chain starting on May 28th when riot police were called in to fight off marching strikers at Republic’s South Chicago mill.
By the time the l000 strikers were beaten back, 20 of them had been injured and 2 were hospitalized. Six cops were also hurt.
During that march, police had swung riot clubs to defend themselves against brickbats and strikers’ fists. In the midst of the riot shots were fired on both sides. Neither side admitted to firing the first shot. Banners demanding a CIO contract were carried by some of the women in the crowd. From the rear ranks bricks and stones flew while women screamed and men shouted curses and expletives at the police.
Because the police line held, the embattled strikers retreated and went back to their union headquarters where l5 were treated for wounds and injuries. During the hour of the retreat, Joe Germano, local organizer, called an‘indignation meeting’ for 2:30 PM Sunday, Memorial Day. The purpose of the meeting said Germano quoted in May 29th edition of the NYT, had been to set up “nothing more than peaceful picketing.”
But a far worse thing than ‘peaceful picketing’ happened that day: the dolorous ‘Memorial Day massacre’ at the Republic mill gate in South Chicago during which bloody riot ten people were killed and a great number of people injured.
Reported in the NYT, June l, l937, is a victim’s account of what happened. A violent event that draped over Murray’s conscience like a shroud:
“After the meeting (in the Union Hall to set up the march), I went out with the other strikers to make a picket line at the front of the company. I started to walk over to the plant. I was about one hundred yards behind the head of the line when the uproar began. They were like trapped rats, panic-stricken, terrified. I saw a woman fall as she was being clubbed by the policemen. She was bleeding and looked like she was dying. I ran over to help her and leaned down to pick her up, when the police hit me over the head. I was out after that.”
Another victim shot in the arm:
“I was walking along in the line when the shooting broke out about a half block away from me. The people cried and hollered like sheep and they scattered in all directions. Women, children and men were running and falling and screaming like madmen. I turned and ran too but when I went just a few feet, a bullet hit me in the arm. Some motorist picked me up and took me to the hospital.”
As more details of the tragic event unfolded daily across the country in the newspapers and over the radio, 5000 strikers and sympathizers paid tribute in a parade to their fallen ‘heroes’.
By June l, hospital reports listed 9 persons sent there to be treated for “bullet wounds, cracked heads, broken limbs and other injuries caused by brickbats and riveting bits.” 29 members of the mob had been wounded by gunfire and 26 police battered and hurt by objects thrown at them during the riot. In the wake of the disastrous consequences, the picket line was thinned down to 8 strikers and the police numbers reduced to 50 from 200. Of the reported 500 shots fired during the riot only two cops admitted to firing their guns. One claimed he did so only while lying on the ground and being pummeled by strikers.
“The police department did not invite that battle,” said the chief of police to a NYT reporter on June l. “We were merely acting in the capacity of preserving peace and order.”
Of course there was no reason to dispute the police chief’s claim. But neither was there any reason to dispute the claims of company officials, strikers and their leaders. Perhaps the ghosts of animosity—animus and antipathy on both sides of the steel industry’s fence—were the ones who fired the first shots whose consequences created a bloody disaster occurring nearly to the day 45 years before in Homestead, Pa. Was it those ‘ghosts’, by l937 nearly a palpable existent force, who were the ones responsible for what happened on May 30, l937 in South Chicago?
Needless to say, the tragedy at the Republic plant in South Chicago caused Murray to act like a man possessed with indignation and rage. It seemed as if he could not find or speak enough words to make known, to everybody willing to listen, what it was like to be a disenfranchised working man who asked only to be granted his legal right to bargain collectively with his employer. The idea of that supposed legal right not coming to fruition was bad enough. But were workers going to have to be killed to achieve it? The outrageousness of it not only haunted Murray but kept him in a state of constant fury.
His bitter enemy now had become Tom Girdler, a man who Murray did not hesitate to discredit publicly. Girdler had replaced Eugene Grace (President of Bethlehem Steel) as the new president of the Iron and Steel Institute.
In his new prestigious position, Girdler got no respect, let alone accolades, from Murray. In fact if it was Murray’s intent to discredit Girdler as a dangerous man just promoted into a strategic power-wielding position, his strident verbal attack, expressed in a telegram to Girdler and reported in the New York Times, certainly captured the public’s attention:
“In Youngstown yesterday, I publicly charged that your mills are veritable arsenals…the statement was hardly made…until one of your policemen in Canton last night verified this fact by deliberately shooting down one of your foremen who was trying to get into your mill…furthermore your private mill policeman…admits he was firing from ambush on company property. He also admits that he was trying to shoot down our pickets. It is now apparent that you or your subordinates have issued orders to shoot to kill and before the American public you stand indicted in a deliberate attempt to murder…”
To Murray, Tom Girdler was not a steel man but “a company cop…nothing more and nothing less…”
As the months into the strike, June and July, passed so too diminished SWOC’s chances of winning contracts from any of the companies.
After the climactic strike violence and multiple deaths on May 30th, rather than a reasoned truce or agreement being reached between the warring parties, positions only hardened. To make matters worse for Murray and the SWOC, Bethlehem Steel entered the fray and the union’s chances went downhill from there. The city of Johnstown, Pa., 60 miles east of Pittsburgh where the Bethlehem plant was located, had a hostile-to-unions hardliner Mayor, Shields, and an anti-union citizenry (large mill working population or not), an irresistible combination that perhaps contributed most to the little steel strike failure.
By the time Bethlehem had gotten involved in the strike, both Republic Steel and Youngstown S&T had distributed or mailed position papers to their workers. To educate and elicit the public’s sympathy, both companies placed full-page ads in newspapers detailing their positions on the strike. The main points made in Republic’s statement were that an agreement would surely bring with it a closed shop and a checkoff system which would turn the employer-company into a ‘union collector’. Republic also spouted the stalwart anti-union line that every worker had a right to collective bargaining through representatives of his own choosing free from coercion from any source.
Youngstown S&T’s anti-union position took on a different slant. It claimed that written contracts created the risk of shutdowns during annual negotiations for new agreements. Also, the president of S&T, Frank Purnell, began to claim that many workers wanted to return to work. The only reason, said Purnell, the company wasn’t opening the plant gates to let them in was because they were waiting to receive help from the mayor and sheriff.
To make an open show that workers wanted to return to the plants, Purnell and the Youngstown mayor arranged worker signups with the downtown Dollar Savings Bank. The solicitation drew a long line of signers. For 25 cents per signing, workers were given the chance to join a new association, the ‘two-bit union’. Going all out to win back the workers, l60 men made the rounds, visiting employees at home, urging them to sign back-to-work petitions. Purnell reinforced their efforts by sending follow-up letters to employees at home.
The whole idea of it was ‘company inspired’ said Murray. Those workers who signed were ‘under duress’, he charged, for which coercion he promised a complaint to the NLRB.
Slowly but surely the tide began to turn in favor of the employers. At Monroe Michigan, workers voted 856 to 20 to return to work, but a worse majority vote was cast against SWOC when an election sponsored by the Canton, Ohio chamber of commerce resulted in a 3633 Yes to 2l6 No vote to return to work.
But the most disturbing event occurred to Murray and the SWOC when a Johnstown plan to create a national chain of Citizen’s Committees to assure rights of loyal workers to continue at jobs began to draw enthusiastic responses from chambers of commerce across the country.
The National Plan, backed by a group of industrialists and directed by a former Johnstown citizen named John Price Jones (who by then had become prominent New Yorker), brought more and more messages of support from distant cities, a reversal of fortune that bode ill for not only the SWOC but the entire CIO.
The nail was put in the SWOC’s coffin for any chance of winning the little steel strike when, referring to both sides of the strike during a news conference, FDR---in a specific reference to the strike taken and interpreted out of context---made his famous remark, “A plague on both your houses.” The phrase, like a devastating ball shot out of a cannon, all but ended the war.
FDR’s remark angered Murray but infuriated Lewis. Some (including Murray?) claim it to be the excuse Lewis needed to break with FDR.
For Murray, FDR’s unfortunate and unfair remark may just as well had been a public pronouncement that labor and unions had become a mirror reflection of the industry it railed against. For Lewis FDR’s utterance, in or out of context, only verified in his mind what he had suspected: FDR, the so-called ingratiating prince of the common man was really underneath his deferential façade a man who held an imperial contempt for the working class. And weren’t they, the working class, the people who so naively worshiped him and voted him twice into office?
Along with the rift between Lewis and FDR, the failed strike also affected, in an adverse way, the friendship between him and Murray. Did Murray, as some claim, call the steel strike to put a ‘notch on his gun belt’ to match Lewis’ jubilant contract victories over General Motors and (for the most part) US Steel?
To think so would be giving Murray too much credit for wielding an autonomy of power completely separate from his SWOC council of officers and regional staff members. After the victories at US Steel and J&L wasn’t the SWOC conference decision to strike unanimous? And why shouldn’t it have been? What reason would Murray and the SWOC council have to stop dead in its tracks a momentum that seemed to be, like a juggernaut, rolling irresistibly along in the right direction?
Or was it? By mid-summer l937, the conservative backlash to the sitdowns in Detroit and fears in some quarters of a social class uprising were beginning to take the shine off the heady gains made by the organized labor movement.
Years after the event in a l970 in an interview with Helmut Golatz and Alice Hoffman, David McDonald put the burden of blame for the little steel strike failure on Murray’s shoulders. Said McDonald: “That was an absolutely silly shutdown. It should not have occurred. We weren’t ready; we didn’t have the people organized. People like Gus Hall urged the shutdown; Golden didn’t like the idea, wanted to wait for an election. But Murray was influenced by these other forces. Lewis was not for it. Lewis thought it was stupid. He said, ‘I think you guys are crazy, Dave.’”
What‘other forces’ Murray was ‘influenced’ by McDonald does not make clear.
Before the council had met to make its decision, McDonald claimed he showed Murray the organizers’ reports revealing the meager number of people organized. According to McDonald, Murray’s response to the figures was: “I’m not paying any attention to your figures.” When McDonald reminded Murray that there were not even enough guys in Buffalo to have a local union charter, “let alone close down a plant of 3000 people in Republic Steel”, supposedly Murray snarled, ‘I don’t pay a goddamned bit of attention to your figures’. So, supposedly, McDonald demurred. “Ok. It’s up to you boss; you’re the boss.”
The strike’s ultimate cost in lost lives was l8 and a total of l68 people were injured. But harmful to Murray’s reputation and SWOC’s effectiveness though the little steel strike defeat may have seemed, more was gained from it than contiguously met the eye. According to Philip Taft in ORGANIZED LABOR IN AMERICAN HISTORY, by the end of l937, SWOC had in hand l080 union locals and contracts with 445 companies covering about a half of all mill workers. The SWOC staff had burgeoned to 2l3 full time field workers and 75 part timers, and thanks to the La Follette Senate Subcommittee, industrial espionage had been exposed to an awakened public which exposure brought to an end armed company guards and the “denial of constitutional and civic rights by local authorities to a labor organization seeking recognition.
Source Notes for Chapter Nine. THE LITTLE STEEL STRIKE: VICTORIES WHICH LED TO DEFEAT. 1937
NEW YORK TIMES, February l4, l937; May 27, l937; May 28, l937; May 29, l937; June l, l937; June l4, l937; June l5 & l6, l937; July 3, l937; July 5, l937. JOHN L. LEWIS, 255-56; 3l7. Jean Gould & Lorena Hickok, WALTER REUTHER: Labor’s Rugged Individualist, (New York, l972), l20-22; l82-83. Nelson Lichtenstein, THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN IN DETROIT. Walter Reuther and the Fate of American Labor, (New York, l995), 59-62; l29-30. INTERVIEW WITH JOE MURRAY. James Green, “Democracy Comes to ‘Little Siberia’.” LABOR’S HERITAGE of the George Meany Archives, 5 (l993), 6-25. PITTSBURGH PRESS, May 20, l937; May 24, l937 May 25, l937; May 26, l937. Tom Girdler, BOOTSTRAPS: The Autobiography of Tom M. Girdler in Collaboration with Boyden Sparkes, (New York, l944), l0-l75. Harold Ruttenberg Papers, A FOOTNOTE TO LABOR HISTORY with a profile of Philip Murray, (Pittsburgh, l992), 75-76. Helmut J. Golatz & Alice Hoffman, AN INTERVIEW WITH DAVID MCDONALD, Pittsburgh, February 20, l970. ORAL HISTORY COLLECTION. Penn State Labor Archives, ll-l2. ORGANIZED LABOR IN AMERICAN HISTORY, 5l6. A MINER’S LIFE, 2l8; 3l7.
THE SWOC: Building the Union—l938-l939
Philip Murray was a man of durability who possessed strong instincts for survival. He came through the little steel strike a more formidable leader and took the fight to organize little steel into the trenches.
But first to be addressed (as the strike had reminded him) was the challenge of structuring the SWOC into an organization. How else could the committee reach the yet to be organized 800,000 steelworkers within the SWOC’s jurisdiction?
An emergency mobilizing convention was called in October l937 to go beyond the centralized bargaining authority already in place. Using the UMW as its model, rules were established in that convention to create a union in all but name.
Many of the rules were autocratic, iron clad. Murray had a long memory of the turbulent incidents that arose in the UMW caused by disgruntled local and district officers who sought more autonomy.
There was to be no national strike fund. A relief fund only was established as available SWOC monies permitted. Locals were to send all collected dues to headquarters from which one fourth of the total sum would be refunded to them. Locals were expected to honor all agreed-to contracts negotiated by the SWOC headquarters. Only the national officers were authorized to call strikes. Financial officers were to be bonded and a quarterly audit by the CIO was to occur to insure financial stability and prevent untoward manipulation of SWOC funds for ‘personal gain’ or any other unauthorized purpose.
Organizers were placed in the fields to insure an accurate accounting of new members as they were signed up so that no NLRB elections would be held in companies that the SWOC was not assured of winning.
A General Counsel, Lee Pressman, was appointed to see to all the legal aspects of running a union, those especially pertaining to questions about workers’ rights and union prerogatives.
The voice of the SWOC became STEEL LABOR a union newspaper that functioned ostensibly to inform the rank and file about union goings-on. But, as the UMW Journal, STEEL LABOR was used moreso to entrench the power of incumbents by denying a national voice to outspoken militants, or union ‘rabble rousers and chronic complainers’ who, in the minds of Murray and top officers, might cause confusion and dissension within the ranks.
Murray was no Lewis who wielded power with an easy arrogance and, sometimes, overbearing manner. But the chairman of the SWOC, though appearing more casual in his position than Lewis might, jealously guarded the power he wielded less for egotistic reasons than paternal ones, presuming to know ‘what was best’ for the rank and file.
As the SWOC chairman who now as the union leader of their employees had a say in the operations of big steel, Murray stood virtually shoulder to shoulder to Lewis as a power-wielding union leader of note.
Early on, Lewis will begin to notice Murray as a potential rival. The man he anointed to the position would gradually become in his eyes (for a number of reasons, some without substance) only another pretender to his throne. Longtime friends or not, such unwelcome competition was to Lewis an‘unforgiving presumption’ that he seemed to be never able to tolerate.
Other important factors that helped Murray reinforce his power as the SWOC chairman were the assistants who worked with him.
Among these were of course his longtime loyal friends, Pat Fagan and Van Bittner. Also his top administrative assistant was Clinton Golden, a machinist by trade and a man highly respected among the rank and file for his vast knowledge of industrial-management relations and grasp of the fine details for putting them to practical use.
Finally, his personal secretary at the UMW for fifteen years, David McDonald, was appointed secretary-treasurer of the SWOC
Murray made a good decision when he named McDonald to the secretary-treasurer’s position. However, an undercurrent of displeasure began to develop between the two men. In interviews years later, McDonald admitted to being sometimes annoyed by Murray’s too-cautious nature in going about solving union problems that he believed needed urgent attention. Murray in turn sometimes expressed concern to his confidants and close assistants about what he thought were failings in McDonald’s character that he found disturbing.
One episode that got under Murray’s skin was McDonald’s marrying a very rich girl during the middle of the little steel strike. Obviously the wedding date had been set months before the strike and it was not likely McDonald and his bride had any intention of postponing it.
But tell that to a worker on the Republic picket line in Cleveland, Ohio during the hot and bloody summer of l937. So irked were some of the workers that the district director told SWOC research director, Harold Ruttenberg, who had gone to Cleveland on union business, to try to talk the workers out of picketing the wedding which they fully intended to do. As Ruttenberg says in his A FOOTNOTE TO HISTORY, he failed to dissuade the workers “but cooler heads did prevail.” So the wedding went off without a hitch.
The whole idea of McDonald’s marriage to this girl seemed to rub Murray the wrong way. On another annoying occasion, when a newspaper photo showed McDonald’s wife sitting on a wooden split rail fence at a horse event in Ligonier, PA, “where the financial elite of Pittsburgh” lived, Murray saw red. Said Ruttenberg, Murray saw McDonald’s marriage to the ‘society’ girl as ‘fraternizing with the enemy.”
The marriage by the way didn’t last. McDonald eventually married one of Murray’s pretty secretaries, a marriage that did last and one which eliminated at least that particular irritant on Murray’s side of their edgy relationship.
True, the relationship between Murray and McDonald may have been edgy but it was a mutually dependent one. McDonald, for obvious reasons, needed Murray to help him achieve his ambitions to one day succeed him as president of the steelworkers union, which he did. Murray needed McDonald to work the ‘back alleys’, a necessary compromise any otherwise four-square-and-above-reproach-labor leader needed to make to insure survival of his union.
And if Murray did once grab Ruttenberg by the arm at a dinner during a local union event and say to him sotto voce, sit next to me because “I don’t want to sit next to Dave all night long” (as Ruttenberg maintains he did), Murray also knew when he was saying that to Ruttenberg that he was the featured speaker at that event because McDonald had done the successful dues picketing and organizing there.
To McDonald’s credit it may well have been he who played a major role in establishing solvency to a SWOC organization that far into l938 was on the brink of bankruptcy.
By the beginning of l938 the mere trickle of dues money coming into the SWOC treasury was becoming the union’s biggest problem. It was a problem, according to an account McDonald gives in UNION MAN and in the Hoffman l970 interview, Murray handed over to his secretary treasurer.
McDonald established what he called the practice of ‘visual education’, a euphemistic term for dues picketing. Dues picketing involved a group of brutish-sized union members who were chosen by district directors to stand before a plant gate holding pick handles or ball bats. As shift workers arrived each worker was asked: “Let’s see your dues card. That gave the worker three choices,” said McDonald. “He could show an up-to-date card and pass on into the mill. He could detour to a nearby table, pay his back dues and go to work. Or he could tell the committee to go to hell.” The third response usually resulted in the worker missing a day’s work because he’d be barred from going into the plant.
McDonald preferred to not call this technique ‘blackmail’ because wasn’t the money after all owed to the SWOC? Weren’t union dues the only source of income, especially since credit from every other source had just about dried up?
Murray tolerated McDonald’s tactics distasteful to him as they were. But he also knew that sometimes practical approaches to solving problems (short of murder and mayhem) were the only way.
The voice of the SWOC, in the person of Murray, had indeed not been quieted by the little steel strike setback.
There were always vituperative words enough in Murray’s arsenal to hurl at his perennial adversary, big business. The unemployment in the steel industry particularly: “25,000 men were taken by the scruff of the neck and just thrown out on the streets…” said an embattled Murray to the delegates at the l940 36th Constitutional Convention of the UMW. But worse perhaps, he warned the delegates, new machinery meant to step up production but also “to serve human beings, not punish them”, will cost the already shaky labor market 65,000 jobs.
As to the downturn, late l937, for which he accused FDR of foot-dragging on the unemployment problem, the ‘big boys’ answer to it is to reduce taxes. “How can you reduce taxes with l0 million idle men and women? I am sick and tired of the nauseating statements by the leaders in the fields of business and politics in this country”
All of which is to say, as a union leader, the constant sailing against a tide of misfortune had by the end of l938 become as natural to Murray as breathing.
But he was after all only human. He did not always eagerly embrace the challenges that came his way. When the CIO became the Congress of Industrial Organizations, during its first historical gathering, November l4-l8 l938 in Pittsburgh, Murray and Sid Hillman were named vice-presidents. Lewis of course was named president and James Carey of the Electrical Workers’ Union appointed secretary treasurer.
Now according to John Brophy, Murray had suggested to Lewis that Brophy be named vice president instead of him, but Lewis balked at the idea. Claimed Lewis, there were already too many UMW people in the top leadership prompting Murray to say to him, then “why not leave me out, there are plenty of others who can serve.” To that, said Brophy, Lewis glowered at Murray and did not answer him.
Lewis’ glowering message to Murray was clear: Who, for obvious (if unmentioned) reasons better to succeed him, Brophy or Murray, should the need ever arise?
Perhaps the underpinnings of Lewis and Murray’s inevitable broken friendship had already begun to chink before Lewis’ reported annoyance by Murray’s decision to call what he apparently thought was an non-winnable strike. John Brophy reports in A MINER’S LIFE that “Murray was often unhappy about his relation with Lewis but swallowed his resentment in the interest of the union.” Especially, said Brophy, was Murray unhappy with Lewis’ presumptive habit of devoiding authority of subordinates. Said Brophy, when the UMW headquarters were moved to D.C. in the early 30s, Lewis brought his brother Denny in to take care of matters in Murray’s realm. This annoyed Murray but when he mentioned it to Lewis, Lewis answered in effect, What did it matter who was assigned to do the work that needs to be done? On their trips together to Pittsburgh from D.C. Brophy said Murray often confided in him revealing that he did not like the way Lewis was treating him.
But the actual break between Lewis and Murray would not come until four years later. The greater collapse to be concerned about was the economy that fell to l935 levels in August of that summer, but worse, from the downturn’s resulting in SWOC cutbacks, the AFL’s surpassing membership figures over the CIO. The latter happenstance prompted an emboldened AFL secretary-Treasurer Frey to announce that the CIO was about finished as both a union and a political force.
How many times before in his labor life had Murray resurrected a union or workers’ cause buried prematurely (if not presumptuously) by those who seemed to foolishly relish underestimating him?
Source Notes for Chapter Ten. FOR THE SWOC: BUILDING THE UNION OF THE WORKER, FOR THE WORKER, BY THE WORKER. 1938-l939
PHILIP MURRAY AS A LABOR LEADER, 70-7l; JOHN L. LEWIS; A FOOTNOTE TO HISTORY, 82-89. INTERVIEW WITH JOE MURRAY. Lloyd Ulman, THE GOVERNMENT OF THE STEELWORKERS’ UNION, (New York, l962), 5-7; l4-l5; 22-26; 49-50; 73-74; 82-lll. Thomas R. Brooks, CLINT: A Biography of a Labor Intellectual, (New York, l978) l74-l82. AN INTERVIEW WITH LEE PRESSMAN by Shaughnessy, June l957 & l958, ORAL HISTORY COLLECTION, Columbia University Archives. UNION MAN, l2l-25. Murray Papers, Penn State Labor Archives. PROCEEDINGS OF THE 36th CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION OF UMWA, Columbus, Ohio, January 23 to February l, l940, 284-87. NEW YORK TIMES, February l5, l937; May l9, l938. A MINER’s LIFE, 28l.
FATAL ATTRACTIONS: Agonizingly Slow Death of a 25 Year Friendship—l940-l942.
When the l940 presidential election began to heat up and Murray and his top assistants had endorsed FDR for re-election, Lewis was gathering political forces to thwart FDR’s election to a third term.
Lewis’ threats were manifested publicly beginning with a radio address on October 25, l940 when he shocked the industrial and labor world by announcing that if Roosevelt won the election he would resign as CIO president. Presuming that the workers would remain loyal to him and cast their votes for Wilkie, Lewis rode a crest of enthusiastic responses to his announcement. Was it a win-win situation for Lewis? According to Len De Caux, Publicity Director of the CIO at the time, contrary to what many believed, Lewis was serious about his intentions to resign as president of the CIO. Reportedly, he was tired of the disrespectful way he was being treated by the administration.
In the wake of the election results (FDR 449 electoral votes, Wilkie 82), anticipation within the CIO filled the air as to what Lewis’ next move would be. Surely he would not resign and anoint Murray as his ‘replacement’ would he? But would he not lose face in the eyes of many for breaking his promise if he didn’t?
To say the least, Murray was not anticipating the coming CIO convention. It mattered little in his mind what Lewis’ true intentions were. Should he accept the presidency of the CIO he was bound, in the presence of a dominating leader as Lewis, to be seen (or at least perceived) by others as merely being a caretaker..
If it seemed a far-fetched idea that Lewis would usurp Murray’s power as president of the CIO and use him as a front-man-leader, there were antecedent incidents that revealed that Lewis was by no means above such thinking. Only two years earlier, to Murray’s dismay, Lewis wanted his daughter, Kathryn, (who possessed a temperament hardly less formidable than her father’s) appointed CIO Secretary-Treasurer.
The idea of wielding power in abstentia (or in shadows or anywhere he might) seemed a natural right to Lewis, an imperial conceit by no means lost on Murray.
Both men in their public speeches had mastered the art of blunt language. But, personally, as their friendship began to crack, they could no longer be frank with each other. This hesitation only irritated and magnified their dissimilitudes so that when the time for face to face plain speaking came, the words flew vituperatively from each’s lips creating an irreparable wind of havoc.
In an act unanimously approved by the convention, on November 22, l940, John L. Lewis did indeed pass the baton of the CIO presidency to his longtime friend and partner, Philip Murray. Not too thrilled by the idea, a wary Murray rather spoiled the moment. He accepted the baton from Lewis but gave an acceptance speech that was defensive to a fault against those whom he imagined considered him to be an unworthy successor.
The speech languished and trailed off into an embarrassing monologue filled with rambling phrases about his having a soul, a heart and mind. “I think I am a man…this mild man Murray…vacillating individual (who) would rush somewhere to perfect an agreement with the AFL…”
The self-revelatory doubts, embarrassingly palpable in the speech about succeeding Lewis, only darkened more the substance of Lewis’ shadow looming large behind him on that stage.
Perhaps the drama of that moment and the mixed feelings that went with it—after all dread or no this was his good friend he was replacing—was so overwhelming an occasion for Murray that it temporarily knocked him off his usual calm.
More characteristically of the man his friends knew best, not many days after that shaky moment on stage, Murray took the reins as the new president of the CIO with energy, confidence and force of will.
He began by speaking out publicly against the administration’s questionable allocation of government orders that favored large manufacturers; he called for a closing of the unemployment gap in ALL industries besides big steel where the problem was endemic; he urged the government to create a new defense board to oversee collective bargaining contracts, a crucial move that needed to be made to assure labor peace in the face of Hitler’s conquest of Europe and Great Britain’s dire need for assistance; he exhorted the government to establish industrial councils and put in play Walter Reuther’s plan to produce 500 airplanes a day.
Aligning himself with Reuther’s plan (that most industrialists laughed at) was a shrewd move on Murray’s part to assert his leadership as CIO president. Not only did he gain the support and confidence of the UAW, the largest and most powerful union in the CIO, but also he demonstrated his independence from Lewis by standing by Reuther’s plan that Lewis, the isolationist, disdained.
If Murray had seized the reins as president of the CIO with surprising ferocity, perhaps contributing to his sense of urgency was the fact that during the previous two or three years, Lewis seemed to have become virtually an ‘absent’ leader. At least he gave that impression. For example, he seemed much more preoccupied with his restive relationship with the president than with rectifying the discrepancy of membership numbers and financial solvency he publicly implied the CIO enjoyed.
During FDR’s second term, New Deal and labor adversaries turned the tide against the CIO. In its own way the NLRB contributed to the federation’s reversal of fortune by not enforcing the collective bargaining dictates of the National Labor Relations Act. Recalcitrant antiunion corporations like Republic Steel and Bethlehem sanctimoniously declared a victory in the ‘little steel’ strike of l937 and continued to be awarded choice defense contracts by the government while making no effort to sit down at the table with the SWOC. There were two other serious differences between Lewis and the administration: The foreign policy of FDR that Lewis considered to be reckless and suspicions in Lewis’ mind that should the president win a third term, he might abandon the organized labor movement.
Thus even before succeeding Lewis it was mostly Murray who saw to the details of the union’s daily business such as negotiating contracts, appearing before House and Senate Labor Committees and performing other union tasks. Lewis, meanwhile, appeared to be locked in place expending much of his energy trying to understand the ‘motives’ behind the president’s decisions which even FDR’s closest advisors weren’t always able to do.
When Murray charged that the administration was giving contract privileges to his little steel strike nemeses, Tom Girdler of Republic Steel and Eugene Grace of Bethlehem, he was fully aware that with each charge he made against the administration’s apparent lassitude in enforcing the labor laws that he was adding only more weapons to Lewis’ arsenal against FDR and putting himself tighter in the middle of the feud between the two.
Lewis became even more enraged when FDR appointed Sid Hillman as labor’s representative on the National Defense Advisory Council. Ostensibly, Hillman was FDR’s ‘compromise’ choice to appease AFL & CIO differences. Lewis, however, saw it as a slap in his face.
FDR, of course, was nobody’s fool. He knew that if Lewis, on the labor side, was going to be a lost cause to him, then Murray would have to become his man. And Hillman. He would bide his time while the three men themselves worked out their contradictory political alliances.
FDR was using Murray as a wedge between Lewis and himself. A charge made by a Chicago Daily News labor reporter named Edward A. Lahey confirmed that.
In a conference with the president, Lewis reportedly asked FDR to give him the vice-president’s slot on the l940 presidential ticket. FDR refused. Supposedly, during one of their meetings, FDR told Murray of Lewis’ request which put Murray in the political thick of things between his ‘boss’ and the president.
Though Lahey did not state it publicly, it was supposed that Murray, a friend of the reporter, had revealed to him the source of the VP story. If the story were indeed true, the Murray leak to Lahey would’ve portrayed Lewis as a petty, vengeful man who responded to FDR’s rejection by pitting his own political power in the l940 election against the president’s. Taunting and manipulating information against another person were not Murray’s usual modus operandi. But considering the fact that he was approaching the high water mark of discontent with Lewis gives credibility to the possibility.
Weeks after the CIO convention of November l940, and their friendship still intact, Lewis and Murray drove up from D.C. to a state CIO convention in Harrisburg, PA. When the two men entered the room, loud cheering ensued. But, reported David McDonald in UNION MAN, Lewis immediately upstaged Murray by bowing and acknowledging the crowd’s blandishments, during which time, said McDonald, “I saw Murray’s eyes darken and the lines around his mouth set, but he made no effort to fight Lewis for attention. He knew it was an uneven contest from the beginning.”
Murray was not only cognizant of the ‘torture he expected to go through’ for having assumed the CIO presidency (notwithstanding Lewis’ ostensible blessings) but he even refused to move into the office at the CIO building. He chose to remain in his office at the UMW building rarely leaving it to go to the CIO office, which was less than a block away.
Such petty office ploys and childish bickering between the two might’ve disappeared given any sane and clarified moment. But there was still the impenetrable rock that stood between them: The president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
It was evident that as long as FDR was president, Lewis and Murray could never have the same close friendship they once enjoyed.
Lewis had a very difficult time with Roosevelt. Presumptuous though the idea may seem, he considered the president to be his direct rival. The admiration and respect FDR received from the American people, especially the workers, seemed to be an immutable political condition Lewis was not able to accept. If anyone were to be held in esteem by the workers, Lewis believed, it should be he. Hadn’t he already proved his mettle by standing up to big business and corporate interests while FDR, to suit his own ends, played big business and organized labor like a harp?
If Murray were going to continue to profess his patriotic loyalty to FDR’s national defense policy, might all that was accomplished by organized labor during the past several years be dismantled?
So there was the picture. In his mind, Lewis saw FDR as a demigod, a fact that he believed those too blindly loyal to the president (such as Murray and Hillman) were not able to see.
Nevertheless and in the face of Lewis’ recalcitrance, Murray realized that FDR may indeed have been using him as a shield against Lewis, but what choice did the president have? How else but with a Murray-led loyal organized labor movement in the vanguard, was his national defense policy going to survive? How could the industrial production needed to lend assistance to Great Britain fighting single-handedly against the axis powers in Europe go forth? And what about SWOC? It was still a tentative organization thanks to the little steel company holdouts. Was it ever going to be able to gain a sturdy footing in the steel industry without some help from the government?
Another complication entered the picture. A story circulated that Lewis, through his Mexican contacts, had helped William R. Davis, a Texas wildcatter to buy oil from Mexican nationalized properties to sell to Nazi Germany (a payback, some said, by Lewis to Davis who supposedly underwrote his October 25 Wilkie-endorsing radio speech).
Murray dismissed the story as a rumor.
Though some of the stories were true (the Davis one probably was), slanderous stories such as that one, usually initiated by enemy sources, cropped up frequently and were not to be taken seriously.
Murray would probably not hesitate to agree with Lee Pressman who in interviews in l957 and l958 scoffed at the idea that Lewis made “Big wads of dough” on that Davis deal. He may have made the arrangements said Pressman but “Lewis had always lived on nothing but his salary, and not a single penny had ever come to him from any source other than his salary.”
No, not the Davis affair, but essentially the FDR differences between Lewis and Murray was what contributed mainly to the rapid decline of their friendship and the deterioration of their health. Not surprisingly then in l94l both had heart attacks: Lewis’ in January and Murray in July of that year.
Lewis’ heart attack was not highly publicized. Considering that his power and prestige as a union leader had become somewhat diminished, Lewis perhaps felt that showing any sign of weakness might cause his influence to disappear altogether. So outside of the family members, only Murray and Pressman were permitted to visit him.
After taking a convalescence trip, Lewis returned to his duties in the spring with a seeming renewed sense of purpose. He voiced his protests at the way FDR was handling volatile labor disputes. At a testimonial dinner for Murray at Harrisburg on May l, Lewis--- with little heed to the timing and appropriateness of his remarks considering the occasion--- unabashedly denounced Office of Production Management board member, Sidney Hillman. Lewis charged Hillman with doing the president’s bidding. Not to be undone by Lewis’ denunciatory mood, Murray used the dinner occasion to speak out against the Vinson Compulsory Mediation Bill which could arbitrarily pin subversive activities charges against an employee that might well, should it pass said Murray, destroy basic rights of labor.
By late spring of that year, it was plain that Murray had certainly not lost his voice when it came to speaking out against any government measure that he thought unfairly affected workers. In that respect he was able to maintain his professional rapport with Lewis even though opposing factions were beginning to build around both men. On Lewis’s side a tacit group support that lent weight to his complaints against the administration’s behavior. That group was the isolationist left-wing faction involved in a west coast North American Aviation strike in Inglewood, California.
Under the specious purpose of demanding a wage increase, the strikers’ actual intention was to slow down the national defense plan to demonstrate support for Stalin who was at the time still in alliance with Hitler. Since Hillman had gone along with the Labor Board vote of no strike pledges from unions, when FDR called out the California National Guard to put down the strike at North American, heads of CIO unions loudly condemned Hillman, FDR and the Labor Board.
The offshoot of the National Guard’s intervention was an emergency CIO meeting in the basement of the UMW building and chaired by Murray. Before going to the meeting, Murray went to Lewis expecting the two of them to go down to the meetng together. But Lewis urges him to go ahead down and he’ll soon follow. Murray knows, at this point, that he must reconcile his patriotism and loyalty to FDR’s national defense program with the abhorrent idea of troops being called in to break up a strike. Was it to be back to injunctions, police and sheriffs again?
Murray begins to speak at the meeting when Lewis’s reason for sending him on ahead becomes immediately apparent. As Lewis enters the hall and strides into the meeting, all eyes shift from Murray to him. He does not join Murray at the table. Instead, he sits among the rank and file as if he were one of them. The gesture is interpreted by Murray as a direct slap in the face before the delegates, not to mention a provocation that would test the patience of any man.
Lewis gets up to speak. He rails against Hillman and FDR for sending troops with bayonets to shoot down and stab in the back men striking for a ‘measly 65 cents an hour’. Chaos ensues. Indirectly the attack goes to Murray who at the time was still a member of the Mediation Board. Under the appalling turn of events, he has no choice but to resign.
The original purpose of the emergency meeting was to call to account the leadership of the strikers and the strikers themselves. The debate centered around two questions: Was the strike Communist-led? Was it their sole intent to embarrass the war effort? To the contrary, the strikers claimed the strike was called only for the purpose of increasing the hourly wage. FDR, they claimed, was merely using the war effort as an excuse to break the west coast union.
As it turned out, in the noisy din of Lewis’ speech against FDR and Hillman, the debate had gotten so smothered in acrimonious charges and countercharges hurled by the opposing CIO factions, that Murray’s face, in the words of Lee Pressman, got “flushed and flushed.” It was turbulent incidents like these stirred up by Lewis that friends close to Murray charged led to his heart attack. Some even went so far as to say, “Lewis drove him to it to kill him so that he could go back and take the job as head of the CIO. Members of Murray’s family, particularly his son Joe, believed this.
But though Murray indeed did have a heart attack six weeks later and if that attack was bound to occur, then there’s reason to believe it might also have been delayed for a month. Unexpected good fortune came Murray’s way within a ten day period during June l94l. Under the direction of the CIO, supporters of the plane plant strike were ousted from the Los Angeles Industrial Union Council and special representatives were sent to LA with the help of the UAW to set up a new central body not under left wing control. The charge of the central body was to withdraw all locals from the LA industrial union council with the revocation of charter of the existing council. Also, Henry Ford sent out a call to Murray to meet with him in the privacy of his home in Dearborn, Michigan. According to Lee Pressman, as reported in those late l950s interviews, during lunch and after showing Murray around the grounds, Ford (who took a liking to Murray) asks him, “What do you want?” Murray answers, “We want a contract. We want recognition.” “What about wages?” asks Ford. “Just the standard natural wage, the standard wages,” says Murray. Then Ford says, “I’ll let Bennett take on the details with you.”
Not long after, on June 2lst in Murray’s D.C. office, the historic contract with Ford was signed. Next day, before the ink dried on the contract signatures, Hitler invaded Russia ending sympathetic left-wing support for the European axis alliance in the LA union and any other Communist controlled union in the CIO.
Murray’s heart attack came on July l3, l94l. The concluding sentence in the Pittsburgh Press news report on Murray’s condition was: “Because of overwork in the last year (Murray) will have to remain in the hospital for a few weeks.” What the report did not say of course was that Murray was being forced by his body to find a bed and lie down. The man at age 55 was no longer the young, vigorous miner who could single-handedly load three or more cars of coal and then go out and play a game of soccer. Nor for that matter was he going to be able to endure four more years of the kind of blood-boiling parrying with Lewis that had become the crucible of their once non-malleable friendship.
By a strange twist of fate, or just simple misunderstanding, with the heart attack an event occurred that brought the Lewis-Murray friendship to an abrupt end.
Hearing of the heart attack, Lewis got into his car and drove from D.C. to Pittsburgh to visit Murray in the hospital. When he got there, he was not permitted to enter the sickroom to see Murray. The rule was that only the immediate family was permitted to visit a patient in Intensive Care. But Lewis, erroneously, took it to mean that Murray or his family had banned him from entering the room. He became furious at the perceived rebuff, hastily left the hospital, jumped in his car and headed back to Washingon an angry and bitter man.
When McDonald was told that Lewis was turned away at the sickroom, he calls an old miner friend of his in central PA to try to watch out for Lewis’ car and “flag it down.” Incredibly, the man succeeds but Lewis refuses to turn back. According to Lee Pressman, Lewis played up the story and always claimed from then on that “it was Murray who had departed from him (and) the feeling between the two became awfully bitter after that…”
The unexpected heart attack awakened in Murray the realization that he was mortal. He suddenly realized that maintaining his health needed to take a higher priority than he was giving it. Being hardy and in good health was vital to his personal and professional life. So he took some time to recuperate in Atlantic City with his wife Elizabeth. He and Lewis had planned to meet there in October.
There are different versions of that meeting. Lee Pressman who was probably nearer to the two men than any other union official was convinced that nobody knows what the two men actually talked abut during their Atlantic City meeting. Each man, said Pressman, gave his own version of the conversation “as to who was pleading with whom.”
Even the specific place where they met can’t really be determined. Pressman says it was in one of those “push things” on the boardwalk where they discussed differences between them for two or more hours. Saul Alinsky who in his book JOHN L. LEWIS, an Unauthorized Biography, gives an account of the meeting between the two that sounds like a blustery opera, all wind and no discernable storyline. Alinsky puts them in a room at the President Hotel in Atlantic City, which happened to be the same hotel where, in l935, Lewis conceived the idea for the CIO.
Lewis supposedly told Alinsky that when he accused Murray of attacking his patriotism, Murray responded in a “disorganized way, plucked at his sleeve…(seemed to be)…a little bit out of his mind crying, ‘It isn’t so Jack, it isn’t so.’” Alinsky also claims that Lewis had decided to not push Murray lest he have another heart attack, so walking away he says to Murray, “Phil, you go your way, I’ll go mine,” which words, purportedly, so upset Murray, he grabs Lewis by the lapels and pleads, “Jack, your way is mine, always was, always will be.”
Alinsky’s melodramatic account is given full play here only to point to the mythological trove of stories told by loyalists on both sides that have built up around the Lewis-Murray breakup.
Monsignor Charles Owen Rice, Murray’s friend and sometimes spiritual advisor in a March 2, l997 interview with the author says of the clash:
“Saul Alinsky’s account is very pro-Lewis. And it is not fair. It’s not a straight account. He gave Lewis’ version. Murray knew this was going to happen and when I was at the ‘4l convention a man called Frank Hughes…told me, ‘I know this man Lewis. This man Lewis will break him’. And he was trying to get me to get Murray to back off and Murray said he wouldn’t.”
So the conversation ‘in one of those push things’ on the boardwalk probably dealt with the very practical, concrete differences between the two men. On Murray’s side there was Lewis’ recalcitrant isolationism that he used as a weapon against Murray since l938 and his cruel habit of humiliating Murray by upstaging him in formal union settings. Another irritating factor was Lewis’ nepotism that helped him entrench his dominating control over union affairs. All of these irritants to Murray grew to become intolerable. His antagonism against the man, building during the previous three or four years, were now beginning to surface as hateful.
Lewis’ words to Murray during their talk might have been a twofold complaint that Murray was short sighted in his loyalty to FDR and disrespectful toward him and his opinions about the president. More specifically, Lewis would want to hear it directly from Murray why CIO Secretary-Treasurer Cary, after making denigrating remarks about Lewis’ patriotism, was given Murray’s support to stay on for re-election to another term. Murray (who did not believe Carey made the remarks) was sure in his mind that Lewis was making the charge to oust Carey from the position so his daughter Kathryn could move into it.
Chances are those were the issues discussed in Atlantic City that day. Murray seldom openly complained about Lewis to his assistants on these matters. However, the personal humiliations and slights that mounted in his relationship with Lewis were astutely observed, noted and revealed in interviews and books written by those who worked closely with Murray: Lee Pressman, David McDonald, Harold Ruttenberg, John Brophy, Len De Caux and of course Murray’s son, Joe, to name only the well documented ones. The above named union officials also worked closely with Lewis and included in their accounts his reasons for breaking up with Murray. However, the persons who perhaps could have best observed and noted Lewis’ disillusionment with Murray were members of his own family whom he appointed union positions. But scanty information and observations have come from that group. Two men who more or less wrote favorably about Lewis and gave accounts of his reasons for breaking with Murray were Saul Alinsky and CIO Publicity Director (from l936 to l948) Len De Caux. Finally, in their quite exhaustive biography, JOHN L. LEWIS, Melvyn Dubofsky and Warren Van Tine treat the breakup of the friendship rather summarily, their emphasis focusing more on the broader context of Lewis’ professional life.
One must keep in mind that both men had had heart attacks during the nine months before their meeting. Certainly each was on medication, perhaps experiencing profound side effects. In the heat of their conversation, either could have gone off on some bizarre, incoherent tangent. However, what was true and real on that day was that their friendship was over. The irreconcilable differences between the two had finally come home to roost.
On December 7th, vindications of Murray and Lewis’ positions as they related to FDR became a moot point. Overnight the country was at war on two fronts. It was by no means the time for labor leaders to be bickering with each other over matters of national policy. Or at least that’s what one would expect.
The feud persisted until it reached a climax early in l942. To begin with, Lewis sent a letter to Murray and AFL president William Green stating, “If labor can compose its major internal problem then the government will be aided in the operation of its war economy…Advise me of your concurrence.” The letter infuriated Murray not only for its presumptuous tone but because it did not reach his desk until after he had read the proposal in the newspapers.
In a cold, officious reply, Murray said that any unity overtures between the AFL & CIO would come only through the office of the CIO president.
On Friday May 22, l942, the SWOC became the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) and Murray was elected president at a salary of $20,000. On Monday, May 25, his 56th birthday, Murray attended a UMW Wage Policy Committee meeting that turned into a kangaroo court proceeding.
McDonald describes in UNION MAN a detailed account of what happened at the Wage Policy meeting:
“The auditorium smelled of trouble. I shot an apprehensive glance at Murray, but he squared his shoulders, looked straight ahead, mounted the stage and took his accustomed seat in the group clustered about Lewis…”
Everybody on the platform ignores Murray while John’s younger brother, Denny Lewis, sitting in the front row begins to heckle him by making wise cracks audible throughout the auditorium. Murray ignores Lewis’ brother’s wisecracks and continues to look straight ahead. While Murray is sitting immobile smoking one cigarette after another and turning red, Lewis is at the rostrum saying things like, “This man I’ve raised from obscurity has turned traitor on me and on all of us…”
When Lewis finishes, Murray goes ‘unsteadily’ to the rostrum and as he does, Lewis cocks his fist. Murray, shaking with emotion, denies all of Lewis’ charges and the heckling grows louder. “When Murray is finished he looks directly at Lewis and extends his hand. Some of the miners begin to shout, SHAKE HANDS! But Lewis ignores them. Once again he draws back his fist, eyes Murray menacingly, then laughs a tight laugh and steps back to the rostrum”
Said McDonald about the nightmarish event: “These were our friends, people we had worked with through the bad years…they were about to eat us alive and I didn’t really know why. I just wanted to get Murray out of there.”
Next day, while Murray (with appropriate irony) is in a conference with FDR, the UMW council board votes l7 to l to vacate the vice-presidency and Murray is expelled from the United Mineworkers Union. Murray loyalists Van Bittner, Pat Fagan, Clint Golden, William Mitch and David McDonald, choose to leave with him.
What didn’t leave with Murray were his desk and his whole office. His worst fear realized, his office disappeared before his eyes. His son Joe in a l997 interview with the author tells the story of the office that disappeared:
“(after the Wage Policy Committee meeting)… James Malone (Philip’s nephew) and I were ready to kill every bastard in the place. So we get back to the hotel and dad says…well, he didn’t say anything about it. He was very mum about all that, but of course James and I are burning up. You know, we wanted to get some of those guys…every member in that damned building was for John Lewis and dad was standing alone…
“,,,the next day James and I said to dad, ‘We’re gonna get four or five of these clowns’ and dad says, ‘Now look. Keep your hands off them. This is what they want. They want to cause a situation over here that I can’t control and you might get a hell of a going-over and I don’t want that…’
“…the next time dad goes to the mineworkers’ building he has no office. Now here’s a guy who’s been in the miners all his life…After John made his decision he had no office…”
According to Monsignor Rice, in the last encounter between the two men, Murray managed to get in the last word: “I never discussed that (Murray’s UMW ouster) but Murray told me the last time he ever saw Lewis was in the CIO building and he said he cursed Lewis out and Lewis didn’t respond.”
Being ousted from the UMW was an embittering experience for Murray. Before a “cheering meeting of the CIO executive board” on June 3, reported in the New York Times June 4, l942, Murray went on a rampage against Lewis that flew hot off the press. He claimed he maintained his silence about Lewis “as long as any human being could.” He called Lewis a traitor to the labor organization he founded and an inciter of treason against the US. He dismissed the UMW from the CIO pending payment of the per capita tax, four months in arrears, to the federation.
Vowing a war to the finish against Lewis, Murray says, “There is no recourse…there is no other way out. It seems that president Lewis is hell-bent toward the creation of national confusion and national discontent.” He ends his speech by urging a unanimous adoption of an Executive Board resolution declaring Lewis’ antics “a grave danger to the security of our nation and to the future of the workers in the entire world.”
In public and private forums, Murray, scorned by Lewis and the mineworkers union he loved so well, continued to excoriate, berate and lash out at Lewis throughout the rest of the year. His unrelenting attacks against his former partner and friend even began to annoy his assistants.
Said Pressman about Murray’s ‘obsessive’ attacks against Lewis:
“Whenever you sat down with a group of people in the CIO, two, four, six, eight, during that period, about the first damn question that arises, Is Murray frightened of Lewis? He was a real boogey man. And as far as Murray was concerned, Lewis was out to get him, Lewis was this and Lewis was that and Lewis was doing this…and that…it got to be a rather unpleasant thing…”
Moreso than merely unpleasant. It became a woeful misadventure for the man who as Rice said may indeed have gotten in the last word against John L. Lewis now his bitter enemy. Last word perhaps but so then why did Murray act as if the victory tasted like ashes on his lips but (he was sure!) honey on the lips of the man whom few men could match at throwing the cruelest blow?
The breakup of the friendship and professional partnership between Lewis and Murray was a consequential event. As head of the CIO during the war and postwar period, Murray put the organized labor movement on what he believed was a proper course. Just as it had done during the war, Murray felt that labor should continue to align itself to the government throughout the postwar period in a consensus with capital and appointed public delegates. He found no contradiction in holding to that corporatist position. Which among other American institutions could deny the fact that so-called government welfare systems cut both ways? For every approving fact-finding decision, entitlement and favorable legislation gained from the government by organized labor, benefits were matched, if not surpassed, by the corporations who enjoyed their own ‘welfare’ advantages. These advantages took the form of generous tax breaks, amortization leniencies and other boons.
As it will become apparent in the last seven chapters of this book, from Murray’s postwar perspective, he concluded that direct ties to labor-friendly presidents (personally initiated by him with FDR) or liberal coalitions in the government were necessary to create a balance of power for unions. This was especially so during the postwar period when restrictive labor legislation began to mount against organized labor. The Taft-Hartley Act, which Murray considered to be a ‘sinful’ and ‘totalitarian’ piece of legislation, was followed by the Wage Stabilization Board created during the Korean war. Both gave Murray a greater urgency to form a CIO alliance with liberal coteries of power within the government. What better way to offset the weakening effects such legislation and administrative policies were bound to have on unions? Murray never missed an opportunity to rail publicly against government legislation that restricted union activities. As it was, his privately held viewpoint that union-government ties should never be broken, hardly matched up to his public utterances. He firmly believed that, for good or bad, the corporatist arrangement had to remain intact to insure the unions’ ultimate survival.
If Murray is to be blamed for the failed promise of the corporatist alliance that contributed to the industrial collapse of the 80s and America’s weakened industrial position in the world, then his union successors, beginning with David McDonald of the USWA and Walter Reuther of the CIO and UAW should bear at least equal ‘blame’. During the two decades following Murray’s death in l952, both labor leaders practically sealed the guaranteed annual wage for workers. No-strike clauses in contracts were almost set in stone. They instituted Tuxedo Diplomacy, starring high profile union and corporate officers that turned out to be a cursory bedfellow ritual that promoted the false perception that all was peaceful and well in the land of industrial relations. Honest disagreements within unions’ rank and file, disagreements that might have challenged the growing all but moribund policies that spread through the internationals, were all but squelched. Cronyism ruled at the top. The rank and file, kept in their proper place, were told (under the union-sanctioned threat of being fired) to lie down like good dogs and take it.That stultifying condition existed in the corporate culture no less than in unions.
Would Murray have tolerated this later institutionalized stagnation in the unions? Decidedly not. Notwithstanding the fact that one could claim him to be the father of the labor-backed pluralist consensus that later contributed to labor’s inert consequence, he considered labor unions to be a reflection of God’s work. Unions, in Murray’s mind, were living entities forged by the hands and vigilantly watched over by caretakers like himself and his associates. It was his life’s mission that he believed God had ordained. In the cold face of the possibility, he would not stand by and watch his beloved union die.
To Lewis’ credit he had the right instincts about FDR. By March of l942, the president had jettisoned Sidney Hillman from his administration. For whatever other reason, FDR’s main intention to abandon Hillman was to give the dollar-a-day industrialists in his administration a ‘free’ hand to meet war production goals. FDR no longer needed Hillman to be labor’s liaison man in his administration, a key role Hillman played (Lewis believed mostly on FDR’s behalf) from the early years of the New Deal. During the war, labor disputes were held to a minimum especially since no-strike and no-overtime-premium- pay restrictions were put on unions.
Lewis also demonstrated, in no uncertain terms, the UMW’s independence from government ties. He called a mass strike in the coalfields in l943, a crucial middle year of the war. Needless to say, and characteristically, his actions caused an uproar in the nation. Even labor-friendly legislators struck back at him by creating the Labor Disputes Act.
In my opinion, it would be naïve to speculate that had Lewis remained president of the CIO the trade unionism’s state-unfettered autonomy would have remained ‘pure’ because many of the decisions Lewis made as a labor leader emanated from his ego. Such was the case in l9l9 when he was acting president of the UMW. As earlier reported, in a grand gesture of patriotism, he capitulated to a government injunction against the union. The decision, eloquently supported by Murray in a UMW convention speech, was heatedly unpopular with the rank and file, but a politically survivalist one on Lewis’ part. Being acting president of the union it was in his best interest to insure that his l920 UMW election chances would not be jeopardized by a long, protracted strike.
He embraced the New Deal because he knew it was industrial trade unionism’s best hope to survive. Just where Lewis’ ego leaves off and his simple annoyance with a politically manipulative FDR begins, is not so easy to determine. As heretofore stated, the president’s popularity with workers and among Lewis’ top union officers (led by Murray), rubbed Lewis the wrong way. For that reason alone the differences between the imperial Lewis and the patrician FDR, which might have otherwise been resolved, only became more exacerbated.
There was also the contradictory two year ‘marriage’ Lewis and the UMW enjoyed with the federal government during l946 through l948 when Truman seized the mines. Through a series of illegal strikes in the bituminous and anthracite fields and the issuance of contempt citations followed by last minute compliances, Lewis eventually pocketed from the government increased wages for the miners and invaluable royalty fees on each ton of coal mined that helped to create for miners a health, welfare and pension fund. Therefore, it is difficult to draw a line in the sand where Lewis—had he remained president of the CIO—would have crossed over to join the labor-backed corporatism Murray will establish during the postwar years.
Finally, who’s to say that Lewis’ iron grip of control of the UMW until the year he retired in l959 that spawned his corrupt “trusted and close protégé and lieutenant,” Tony Boyle, didn’t bring a greater ‘curse’ down upon the house of labor? The cold-blooded l970 murder of the outspoken maverick-reformist Jock Yablonsky, for which crime Boyle was convicted and imprisoned, was a morbid event that foreshadowed the 60% plunge of union membership by the l990s throughout industry. The murder of Yablonsky reflected in the public eye a heinous savagery of power wielded by corrupt union officers that controlled (by guns and car-bombs) the post-Lewis UMW, the mob-controlled Teamsters and the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA). From a historiographical point of view, the public outrage over the contemptible behavior that marked those unions rearmed organized labor’s traditional enemies more so than any well-intentioned corporatist alliance that Philip Murray may have coalesced.
Either way, it is one thing to examine the breakup of the friendship in the abstract and put a bloodless historiographical interpretation on it but quite another to observe it at the visceral level where pain is real, turbulent emotions are in play and psyches become bruised black and blue. In that sense the breakup of the friendship between John L. Lewis and Philip Murray was a sad and tragic event. So much so that it could be said that its importance does not go beyond that simple fact
Source Notes for Chapter Eleven. FATAL ATTRACTIONS: The Agonizingly Slow Death of a 25 Year Friendship. 1940-l942
PHILIP MURRAY AS A LABOR LEADER, 70-7l & 79. NEW YORK TIMES, December l8, l940; December 24, l940; May l, l94l; May l2, l94l; June l2, l94l; June 4, l942; Mar 23, l969; June l3, l969; March l0, l970; March l9, l970. Ronald W. Schatz, “Battling Over Government’s Role,” FORGING A UNION OF STEEL: Philip Murray, SWOC and the United Steelworkers, Paul F. Clark et al, Editors, (Ithaca, l987), 92. “Statement of Philip Murray, Chairman of the Steel Workers Organizing Committee, on Senate Bill l032”, Speech presented to Committee on Labor, July l8, l939, 4. JOHN L. LEWIS, 328, 33l, 34l, 349, 35l, 353, 406, 4ll. PROCEEDINGS OF THE 36TH CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION OF UMWA, Columbus, Ohio, January 23 to February l, l940, 357. A MINER’S LIFE, 28l. UNION MAN, l40, l60-62. INTERVIEWS WITH LEE PRESSMAN by Shaughnessy (no first name), June l957 & l958, ORAL HISTORY COLLECTION, Columbia University Archives, l82-205. Author Interviews with Joe Murray & Monsignor Charles Owen Rice Walter Galenson, THE CIO CHALLENGE TO THE AFL. A History of the American Labor Movement, l933-l94l, (Cambridge, l960), and Matthew Josephson, SIDNEY HILLMAN. Statesman of American Labor, (Garden City, l952), Steve Fraser, LABOR WILL RULE: SIDNEY HILLMAN AND THE RISE OF AMERICAN LABOR, (Ithaca, l993). Saul Alinsky, JOHN L. LEWIS: An Unauthorized Biography, (New York, l949), 234-36. Letter from L. Ebersole Gaines, President, Mt. Hope, West Virginia, to the West Virginia Coal Association, Charleston, West Virginia, February 6, l942. Murray Papers, Penn State Labor Archives. WASHINGTON SUNDAY STAR, April l2, l942. Nelson Lichtenstein, “From Corporatism to Collective Bargaining: Organized Labor and the Eclipse of Social Democracy in the Postwar Era”, THE RISE AND FALL OF THE NEW DEAL ORDER, l930-l980, Steve Fraser and Gary Gerstle, Editors, (New Jersey, l989), l25-27. Also, Ronald W. Schatz, “Philip Murray and the Subordination of the Industrial Unions to the United States Government”, in LABOR LEADERS IN AMERICA.
CHAPTER TWELVE: INDUSTRIAL DEMOCRACY AND WAR AND PEACE: Winners and Losers—l94l-l945
Before the attack on Pearl Harbor and Murray’s complete break with Lewis, the urgent need for FDR’s national defense plan to continue went unquestioned among most labor leaders except for Lewis. Stories about nazi Germany’s ‘invincible’ War Machine were circulating, so small wonder that labor-management relations and the question of industrial democracy were being written about in books and journals and debated in public and private forums.
Among union leaders Sidney Hillman was the one who most sought to seek industrial democracy in the broader economic system. When Murray became president of the CIO, it was Hillman from the beginning who took care of the political side of union business. Hillman was aligned with Morris Liewellyn Cooke and Felix Frankfurter, two among other progressive New Deal liberals who espoused the principles of Scientific Management laid down by the Taylor Society.
By l940, however, Scientific Management was no longer exclusively management’s science. The concept of democracy in the workplace based on trusteeships between unions and management was beginning to take hold, or at least debated, beneath the war clouds in Europe moving swiftly toward the United States. The man who moreso than Hillman spoke to this idea of partnerships between unions and management was Cooke, an engineer who believed democratic workplaces established in manufacturing and industry throughout the country would result in a booming American economy.
If lukewarm on the subject of industrial democracy, credit Murray at least for creating a working environment around him that helped achieve in the SWOC, during its early turbulent days, its implementation in the workplace. By l940 industrial democracy was a throwback to earlier precedent setting union-management partnerships established in the 20s by the B&O Railroad and the clothing and lady garment industries in the 30s.
As boss in the office or as head of committee meetings, Murray was not the kind of man in charge who made one feel uneasy in his presence. So minimal were the challenges to his authority that they hardly bear mentioning. David McDonald may have thought that in certain situations Murray’s decision-making was flawed, but if he did he kept his doubts to himself. Murray was quite often stern about what he wanted to get done but seldom overbearing or insulting.
Ambitious men of ideas and action within his close circle thrived around him. Once he was no longer fettered by his double-edged relationship with Lewis, he became completely his own man. He no longer had to be distracted with Lewis’ unsubtle threats about who, without his approval, may be appointed to work alongside him.
The results of Murray’s unobtrusive presence were the brilliant accomplishments of dedicated men like his Research Director, Harold Ruttenberg, who, said Lee Pressman, “knew where each plant was located, what the employment potential of each plant was, which were the crucial points in the sense of iron ore, coal mining…the fabricating end as against the steel producing end and which of the plants was the more important to get organized…”
Clinton Golden, another of Murray’s inner circle (though, some thought, a man ‘easily flattered’ by men in government) became well-known and respected as a labor statesman. Golden and Ruttenberg co-authored DYNAMICS OF INDUSTRIAL DEMOCRACY, a work published in l942 that cites 37 principles as the basis for democratic cooperative arrangements between union and management to achieve greater company output. Perhaps the most important principle cited in the book is the one that extols vibrant union-management arrangements that promise to keep government intrusion away from both’s door.
In due short time, many of the ideas and principles cited in the book were put into practice. The result of the joint union-management partnerships during the war was the steel-for-victory drive which contributed greatly to the increase in steel capacity in the US from 8l,6l9,000 tons on January l, l940 to 400,000,000 tons by January l945, as reported in the May issue of FORTUNE MAGAZINE, l945.There was no stopping the American war machine for sheer tonnage output that equaled in one year what took three years in Germany and eight in Japan.
The book, DYNAMICS OF INDUSTRIAL DEMOCRACY, borne out of the necessity of its time, has more than kept its value through the years of power shifting between labor and management.
Up to late l942 the entrenched union resistant bulwarks remained no less steadfast against unionism than they had before the days of the New Deal. The main culprit for the existing adversarial stance, charged Murray in ORGANIZED LABOR AND PRODUCTION, a book he ‘co-authored’ with Cooke, was the National Association of Manufacturers, the so called “voice of the industry.” The NAM consisted of about only 3000 members but it was controlled by some 60 large corporations. These corporations, which actively controlled the leadership of the association, continued to maintain the core bloc of opposition against labor unions.
Industrial democracy and union-management partnerships aside, one might say that Murray, during the war, had larger fish to fry. He saw the war as his best opportunity for the union to ‘move in with the government’ and establish a more unbreakable coalition in industry than dubious and equivocal partnerships promised to deliver.
The war became Murray’s proving ground. The immediate goals he set were to gain for the CIO unions’ positions of power on government boards. Through these inside contacts and training (so to speak) Murray and his assistants would observe and learn from within the government the subtle fine points on manipulating power and wielding influence on unions’ behalf.
After achieving his first priorities of winning the war and establishing a rock-solid union, Murray intended to move on to stronger workers’ social programs, including medical and retirement plans, racial equality and a guaranteed annual wage.
A good and bad place for Murray and the CIO to begin was when the War Labor Board in the spring of l942 established the Little Steel Formula. The purpose of the board’s decision to implement the Formula was to resolve the issues of recognition of the union (especially in all of the little steel companies) and establish a pattern of wage increases.
After the expected resistance against unions being established on their plant floors, the little steel company presidents accepted the Board’s plan to legally establish the checkoff and keep wages stabilized during the war but not frozen. The board established January l94l as its wage-rate base so that workers’ wage increases throughout the war were to rise no higher than l5% of that date.
It was the Little Steel Formula’s checkoff stipulation that subsequently swept into other steel plants that, virtually overnight, increased union memberships in the hundreds of thousands and burgeoned considerably union power.
Two major sacrifices the union was required to make were a no-strike pledge and no premium-overtime pay for workers throughout the war. Those reasonable compromises during wartime Murray was willing to make, but an unforseen problem that stuck in his craw was the Formula’s wage-rate limitation that kept workers, for the most part as the war years passed, 5-l0 points under the inflationary cost of living.
Nevertheless, with the checkoff and direct involvement in government decision making the die was cast. The stage was set for the union to become an institutionalized force in the American economy.
Without hesitation and fierce determination, Murray sets the tone for labor by accusing most administrators in the war department of treating the aspirations of the New Deal with disdain. Because procurement was not under the political arm of the president, the army gives contracts, decides when plants open or close and generally control all production priorities, said Murray quoted in the New York times January 25, l943.
Also, in that same NYT article, to justify the union’s need to seek more power on government boards, Murray criticizes the make-up of the War Production Board (WPB): “… top flight businessmen all of them employers of labor. The Department of Labor has been emasculated now that labor has given up its gun.” (its right to strike)
Philip Murray for the most part was a calmly reasonable man. But given a choice to make a point about union resistors, he seldom hesitated to choose the most strident hyperbole that came to mind.
Murray was merely being a vigilant and alert watchdog on the industrial workers’ behalf to insure that the wool would not be pulled over their eyes as well as his.
The vigilance was warranted. Hadn’t the industrial workers taken a no-strike pledge and agreed to a suspension of premium pay for overtime? And weren’t they doing their patriotic duty by adhering to both pledges?
The workers were going to be on their best wartime behavior but what about other groups whose crucial cooperation was needed to contribute to the cause? During wartime a scramble is on for the money. Nests, individually and aggregately, get feathered. Add to that those who have power and influence and wield both to the disadvantage of others, like workers.
To a soldier in combat war is hell, and any worker during wartime, occupationally and economically speaking, is on a front line too.
So a labor leader whose duty it is to protect workers from taking on a disproportionate share of the burden during wartime becomes especially challenged. And, few would argue, Philip Murray during WWII was more than up to the task.
Financing the staggering costs of war was an example: How proportionally burdensome to each American was financing the debt going to be ? Windfall taxes, victory taxes, federal income taxes: How were fair proportions to be established?
Considering the virtual wartime waiver on taxes benefiting corporations, then why not protect workers’ households (mostly still operating in the red on 48 hour weeks) too by raising deductions for a single person from $624 to $800, marrieds from $l248 to $l500 and repeal the victory tax of 5%?
And on the subject of protecting workers’ households, what more appropriate time could there be than wartime to address the racial equality problem?
With war also comes a greater awareness by the disenfranchised of being unfairly treated socially, politically and economically. If they like any Caucasian are called upon to shed blood for their country then who says they should not complain about their status as second class citizens?
After World War I, the Slavs and other mostly mid-European industrial workers who immigrated from there, gained a renewed sense of courage and self-esteem when the yoke of monarchial government was removed from the societies of their homeland. The new boldness carried over to the American industrial landscape so that the year of mass strikes, l9l9, included the involvement of many immigrant workers who sought not only human but economic rights in the workplace.
So too, during WWII did blacks become aware of the intolerable social and industrial conditions they were expected to accept as facts of life. Low-level menial tasks were almost invariably assigned to Negro workers in the workplace. Negro girls at the Republic defense plant, as an example who were given the dirty work during winter of having to spend eight hours sweeping snow off sidewalks.
To Murray’s dismay (and anybody else in the union who faced facts) mills, mines and the industrial workplace overall, were hotbeds of racist attitudes, hostilities and occupational inequalities.
Such intolerance for racial differences, Murray did his best to address. And on a personal level, address them he did. But so endemic was the problem to unions---among other reasons because of their weighted immigrant mix---that the racial problem in industry did not seriously begin to get solved until the 60s.
Not only did Murray personally speak out against racial injustice within unions but he took decisive action anytime the opportunity to demonstrate his anger over it arose.
Son Joe tells of two incidents involving black workers that took place during the war:
“…Dad called a convention in Birmingham and boy in Birmingham in those days, that was anti-Negro country like you wouldn’t believe…the Klan and all. McDonald walks into dad’s office and dad asks: ‘Have you made adequate arrangements for the convention down there? McDonald says, ‘Oh yes…and I want to tell you…we have the colored people on one side and the white people on the other. Dad says, What did you say to me? McDonald repeats, We have the colored on one side and the white on the other. There’s a rope down the middle of the hall. So dad says, I’m not going to Birmingham. If that’s the arrangement, forget it! So they pulled the rope…and let the blacks mingle with the whites and dad was satisfied with that.”
Another racial incident involving Philip Randolph, President of the Railroad Car Porters, et al, occurred when Murray called him to attend a meeting at the Carlton Hotel. Said Murray to Randolph on the telephone: “I’ll be in my room. You just tell them at the desk.” So Randolph enters the hotel, goes to the desk, identifies himself and the clerk calls Murray. Murray tells the clerk to send him up, but the clerk says, “I can’t do that, Mr. Murray, this is the Carlton Hotel, we just don’t do things like that” to which words Murray replied, “Well, I’ll tell you what, you either send him up or I’m checking out” And so Philip Randolph went up, surely not unnoticed, and had his meeting with Philip Murray.
The axis fifth column during the war took advantage of the racial separations existing in the US and actively continued to sow the seeds of eruptive racial disunity.
In the case of the ‘zoot suit’ riots which took place in Detroit and Los Angeles during the summer of l943, said Murray in a letter to FDR quoted in the New York Times, June 30, l943, “The agents of our enemies in this country and in our allied nations of Latin America are making full use of (racial) outbreaks in their propaganda against us and the UN pointing out Latin American ethnics and Negroes to show the US as hypocritical in racial relations. The situation is more than a problem of mob prejudice or juvenile delinquency. It is a grave question on our relations with our allies and test of our ability to present a truly united front to the axis.”
Not only did Murray speak out against intolerance toward Negroes, now blacks, but in a Jewish New Year Message, September l8, l944, his is one of the rare voices that called attention to the terrible decimation of the Jewish race in Europe. “Nazi aggression has taken such a terrible toll that the postwar world will owe them (Jews) a chance to rebuild their destroyed communities and take their place in the family of free nations.”
By midsummer l944 after the invasion of Normandy the tide of war turned in favor of the allies. On the labor front, thanks to the aforementioned strike called by Lewis in May of l943 when 60,000 miners walked off the job, the Labor Disputes Bill, an anti-labor measure, became law. The law was enacted to insure industrial peace. The bill gave the NWLB the power to deny the checkoff and closed shop to any union that failed to obey a Board directive. Without question the Board more than justified its existence during the war. According to historian Philip Taft in his book, ORGANIZED LABOR IN AMERICAN HISTORY, between January l2, l942 and August l8, l945, the Board closed l7,650 dispute cases involving nearly l2.2 million workers. 95% of the cases brought before the Board were resolved preventing serious threats to production.
Also by midsummer l944 the second generation of the industrial workforce was beginning to take hold. New and bolder attitudes--- occupational, social, cultural and political---were starting to establish a beachhead in industry for the millions of returning war veterans about to become the vanguard of a new middle class consumerist economy. The coalition Murray will form with the government to shift away from any potential political movement to achieve that worker-based consumerism will demonstrate to those on the disapproving left that he never was a man sitting at the point of the class struggle but one whom he always claimed to be: A union man whose social, political, and economic agendas were no broader than getting a fair share of the American pie for workers.
On the political front, midsummer l944, it became a foregone conclusion that FDR would accept the nomination for an unprecedented fourth term to the presidency.
Already established during the war was the union’s direct participation in government decisions by board memberships. Including himself, various assistants sat on these boards, among them Clinton Golden who sat on several of them, Harold Ruttenberg, a key labor voice on the War Production Board, and Lee Pressman who voiced labor’s needs and rights of workers as a member of the War Labor Board.
But now, Murray believed, a broader political influence on labor’s part was needed to insure the survival of the union. Political endorsements of labor-friendly presidents more especially congressmen needed a permanently established base of operations within the union to keep labor in play as an effective participator in government affairs.
Such had been the case in the l936 election when the CIO formed a PAC to ensure FDR’s victory. But after that election the PAC dissolved and in the face of Lewis’s antagonism toward FDR never regained a footing.
But now, the president of the CIO believed, was the time for the union to grow up into politics. In a speech given to an overflow gathering at the William Penn Hotel in Pittsburgh on October 20, l944, Murray introduced to his listeners the creation of a new union project, a Political Action Committee. The creation of PAC was to protect the union from any future administration who might undermine (or dismantle) gains made by unions during the past ten or so years.
Already, Murray charged in his speech to the gathering at the William Penn that the Republicans were resorting to “the most crude, if not the most degenerate form of political campaigning.” And no less than when the CIO in the beginning was castigated in the public press, so now were anti-labor groups calling the idea of a union PAC Communistic, subversive and dominated by people with no interest in the general well-being of Americans. Said Murray about the charges with as little restraint as he could muster, “They are lying from the pit of their stomach.”
While talk in larger labor and social circles was still going on about forming a labor party, there was never any question in Murray’s or Hillman’s mind—both staunch believers in the two party system—that it was far better to wield political influence from within the union’s own ranks.
Hillman, the acute politician, more than Murray saw the urgent need for labor to get involved in the political arena beyond merely endorsing candidates. The most effective way was by getting labor representatives or workers elected into either of the two political parties’ district committees and from there get appointed as delegates to conventions.
The idea of PAC was approved by the CIO Executive Commitee in late l943. Hillman was named chairman and McDonald, Treasurer. The PAC’s first announced objective was to re-elect FDR. That was the easy part. The more difficult part was getting union members to contribute their voluntary one dollar to the PAC fund. Like the old SWOC, contributions to PAC only trickled in, this while the media was accusing the CIO of taking over the Democratic party. Since there was no pressure put on CIO members to contribute—which few did—little did PAC’s enemies realize, said McDonald in UNION MAN, that the early PAC was a “poverty operation!”
But, shortage of funds or not, there was certainly nothing wanting in Sidney Hillman’s desire to make the CIO/PAC succeed.
Until May l942 when FDR unceremoniously dumped him, the partnership forged between Roosevelt and Hillman was a political match made in heaven. Aside from the traits of perceptiveness and savvy that the president possessed, he knew from his up-close dealings with Hillman that the Amalgamated’s president was a groundbreaker. As governor of New York, FDR came to know Hillman to be a union leader who put into practice what he preached. The industrial social programs that Hillman advanced had a co-operative rather than a Socialist base. Hillman’s cooperative plans with clothiers in the large markets of Chicago and New York established common ground between employer haves and employer have-nots.
Among the more publicly known labor leaders, Lewis, Murray and Green, none’s social vision was a compatible to FDR’s as Hillman’s when the president took office in March l933. It would not be stretching a point to say that Hillman’s labor-management and industrial social reform achievements, accomplished during the open-shop years of the 20s, went a long way toward shaping FDR’s social vision that eventually became the crux of the NRA.
While governor of New York having come to know Hillman and his avant-garde trade unionist views, how could Roosevelt, when he became president of an apparently-doomed economy, have resisted copying the industrial cooperative plans Hillman and his Amalgamated had established with the clothing industry employers? Could not the US government in the midst of a dolorous depression not forge similar policies between labor and capital? Could not legislation be enacted to see to it so that the industrial production lines could get rolling again and an economically moribund society could become more vibrant and consumerist than it had ever been?
Before Roosevelt had even taken office, Hillman had handed him a microcosmic blueprint that mapped out FDR’s macrocosmic socially reformed based economic system.
The Amalgamated Trust and Savings Bank, starting in l922 with a $200,000 capital investment that mushroomed into assets of 28 million by the end of the decade, was a model of efficiency that demonstrated how all banks in the US should be operated. The reason the Amalgamated Bank survived while other labor banks (trying to follow ACWA’s lead) failed was because its capital structure held firm on low-risk investments and the labor bank’s officers resisted making unsecured loans.
Also, trade unionist first and foremost though Hillman was, he had enough business savvy to conceive a come-to-the-rescue microcosmic WPA-like plan. In l928 he rescued Amalgamated workers who were dismissed from their jobs due to the installation of more efficient factory equipment. To assist the displaced workers Hillman persuaded the ACWA’s Executive Board to purchase space in an old building. In that space the Amalgamated put to work 300 unemployed workers who had been drawing strike relief. In a pact with his old Chicago employer, Hart, Schaffner and Marks, Hillman got a promise from the firm that they would buy the entire product of the cooperative. Thus was born one of the early employee-owned and operated businesses.
Other antecedent cooperative plans conceived by Hillman and put into working practice were the previously mentioned unemployment insurance plan funded by equal contributions by employers and employees, and a severance pay plan for l50 ACWA cutters whose jobs were lost due to modernization. To ease the pain of the severed workers, Hart, Schaffner & Marx contributed a sum of $50,000 and Amalgamated $5,000 from their unemployment fund so that each dismissed employee received $500 to cover the experience of retraining or to tide them over until they found another job.
Other Hillman programs of which FDR and the liberal-progressive craftsmen of his New Deal took notice was the low-cost housing plan established by the Amalgamated which workers could rent for as low as $ll per room while they were enjoying the trappings of modern apartment living.
For these reasons and more FDR knew that Hillman was the man he thought would best represent labor’s side regarding government programs requiring cooperation between organized labor and big business.
Not only for all the aforementioned accomplishments did Hillman earn FDR’s respect and was granted an anointed station alongside him as he administered his New Deal government, but being Jewish, Hillman became the centerpiece of the liberal-progressive brain trust---not a few dedicated social-reformist Jews among them---who helped FDR fashion his New Deal vision.
None of this is to say that Hillman, beyond FDR, was welcomed with open arms by anyone in the White House or the government. When the heady days of Lend Lease arrived (March l94l) several big business FDR appointees whom he chose to run the program thought Hillman to be too immutably tenacious in protecting the rights of workers. Depending on who was looking at it, the charge was a compliment to Hillman who indeed did try to make sure that corporate profits were not being accrued at the expense of the workers.
Not a few top business officers working within the government suggested to FDR that Hillman be given only a secondary voice with the Office of Production Management (OPM) but FDR would have none of it. He insisted that Hillman maintain equal powers of policymaking authority with William Knudsen who represented the business side.
Also, on more than one occasion, Department of Labor Secretary, Frances Perkins, complained that Hillman often made decisions that infringed on her authority.
None of the complaints mattered to FDR. That is not until the war began when FDR leaned toward the industrialists in his administration and virtually turned the government over to them to be run as a big business to insure that the war machine juggernaut would continue to roll. In this setting, Hillman---who aroused annoyance among the business leaders within the government---in the eyes of the president became the odd man out.
When Hillman took over the CIO-PAC, Murray had called him out of ‘retirement’ and the challenge infused a new surge of energy in the workaholic Hillman who, ironically, contributed greatly to the victory that FDR won over Tom Dewey in the l944 presidential election.
At the l944 Democratic convention, Murray did all he could to get VP Wallace on the ticket again. Though FDR left the VP nomination up to the convention and claimed it mattered not to him who of the two men would be chosen by the delegates to be his running mate, White House insiders claimed FDR was quietly hoping Truman would get the nod. Along with FDR so was Hillman quietly hoping the same.
But Hillman shrewdly did not expose his choice of Truman over Wallace to Murray He rather worked quietly (if not surreptitiously) on the inside to help get the votes for Truman.
Said McDonald about that convention in his l970 interview with Golatz and Hoffman, “We tried hard to get Wallace VP again then out of the blue comes Truman. Murray just couldn’t see him…When I went to the Philadelphia convention as an elected delegate and I said, ‘Who do you want?’ he said, ‘Anybody but Truman’.”
McDonald said it was not so much a pro-Wallace thing with Murray but more an anti-Truman thing “until he got to know Truman and then he found out what a real straight shooter Harry Truman was, and he and Phil became good friends from then on.”
About Wallace, whom some believed Divine Providence had saved the country from during that convention, those who knew him described him as naïve, child-like and vulnerable to the extreme, an easy mark for the Socialists, Communists and the lunatic fringe. McDonald gives this account of a one-way conversation he had with him. “I told Henry Wallace, I said, ‘You know, you got some awfully stupid guys around you. You have this bunch of young commies. Why the hell don’t you get rid of them? All they’re doing is hurting you’, but he just looked at me and didn’t say anything. I don’t suppose he believed me.”
Choosing Wallace over Truman in the Democratic National Convention of l944 had to be one of the most regrettable mistakes Murray was spared from making as a union leader.
Especially shortsighted on Murray’s part was the fact that Truman, as chairman of the Special Senate Committee stood up to the big moneyed interests. Sometimes as chairman of the committee, Truman made frank public revelations against corporate powers that were often at the risk of his own political survival. In his political beliefs and values, Truman, more than FDR was practically near kin to Murray’s own state of mind on similar matters.
No telling, then, how disastrous the consequences of a Wallace presidency might have been on a nation coming to the threshold of a long and nasty Cold War that might’ve gotten very hot and destructive, which it did not, under Truman.
The war in Europe was coming to an end and the battle in the Pacific was riding a crest toward ultimate victory over the Japanese. But where were labor’s victories, Murray wanted to know? How much longer would patriotic workers---who sacrificed their right to strike, sacrificed earning wages commiserate with wartime inflation, and put the lives of their sons on the line (including Murray’s son Joe who spent most of the war in a combat zone) to secure American democracy---be expected to tolerate the inequities?
By l945 the warnings had already been sounded by Murray and others that plans to insure a return to a consumerism economy had to be put in place. A drastic reduction in production capacities was bound to bring mass attrition of jobs.
In a speech in Philadelphia on February 26, l945, Murray cited USWA research figures revealing that since the wage placement date of the Little Steel Formula, January l94l, retail prices in October l944 were up 30% while wage rates had risen only l9.7% during the same period. The ten percent disparity “cries out for correction” said Murray.
Who is holding the money? Murray asked his audience. OPA figures for l942 revealed 66% of spending units—families and single consumers—received $2500 or less in annual income and held only ll.6% of total savings. So where was the money going? To billionaire banks, said Murray not rhetorically, since a numerical increase of l00% in billionaire banks occurred since l939. In l944, l6 banks had total assets above one billion compared to eight at the end of l939. Also, not to be denied was the fact that billionaire banks’ capital rose from 20.8 billion in l93l to 38.l billion end of l944, an increase of 83%.
And how much of a demand from industrial workers for consumer goods at war’s end might one expect with purchasing power held by so few people? That, stressed Murray, was the main reason why American workers needed a guaranteed annual wage or any hopes for postwar prosperity would be futile.
Extolling the American housewife as an expert economist, he presents statistics by the USWA research team who interviewed steelworkers’ housewives picked at random in Braddock, PA itemizing expenses that, when the bottom line was reached, out of pocket debt per one month was $28.83.
Murray concluded the speech by forewarning both the industry and the administration that “an increase of 25% would not be adequate to maintain present take-home pay…to maintain full employment a larger share must go to lower income groups…otherwise purchasing power will not be adequate to buy back the products of industry…”
Thus the stage was set. postwar reconversion was right around the bend.
The big test for the union as an institutionalized powerful force in the American economy was about to meet its greatest challenge.
Indications seemed to point to the fact that a confident Murray appeared not at all concerned about what the outcome for the union would be.
Source Notes for Chapter Twelve. INDUSTRIAL DEMOCRACY AND WAR AND PEACE: Winners and Losers. 194l-l945
Fraser, 59-60 & 66-67. INTERVIEW WITH LEE PRESSMAN, ll0-lll, 308-l0, 433-7l. PRODUCTION PROBLEMS, SWOC, l936. Reproduced by AVM Corporation, l974, 2-25. Morris Llewellyn Cooke & Philip Murray, ORGANIZED LABOR AND PRODUCTION: Next Steps in Industrial Democracy, (New York, l940), 25l-60. Clinton S. Golden and Harold J. Ruttenberg, THE DYNAMICS OF INDUSTRIAL DEMOCRACY, (New York, l942), 23-26, 265-72. “Steel: Report on the War Years,” FORTUNE MAGAZINE, 3l (l945), l2l. NEW YORK TIMES, January 25, l943, February l3, l943, April l3, l943, May 9, l943, June 30, l943, October 25, l943, December l4, l943, September 4, l944, September l8, l944, October 23, l945. “Inspection of the Pittsburgh ‘Victory Valley’ Plants…” LETTER FROM HAROLD J. RUTTENBERG, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR STEEL DIVISION, WPB to Senator Truman, Chairman, Special Committee Investigating the National Defense Program, May 7, l943. Murray Papers, Penn State Labor Archives. INTERVIEW WITH JOE MURRAY. LETTER FROM PHILIP MURRAY TO HIS SON JOE, December 29, l943, Penn State Labor Archives, Murray Papers. LETTER FROM PETER FEENEY, 55 SPRING WELLS, BLANTYRE, SCOTLAND, TO PHILIP MURRAY, August 27, l943, Penn State Labor Archives, Murray Papers. PHILIP MURRAY AS A LABOR LEADER, 92 & 95. FRIENDS OF DEMOCRACY, (Document), October 30, l944. Murray Papers, Penn State Labor Archives. ORGANIZED LABOR IN AMERICAN HISTORY, 556. Nelson Lichtenstein, “From Corporatism to Collective Bargaining: Organized Labor and the Eclipse of Social Democracy in the Postwar Era”, THE RISE AND FALL OF THE NEW DEAL ORDER, l930-l980, l23-24. “Questions for Americans to Ponder,” Transcript of a speech given by Eugene Grace on May 25, l944 to members of the American Iron and Steel Institute, Murray Papers, Penn State Labor Archives. Speech given by Philip Murray at PAC meeting, October 22, l944, William Penn Hotel, Pittsburgh, Pa., Murray Papers, Penn State Labor Archives. Helmut J. Golatz & Alice Hoffman, AN INTERVIEW WITH DAVID MCDONALD, February 20, l970. Oral History Collection, Penn State Labor Archives. Margaret Truman, BESS W. TRUMAN, (New York, l986), 85. “Political Notes”, TIME MAGAZINE, (l944), 20. Philip Murray, “The Little Steel Formula”, speech before American Academy of Political and Social Science, Philadelphia, Pa., February 26, l945.
PHILIP MURRAY, BEN FAIRLESS, HARRY S TRUMAN AND THE l946 STEEL STRIKE: The Government Comes to Play
The l946 steel strike is an enigma in labor history. Except perhaps for Philip Taft, it seems to be one of the least studied strikes by labor historians that presumes either a disinterest or dismissal of its importance.
But viewing the l946 steel strike from a perspective of time and distance places it perhaps among the most important strikes in labor history. From the l946 steel strike came a maintenance of membership, dues checkoff, a modern form of strike activity and, perhaps most distinctively, a historical first in free collective bargaining: The direct personal involvement of the president of the United States in the negotiating process. The latter could not have pleased Murray more because it contributed greatly to the union becoming a partner in the new corporatism leading to the reordering of income and putting more purchasing power into the hands of workers.
The strike was only one among the 4630 workers’ strikes which during the period between August l5, l945 and August l4, l946, involved 49 million workers. Not surprisingly, the mass wave of strikes was the expected reaction to the wartime wage caps in all industries and the non-strike policy established during the war.
When the war ended August l5, l945, Murray was more than ready to take action on behalf of all unions to establish a beachhead in big steel, the jewel in the crown of all industries. On the other side, Ben Fairless and the steel industry faced plant expansion costs which, to meet reconversion demands, could run into the billions. Meanwhile, the government---including the president, administration officials and the Congress---anticipating industry and union price and wage demands that could bring economic turmoil, were making their own plans to hold down inflation.
Consequently, a plethora of legislative bills, whose purpose was to establish fact-finding boards, were generated. The intention of the boards was to examine and determine the industry’s ‘ability to pay’ and put 30 day stopgap restrictions on unions to hold off strikes until pertinent facts were uncovered.
In response to the legislation and the administration’s ‘arming’ of itself to maintain control of the postwar economy, Murray made it publicly clear soon after the end of the war that merely settling labor disputes, band-aid solutions, would not do. What was needed was a broader vision to expand the economy to insure greater production and full employment.
All of which would contribute eventually to a vibrant worker-based consumerist economy.
By October l945 nearly half million working men were idle in strikes across the nation costing the country nearly eight million working days lost by strikes.
The third week in October, during the height of the national wave of strikes, was when negotiations between the USWA and five subsidiaries of US Steel began. The main demand made by the union was a .25 cent per hour (2 dollar per day) wage increase. US Steel paid little attention to Murray’s demand. It was biding its time. Waiting for the government to raise the price of steel which the administration was giving little indication it would do.
When the labor-management conference called by Truman met between November 5th and 30th and neither side could agree on how to minimize strikes during reconversion, Truman decided that it was time for the government to get involved in the negotiations. Murray no less than Truman was displeased with the stalemate. He charged the industry of delaying the talks until January l, l946 when the excess profits taxes would be eliminated.
US Steel president Ben Fairless answered Murray’s charge by citing the sudden disappearance of defense contracts. Also looming were the necessary plant expansion costs that, he claimed, could bring severe financial hardship to the industry if excess profits taxes weren’t eliminated.
It was in this spirit of adversarial one-upmanship between the union and big steel that the new year was about to begin. l946 would be the first new year in four for the American people to celebrate without the crepe of Supreme Sacrifices and blackouts hanging over it and which TIME promised would be “…the biggest noisiest New Year’s Eve in a long time…”
But since a steel strike deadline of January l4th had been set, bound to fall over the celebratory din were the mixed strident voices of those damning big unions, big business, a meddling congress and (after the supremely confident FDR) an improbable president named Truman.
Usually collective bargaining and negotiating contract agreements of national import follow a predictable path. Such was the case in January l946: Once the public volleys on either side were fired with negligible impact on reaching an agreement, the talks went inside where differences could be aired head to head and particulars laid out, examined and debated.
After he had met with corporate and industry representatives to get their permission on January 9th, five days before the strike deadline, Fairless called Murray and suggested the two meet at his office on 7l Broadway, New York.
Next day, on January l0th, Murray, Golden and Pressman met with Fairless and his contingent of US Steel representatives.
During the meeting, Fairless reported to Murray that steel had a promise from the administration of price relief and the corporation was therefore in the position to offer the union an increase of twelve and a half cents per hour. Murray replied that the offer was unthinkable. It was so wholly unacceptable that it was not even negotiable.
Also, Murray objected to the idea of the industry waiting for a steel price increase before reaching a satisfactory agreement with the USWA. He had no intention of being party to negotiations that may bring on a major price hike and subsequent inflation that could wipe out workers’ wage gains and, as consumers, make them no better off than they were during the war.
So from the union side he wanted no tie-in with government ‘promised’ price hikes to the corporation.
The gamesmanship between big steel and the administration began in September when Chester Bowles, head of the Office of Price Administration (OPA), urged Truman to hold the line on prices and not permit companies to include costs of wage raises in contract settlements.
Bowles’ hard line against industry price increases won the support of the American public.
Talks on January l0, l946 between Murray and Fairless began at 2:00 and lasted until 5:30. Both sides had made their presentations and agreed to recess and meet again same place 2:00 next afternoon.
Next day, on the llth of January, Murray told Fairless that the union was prepared to recommend to the USWA Executive Council an increase of .20 cents per hour, but Fairless said it was still too high. Then, according to Murray’s account of the meeting recorded in the minutes of the PROCEEDINGS OF THE INTERNATIONAL EXECUTIVE BOARD, February 2, l946, there were more discussions and a rehashing of ideas presented earlier after which Fairless invited him to go back to his office to have a two-man negotiating session.
At the two-man meeting, Fairless raised the ante of the industry’s offer to .l5 cents per hour which Murray refused. Murray told Fairless that even the GM fact-finding report (the UAW strike had been going on since last week in November) had recommended that autoworkers receive a nineteen and a half cents per hour wage increase to which figures, said Murray, the union would reduce its offer. Then Murray, by l946 a peerless negotiator whom during their days of friendship John L. Lewis said none on either side of a negotiating table could match, offered Fairless a two-cent solution that had a flavor of sleight-of-hand Irish blarney to it. Here’s what Murray told IEB members he suggested to Fairless:
“I then asked Mr. Fairless to raise the fifteen cents to an increase of seventeen and a half cents, and that if he applied the additional two and a half cents I would agree with him to reduce the maximum provided in the inequity clause of the collective bargaining contract from five to a definite figure of three…and that the two that had to be taken out of the maximum provided for the correction of inequities would be applied to the general wage increase (which would) bring the total up to nineteen and a half cents…”
Fairless responded by saying that while he personally could go along with the suggestion he needed to present it to the corporation’s executive committee to get approval. So he urged Murray to postpone the strike for a week to give him time to take the proposition back to “…fight for it and…try to get it approved…”
Murray flatly refused to postpone the strike for a week. In strong, chastening language he said to Fairless that it was his duty as president of the US Steel Corporation to assume the responsibility of making decisions so things could go forward. Murray’s high-handed tone was a direct challenge to Fairless’ authority in the face of resistant Iron and Steel Institute directors who Murray assumed were dictating their wishes to Fairless.
Fairless, apparently unaffected by Murray’s remonstrance, remained adamant and refused. Though perhaps not as skillful a negotiator as Murray, the more genial Fairless was no less a dogged and willful adversary. Besides, by that stage in the negotiations, he knew that though the government in this dispute leaned toward the union side, it was big steel that was ultimately going to dictate the terms of the agreement.
So the two-man conference broke up and since no plans for further meetings were arranged, it appeared that the strike would proceed as scheduled the morning of January l4th.
However, soon after Murray and Fairless broke off talks, they received a summons to Washington to meet with the president at 2:00, January l2th. Murray claims that when he was ushered into his presence that day, Truman was “visibly agitated, fearful about the disastrous consequences…of a great steel strike.”
Only eight months into his presidency and still living in the giant shadow of FDR, Truman urged Fairless and Murray to reach a quick agreement. The urgency was real because his prestige, already damaged in the public’s eye by his conceding to industry pressure to raise steel prices, was on the line in these negotiations. Besides, his apparent trepidation and wariness of failure was made conspicuous when he had turned down Bowles’ suggestion that he seize the steel mills, a bold plan of which the public had approved when he seized the meatpacking plants.
At the January l2th White House meeting, Murray and Fairless, accompanied by three government conciliators, were sent to the Cabinet Room. Fairless carried into the room with him two large books containing American Iron and Steel Institute figures. Murray reported to the IEW that Fairless “placed the books on the table, discussions got underway…and it appeared at the outset that while Mr. Fairless could read the figures he didn’t understand them,” which perhaps was an indication that the figures were mere window dressing and the industry’s hold-out strategy for price hikes was immutable and would inevitably run its course.
The session bore no results so shortly before six, Truman called first Fairless into his office and then Murray. To Fairless he said, “Mr. Fairless, Murray’s proposition to you is fair and I am asking you to accept it,” to which words Fairless responded, “Mr. President, I think you are unfair. All I have come over here for is to ask you to give me a week…”
Truman, not happy with Fairless’ answer, excused him and called in Murray. Recounting the meeting, Murray said Truman “…expressed anger. He pounded the desk…he exclaimed very loudly that I could not do this to him…then said, ‘Will you or will you not’? very loudly. I had sat down…I expected this and I asked him then, ‘Will I or will I not what? I don’t know what you are asking me to do.’”
Truman was asking Murray to give Fairless and him a week to reach an agreement before calling the steelworkers out. It was a request to which Murray respectfully agreed.
When the din died down, Fairless suggested to Murray that they meet again at his New York office, but Murray, aware of the union’s advantage of having Truman proximate to the negotiations and in the public eye, agreed to meet only at the White House at 2:00 on the l6th of January.
During the January l6th meeting, Fairless reported to Murray that the directors of the steel corporations were holding firm on the fifteen cents. Not surprisingly, Eugene Grace, among the most adamant against Murray’s “two-cent solution”, told Fairless to pass word on to Murray that “he had no inequities…” In addition to that embattled remark, Fairless told Murray that he had been criticized at great length at that directors’ meeting by not only Grace but all the directors for his “even giving consideration to the nineteen and a half cent proposal.
The January l6th meeting went from 2:00 until l0:00 and since nothing much happened, Truman called them back to his office at l0:00 PM and told both men to return the next morning and continue to negotiate until an agreement was reached; if not, he was going to reach one for them.
Early the following morning, well before the scheduled afternoon meeting, there was a flurry of activity, legmen of the industry “running hither and yon trying to exercise their influence and their power…” When by four that afternoon no agreement had been reached, Truman called them into his office, told them that since they had not reached an agreement, he had a ‘proposition’ to offer and recommended they both accept it. Then reading from a note, ‘eighteen and a half cents an hour retroactive to January l, l946’ was, he said, his recommendation that he expected both to accept. He wanted their answer next morning by 8:00.
Expressing indignation at the ‘proposition’, Fairless said he needed to go to New York to talk to his people, so Truman moved the deadline-to-reply up to noon. Right before noon next day, David McDonald delivered to the White House the USWA’s acceptance of the president’s offer; an hour or so later US Steel delivered its message to Truman refusing it.
The previously set strike date of January 2l held firm.
Said Murray to IEB members on January 23 in concluding his report of his negotiations with Fairless: “Now it is important that we do remember the significance which attaches itself to a presidential decision…which we have accepted and they have refused. That is of tremendous significance…in other words, the position of the organization is that we are again supporting the government, the people and supporting the president of the United States…no organization at any time…occupied a more strategic position, a better position to win and curry favor in a strike…”
Or perhaps one could put it this way: The government, by design and by an odd twist of ineptitude, was in the mix as a major player and Murray and the USWA had every intention of making the best opportunity of such an auspicious (if amateurish) event in the history of union-management negotiations.
For fourteen days no contact was made between the industry and the union. By February 5th the strike was in full swing. In western Pennsylvania alone, 200,000 steelworkers from 300 plants were out. The first day had already cost about two million dollars in lost payrolls. The 200,000 ingot tons per day not produced could have built l,750,000 refrigerators.
No doubt being haunted by the bloody memories of the l937 little steel strike when ten persons were killed and many injured, tavern owners in South Chicago closed all licensed bars. It was for good reason the action was taken because Carnegie-Illinois steelworkers at Gary, Indiana, jumped the gun on the strike deadline and set up a picket line outside plant gates at 9:l5 PM, three hours before the strike was scheduled to start. This when after an earlier mass meeting nearly l000 pickets had marched in the streets and stopped streetcars and buses.
A few days into the strike, LIFE MAGAZINE published a four page spread of a rather dark and plaintive scene depicting mills shut down at the Homestead works. The photos projected a silent, dark and lonely scene, a powerful dramatic contrast to what had been going on in those mills only six months before during the frenzied rush of purposeful activity throughout the war when steel capacity rose from 8l,6l9 million in l94l to 400 million by January l945.
A large percentage of that wartime tonnage was produced by the Homestead works and other ‘Victory Valley’ western Pennsylvania steel mills surrounding.
The l946 steel strike, national in scope, evoked passions on both sides of the issue.
Letters to the editor for and against the strike abounded in newspapers around the country, and editorials excoriated, in turn, powerful labor bosses or big corporations whose attitudes were unions be damned. Congressmen and women of both parties had their say about it put down in the CONGRESSIONAL RECORD: Howard H. Buffet on the Republican side claiming that in l925 US Steel kept one dollar for every four paid labor, in l944 one dollar for every fifteen. Helen Gahagan Douglas on the Democratic side who likened industry to a giant with labor as its vassals whose “tables were bare…clothing old and worn…”
Lies, damned lies and statistics. Each, on either side of the strike, had his own little ‘lie’ to tell as the statistics they cited permitted.
Murray, the union and its advocates did all they could to inform the public of the daily economic struggles of the steelworkers. They also elicited public support for their cause by presenting alternative analyses of the financial state of the industry. USWA research challenged figures presented by the industry and labor-friendly magazines, such as THE NATION questioned the tenuous financial picture the industry was presenting to the public.
In the end, resolving the issue of how the money between big steel and the steelworkers was to be distributed was where the battle was joined: among the three giants, the government, ostensible arbiter of the price-wage dispute but more an intervener; the industry, holding out to receive acceptable government-sanctioned price increases; and the union seeking first and foremost a wage increase to get workers caught up to the cost of living.
Considering its scope, for possibly the first mass strike in labor history, the l946 steel strike proved for the union to be a model of decorum and passive resistance. The numbers of workers around the country involved in it might have promised more, especially the traditional hotbed areas of South Chicago and volatile, racially-heated USWA districts in the South. For example, the trigger was cocked in Birmingham, Alabama, from where during the war a contingent of black workers went north to complain to Murray about the discriminating treatment against black workers by their fellow union members.
Black workers there faced not only from their employers’ hostile attitudes toward them but rancor from rank and file within their own locals one of which was controlled by Klan members. Such racial attitudes that continued to exist in many of the mills were one of the main reasons after the l946 strike Murray began in earnest an organizing drive in the South (that failed). His twofold purpose was to increase union membership down there and make every effort to desegregate the black mill workers, a directive he had given during the war that was ignored by USWA local officials.
National hotspots notwithstanding, the focus of the strike continued to be on the city of Pittsburgh where Murray sometimes mingled with reporters on the street and openly gave interviews to them. Also receiving national coverage were the equal opportunity picket lines created by the USWA to reflect unity within the union. One picket line outside the Duquesne works served soup and coffee not only to those on line but to anyone who came along. The line featured women walking it on Thursdays, veterans of WWI & II on Fridays, Negroes on Saturdays, volunteer firemen on Sundays, merchants on Mondays, political figures on Tuesdays and the clergy on Wednesdays.
The Duquesne picket line was a microcosm of the ethnic, cultural and economic diversity that by the l946 steel strike had settled into its distinctive pattern in the Pittsburgh region. The picket line represented the integration of diverse groups to a common cause. Prior to the war the working class seemed a teeming hodgepodge of divisive social, racial and cultural peculiarities: many of the clergy had for years urged workers to remain loyal to their employers; blacks in the Pittsburgh mills, no less than in the southern ones, were treated as second class citizens; merchants in prior strikes would hardly have thought of putting signs in their store windows supporting the union; and political ideologies within the rank and file had been calculatingly sharp and divisive. But not all of the divisions had come together.
Black workers for example. While the blacks walking the picket lines during the ’46 strike were doing so to reflect an ostensible integration to a common cause, their actual integration into the mills was still fifteen or more years away.
Talks resumed between the two sides on February 5th but to Murray and his negotiating team it became obvious that big steel was still working on government officials regarding a price increase and as long as the price increase issue remained unresolved a settlement was not likely to be reached. So Murray broke off the talks.
By now an impatient Truman reassigned Bowles and appointed John Snyder to the OPA. Snyder’s mandate from Truman was to assess the needs of each side according to industry profits, reach a conclusion, announce the steel price increase and then decide how it should be applied.
The turnaround in the talks after Snyder’s appointment was quick. On February l2, US Steel negotiator John Stephens contacted Murray and asked for a resumption of negotiations. Soon into the meeting it became obvious to Murray that the steel representatives had given authority to Stephens to reach an agreement so the negotiations got serious.
The first of six points agreed to was the duration of the contract. Murray offered to extend it from October l946 to February l5, l947. The reason Murray went for the February date was because if on the surface it looked as if the industry would benefit most from the extension, far more valuable a prize to the union was, as he put it to USWA IEB members, “the maintenance of membership and checkoff provision of (the) contract…pursuant to a War Labor Board directive.”
Evidently the corporations knew what they were doing by accepting the February date. The postwar showdown test with the industry regarding the union checkoff established with the Little Steel Formula would have come at the October l946 contract expiration date but by “calling the strike as we did and not backing down on January 2lst” said Pressman to that same IEB group, “…we had demonstrated to the steel industry that the union was powerful enough to protect itself and the steel industry accepted that demonstration of strength and, in effect, was accepting the fact that the USWA was in this industry to stay.”
Ending with the strike was the clamoring and bickering among his close advisors that reflected on Truman’s apparent lack of leadership during the ’46 steel strike. That strike was not the president’s finest hour and certainly did not point to the greatness in office he would ultimately achieve.
Finally, a price agreement of $5 per ton was reached on the l5th of February. A set of procedures on wage adjustments was attached to it and the increased steel price was announced first to the public followed by the news of the steel strike settlement. An added bonus to the industry, and contrary to what Murray had been led to believe, was that the government promised to lift price controls by June 30, l946. About US Steel having had agreed to set the wage pattern for the entire industry, Fairless, quoted in the New York Times February l6, l946, said, “We are hopeful that under this new policy due consideration will be given…to the financial plight of the smaller non-integrated steel manufacturers, fabricators and processors.”
Murray immediately ordered l25,000 of 700,000 striking workers back to work and told regional union officers to settle with the 800 other companies under the same USS contract terms. Through February l5th, the strike cost to the industry was six million tons of non-produced steel and to workers l69 million dollars in lost wages. The annual wage increase for the basic steel industry under the new contract would amount to about l85 million.
So ended an important and consequential strike in the annals of American industry. There were of course other industries, but it was during the l946 strike when the steel industry came to accept the maintenance of union membership and the government entered into union-management negotiations that a breakthrough to a modern form of industrial relations evolved reflecting, as PK Edwards puts it in his book, STRIKES IN THE UNITED STATES, l88l-l974, “a continuing process of interaction between the rank and file, union leaders, employers and the government.”
To underscore the peril some saw in the apparent labor-government alliance, a swift accounting came to the union’s newly established power when in the November l946 Congressional election the Republicans gained control of both the House and Senate and the heralded, if not infamous, 80th Congress came into power.
The successful conclusion to the l946 steel strike laid the ghosts of union failures past to rest, especially the sanguinary Homestead strike of l892, a tragic national monument to labor strife, a wound for the union which seemed always open and a dark gory spot on the industry’s reputation which would not out.
So too by l946 did the labor movement of the first half of the century begin to coalesce. In the complex of mill towns in southwestern Pennsylvania and elsewhere an awareness of racial injustices began slowly but surely to take hold as blacks became more integrated into the workplace and, under a new job classification system, were given some opportunity to move up into the skilled ranks. Also, a greater wariness of and attention was paid to the agendas of Communists within the union ranks dedicated to their cause and ever eager to sign over their interests to Moscow rather than American trade unionism. Ultimately their expulsion from the CIO would come in November l949.
Finally, the successfully negotiated settlement of the ’46 steel strike was a vindication and personal triumph for Murray whose reputation as a labor leader had come into question especially with rising and dynamic young stars like Walter Reuther ‘waiting in the wings’. The strike victory gave Murray a luminary status especially in the southwestern Pennsylvania industrial region which for so many years had been dominated by the powerful figures representing industry: Carnegie, Frick, Schwab and, in his earlier superintendent days at J&L, the inimitable Tom Girdler.
The Steel Valley by l946 seemed a fitting place for a balance of power to be struck between the union and management. It is where the mythic substance of the steel industry was forged and where it seemed almost destined to reach the pinnacle of its greatness.
Source Notes for Chapter Thirteen. PHILIP MURRAY, BEN FAIRLESS, HARRY S TRUMAN AND THE 1946 STEEL STRIKE: The Government Comes to Play.
UNION MAN, 178. ORGANIZED LABOR IN AMERICAN HISTORY, 567. BUSINESS WEEK, August l8, 25, September l5, 22, l945, October 20, l945. Ben Fairless, “It Could Happen Only in the U.S.”, LIFE MAGAZINE, 4l (l956), l60-62. “Truman’s Labor Fact-Finding Plan,” CONGRESSIONAL DIGEST, 25 (l946), 29. “The People”, TIME MAGAZINE, 46 (l945), l7-l8. PROCEEDINGS OF THE INTERNATIONAL EXECUTIVE BOARD OF THE USWA, February 2l, l946, Box 42, File 9, 6-22, Penn State Labor Archives. Barton J. Bernstein, “The Truman Administration and the Steel Strike of l946.” THE JOURNAL OF AMERICAN HISTORY, 52 (l986), 79l-96. PROCEEDINGS OF THE IEB OF THE USWA, January 23, l946, Penn State Labor Archives, Box 42, File 8, 20-27. Schatz, “Battling over…”87-9l. David M. Rabban, “Has the NLRA Hurt Labor?” THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO LAW REVIEW, 54 (l987), 4ll-l2 Also, Craig Becker, “Individual Rights and Collective Action: The Legal History of Trade Unions in America,” HARVARD LAW REVIEW, l00 (l987), 678. NEW YOUR TIMES, January 2l, l946, January 26, l946, February l, l946, February l6, l946. LIFE MAGAZINE, 30 (l946), l7-23. “Steel: Report on the War Years,” FORTUNE MAGAZINE, 3l (l945), l2l. Honorable Max Schwabe of Missouri ® reads into the CONGRESSIONAL RECORD article written by George E. Sokolsky taken from the ST. LOUIS GLOBE-DEMOCRAT, January 29, l946. Honorable William W. Link (D) Illinois, reads into the CONGRESSIONAL RECORD, January 24, l946. Honorable Helen Gahagan Douglas (D) California, reads into the CONGRESSIONAL RECORD, January 24, l946. Honorable Howard H. Buffet ® Nebraska, reads into the CONGRESSIONAL RECORD, January 30, l946. Edward Jones, “This is Why They Strike”, King Gordon, “The Sun Shines in Pittsburgh”, THE NATION, l62 (l946), ll9-2l & l2l-22. THE JOHNSTOWN TRIBUNE, January 26, l946. THE PITTSBURGH PRESS, January 28, l946, February l6, l946. Robert J. Norrell. “Cast in Steel: Jim Crow Careers in Birmingham, Alabama.” THE JOURNAL OF AMERICAN HISTORY, 73 (l986), 685. Mark McColloch, “Consolidating Industrial Citizenship”, FORGING…58-59. Barton J. Bernstein, “The Truman Administration and Its Reconversion Wage Policy”, LABOR HISTORY, 6 (l965), 23l. P.K Edwards, STRIKES IN THE UNITED STATES: 188l-l974, (New York, l98l), l73. REPORT OF PHILIP MURRAY TO THE 9th CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION OF THE CIO, Boston, Mass., May l0-l3, l947, l7-47. PROCEEDINGS OF THE IEB, USWA, Penn State Labor Archives, July 2, l947, Box 43, File 6, ll-l2.
LEGISLATION OF A DASTARDLY CHARACTER—l947
l946 turned out to be a year of triumph, sorrow and unmitigated exasperation for Philip Murray.
On July l0, l946, nearly five months after the steel strike victory, Sidney Hillman died of a heart attack. Four months after Hillman’s death the 80th Congress swept into power putting organized labor on notice that the honeymoon it enjoyed with the government during the halcyon Hillman years was over.
Hillman’s death had not been totally unexpected as Murray’s six years later would be. He had degenerative heart disease that didn’t stop him from practically working himself to death. Though his death may not have come as a complete surprise, the shocking awareness of what the man had accomplished and contributed to the organized labor movement when he suddenly was no longer present gave one pause.
It seemed apparent that before Murray and the CIO-PAC had time to recover from Hillman’s death, the absence of the shrewd Hillman-esque strategies that might’ve been applied to the l946 Congressional election campaigns cost the CIO dearly. The sweeping GOP victory was already in hand and the organized labor movement, to Murray’s everlasting frustration, was about to take a major hit by passage of the Taft-Hartley Act.
The Murray-Hillman relationship was from the beginning to the end a strictly business one. Each admired and respected the qualities in the other. There was certainly no miners’ kind of rapport between the two men as had been the case with Murray’s other assistants. In Murray’s mind Hillman was a brilliant man if sometimes ambitious to a fault; but unlike Lewis his ambition did not serve an oversized ego but kept alive aflair to play on the national stage. In turn, Hillman respected and paid homage to Murray’s persistent incorruptibility from which trait in its leaders unions were less likely to crumble.
So on July ll, l946, Murray stood alone at the top of the organized labor movement considering that Lewis by that time was merely a pest in the eyes of the public and AFL president William Green gave the impression he remained no less a hardened fossil satisfied to thrive in the elitist circle of his AFL friends. Murray was the man of stature now, labor’s linchpin in the liberal-progressive third of the corporatist pluralist consensus. And there was little doubt in few people’s--- mind within the union or among those working the corridors of power inside the government--- that Murray, among union leaders, was the man, The Boss.
Also in that same month came the retirements of two of his top assistants, Clinton Golden and Harold Ruttenberg. In a l995 interview with him by the author, Ruttenberg said essentially the reason he and Golden resigned was because the relationship between Murray and them had become strained due to their different opinions about making the establishment of union-management committees on company plant floors a central issue in future contract negotiations.
The assistant on his staff who knew Murray’s mind best concerning UMCs was Harold Ruttenberg. By l946 Ruttenberg was sure that UMCs had proven their worth not only so demonstrated in DYNAMICS OF INDUSTRIAL DEMOCRACY but by the 4000 or so wartime UMCs that had by January l, l945 contributed to the 400 million ton annual output of steel which all but clinched the victory for the Allies. Ruttenberg passionately believed that in order for a long-term virile relationship to exist between organized labor and management, the establishment of UMCs had to become the bedrock issue of collective bargaining.
In his unpublished memoirs, A FOOT NOTE TO HISTORY and THE LAST YEAR OF MY LABOR CAREER written between l992 and l995 a few years before he died, Ruttenberg presses the point that he and Murray had different opinions about whether or not the time after the l946 steel strike victory for the union was opportune for Murray to choose the broader policy of trusteeships and not “sell labor for a price.”
But Murray wouldn’t do it. He wouldn’t do it because in his mind it was a matter of remaining loyal to the workers. He wouldn’t risk losing the powerful tool it took organized labor so many years to gain: Pattern bargaining, a broad imposition of wage-gain concessions from management (regardless the size of their plants) not tied to production output as would be the case under UMC plans. Nor would Murray relinquish the wage-hike autonomy that the union traditionally enjoyed from price hikes management got from the government, an important separation of powers that kept unions non-compromised. Finally, Murray could not get himself to do it because he still deep down had his prejudices. Though many of them were nice guys, Murray remained wary of Capitalists whose hands he believed were ‘dirty’ and though the unions’ hands may not have been pristine at least they were not as black as the moneychangers who worked the arenas of the financial temples.
So Ruttenberg lost the argument with Murray. As a result of their different visions of what union policy should be he resigned his position as Research Director, a decision Murray ‘deeply regretted’ but accepted.
In the end by deciding against UMCs, Murray no less than the capitalists went for the money. He knew the good times for unions were about to roll and the best thing he could do for the workers was get in on the action for as long and as far as it would go, a good thirty years as it turned out.
It’s a cynical point to make to be sure. But where workers’ interests were concerned, the would-be-saint-of-a-man-Murray was a darkly hard man to contend with. Besides, in his mind the future was in God’s hands, and as far as he was concerned and for the sake of his workers, that future was today.
So then both Golden and Ruttenberg’s resignations became effective on July l, l946 after the report of the state of the union, 3rd Constitutional Convention USW, May l4-l8 l946, and before the Congressional elections in November l946 which resulted in the creation of the 80th Congress. In Murray’s eyes the 80th Congress was a monstrous legislative body that promised to take unions back to the old Henry Clay Frick days.
The election results were a genuine concern to Murray since as he reported to the delegates at the 9th Constitutional Convention of the CIO, October l947, cost of living on all items was up l7.9% (food alone 30.8%) while average hourly earnings increased only l3.2%. The gap said Murray, indicated a “crass disregard…for the consumers.” Especially since profits for all corporations from the 4th quarter of l946 were up l6.l billion after taxes.
So the workers’ dollar was being clipped to pieces by inflation that was making its buying power worth less and less.
But the belt-tightening pinch for workers was bad but not nearly as bad as the hit organized labor took by those Congressional elections results of l946 which to Murray forecast the doom for unions that came on the wings of “legislation of a dastardly character…conceived in sin (by)…diabolical men…”
Which by its official legislative and non-demonic name was called the Taft-Hartley Act.
So was it to be l9l9 all over again? By the end of l946, as in l9l9 one of the great mass strike years in industrial history, the American people would tire of the many strikes that nearly paralyzed the nation.
The time was opportune for many anti-unionists to ask: How powerful might the unions become now that the closed shop was about to become institutionalized in the industry and the treasuries of unions were bound to swell?
The general mood against labor by the end of l946 was malcontent. Not only was big business complaining about labor’s growing power but even workers on small company payrolls, whose jobs were in jeopardy because their employers could not keep up with big union wage demands, were becoming disgruntled.
So l8.4 million among the 34.4 million who did go to the polls in the Congressional election year had obviously cast their votes with the intention of addressing the sinister flourishing power of unions. Many of the voters also wanted to call to account the subversive political agendas that many union foes believed were seething beneath the core of some of them.
Murray did not need to be reminded of the witchhunts that had occurred after the l9l9 strikes. A fire-branding shock wave of purges of Bolsheviks and like-minded men of their ilk led by Attorney General Mitchell Palmer caused panic among the working class throughout the country. The panic proved well-founded especially for immigrant workers when in l927 the Italian immigrants, Sacco & Vanzetti, framed and accused of a crime they didn’t commit, were wrongfully executed—some say murdered—by the state of Massachusetts.
Murray knew that if the corporations and anti-labor legislators seized control over the workforce and were given free rein to dismantle the gains earned by labor unions during the past fifteen years, all would be lost. Nor would he give free rein to labor detractors whose intent was to incite fear in the public that labor unions were controlled by subversive political elements, namely Communists.
It was in that dire context that Murray labeled T-H as an act conceived in sin by diabolical men. To be sure, overcharged though the words may have sounded, Murray meant them from the bottom of his heart.
The Taft-Hartley Act was so indistinct in its language, railed Murray, that no two lawyers could agree upon what the Act really meant. Essentially T-H gave employers and the government the power to issue injunctions and make unions legally responsible for ‘unfair labor practices’. It also abolished closed shops, allowed employers to interfere with efforts of employees to join a union, encouraged right to work laws in states, outlawed mass picketing and last, but not least, denied unions the right, as unions, to contribute to political candidates in presidential elections and primaries. The latter restriction was not applicable to non-federal offices.
But a loophole in the law permitted labor organizers to spend funds on activities outside elections such as organizing intensive registration campaigns. Also, voluntary contributions (but not dues money) made to their unions by individual members to be spent on political activities were permitted. Said Lee Pressman, quoted in STEEL LABOR, November l947, instructing union officers about that aspect of the law, “It is important that each local open up a separate bank account for individual contributions and deposit them in it and establish a distinct and separate account on its books for such contributions.”
When the Act became law on June 23, l947, over Murray’s protests in radio speeches and presentations at Congressional hearings (before which over a six week period paraded l26 witnesses before the House Committee and 98 before the Senate’s), the whole distressing idea of it probably contributed to the illness that put him to bed causing him to miss a USW IEB meeting on July 2nd.
David McDonald who set the agenda for that July 2 meeting, told board members “…they are not going to bust us up…we are going to live…” Then appealing to the labor warrior in each of the board members, the Secretary-Treasurer, in characteristic embattled fashion, said to them, “Perhaps it means putting the good suit in the cupboard (sic) and getting out the old leather jacket again---those leather jackets that we used back in l936, ’37…’4l when we built this union. You may have a lot of work in leather jackets instead of the white collars and good suits.”
The purpose of “putting on the leather jackets” was to resist 80th Congress designs to sue T-H as a legal springboard to bring back the pre-new deal restrictions on labor extended during Republican administrations.
McDonald went back to the leather jackets; Murray went back to the l92l Senate hearings when he called the West Virginia coalfield situation “a festering sore,” calling T-H by the same name. For Taft-Hartley, Murray will coin a catalogue of epithets that will match up to those he constantly hurled at captive mine owners.
When he got well again, Murray established a twelve-member political action committee headed by McDonald and other union officers. The charge of the committee was to push labor friendly candidates at all political levels. The committee spread itself over the country to form regional and local political panels whose purpose it was to distribute literature and encourage registration and voting. In short, with PAC help to repeal Taft-Hartley.
Said McDonald in UNION MAN about the union’s unhesitant counterattack on Taft-Hartley. Taft-Hartley shored up labor as a political force. “PAC…was a feeble, undernourished and under-financed organization with about as much political clout as the Parent-Teachers Association. But after T-H was passed, we knew that our only possibility of repealing it was to elect people to Congress who agreed with us that this was a bad piece of legislation. And that meant getting into grassroots politics in an organized way we’d never done before.”
In Lee Pressman’s mind one of the most deadly provisions of T-H was the amendment of the Norris-LaGuardia Act. That act banned employer injunctions against unions and maintained that unions were not held responsible for acts of any agent. But in T-H a union could be held responsible for the acts of its agents “as in any other situation where a principle is held liable for the acts of his agent.” Under T-H employers no longer had to prove that a union authorized a specific act of one of its agents. If an organizer (as a union agent) committed an illegal act, the union was held liable. “That’s probably one of the most deadly provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act,” said Pressman in an interview 30 years later.
But could that provision have been worse than Section 9(h) of the Act that required officers of unions to sign affidavits with the NLRB saying they were not Communists? This provision Murray absolutely abhorred.
In short, Taft-Hartley will so stir up the soul of Philip Murray (as did his tempestuous break-up with Lewis), at the CIO convention October l3-l7 l947, he will rise to eloquent heights of righteous indignation on behalf of workers. He will even liken himself and the convention delegates to Christ-figures. At the same time, on a feverish roller coaster of emotion, he will pitch into the depths of petty vengeance, make snide and contemptuous remarks against his old friend, now enemy, John L. Lewis (who hinted at an AFL-CIO merger to fight T-H) which will border on cruelty. Murray’s tying the two together, Taft-Hartley and John L. Lewis, makes one wonder if the two subjects were not one and the same in his mind: Evil Incarnate.
The misery-bringing potential consequences of T-H spinning about in Murray’s head or not, Lewis had a way of doing that to him. The ‘saint’ in Murray metamorphosed into a dark avenging angel at the mere mention of Lewis’ name whether it fell from his own lips or the lips of another.
Source Notes for Chapter Fourteen: LEGISLATION OF A DASTARDLY CHARACTER--l947
PROCEEDINGS OF THE IEB OF THE USWA, July l946, Box 42, File l5, Penn State Labor Archives, 280-82. INTERVIEW WITH PHILIP N. CURRAN by Jack Severson, August 7, l968. Oral History Collection, Penn State Labor Archives. CLINT: A Biography…8. INTERVIEW WITH TOM MURRAY by Alice Hoffman, Pittsburgh, Pa., May 23, l966. Oral History Collection, Penn State Labor Archives, 8-9. INTERVIEW WITH CHARLES OWEN RICE by Ron Filippelli, Pittsburgh, Pa., October l7, l967. Oral History Collection, Penn State Labor Archives, 6-7. PROCEEDINGS OF THE THIRD CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION OF THE USWA, Atlantic City, N.J. May l4 through l8, l946, 62-3. REPORT OF PHILIP MURRAY TO NINTH…5-8, 22, 34, 39-4l, 48, 50, 338-4l. Letter from John A. Stephens, Vice-President, United States Steel Corporation of Delaware to Philip Murray, President of USWA, April l9, l947, Penn State Labor Archives. UNION MAN, l9l-93. CITATION TO ACCOMPANY THE AWARD OF THE MEDAL FOR MERIT TO PHILIP MURRAY, Presented by Harry S Truman, the White House, March 29, l947. Penn State Labor Archives, Murray Papers. PHILIP MURRAY AS A LABOR LEADER, ll5. Lee Pressman, “Political Activity…Under the Taft-Hartley Law.” STEEL LABOR, (l947), ll. ORGANIZED LABOR IN AMERICAN HISTORY, 580. INTERVIEW WITH LEE PRESSMAN, 282-87.
IN THE INTERESTS OF MOSCOW: Dispatching the Communists from the CIO—l948-l949
From the beginning of his career as a top UMW officer, Murray was not fooled by the Communists nor by their spiel that capital had to be brought to its knees to get a close look at the menial station in life they were determined to keep the working man.
It was nonsense to Murray that anyone would believe that those who substitute the State for God would have any real interest in workers and the working class beyond making them pawns for achieving a larger political purpose.
All one had to do was read or listen to reports of proletariat life in the Soviet Union and the romantic idea of a transformation of a ‘capitalistic-suppressed society’ in America being rescued by a Dictatorship of the Proletariat would fly out the window.
During their partnership, Murray and Lewis started out to be and always were no-nonsense pragmatists in the way they did their daily union business. The CP never came close to gaining a foothold in the UMW not only during its moribund days in the late 20s but at anytime, including the fecund activist hot-strike decade of the 30s when Communists were invited into the CIO and contributed to organizing the industrial workers.
It was true that Lewis brought Lee Pressman into the CIO in the beginning and Brophy appointed one of his friends, Len De Caux, who happened to be a Communist, to the CIO publicity staff. It was also true that on the early SWOC staff of 200 organizers, nearly a third of them were members of the CP. But all this was done by design by Murray and Lewis. The CIO, heavily invested by Lewis with UMW monies and hard-to-come-by contributions from the chartered unions, was a make or break proposition. If it failed the house of the ‘true’ organized labor movement whose base was the industrial worker would collapse and the AFL would be riding again on its high horse and moving as far away as possible from the unskilled and semi-skilled industrial workers.
Desperate times call for drastic measures.
If the CIO needed anything to present itself as a worthy opponent to Capital and to those inside and outside the government dedicated to dismantling the New Deal or the Wagner Act, it needed a bunch of radicals not conditioned to think first of food clothing and shelter as did the average industrial worker. What it needed was a band of driven ideologues dedicated first to embodying a political and social romance valentined in Marxist doctrine.
Most of the operatives would be needed in the SWOC to take up the charge of ending the occupational feudal system that in big steel remained in place into the mid 30s.
The CIO did indeed use the CP to achieve their ends but dismissively, in a nearly contemptuous way because driven and involved though CP members were in the politics of trade unionism (while keeping under wraps their true political intentions), they never got closer to Lewis and Murray than arm’s length.
Anytime a vibrant element in the CP began to assert itself a bit too presumptuously they were immediately put in their place Lewis or Murray. CIO West Coast Director Harry Bridges, for example, was demoted to California Director when he began to speak too publicly and vociferously on particular matters of union business pertaining to longshoremen and maritime workers that came off sounding like imprimatur CIO policy.
Getting no real respect or enthusiastic encouragement from first CIO president Lewis then Murray, the CP kept trying to invite itself to the political mainstream by creating first a United Front with Socialists in the 30s, a Popular Front with liberals in the early 40s and a National Front during the war, claiming to be in a ‘patriotic partnership’ with all the associative elements of the American free enterprise system. As was the case with the uneasy CIO and CP ‘partnership’ so too were the others uneasy alliances as the names unwittingly indicated. All were mere ‘fronts’ that attempted to put a good face on a larger dubious purpose politically biding its time.
And so it became only a matter of time before during a CIO Executive Board meeting Murray would ask the Communists to stand up and be counted. At most on Murray’s part the command was merely a rhetorical formality. He had already long since known who they were, how long the string was they were attached to, and about when he would pull it in.
At a CIO executive board meeting in February l948, Murray suggested that the board pass a resolution condemning the third party led by Henry Wallace. A nine hour donnybrook ensued. Harry Bridges, president of the longshoremen—as stalwart a left-wing union within the CIO as the Union of Electrical Workers (UE)—cried, “I’m against this phony resolution. There’s nothing for labor to do but back Wallace.” Walter Reuther shouted back, “Nobody is deceived!” accusing Bridges and the Reds on the board of being up to their old tricks of creating confusion as they so often did at executive board meetings and conventions when they tried to achieve their own agendas.
By the time of that CIO Executive Board meeting, Walter Reuther, who on March 27, l946, had been elected president of the UAW, had turned on the Communist party in the UAW and was appointed by Murray to a six-man committee to rid the CIO of all Communists.
When the air finally cleared and the voted-upon resolution was adopted 33 to ll, Murray did something he never did before (these IEB proceedings publicly reported in TIME MAGAZINE): “He made the left-wingers stand up and be counted.” Resistant to the end, the left-wing unions vociferously asserted that they’d never abandon Wallace. Bridges punctuated the declaration by saying, “The Democratic party hasn’t the chance of a snowball in hell.” (To beat Dewey in the l948 presidential election)
A week or so later at a USW IEB proceeding February l6-l7, l948, Murray promised the board members that he intended to “keep this house together against enemies.” Then he made a cryptic revelation, harkening back to the old Communist-employer conspiracies of the twenties. He claimed, “I have authoritative information, not secondhand, of many local leaders of the Communist party going for jobs in steel mills…sometimes they’ll align themselves with unscrupulous employers to destroy labor unions. Employers will accept their aid to create confusion and cause disturbances to break up labor organizations and especially to cause distrust in the minds of the members of the union. Their plan is already mapped out and agents…are already moving from one end of the US to the other in all types of industry…So, I want you to be on the alert.”
And who might this source of ‘authoritative information’ not ‘secondhand’ have been? Father Rice, a labor priest of that time who, within the framework of the Association of Catholic Trade Unionists (ACTU) fought tooth and nail to rid not only the unions of Communists but the entire country.
True, reported Rice himself in an interview with Ron Filippelli, October l967. Rice revealed that Murray gave him a thousand dollars per month (from the USWA treasury) for two years to identify then root out Communists not only in the unions but wherever in industry they may be.
In the broader political context, Lee Pressman’s resignation as General Counsel, February 6, l948 at Murray’s “own instigation”, sealed in the minds of the far left that radical social reformism would not find asylum in trade unionism. The Marshall Plan and the Berlin Airlift left little doubt in western minds that the Cold War had arrived. Conservative leaders at the head of both federations, and nearly all their affiliated unions, drove the final nail into the coffin of any hope the CP may have had of being heard as an influential voice within the movement.
Pressman’s resignation was living proof to anyone who doubted Murray’s authority as head of the CIO and USWA. That he lacked a perceptiveness of what was going on around him (as sometimes McDonald would have us believe) was a presumption based only on Murray’s outer demeanor and not on what he knew and when he knew it. Seldom if ever did Murray overtly reveal to his assistants and staff all that may have been going on in his head.
As a negotiator Murray possessed the instincts of a good poker player; he knew when to hold his cards or fold them. He was well aware of Pressman’s value to the CIO especially during the early years when he helped shape in determinate ways Lewis’ rough vision of what kind of organization the CIO should become. And though Pressman was considered by some close to Murray to be no more than yet another ‘ambitious’ lawyer, if that were indeed the case Pressman’s consistently brilliant performance as General Counsel trumped in Murray’s mind whatever his personal or professional motives might be.
Murray’s deft, mutually admiring relationship with Pressman formed the keystone of the power bloc that he forged within the CIO and USWA, surely to Lewis’ later regret. With Pressman at his side from the beginning, the SWOC machine Murray created had to have given Lewis second thoughts about having turned Murray loose to run SWOC without any interference from him.
It was the Murray SWOC machine led by William Mitch down South that kept the SWOC from failing miserably down there as the Textile Workers Organizing Committee (TWOC) had, at considerable expense to the CIO.
When the SWOC was created, had John L. Lewis brought Clinton Golden in to run the SWOC behind the scenes while Murray was supposedly merely the front man as Len De Caux in his book LABOR RADICAL suggests? If so, for sure and later, Lewis would have to admit to himself that he could not have been more shortsighted. From the beginning, Murray took control of the SWOC and nobody can say that Murray was ever willing to share his authority with Golden. Murray was the Boss. Golden was his subordinate/assistant. From June l6, l936 to July l, l946, there was no more than that to presume about their union relationship.
As a union leader Murray presented a formidable presence that elicited from his staff, assistants and rank and file a gestalt response of admiration, respect and fear. One account reported by De Caux in LABOR RADICAL is given of Murray having to leave a CIO Executive Board meeting for a short while. He turned the chair over to James Carey and no sooner had Murray left the room when disorder and chaos broke out among the board members who began to argue among themselves. It was a sudden eruptive turn of events that Carey, like a harried substitute teacher, could not control. But soon as Murray walked back into the room instant silence fell upon the board members and business went on as usual. Teacher was back and dull the business of the Board may have been for its duration, the job at had got done, agendas were set and the CIO under Murray’s absolute control survived yet another day.
But more often with Murray ‘behind the desk’ agendas were fraught with dramatic action. Such was the case when he decided that the left-wing element in the CIO were the backers of a third political party with the malleable Henry Wallace as its figurehead. What especially riled Murray about this was the CP’s intent to draw votes away from Truman so with a Dewey victory the CP would regain its influence in the movement because the consequences of a Republican president and the possible control by Republicans of both houses would be dire indeed for labor. The whole idea of the subterfuge became a heated tinderbox under Murray, turned him into a fireball that set him off on a scorched-earth pursuit of ridding not only the unions but the entire nation of Communists.
The final moment for Communists in the union came during the llth Annual Constitutional Convention of the CIO, October 3l, l948 in Cleveland when Murray ousted them from the CIO. With absolute finality he dramatically capped his action by telling the delegates, the Communists “…do not purport to represent the trade union point of view…they never did. They don’t care to… they are chattels of Sovietism…they are agents of Moscow reflecting the point of view of the Communist Party… within a democratic American trade union movement”
Like the revered if feared ‘teacher’ Len De Caux described in his anecdote, when Murray came to the podium to speak to the delegates at that llth CIO Constitutional Convention October 3l, l949, everybody hushed up and listened.
Source Notes for Chapter Fifteen. IN THE INTERESTS OF MOSCOW: DISPATCHING THE COMMUNISTS FROM THE CIO. 1948-l949
PROCEEDINGS OF THE IEB OF THE USWA, February l6 & l7, l948, Penn State Labor Archives, 22-26, 255-59. INTERVIEW WITH LEE PRESSMAN, l6l-7l. INTERVIEW WITH CHARLES OWEN RICE by John Fillippelli, ll-l6. PROCEEDINGS OF THE FOURTH CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION OF THE USWA, Boston, MA, May ll-l5, l948, l6, l90, l98. PROCEEDINGS OF THE ELEVENTH CONSTITUIONAL CONVENTION OF THE CIO, Cleveland, Ohio, October 3l, l949, 38-39. INTERVIEW WITH JOE GERMANO by Alice M. Hoffman, Chicago, ILL, June 2l, l972, Oral History Collection, Penn State Labor Archives, l-4, ll, l8, Joseph & Stewart Aesop, “Will the CIO Shake the Communists Loose?” THE SATURDAY EVENING POST, (l947), l5-l6. UNION MAN, l83-l88. THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN IN DETROIT, l34, 255-59. Sam Halpern. “Murray Goes to the Wars.” NEWSWEEK, (l948), 62. “Labor”, TIME MAGAZINE, (l948), ll.
TOO OLD TO WORK, TOO YOUNG TO DIE—l949
Harry Truman’s stunning victory in the l948 election turned out to be a triumph for labor. Though Truman work-horsed his way through that election and could well have taken credit for the victory himself, privately he admitted it was the labor vote that put him over the top.
Murray, now the nation’s most vocal labor leader in the wake of Taft-Hartley and the labor-hostile 80th Congress, took every advantage of labor’s newly acknowledged political power.
The CIO victory push that kept the man from Missouri in the White House and resulted in a Democratic majority in both houses of the Congress, was hailed by the ultra-liberal Supreme Court justice William O. Douglas. Said Douglas, quoted on the ‘Labor’ page of TIME MAGAZINE, November 6, l948, “It is labor…that can supply much of the leadership, energy and motive which we need today…” Also expressing accolades to labor for its contribution to Truman’s surprising re-election victory was Harvard economist Sumner Slichter. Claimed Slichter, the United States “is already lifting from a capitalistic to a laboristic community—a community in which employees rather than businessmen are the strongest influence.”
It was the liberal voices of the likes of Douglas and Slichte that four years past the war began to entrench the bloc between organized labor and the liberal base of the Democratic party. Such liberal voices reinforced Murray’s own social agenda to solidly establish a labor-liberal partnership. There was a crucial mutual dependence between the two groups: the liberals needed the large labor vote to survive politically and take control of top government positions, and organized labor depended upon liberals to be their government watchdog to stabilize their position within the nation’s economic balance of power.
Speaking to the l0th CIO Constitutional Convention delegates in November l948, Murray reminded the workers that contributing to Truman’s victory had not been an easy task; in fact it was “a very severe experience” that took a mighty effort on the part of labor to keep the third party, headed by Wallace, from achieving its agenda to drive Truman out of the White House. In the end though, said Murray evoking thunderous applause from the delegates, “They were whipped. They were licked. They were defeated.”
In a crowing mood speaking before that convention, said Murray, no other convention has received as much widespread attention as the one at which he was presently speaking. “The Voice of America has been transcribing our work and transmitting it to the many nations throughout the world.”
Murray and the CIO had every right to crow. Because of Labor’s opposition to Taft-Hartley, reported US NEWS AND WORLD REPORT second week in November, l948, there was a 59 seat shift to the Democrats in the House giving them a 75 seat advantage and a 9 seat shift in the Senate giving Democrats a 9 seat advantage in that body.
About the results of the l948 election said Murray in a speech reported in the New York Times, January l3, l949, “It took a long time to convince some conservative newspapers and some big corporations that trade unions are here to stay…I trust it will take them less time to convince them that labor is also in politics to stay.”
Thus did the new year, l949, rush in on a whirlwind of triumph for Murray and the CIO. But time and events march to their never ending drumbeat as they did in Murray’s life. Entering his 63rd year, the man, always the inestimable warrior, was beginning to pay a toll for his relentless life’s work. He began more frequently to get ill and find himself bedded down in hospitals.
Murray was piling up victories but they were becoming bittersweet ones. The more recognition and prominence he gained as a union leader the more physical demands were made on his person.
Due to a severe cold and debilitating fatigue, in January l949 he spent two weeks at Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh. Just weeks later, on February 8, he suffered an attack of appendicitis and underwent an emergency appendectomy. That kept him off the job until March 2l.
Bouts of illness that put Murray out of commission it seemed was the only way to keep the man away from planes, trains and automobiles. He was always off to this place or that to deliver a speech or make a presentation at a hearing. A bed in the hospital was about the only place Murray’s body might get the chance to be rejuvenated to prepare him to meet the next round of challenges waiting around the bend.
To top off the bouts of illness, midsummer that year, July l9, l949, his virtual blood brother and miner-kin among whom there was no peer, Van Anberg Bittner, died at Mercy hospital in Pittsburgh. Bittner, who died at the relatively young age of 64, seemed unable to recover from the effects of a heart attack he’d had a month earlier and never left the hospital after entering it.
Besides the public utterances of praise Murray expressed about Van Bittner to convention delegates and IEB members, what he did not reveal to anyone (except his son Joe) was the deep sorrow he felt by the loss of his longtime miner friend who dodged bullets with him in the hills of West Virginia and Kentucky. True, those days were far off to Murray by l949 but ever present in his memory.
Amid the illness and personal grief that invaded Murray’s life that year were rumblings and cautioning signs that his long time assistant and secretary-treasurer, David McDonald, was beginning to build a power bloc of followers in the USWA. Said Murray’s son Joe about McDonald to the author in a l996 interview, “McDonald over a long period of time was building up his following…he had this director and that director…in his pocket…apparently he was going to challenge…dad…it never came out publicly but that’s what I think…he had this group out there…”
If Murray’s son Joe’s charge seems tainted by subjectivity, so did Joe Germano, in an interview in l972 with Alice Hoffman, express the same about McDonald. Germano believed that McDonald might have had designs that went past the idea of merely succeeding Murray. He thought that McDonald may even have challenged Murray in an election had Murray not died suddenly in l952.
Telling the interviewer, Alice Hoffman, the story of how James Thimmes might’ve been the man Murray had preferred to succeed him, Germano relates how the appointment of Thimmes to the USWA vice-presidency came about and the unpleasant effect Thimmes appointment by Murray had on McDonald.
According to Germano, when Golden decided to resign as vice president, Murray called him and Thimmes, who at the time was director of the USWA California District, into his office and said, “I want one of you boys…Jimmy says ‘Joe will make a good vice president, Mr. Murray. I say, ‘No, Jim is the man.’”
Murray chose Thimmes.
Preceding his appointment to VP, Thimmes and McDonald had been very close friends The friendship between the two concerned Murray. To whom would Thimmes be more loyal: Him or McDonald.
Supposedly, Murray told Germano to talk to Thimmes about that which, said Germano, he did.
“You can’t just be with Dave now like you were with (him) before because you do that and Phil’s going to be raising a noise. You got to be loyal to him,” Germano told Thimmes. “Well,” said Germano, “Jim just went flip-flop. He left Dave like nobody’s business, and he went for Phil. Jim told David, ‘David, now I am the VP…I want to be friends with you. I want to continue our relationship but not like it was. Well you know it kind of hurt Dave. Jim got so damn close to Phil…so McDonald and his ‘palace guards’ (began) giving Jim a hard time…nobody would go in his office and talk to him and nobody paid attention to him…he got so damned disgusted…he was going to resign. At that time Murray was spending a lot of time in Washington so Thimmes was alone, nobody to have coffee or lunch with…eventually Thimmes had a stroke…”
When Germano was asked by the interviewer if Thimmes was in line and preferred by Murray to be his successor and if such talk about it was going on in l952 when Murray died, Germano answered emphatically, “That talk was before. You asked me my relationship with Jim. That talk was before.”
But personal illness, the death of close friends, even hints of betrayal in the ranks aside, Murray had other things on his mind that year: Going after pensions and social insurance for workers.
It was time for workers, coming to the end of their working days, to have something to show for their labors. And considering the wear and tear on the human machine (for years put to service for employers), it was not a far-fetched idea, Murray believed, for the union to present non-contributory social insurance and pension plans to the biggest corporation in industry: US Steel.
Early on, Murray had gotten US Steel negotiator John Stephens to back off the corporation’s compulsory discharging of workers over 65. The meager allowance of social security was the only source of income for workers over 65 virtually fired by the corporation.
But from the beginning, USS would have no part of non-contributory insurance or pension plans.
As the talks stalled during the spring of l949, Murray and the USWA set a July l6 strike deadline.
Strike deadline or no; the corporation remained adamant and, so they thought, could afford to be since now Taft-Hartley was on their side. An injunction would be issued to restrain the union from going on strike.
But Truman, by now and after four years in office, had acquired more experience as president than any other in dealing with reconciling differences between big business and labor.
Skeptical that big steel would yield to the union without some kind of push from the administration, Truman appointed a fact-finding board to investigate all aspects of the problem.
Facing the real test of the T-H Law (which Truman as much as Murray despised) before an interested national audience, Truman refused to impose it.
Murray’s industrial council concept (ad hoc though it was in the form of a fact-finding board) was in play and his vision of a corporatist partnership ideal was coming to fruition.
When meetings and conferences between both sides failed to bring results, the July l6th strike loomed larger.
On July l3th Truman intervened. He asked both sides to extend the provision of the contract 60 days to give the fact-finding board time to review the unresolved issues and make their recommendations.
Murray and the USWA without hesitation accepted Truman’s suggestion. The corporation had no desire to have fact-finding boards appointed to interfere with their business. But public opinion calling them to account changed their mind.
The Board was made up of three members: A professor of Business Economics, a judge and a lawyer who was also a veteran mediator.
Beginning on July 26th and for l8 days the three men listened as TIME MAGAZINE put it “60 stubborn steel makers and six stubborn labor leaders (made) their largely contradicting points.”
Murray was angry with big steel’s presentations to the Board. Reporting to the delegates at the llth CIO convention he accused the industry of “all kinds of intimidation” toward the Board. One Wall Street banker, complained Murray, “chastised the board…chastised the union…chastised the president..” for creating a Board that had “no business to find facts…”
The Board itself chastised both sides, labor and US Steel, for their unreliable ‘facts’.
On September l0th the Board submitted its recommendations: It ruled that the union drop its demand for a wage increase but unanimously agreed that industry must pay social insurance and pensions, “A part of normal business costs…to take care of temporary and permanent depreciation in the human machine.”
The Board established a non-contributory six cents per hour per worker toward a pension fund and four cents per hour per worker toward an insurance fund.
The Board’s calculation was that the cost to industry of such pension and insurance funds would be an average two and one half percent of its total operating costs.
The Board’s economic justification for its recommendations was that such health insurance and pension plans would contribute considerably to economic stability and keep workers past their working years viable consumers, thus sustaining to a higher degree their purchasing power.
US Steel flatly refused to accept the Board’s recommendations. Truman wired and asked both sides to extend the September l4 strike deadline. Again Murray and the USWA agreed to grant the president his request..
But there was no reconciling the differences as far as Ben Fairless was concerned. The plan said Fairless would cost the industry 200 million a year and could lift the cost of steel three dollars per ton.
With that, the strike came on October l, l949. Knowing that the chances were slim to none of reaching an agreement with US Steel, Murray changed strategies and began negotiating with Bethlehem Steel and reached an agreement with his old nemesis company on October 3l.
The Bethlehem Agreement incorporated social insurance employee benefits before January l, l950. Improvements were made in Bethlehem’s existing pension system in force for 26 years and the previous collective bargaining agreement was extended without change to December 3l, l95l.
Bethlehem’s existing pension plan had provided retirees a minimum of $50 per month including social security for 25 years service when a worker reached age 65. Through bargaining and using Bethlehem’s present plan as a basis for modification, the corporation raised their minimum to $l00 per month but raised the service eligibility from 25 to 30 years.
By the end of the third negotiating session a set of principles was agreed upon. Bethlehem agreed to a $l00 minimum for lowest classifications to a $400 minimum for the highest $l0,000 class. Also a step by step, year by year ascendant scale was set allowing workers a minimum benefit for l5 years service at $60, 20 years service at age 65 earned the worker a minimum of $80 (more depending upon wage-rate classification) 2l years to $84, 22 years to $88, 23 years to $92 up to 25 and the $l00 minimum.
The minimum did not go beyond $l00 at 25 years service. Included in the agreement was a disability pension that would be allotted to workers after l5 years with a minimum of $50. Bethlehem was given the right to end the pension agreement after two years but the union would also have the right to strike.
To the insurance fund the union contributed two and one half cents and the company the same with a $l00 minimum based on earnings to a maximum of $4600. The plan insured 70 days free hospitalization for the worker, his wife and children up until age l9, no surgical benefits but sick benefits at 26 dollars for 26 weeks. Married men who would receive more from the plan paid more than single men who received less from it. The plan was contracted with Blue Cross.
The Bethlehem Pension Agreement set the pattern for the one reached with US Steel and the other companies.
By the last day of March l950 the union had negotiated pension agreements for 630,000 members with group life insurance plans amounting to a total of l,725 billion with optional insurance plans in many contracts carrying additional benefits amounting to $225 million. Certain contracts even included surgical benefits to 875 steelworkers and their families. By March l, l950, l6,l50 members of the USWA were entitled to pensions and 5000 pensions were granted “to employees in the steel industry who never, at any period in their life, had enjoyed any kind of pension before the contract was negotiated.”
At the 5th USWA Constitutional Convention held in May, l950, said Murray to the delegates in a tone ringing with triumphant achievement, “USWA and CIO officials wore the soles off of our shoes walking through the halls of Congress…begging and pleading with them to provide greater benefits for the aged and more amply security to the weak and sick…and then you won your strike…and an almost miraculous change in the entire situation took place, Republican Congressmen, Dixiecrats and all got together…and so they’re proffering the workers of America…in fact all off the people of America…some reasonably substantial improvements in survivors’ benefits and old age benefits presently pending in the US Senate. And it is getting the support---now get this---it is getting the support of the US Steel Corporation.”
The welfare state unions established with companies was now in place and nothing could have pleased its champion, Philip Murray, more.
Source Notes for Chapter Sixteen. TOO OLD TO WORK, TO YOUNG TO DIE
“Labor”, TIME MAGAZINE, (l948), 2l. Lichenstein, l25, l32, l42-44. PROCEEDINGS OF THE TENTH CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION OF THE CIO, Portland, Oregon, November 22-26, l4, 42l. “The Vote Combination that Won”, US NEWS 7 WORLD REPORT, (l948), l3. NEW YORK TIMES, January l3, l949, February 9, l949, July 20, l949. “Taft Act’s Uncertain Future”, US NEWS & WORLD REPORT, (l948), 46. INTERVIEW WITH JOE MURRAY. INTERVIEW WITH JOE GERMANO, l5-l8. PROCEEDINGS OF THE IEB USWA, October l2, l948, Penn State Labor Archives, 58-62. INTERVIEW WITH DAVID J. MCDONALD, 5l. PROCEEDINGS OF THE IEB USWA, July l3, l949, Penn State Labor Archives, 8-9. “Big Steel’s Myopia”, NATION, l69 (l949), l48. PROCEEDINGS OF THE ELEVENTH CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION OF THE CIO, 9-ll. “Facts V Facts”, TIME MAGAZINE, LIV (l949), 23-24. “The President’s Fact Finding Board Report on Steel”, US NEWS 7 WORLD REPORT, 27 (l949), 57-62. PROCEEDINGS OF THE IEB USWA, September 12, l949, Penn State Labor Archives, l4-l7, 68-70. PROCEEDINGS OF THE IEB USWA, September 22, l949, PSU Labor Archives, 6, l3. Murray Papers, Penn State Labor Archives. “The War of the Wires”, TIME MAGAZINE, (1949), 20-21. “Lewis Blunder: A Slight Deterrent Reaction”, TIME MAGAZINE, (l949), 2l. PROCEEDINGS OF THE IEB USWA, May 3, l949, l54 “Lewis-Murray Feud: Strike Key”, US NEWS 7 WORLD REPORT, (l949), 52-54. PROCEEDINGS OF THE IEB USWA, November 2, l949, l2, l3, l5, 23-25. PROCEEDINGS OF THE FIFTH CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION OF THE USWA, Atlantic City, New Jersey, May 9-l2, l950, 9-ll.
TWILIGHT AT THE DAWN OF TRIUMPH—l950-l952
By the beginning of the Korean War, June 25, l950, Philip Murray had become the elder statesman of the organized labor movement in America.
The machine he had tinkered with practically all his life as a union man was built and its parts meshing now. Trade unionism, at last, was a recognized institution in the American economy.
The wear and tear of life, however, was beginning to take their toll on the man. During the last two years of his life, Murray began to look his age. Those close to him, but even the public at large, observed in his countenance a haunting look of terminal tiredness that, oddly, seemed to enhance an aura of lofty purpose, perhaps even greatness that girded him. .
John C. Cort in a l95l article on Murray in the COMMONWEAL, wrote that when he had seen Murray give a speech in Madison Square Garden in l940, while listening Cort said to himself, “Here is a humble man, a good man.” Then seeing Murray eleven years later at the November convention in l95l, said Cort, “He was thinner, weaker physically but stronger in mind and spirit…again it was the impact of his personality that stayed with me. I have seldom seen a more impressive man…honest, intelligent, forceful, spiritual, a most impressive man. I believe he is a great man.”
Not only Cort’s, but testimonials of the impact Murray the man, union leader, friend and adversary had on others abound.
For example on February 7, l95l, Murray was stricken with a nasty flu virus that put him in D.C.’s Doctor’s Hospital for a week.
To demonstrate how Murray’s perceived indestructibility and steely durability were taken for granted by those who knew him, while he was still in the hospital, Economic Stabilization Administrator, Eric Johnston, appointed him to the Labor-Management Advisory Committee.
Also, as a result of that brief illness, he got get-well cards of genuine concern from US Steel negotiating representative John Stephens, who urged him to slow down and take care of himself, and Hubert Humphrey, the young, brilliant liberal Senator from Minnesota who wished him good health and a “speedy recovery”.
But the attack of influenza in February could not begin to match in seriousness the sudden attack of acute pancreatitis he suffered at home on April 22. During the attack he was rushed to Mercy Hospital Pittsburgh in an ambulance and by the time he arrived his condition was assessed to be so critical that union officials were notified, district directors were put on alert by telegram, and arrangements were made to keep the press and radio informed of any changes in his condition.
After several hours at hospital, Murray was reported to be ‘holding his own’. His doctor revealed that his condition was caused by an obstruction in the pancreatic gland that produced insulin and digestive juices.
As if Murray’s near-brush with death were a dress rehearsal for the real one that came fifteen months later, an explosion of concern for the man’s survival burst upon his hospital room.
Slowly, day-by-day, Murray fought off the illness which turn for the better brought a sigh of relief from a large segment of the American public.
Among the many flowers sent him and get-well cards spilling over with encouraging words, was the telegram sent by Truman who in his characteristic plain speaking said, “I am distressed to learn that you are in the hospital and hope that you will not have too hard a time.”
To show the effect that Murray’s near demise had on Arthur Goldberg, the General Counsel who replaced Lee Pressman, wrote Goldberg’s wife Dorothy on a note attached to flowers sent, “When Arthur described the tubes and the draining and the infusions, my heart just sank.”
None on either side of the fence where Murray stood as an outspoken union man showed any inhibition of concern for his full recovery. Howard W. Showalter, president of Monongahela Rail and River Coal corporation sent, “Have been pulling for you since you entered the hospital…” and Claude Adams Putnam, another industrialist, wrote, “If you can imagine a ‘so-and-so’ industrialist praying for you that is what I am doing.”
Obviously Murray’s opponents knew him well and just as obviously they admired, perhaps even loved, the man.
It appeared that by mid-year l95l, Murray had himself become an American institution in the eyes of many of his friends and adversaries.
Murray’s protective point of view regarding the state of his union elevated as his public stature as a labor leader rose.
Irrespective of their concern about the state of his health, he argued publicly with the steel industry over so-called deserved and undeserved wage increases for steelworkers.
He made the point during the Korean war that in all wars workers’ wages seldom keep up with prices. He scoffed at Fairless’ claim that US Steel’s $3.82 per ton increase was still not enough to offset higher production costs due, Fairless claimed, to predictable recurring increases in workers’ wages.
Murray did not mince words in his response to Fairless’ claim that USWA research to the contrary showed that if workers wages were the cause of higher production costs then what was big steel doing with the $9.00 dollar per day per employee profits that were flowing into their coffers?
But such public warring about steel price and steelworker wage increases were becoming old hat to the public. By now it had become a ritualized war of words that carried more political propaganda for each side than substance.
Murray publicly played the game on price-wage differences but he and the union had a higher purpose to achieve now that collective bargaining procedures were in place and the question of wage increases were no longer of primary importance. Issues that transcended the workplace had to be faced up to and their solutions brought to bear.
Civil Rights, the absence of which was a shame to unions, industry and society at large.
Top on the USWA and CIO agendas was Congressional passage of the Federal Fair Employment Practices Act (FFEPA), legislation that would prevent segregation in interstate travel. At the 5th Constitutional Convention USWA in May l950, Murray told the delegates that the USWA Civil Rights Committee was holding a “series of educational meetings throughout various parts of the USWA jurisdiction…(to) secure for all workers greater measures of protection under provisions of collective bargaining agreements, especially the coloreds.” Said Murray to the delegates, during the war racism “was on vacation.” Reactionary employers maintained a hands-off policy on whatever negative racial attitudes they may have had. But evidently after the war the spirit of racism among employers and workers was revived.
Murray never hesitated to directly make known to his workers (or anybody who needed to hear the message) his views on the unfairness of racial inequality. On June 9th the New York Times quoted him as he hailed a recent Supreme Court decision that ruled that though conceding that “individual students at the University of Oklahoma had a right not to mingle with members of different races if they desired not to do so, the state had no power to deprive Negroes of the right to secure voluntary acceptance by their fellow students.”
Shored by the Court’s ruling, Murray publicly served notice that the CIO intended “to ignore and to violate if necessary any laws, regulations or ordinances requiring its organizations to practice racial segregation.”
In a speech quoted in the Boston Globe and given on June l5th to the graduating class at Boston College where he received an honorary degree, he urged the graduates to help bring about a greater justice for all people without “distinction or discrimination—Negro, white, Jew and Gentile.”
Since civilization began individuals or groups have sought the greater value of the natural or spiritual law over the civil one. Later, when Martin Luther King, within a strict framework of passive resistance, led the black civil rights movement he was, wittingly or not, riding the historical crest of the antecedent events of the organized labor movement. For years workers were industrially (and thereby socially and culturally) deprived by law from gaining their full rights as functioning social beings.
For organized labor the victory, in nearly all its aspects, was achieved in the mid l950s. Black leaders especially Martin Luther King who was the most fiercely dedicated among them, noticed and picked up the gauntlet from labor in the blacks’ quest for racial equality.
Where the organized labor movement left off the black Civil Rights Movement virtually began.
But were Murray’s words on attaining civil rights in the organized labor movement heeded by members of his own union? No. Not until Martin Luther King put some bite into the broader social civil rights movement did racial equality begin to take hold in unions and industry.
It seems perversely fitting that the last year of Murray’s life, l952, would begin and virtually end with a strike.
The strike would have begun on January l, but as he was won’t to do, Murray, with the permission of the Executive Board and the USWA convention, accepted Truman’s request that he delay it for 45 days.
Again, Truman this time wanted the Wage Stabilization Board to meet, examine the facts and present recommendations to both sides.
The impasse on these contract negotiations was management’s demand that they be given the right to establish, install, change, terminate, arrange or rearrange duties pertaining to all jobs in the steel industry.
Said Murray about that “totalitarian proposal” to USWA IEB members on January 2: management may have the right to control their properties but not the right “to own the bodies of the workers.”
The tone was set then on that early January day from which would evolve a year packed with heightened encounters at negotiating tables and before hearing committees. It was a year that also included five IEB meetings, two conventions (not counting the CIO one late year) and historical making events. Among the latter was the 53 day strike, a threatened government seizure of the steel industry and a warring national presidential election, all of which unflinching events kept Murray, mind and body, on the cutting edge of his daily duties.
In short, in every sense of the word, it had been a Philip Murray year.
For a while the main player in the multifaceted steel contract dispute became the Wage Stabilization Board. As is usually the case when the government intervenes in labor-industry disputes, the Board brought on a greater public awareness of the wrangle and the usual public debates about the value and effectiveness of such boards.
When the Board made its recommendations that big steel pay its workers l7.5 cents per hour plus fringe benefits and no changes in existing contracts be made in the management clause, the battle was joined because industry would have none of it.
Even now, by l952, major industrial strikes had become so predictability a public ritual of dissenting opinions among industry, labor, the government and the media that it was, to disinterested outsiders, becoming a spectacle of biennial deploring.
The l952 steel strike featured an impending event that did grab the nation’s attention: Since the Korean war going on, Truman threatened a government seizure of the steel industry on April 8th.
No matter the public heat on either side of the seizure question; the issue would have to go before the Supreme Court. The legal argument the industry presented was that Truman lacked the power to seize the mills because he didn’t invoke Taft-Hartley. Thus it was his inaction that created the emergency. The union argued that by accepting the president’s request for delay of the strike--- that was supposed to begin on January l--- more days (by April 8) had already been given up by the union to settle the dispute than would have been made available under Taft-Hartley had Truman invoked the law.
When the Supreme Court ruled that the president had no right to seize the property of the industry, none among the reasons members of the Court gave included his refusal to invoke T-H.
With the Supreme Court decision came the steel strike that began on June 2 and ended 53 days later on July 25th.
Among the negotiated points gained on each side, management did not get the prerogatives it demanded from the union, but in turn Murray and the union yielded a major point: A modified version of the union shop. The new contract eliminated full compulsory union membership by permitting new employees to withdraw from the union during the last fifteen days of their first month of work. Older employees were also permitted to withdraw from the union during the fifteen-day period before a contract’s expiration date.
Needless to say some members of the USWA IEB were not pleased with Murray for yielding on such an important union advantage. David McDonald chalked up Murray’s ‘capitulation’ on that point to his not being well.
On the heels of the long strike and the eventual settlement, Murray and the CIO plunged into the urgent task of getting Adali Stevenson elected president. It was not going to be an easy challenge considering that Stevenson’s opposition was one of the nation’s greatest war heroes, Dwight David Eisenhower. Ike.
Despite national radio and TV broadcasts, labor rallies and large sums of monies spent, it seemed impossible for organized labor to offset the winning Eisenhower smile and defeat the famous man at the polls.
The results of that election are history. The man from Abileine won the election in a landslide getting 55% of the popular vote.
Luckily for the union, Ike ran ahead of the Republican Party who won a modest 2l seats in the House and only one in the Senate. But in the l954 Congressional election the Republican party would win control of all three branches of the government.
One consolation for Murray and the union that came out of the ’52 election was that Robert Taft and his GOP old guard associates would still need to deal with liberal Republicans who differed with Taft on Fair Deal and Homefront programs. However, most of the rest of the election news was bad especially the fact that Taft would be back to his post as chairman of the Senate Labor Committee to keep, as US News & World Report put it, “the Taft-Hartley Law under his protective custody.”
Bad defeat for organized labor at the polls or not, the labor-backed corporatism was far from being in jeopardy. In jeopardy that is as Murray, in a post-election doomsday frame of mind, perceived it to be. Small wonder the tired labor warrior, depleted of his usual energies and who was on death’s doorstep, took the overwhelming victory of Eisenhower so hard. Ike was about to become the first Republican president to occupy the Oval Office since l932. To Murray’s thinking, it took the organized labor movement the full 20 yeas to reach the point of greatness it now enjoyed. Was it all going to come crashing down? Little did Murray know at the time that the pluralist consensus (he being its greatest champion) would have a run of nearly 30 years and was far from the impending death he brooded was bound to come to it on the heels of Eisenhower’s victory.
Only a day or two after the election, Murray, accompanied by his wife Elizabeth, headed to Los Angeles where the CIO convention was to be held. Before arriving at the city, they were to have a brief stopover in San Francisco where they were to attend a banquet held in Murray’s honor by District 38 of the USWA.
One newspaper photo taken of Murray during that last week of his life depicts his countenance as waxen and having a sickly moribund cast to it. Had Elizabeth noticed? If indeed she had she would surely have attributed Philip’s expression of terminal tiredness to the long year of confrontational events in which her husband was involved capped off by the 53 day steel strike and the bitter defeat Stevenson suffered at the polls. And she would have been right to think so. But could she have ever expected that the year of turbulence would take its fatal toll?
Source Notes for Chapter Seventeen. TWILIGHT AT THE DAWN OF TRIUMPH l950-l952
NEW YORK TIMES, January 9, l950, February l6, l950, March 7, 8 & l0, l950, June 9, l950, February 7 & 8 l95l, April 25, l95l, July 20, l952. PROCEEDINGS OF THE FIFTH CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION OF THE USWA, Atlantic City, New Jersey, May 9-l2, l950, l64-66, l45-l47, 307. BOSTON DAILY GLOBE, June l5, l950. Philip Murray, “What Union Labor Wants,” NEW REPUBLIC, l22 (l950), l2-l6. “Big Steel’s Power,” NEW REPUBLIC, l22 (l950), 8. “How Much Steel?” NEW REPUBLIC, l23 (l950), 7. BUSINESS WEEK, November ll, l950. PROCEEDINGS OF THE TWELFTH CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION OF THE CIO, Chicago, ILL, November 20-24, l950, 20-24. PROCEEDINGS OF THE THIRTEENTH CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION OF THE CIO, New York, NY, November 5-9, l95l, ll, 3l3. Get-Well Cards from John Stephens, Michael Galvis and Hubert Humphrey, Joe Murray, Personal Papers. Also, Telegram Harry S Truman to Philip Murray. John C. Cort, “In Defense of Philip Murray,” THE COMMONWEAL, 55 (l95l), 60-6l. “Murray Retire Next Year?” NEW REPUBLIC, l25 (l95l), 7. PROCEEDINGS OF THE IEB OF THE USWA, November l4, l95l, Penn State Labor Archives, 39-4l, 46. PROCEEDINGS OF THE IEB OF THE USWA, January 2, l952, PSU Labor Archives, 3-l7. PROCEEDINGS OF THE SPECIAL INTERNATIONAL CONVENTION OF THE USWA, Atlantic City, NJ, January 3, l952, 6l-93. “The Wilson Fiasco,” NATION, l74 (l952), 3ll. US NEWS AND WORLD REPORT, 32 (l952), 69-70. INTERVIEW WITH DAVID MCDONALD, 29-32. “Annual Report by Philip Murray,” PROCEEDINGS OF THE FOURTEENTH CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION OF THE CIO, Los Angeles, California, November l7-2l, l952. (This ‘Report’ was never given by Murray due to his death on November 9th, nor was that CIO convention held in Los Angeles during the week indicated but postponed and held during the first week in December at Atlantic City.) “Ease of Seizing Industries Points the Way,” US NEWS & WORLD REPORT, 32 (l952), 22-29. PROCEEDINGS OF THE IEB USWA, June l3, l952, Archives, 9-29. PROCEEDINGS OF THE IEB USWA, July 25, l952, 3-l8. PROCEEDINGS OF THE SIXTH CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION OF THE USWA, Philadelphia, PA, May l3-l7, l952, l35-37. PROCEEDINGS OF THE IEB USWA, October l3, l952, 6-ll. “Your Vote can Keep America on the Road to Progress,” STEEL LABOR, l7 (l952). “Close Roper Poll,” US NEWS & WORLD REPORT, 32 (l952), 20. “Results of Election,” US NEWS & WORLD REPORT, 32 (l952), 26.
NOVEMBER 9, l952: Grief is our Song Today
Philip Murray spoke his last public words on this earth at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco during a banquet given in his honor by District 38, USWA.
He was in a light, airy mood as he spoke before 600 steelworkers and their wives claiming, with self-deprecating humor, that the main reason he had agreed to attend the banquet was his “graspy Scottish desire to get a free meal.”
Then, said Joe Murray in an interview with the author, David McDonald and his entourage, arriving late, entered the banquet room. According to Murray’s wife Elizabeth (who described the incident to Joe who was not there), McDonald and those who were with him rattled about in a rather rude and obtrusive way momentarily drawing attention away from the speech Murray was giving. This crass interruption at first enraged Murray but then ‘broke his heart’ said Elizabeth.
Whether or not Elizabeth---concerned about her husband’s frailty---and Murray, in the last hours of his life, saw McDonald’s late entry as a provocative act can’t really be determined. Nevertheless, Elizabeth reported the incident to Joe Murray in the way she and her husband perceived it. Hearing this story from his mother not long after the shocking death of his father all but terminated for Joe Murray any sense of loyalty or respect for McDonald throughout his years as president of the USWA.
The story is included here to point to the new direction and tone the organized labor movement was about to take personified in David McDonald and succeeding union officers replacing the old who seemed to take hold with eager willingness and uninhibited arrogance the reins of union power.
Murray had died in his sleep only hours after the banquet. The date was November 9, l952, the exact date when l7 years before, November 9, l935, seven AFL labor unions met in Washington D.C. to form the CIO.
As the news of Murray’s death reverberated around the world and the responses began to be noted in newspapers, on radio and television, before getting on a train to go to Pittsburgh, Joe Germano, in Chicago, calls John Doherty and tells him that (distasteful though the subject may be to bring up), they had better talk about the USWA Secretary-Treasurer position. Germano believed that the Secretary-Treasurer position should rightly go to Doherty who many a time when McDonald had gone on trips to South America performed the duties of that office. The least controversial of the Secretary-Treasurer candidates, Germano believed, would be Doherty.
After arriving in Pittsburgh, Germano and fellow board member Al Kojetinsky go to see McDonald. Germano, describing that first encounter with McDonald after Murray’s death in a l977 interview with Alice Hoffman said, “Dave said, ‘Come on in. Come on in. Dave had that very sad look on his face, but the inner look wasn’t as sad as the look on his face!”
Repeating to McDonald what he’d said to Doherty that it was not a pleasant thing to talk about distasteful union business while “the body’s not even cold”, Germano assures McDonald that he already acknowledges him to be Murray’s successor. But “the only thing that’s bothersome is the Secretary-Treasurer…I think I have a man in mind. He’s been a great friend of yours for years…He’s been a great friend of the board…John Doherty.”
Says McDonald to Germano, “…I can’t commit myself now.” But no sooner did he leave McDonald’s office, contends Germano, did McDonald begin to call up board members to tell them to NOT support Doherty. The man that McDonald really wanted was Bill Hart, but McDonald could only garner up weak support for Hart from other board members because, said Germano, “you just couldn’t trust Bill. Hell, Bill was one way one time and the next time another way.”
Knowing that he is not wanted, Doherty backs out as Secretary-Treasurer and board member and close friend of McDonald’s, Paul Rusen, suggests to him that since Hart was a certain no-go with the board members for Secretary-Treasurer, “…this guy Abel who is very quiet around here…he’s a very good friend of Joe Germano…I bet you Joe will get the boys to support him.”
About the same time McDonald and Germano are talking, the CIO vice-presidents meet at the Hotel William Penn in Pittsburgh, but there is no talk of a successor to Murray. The meeting is limited to making funeral arrangements and changing the convention’s schedule and place and making plans for the CIO executive board to meet in Atlantic City November 29th to help set up convention plans. The delay is expected to aid Reuther who with Tom Haywood are the top two candidates to succeed Murray. About all the talk says Reuther, quoted in the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph November l2, “I am here only to pay my respects to my good friend Phil Murray.”
But talk of who would replace Murray as CIO president filled the newspapers. The New York Times reported only a day after Murray’s death that many of the CIO chiefs, “too stunned” to move in on the question of a successor, were leaning to the idea of simply naming Haywood acting president, and hold off on a selection until a possible merger with the AFL. The possibility was not so far-fetched since 79-year-old William Green, in failing health, was expected to soon retire. Little could anyone have guessed that Green would be dead within ten days of Murray’s death.
Those who supported Reuther did so because among the top union men he was considered to be the most imaginative, articulate and best public face to put on the highly visible CIO. Besides, Reuther was only 45; Haywood, a longtime friend of Murray’s and of the old miners’ school, was 65.
More importantly, in the editorial opinion of the NEW REPUBLIC, Reuther’s dynamism was needed because it seemed that labor was losing “…its vitality of the New Deal years. There is little remembrance of depression among labor’s new recruits. There is little love for strike action. There is little enthusiasm for organizing the unorganized.”
Only a day or so after Murray’s death, talk of a new generation of labor leaders and apathetic workers having no direct historical ties to the past, was already making the rounds before he was even put into his grave.
Murray’s funeral was held on November l3th at the hour of eleven AM. On that day Ben Fairless called for a minute of ‘reverent silence’ throughout all US Steel mills to honor the memory of Murray. Among the inundating tributes, telegrams and cards sent to the Murray family, from around the country and the world, was a telegram to Elizabeth from J.L. Lewis that stated with simple correctness: “It is with a deep sense of shock and regret that we learned of the passing of your husband.”
Two days after the funeral, November l5, the USWA IEB met. The session began with a two-minute silent tribute to Murray after which Vice-President Thimmes read a resolution authorizing David McDonald to take on the powers and duties as acting president until an election would be held during February l953. The adoption of the resolution was seconded by Joe Germano.
Before the unanimous vote is taken, a board member gets up and gives a testimonial to McDonald’s right to succeed Murray. He tells the other board members that during the war when Murray had to spend “90% of his time” on CIO business, the USWA was virtually run by McDonald.
Vice president Thimmes—who had given no thought whatsoever of challenging McDonald’s claim to the presidency—urges board members to support McDonald who was going “…to need all the love, all the advice, all the cooperation he can possibly get from every officer of this union.” McDonald gets up, thanks the members and says, “…the day that Phil Murray gave me my job I was a frightened boy. That night I got down on my knees and I said a prayer to the Holy Ghost and I asked him to help me be a good secretary to Philip Murray…every day, morning and night, and especially this day I have said that same prayer…”
Germano rises, pledges his support to McDonald and after pledging steadfast support to McDonald, says “…I am going to look upon Dave the same as I have always looked upon Dave, that he permitted me to go to him and tell him when I thought he was wrong, and I am not going to hesitate to do that…”
Without hesitation and demonstrating immediately to Germano and other members of the board (but especially Germano who seemed already with Murray’s passing to be presuming a role of kingmaker), McDonald gets up and says, “…Joe and I are very fond on one another, but he has said something which is not quite true. He has said that he has come to me lots of times when he felt I was wrong, but what has actually happened is that he has come to me about 99.9% of the time and said, ‘By God you’re right,’” to which words Germano compliantly rejoined, “That’s right David.”
Nineteen days later, at the l4th Constitutional Convention of the CIO, December l-4, on the morning of the last day of that convention, a deal was struck between the Haywood and Reuther factions. Backers of both men agreed that the Executive Vice-President, which either man would become if the other won, would become the director of organization and councils directing field staffs. The deal all but assured that Haywood, loyal union man to the core, would not be ousted.
Reuther won the election, 3,079,000 to Haywood’s 2,600,000 votes.
The memorial for Murray was held on the third day of that convention. The occasion was quite a solemn affair that featured an orchestra that played ceremonial, stately music, a message from President Truman and a featured address by Adali Stevenson.
In his usual eloquent prose style that avoided, even shunned, pedestrian syntax, Stevenson tells the delegates that during the days of Murray’s time---before there was a National Labor Relations Board to legally protect the rights of workers---“too often the life of the labor organizer was more akin to the career of an underground leader, in terms of frustration, even terror…his life and work spanned a dramatic evolution in the status of labor.”
Do not be disheartened by the results of the recent election, he urges the delegates. His resounding defeat in that election “should not be considered a disaster or even a misfortune for labor. What would be a misfortune…a disaster… would be to think so, and preoccupied with fear, lose sight of labor’s larger response to a nation which is also groping its way into a new era.”
Stevenson closes his speech by promising that he’ll say “nothing poetic” about the passing era and all the hardships it brought to the industrial workers, then proceeds to ignore his promise. “It is for us to make this interval of labor’s transition from ‘far off things and battles long ago’ the days of a better era for all of us…for America. I like to think that Philip Murray was familiar with these words: ‘A fool who stands fast is a catastrophe; a wise man who stands fast is a statesman.’ We say to Philip Murray, ‘Hail and Farewell’ and Death be not proud.’”
Source Notes for Chapter Eighteen. NOVEMBER 9, l952: GRIEF IS OUR SONG TODAY.
PITTSBURGH PRESS, November ll, l2 & l6. INTERVIEW WITH JOE MURRAY. SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, November l0, l952. “Reuther, Meany and Labor,” NEW REPUBLIC, l27 (l952), l0-l2. CHICAGO DAILY NEWS, November l0, l952. PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, November ll, l952. INTERVIEW WITH JOE GERMANO, l9-23. PITTSBURGH SUN-TELEGRAPH, November l2, l952. NEW YORK TIMES, November l0, l952. Telegrams to Elizabeth Murray, Penn State Labor Archives and Joe Murray Personal Papers. JOHN L. LEWIS, 5l4. “Philip Murray Will Never Be Dead As Long As The Things He Built Live On,” STEEL LABOR, (1952). PROCEEDINGS OF THE IEB OF THE USWA, November l5, l952, Archives, 4-52. PROCEEDINGS OF THE FOURTEENTH CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION OF THE CIO, Atlantic City, New Jersey, December l-4, l952, 395-405.
EPILOGUE: Last Word
Looking back on his life and achievements, it seems that among the labor leaders of the 20th century who helped forge the union, Philip Murray could not be a more forgotten man.
And if being one of the major union builders of his time he must share the responsibility for creating a union so autocratically structured that eventually it came to be seen by the rank and file as a corporate horse of a different color, then Murray would be one of the first among his compeers to step up to accept that responsibility.
But he would not cotton to it without teaching lessons to the workers as to why it was necessary for him to maintain tight control of an autarchic union. How else could he have predicated a union which in his time would endure and not be deconstructed from within or without by its factional and traditional enemies?
As for the union of the seventies and eighties that came to forget or deny the dynamics of its historical makings, with those shortsighted remissions came consequences. Playing into the hands of political opportunists who traditionally took adversarial positions against unions, industrial workers were persuaded to believe that they made up the core of the ‘neglected’ Silent Majority. Perhaps socially and culturally speaking that may have been the case. But the right-leaning political alliance which ensued from the strange bed-fellow circumstances helped undermine the union’s liberal-progressive foundation because the social and cultural issues bred into the political intermingling took precedence over economic ones.
Did this unlikely bond cause a misguided trust in workers to believe that they and the ones who held their economic fate in their hands were cut from the same historical cloth? Such imperceptive thinking---which Murray would have called it---would have brought vociferous warnings from the man who had he been there might’ve spared the precipitous fall that workers and unions took in the past two decades and from which only now are they beginning to recover.
To be sure, Murray’s voice is one of the great bygone voices missing from today’s labor scene. In his time Murray spoke in a voice that fairly quaked with a moral authority that went unquestioned and often unchallenged because it was a voice not contrived for certain exigencies but one weighted with substance and ever ready to speak its mind.
If Murray indeed seems today to be the forgotten man among 20th century labor leaders then perhaps it’s because his memory calls to mind a standard of leadership too brutally honest, ready to hit with blunt force any threat to the economic survival of the working men and women in his charge and for whom he spoke. There, then, happens to be a challenge, formidable but not beyond their reach, that today’s labor leaders might do well to emulate if working men and women, the élan of the economic life of any nation, are to partake fully in the fruits of their labors’ bounty.
PHILIP MURRAY: Biographical Portrait of a Union Man
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PROCEEDINGS, CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTIONS OF THE CIO:
9th, Boston, Mass, October l3-l7, l947;
l0th, Portland, Oregon, November 22-26, l948;
llth, Cleveland, Ohio, October 3l, l949;
l2th, Chicago, Ill., November 20-25, l950;
l3th, New York, NY, November 5-9, l95l;
l4th, Atlantic City, NJ, December l-4, l952.
PROCEEDINGS OF THE IEB OF THE USWA. All to be found in the File Boxes at the
Penn State Labor Archives:
January 23, l946;
February 2l, l946;
July 2, l947;
February l6 & l7, l948;
October l2, l948;
May 3, l949;
July l3, l949;
September l2, l949;
September 22, l949;
November 2, l949;
March 23, l950;
November 29, l950;
November l4, l95l;
January 2, l952;
June l3, l952;
July 24, l952;
October l3, l952;
November l5, l952.
PROCEEDINGS, CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTIONS OF THE UNITED
MINEWORKERS OF AMERICA:
24th Annual, District 5, Pittsburgh, Pa., February l8-33, l9l3;
28th of the UMWA, Indianapolis, Indiana, September l7-20, l92l;
3lst, Indianapolis, Indiana, March l0-20, l930;
33rd, Indianapolis, Indiana, January 23-3l, l934;
34th, Washington, D.C., January 28 through February 7, l936;
36th, Columbus, Ohio, January 23 through February l, l940.
PROCEEDINGS, CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTIONS OF THE UNITED
STEELWORKERS OF AMERICA:
3rd, Atlantic City, NJ, May l4-l8, l946;
4th, Boston, Mass., May ll-l5, l948;
5th, Atlantic City, NJ, May 9-l2, l950;
Special Convention of the USWA, Atlantic City, NJ, January 3, l952;
6th, Philadelphia, Pa., May l3-l7, l952.
“Questions for Americans to Ponder,” transcript of a speech given by Eugene Grace on
May 25, l944 to members of the American Iron and Steel Institute. Murray Papers, Penn State Labor Archives.
Rabban, David M. “Has the NLRA Hurt Labor?” THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO
LAW REVIEW 54 (l987): 407-43l.
“Radio Union Rebels at AFL Status.” NEW YORK TIMES, 30 December l935, p. 2.
Raskin, A.H. “Militant Chief of the CIO.” NEW YORK TIMES, 20 July l952. Sec. VI:l2.
Raskin, A.H. “Murray Sends USW Check for $500,000 to Miners and Appeals to Union
Members to Give More.” NEW YORK TIMES, 9 January l950, p. l.
“Replies to Coal Operator.” NEW YORK TIMES, ll April l922, p. 2l.
REPORT OF THE DEPARTMENT OF MINES OF PENNSYLVANIA. PART II:
Bituminous l927-28. Harrisburg, Pa., l929.
“Republic Steel Bows to NLRB.” PITTSBURGH PRESS, l5 July l94l, p. l.
“Republic Steel’s Views on Signing with CIO.” NEW YORK TIMES, 27 May l937, p.2.
“Results of Election,” US NEWS 7 WORLD REPORT 32 (l952): 26.
“Reuther, Meany and Labor,” NEW REPUBLIC l27 (l952): l0-l2.
Ross, Charles G. Untitled News clipping from the Washington, D.C. SUNDAT STAR, l2
April l942. Murray Scrapbook, Penn State Labor Archives.
Ruttenberg, Harold J. A FOOTNOTE TO LABOR HISTORY WITH A PROFILE OF
PHILIP MURRAY. Pittsburgh, Pa., l992. Ruttenberg Personal Papers.
Schatz, Ronald W. “Battling over Government’s Role.” In FORGING A UNION OF
STEEL: Philip Murray, SWOC and the United Steelworkers, Paul F. Clark et al, Editors, 87-l02. Ithaca: ILR Press, l987.
Schwabe, Max. “Give Industry its Head Instead of a Straight-Jacket.” House of
Representatives, January 29, l946.
Serrin, William. HOMESTEAD: The Glory and Tragedy of an American Steel Town.
New York: Times Books, Random House, l992.
Severson, Jack. INTERVIEW WITH PHILIP M. CURRAN. Oral History Collection,
Penn State Labor Archives. August 7, l968.
Singer, Alan J. “Something of a Man, John L. Lewis, the UMWA and the CIO, l9l9-
l943,” in THE UNITED MINEWORKERS OF AMERICA: A Model of Industrial Solidarity? John H.M. Laslett, Editor, l04-l49. University Park: Penn State University Press, l996.
Shaughnessy, (No first name given). INTERVIEWS WITH LEE PRESSMAN. Oral
History Collection, Columbia University Archives. June l957 & l958.
Stanley, Louis. “The Miners’ Rebellion,” THE NATION l30 (l930): 356.
“AFL Under Nra Recruits l.3 Million.” NEW YORK TIMES, l3 October
l940, p. l6.
“Bethlehem Still Faces CIO Threat.” NEW YORK TIMES, 5 October l940, p. l6.
“CIO Asks for Bethlehem Parley in Interest of Common Defense.” NEW
YORK TIMES, 5 October l940, p. l6.
“27 Big Steel Mills Darkened by Strike.” NEW YORK TIMES, 27 May l937, p. l.
“CIO Plan Meets with Skepticism.” NEW YORK TIMES, 29 December
l940, p. l.
“Craft Unionists Win AFL Row.” NEW YORK TIMES, l7 October l935
“Deadlock Halts Labor Peace Move.” NEW YORK TIMES, 28 October l937, p. l.
“FDR Weighs Mass Planes Plan.” NEW YORK TIMES. 24 December l940, p. l.
“Labor Denounces Steel Men’s Stand.” NEW YORK TIMES, 30 June l936, p. 5.
“Miners Sanction Split with AFL.” NEW YORK TIMES, 3l January l936, p. 5.
“Murray Proposes New Defense Board.” NEW YORK TIMES, l9 December l940, p. l.
“SWOC Acts to Cut Iron Ore to Close Big Steel Mills.” l4 June l937, p. l.
“SWOC Convention Widens Labor Rift.” NEW YORK TIMES, l5 December l937, p. 8.
“Statement of Philip Murray, Chairman of the Steel Workers Organizing Committee, PM,
Senate Bill l032,” Speech presented to Committee on Labor, July l8, l939. Murray Papers, Penn State Labor Archives.
“Steel: Report on the War Years,” FORTUNE MAGAZINE 3l (l945): l2l-24; 24l-52.
“Steel Showdown,” BUSINESS WEEK (l950): l20.
“5 Steelworkers Deny Forcing ll Foremen Out of J&L Plant.” THE PITTSBURGH
PRESS, 28 January l946, p. l.
“Steel Workers to Honor Phil Murray.” PITTSBURGH PRESS, ll November l952, p. l.
“Stories of Philip Murray.” Story #l, #2 & #3. (No name) Murray Papers, Penn State
“Strike Curb Bill Pushed in House.” NEW YORK TIMES, l May l94l, p. l8.
“Strike Loss $l45,080,232.” NEW YORK TIMES, l6 June l922, p. l9.
Suffern, Arthur E. ORGANIZED RELATIONS AND INDUSTRIAL PRINCIPLES IN
THE COAL INDUSTRY. New York: The Macmillan Company, l926.
“SWOC Charges Force Threat in J&L Vote.” PITTSBURGH PRESS, 20 May l937, p. l.
Taft, Philip. ORGANIZED LABOR IN AMERICAN HISTORY. New York: Harper &
Row Publishers, l964.
Tate, Juanita Diffay. PHILIP MURRAY AS A LABOR LEADER. Dissertation. New
York University, l962.
Telegrams and Get-Well Cards from Harry S Truman et al on the occasions of Murray’s
illnesses and hospital stays and the great number of condolence messages sent to Elizabeth and Joe Murray upon Murray’s death November 9, l952. From the Murray Papers, Penn State Labor Archives and Joe Murray’s Personal Collection and Memorabilia.
“Terror Campaign Charged to Weir.” NEW YORK TIMES, 26 October l937, p. 7.
“The Case of the West Virginia Coal Mine Workers.” Opening Statement of Philip
Murray, VP of the UMWA before the Committee on Education and Labor of the U.S. Senate, October 2l, l92l.
“The Coal Strike is on,” THE OUTLOOK l30 (l922): 579.
“The Era of Industrial Ascendancy: l86l-l945.” PENNSYLVANIA STATE HISTORY.
From the Internet, l-l2.
THE NATIONAL RECOVERY ADMINISTRATION. Volume l. New York: De Capo
“The President’s Fact-Finding Board Report on Steel,” US NEWS 7 WORLD REPORT
27 (l949): 57-62.
“The Vote Combination that Won,” US NEWS 7 WORLD REPORT (l948): l3.
“The War of the Wires,” TIME MAGAZINE 54 (l949): 20-2l.
“The Wilson Fiasco,” THE NATION l74 (l952): 3ll.
Thompson, R.E.S. “Murray of the Miners Tackles a New Contract.” NEW YORK
TIMES, l4 February l937, Magazine, Section 8:8.
Tomlins, Christopher. THE STATE AND THE UNIONS. Labor Relations, Law, and the
Organized Labor Movement in America, l880-l960. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, l985.
Truman, Margaret. BESS W. TRUMAN. New York: Macmillan, l986.
“Truman Murray Confer.” PITTSBURGH PRESS, 4 February l946, p. l.
“Truman’s Labor Fact-Finding Plan,” CONGRESSIONAL DIGEST 25 (l946): 29.
“Two Awards to Mark Interracial Justice.” NEW YORK TIMES, 25 October l943, p. 8.
Ulman, Lloyd. THE GOVERNMENT OF THE STEELWORKRS UNION. New York:
John Wiley and Sons, l962.
“U.S. Relaxes Price Controls,” and “Text of Wage-Price Policy.” PITTSBURGH PRESS,
l5 February l946.
“Van Bittner Dies; Labor Leader, 64.” NEW YORK TIMES, 20 July l949, p. 25.
Wall, Joseph Frazier. ANDREW CARNEGIE. New York & Pittsburgh: Oxford
University Press, l970, and University of Pittsburgh Press, l979.
“Washington Waits Strike Emergency.” NEW YORK TIMES, l April l922, p. 2.
Watkins, Harold M. COAL AND MEN: An Economic and Social Study of the British
and American Coalfields. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., l934.
“We’ll Stay on Strike Until We get l8 l/2 Cent Raise, Murray Declares.” THE
PITTSBURGH PRESS, 2l January l946, p. l.
“What Won for Ike,” US NEWS 7 WORLD REPORT 32 (l952): 26.
“Your Vote Can Keep America on the Road to Progress,” STEEL LABOR l7 (l952): l-5.