They Laid The Foundation

In 1888, nineteen machinists joined together to found the Order of the United Machinists and Mechanical Engineers. This small organization eventually became known as the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which today has a membership of about 800,000 in various North American industries.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers has had a long and interesting history, which follows the struggles of the labor movement during the twentieth century as well as advances in transportation since the days of the railroad. Thomas Talbot, a machinist in one of Atlanta’s railway yards, gathered 18 of his fellow machinists together in May 1888. Believing that machinists needed a union to cope with problems particular to their craft, they formed the Order of United Machinists and Mechanical Engineers. The Order remained secret for several years since it was formed during a time when employers were often hostile to organized labor.

Despite the Order being secret it spread beyond Georgia, partially thanks to the “boomers.” (Boomers were men who traveled the railway lines for work wherever they went. They would establish locals in these areas if there was not one already present.) Within one year, there were 40 lodges; by 1891, there were 189. The First Convention of the Order was held on May 6, 1889 in the Georgia Senate Chamber in Atlanta.

Talbot was elected Master Machinist, and the organization’s name was changed to the National Association of Machinists (NAM). A Constitution was drawn up at this same Convention and it was agreed that a monthly journal should be published consisting of “no less than 16 pages.” 1890 and 1891 were important years for the N.A.M. Its first Canadian Local was founded in Stratford, Ontario, and locals were formed in Mexico as well. Hence, the name of the union was changed at the 1891 convention in Pittsburgh to the International Association of Machinists. I.A.M. headquarters were moved to Richmond, Virginia around this time.

By 1895, the I.A.M. was on the move again as headquarters were moved to Chicago, Illinois. The Machinists became affiliated with the American Federation of Labor in the same year. Shortly thereafter, the Machinists won one of their first big victories in 1898 when they successfully struck and earned a nine-hour work day.

By 1915, they would win an eight-hour day. In 1899 the Machinists moved East again and set up headquarters in Washington, D.C. Shortly thereafter, I.A.M. President James O’Connell signed an agreement with the National Metal Trades Association (a group representing company owners’ / employers’ interests). Known as the Murray Hill Agreement, it would begin 35 years of labor-management antagonism when the N.M.T.A. would refuse to pay workers the same pay for fewer hours per week one year after the agreement was signed. In 1911, the I.A.M. began allowing some new types of workers into its ranks.

Since its beginnings, the I.A.M. had been primarily for skilled, white, male railroad workers. In that year, they changed the Constitution to allow unskilled machinists as well as women workers. “Colored” people would be allowed to become full members in 1948. Both colored and female workers, however, had been members of the I.A.M. well before the constitution was changed to officially allow either of these groups to enter the union.

 

 

Thomas Talbot, a machinist in one of Atlanta’s railway yards, gathered 18 of his fellow machinists together in May 1888. Believing that machinists needed a union to cope with problems particular to their craft, they formed the Order of United Machinists and Mechanical Engineers. The Order remained secret for several years since it was formed during a time when employers were often hostile to organized labor. Despite the Order being secret it spread beyond Georgia, partially thanks to the “boomers.” (Boomers were men who traveled the railway lines for work wherever they went. They would establish locals in these areas if there was not one already present.) Within one year, there were 40 lodges; by 1891, there were 189. The First Convention of the Order was held on May 6, 1889 in the Georgia Senate Chamber in Atlanta. Talbot was elected Master Machinist, and the organization’s name was changed to the National Association of Machinists (NAM).


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