ARTICLE 14 : "The Labor Movement, Unionism, and ‘THE SHOP’"


UNION: a group of workers, joined together to protect and promote their interests; (examples---labor or trade union) 1

    During the tenures of Josiah Laselle and George Marston Whitin, the first nationwide labor organizations were formed. { But the Whitins who ran the Company saw to it that their workers were taken care of and the Union Movement would not affect their help until much later.} The mid-1800"s saw workers of different trades as members of national unions. A Philadelphia, PA ironworker named William H. Sylvis founded the National Union of Iron Molders in 1859. Just eight years later, some boot and shoe workers organized into a national group called the Knights of St. Crispin. Then later came blacksmiths, machinists, printers and other skilled workers that established national labor unions during this busy period of time, although most of them lasted just a few years.

    William H. Sylvis united several national labor unions into a federation, called The National Labor Union, in 1866. But this federation concentrated on programs of social reform, rather than focusing on its members’ concerns. It broke up in 1872. Then the first national federation to stay active for awhile was called The Noble Order of The Knights of Labor.

    Just before Chester Laselle became President of the Whitin Machine Works, this labor union was set up by a group of Philadelphia garment workers. The Knights of Labor differed from other labor organizations by including farmers and merchants as well as other wage earners, or commonly called today as ‘blue-collar’ workers. This union’s goals focused on:

  1. equal pay for equal work
  2. abolition of child labor
  3. establishment of an 8-hour workday. (At this particular time in history, most laborers toiled 10 or more hours daily.)

    The Knights of Labor reached the height of its power in the 1880’s under Terence V. Powderly’s leadership. His group won a strike against the railroads (owned then by the American millionaire Jay Gould) in 1885. The very next year, the union grew to include 700,000 members, but the Knights of Labor lost a second strike against the Gould railroads in that same year; therefore, membership rapidly declined, and by 1900 this union had almost disbanded. During this conflicting period in the history of the Labor Movement, Samuel Gompers (1881) and others, formed a federation that included only wage earners. Unlike the Knights of Labor, Gompers called his union quite a mouthful---the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions of the United States and Canada. But then five years later, he reorganized and changed his union’s name to the now famous American Federation of Labor (AFL). He became its first President and served for 37 years (1886-1894; 1896-1924).

    Under Samuel Gompers, the AFL focused on wage increases and other job demands, rather than on political issues. The American Federation of Labor was instrumental in formulating the process now called "collective bargaining", and this was a chief means of getting its goals done. Another tactic of the AFL was the use of designations on goods manufactured by only its members. Today this means of identification for shoppers alerts all about the quality of the goods for purchase, and only is it true, if they see "union labels".2

    The mid to late 1940’s saw a post -World War II boom and an increase in the production of goods and employment. (Remember in 1948, over 5,600 worked in THE SHOP). Attempts to organize workers were not fruitful until a strike was called in 1946. E. Kent Swift resigned as President of the Whitin Machine Works, but he would go on to serve in another capacity. The heart of the need to unionize resulted from the demands of the huge ethnic diversification, safety concerns, higher wages, and job discrimination in various shop departments; the status of ‘seniority’ would be a huge labor issue, down the road in a strike that would develop later in 1953. Lasting longer than the one in 1946, it also had more violence.3

    Local 3654 was the union of THE SHOP. It started in 1946, with a membership at one point of over 3,000 represented 4 in spite of race or creed or national origin. Local 3654 was officially the union of the United Steelworkers of America: American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) 5 Its first president was Richard Malgrem. He served from 1946-48, and the membership met each month on the second floor of a building on Cottage Street in Whitinsville, and now, below, it houses Old Colony Stationery—that was named after him. The next president was John Andonian. He served from 1948-1958. Edward Roukema was the third president and served from 1958-1965. Then came Joseph Chabot (1965-1981), and also Joseph Larochelle (4/1/81-10/1/81). Kenneth Guertin was the last president to serve Local 3654 (1981-1984).6

    During the 1950’s it appeared on the surface that the American Labor Movement suffered an embarrassment of riches. The economic boom from the second World War was unprecedented not only in scope but in duration. The greatest economy in the World kept on growing and growing, producing an output of goods and services that doubled in less than 25 years. And the national economy saw inflation unbelievably low. Wages went up, along with the standard of living, and home ownership grew in leaps and bounds. Labor’s house also was really united in our country, when the AFL and the CIO came together and merged (1955 membership was over 16 million); thus ending two generations of hostility. Yet this decade of the 1950’s is likened today to that of a sleepy and comfortable time, troubled by serious political and social issues:

  1. the McCarthy Hearings
  2. Eisenhower’s dealings with No.Korea
  3. United Auto Workers and their patterned C.O.L.A. (cost-of-living adjustment first won in 1948)
  4. the contrasting philosophies of George Meany (‘We seek an ever-increasing standard of living’) of the AFL and Walter Reuther (‘We seek long-term contracts for our members’) of the CIO
  5. James R. Hoffa vs. Robert F. Kennedy confrontations
  6. the Ethical Practices Committee as a prelude to the United States Labor-Management Reporting Act of 1959 (popularly called the Landrum-Griffin Act, which required disclosure of union finances, set standards on elections, and regulated other union activities.7

    The 1960’s were expressive years with many "flowering " philosophies that would lead to two major recessions, in some contrast to the 1970’s, which were a decade that delivered some brutal lessons in economic issues. Unemployment then soared, inflation was unchecked, and the last vestiges of the post-World War II Boom vanished. Unionized industries in the newly formed "Rust Belt" collapsed as management failed to deal with foreign competition and demands for cleaner, safer processes in the manufacture of goods. Two "oil shocks" drove home the delicate interdependence of an ever-increasing global economy. Between a "rock and a hard place", unions found themselves now fighting to save jobs of their members, by any means possible, which included steep "give-backs", or concessions.

    The decade of the 1980’s was undoubtedly the roughest for the American laborer since the GREAT DEPRESSION. It was also the most challenging for the Union Movement since the Great Uprising in 1877, the event that opened a year-long series on History of American Labor. Now as we move through the 1990’s, Organized Labor has battled back ---it has embraced a grass-roots approach that stresses more on organization than ever before. The fast-growing service industries especially need attention; and the exercise of political muscle on issues of specific concern to working American families range from day care needs, to job safety, and to Education and Social Security. 8

    While union membership and clout was shrinking in the 1980’s, the typical working family endured a decade marked by putting in more hours on the job for wages that actually declined in terms of purchasing power. This slide continued even after Mr. William Jefferson Clinton became our 42nd President in January of 1993. And it took years to start to undo the damage to the nation’s economy inflicted by "Reaganomics"-- notwithstanding PATCO: (Ronald Reagan’s dismantling of the Professional Air Traffic Controller’s Organization in 1981)-- and its massive budget deficits, as well as other echoes of anti-unionism.

    Now as we enter the next Century, and especially the new Millennium, few can deny the great demise and new-founded prosperity of the American Laborer. Just contrast the benefits of today’s "blue-collar "worker with those of the worker at the turn of the past century. Very few can overlook the numbers and the strength of the Wall Street investors and players. It is probably the best time to be employed in the History of these United States of America. And for sure the most beneficial time to be a member of a national union. And yet, one must remain ever vigilant, and even militant, for the strength of numbers must never diminish. It has held at about 13 million for the past three years. Just like the fabric of the family unit, the labor union, and its solidarity, must remain the focus as both prosper together. 9

    Let the awareness of our Nation’s "pulse" be a constant reminder, to be a symptom of the "circulation of a lifeblood of energetic goods and services", in order that our United States of America be considered a true producer among other interdependent nations in the always-changing Global Economy of Tomorrow.



  1. World Book , Inc. 1999 CD- 525 W.Monroe, Chicago, IL 60661
  2. World Book , Inc. 1999 CD- 525 W.Monroe, Chicago, IL 60661
  3. The Postal Record (Mo. Journal of N.A.L.C. founded in 1889); Vol.112 #8, pp 16-20. Published monthly by NALC;AFL-CIO; 100 Indiana Ave., N. W.; Washington DC 20001-2144
  4. Interview, Joseph Larochelle -#3654 :U.S.A. AFL-CIO President (1981)
  5. Interview, Joseph Larochelle -#3654 :U.S.A. AFL-CIO President (1981)
  6. Interview, Kenneth Guertin -#3654: U.S.A. AFL-CIO President (1981-84)
  7. The Postal Record (Mo. Journal of N.A.L.C. founded in 1889); Vol.112 #10, pp 10-15. Published monthly by NALC;AFL-CIO; 100 Indiana Ave., N. W.; Washington DC 20001-2144
  8. The Postal Record (Mo. Journal of N.A.L.C. founded in 1889); Vol.112 #11, pp 18-23. Published monthly by NALC;AFL-CIO; 100 Indiana Ave., N. W.; Washington DC 20001-2144
  9. The Worcester Telegram -Monday, February 2,1998 :Page E1. Published by W.T.A.G., 20 Franklin Street, Worcester MA 01601

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