Labor In the News 1913

 

The Sunday Tribune, August 31, 1913

 UNION LABOR IN RHODE ISLAND

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How the Central Federated Union, the Principal Labor Organization in Providence Was Founded, and What It Has Aimed to Accomplish for the Wage Earners of Rhode Island. The Building Trades Dept. of A.F. of L.

Organized Labor in This City Has Won for Its Members Shorter Hours of Work, Increase in Pay, Better Living Conditions, An Employer's Liability Act, a Factory Inspection Act and Other Beneficent Measures.

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The idea of a universal combination of the wage workers has been the idea aimed at since the first conception of labor unions. For ages that ideal had been but a dream, but to-day it is nearing realization. Immediately after the Civil War two striking phases of the national life began to assume importance. First, the needs of the nation had vastly increased demands, second, the centralized force upon the Government for centralization inevitably extended to commercial and industrial relations. The wage earners felt the increased pressure and sought relief by organization. Hence, on the 20 th day of August, 1866, delegates from 60 labor organizations met in Baltimore and founded the National Labor Union. Subsequent conventions of this body were held each year up to 1872, when the delegates decided to enter into the political field and nominated a ticket for President of the United States. This drifting into political action provoked so much dissension that one local after another withdrew their support from the National Labor Union on the grounds that the union was getting into matters that it was never intended to enter into when organized. Thus the National Labor Union died the inevitable death that labor organizations do when they wander from the path of pure and simple trades unionism into the hands of the crafty politician and political agitator.


The first session of the body now know as the American Federation of Labor was called to order in Turner Hall, Pittsburgh, Pa., on November 15, 1881. Ninety-six regularly credentialed delegates, representing ninety-five labor organizations with an estimated aggregate membership of 262,000 workers were present. A declaration of principles was adopted to the effect that “a struggle is going on in the nations of the civilized world between the oppressors and the oppressed of all countries; a struggle between capital and labor which grows in intensity from year to year and will work disastrous results to the toiling millions if they are not combined for mutual protection and benefit.


Objects of the Federation.

The objects of the Federation were therefore declared to be the encouragement of local, city, national, and international trade unions, and to secure the legeslation favorable to the interests of the industrial class. The American Federation of Labor is composed of constituent and representative bodies; in the former category is included Federal labor unions, independent local unions, national unions and international unions, while the representative bodies are classified as central labor unions and as State branches. Central labor unions are representative bodies composed of delegates from each local union in a certain city and are formed to secure combined union action within the limits of that city and its immediate vicinity.


Such a body is the Providence Central Federated Union. It was organized March 27, 1884, as the Rhode Island Central Trades and Labor Union and six years ago changed its name to the Central Federated Union. Its original constitution, which has been but slightly changed, is as follows:


  1. “Preamble: Whereas, Experience has proven the value of and necessity for a general union among wage earners of different callings, so that concerted action may be had upon matters of common concern: therefore:

  2. “Resolved, That we, as representatives of the various trade and labor organizations of Rhode Island, in order to gain this end, do adopt the following:

  3. “Declaration of Principles- We affirm it to be the chief duty of this union to classes of workers as the first step toward greater industrial freedom.

  4. “We therefore pledge ourselves to extend all reasonable aid in organizing the unorganized trades, and assisting to build up those already in existence.

  5. “We believe in the independence of craftsmen of all callings, and while conceding the right of each affiliated society to manage its own affairs, we declare it the duty of this central body to assist all local organizations in defending their rights, and in endeavoring to secure better conditions of labor for their members.

  6. “We affirm one of the main objects of this union to be educational; to provide a local congress of labor, where questions of general interest may be discussed.

  7. “We shall aim to form a society where representative men of the labor movement may become acquainted for mutual instruction and improvement where ideas may be freely exchanged and where the grave problems of social reform may be debated and analyzed.

  8. “It shall be the duty of this organization to assist in the public agitation of labor reform principles, and especially those of the short-hour movement as formulated by the American Federation of Labor.

  9. “We assert that the economic integrity of organized labor can best be maintained by a strict policy of absolute political non-partisanship, and declare it inadvisable that this union shall ever pledge its support to any political organization, national, State, or municipal.

  10. “We recommend however, that every wage-earner shall exercise an independent use of the ballot, and, as a citizen, vote for those men and measures, irrespective of party, which he deems for the best interests of labor.

 

No Political Action.

 

“The Rhode Island Central Trades and Labor Union shall claim no jurisdiction over the political acts of any individual delegate unless such action be taken in his capacity as a delegate. In such cases, the delegate shall be subject to the penalty of revocation of all rights and privileges in this body.

 

“We declare ourselves in favor of State or municipal legislation to secure the following measures, and it is the duty of this organization to use all honorable influence with legislators to accomplish its enactment:

 

“1. The furtherance of the shorter hour workday for all employees.

“2. The abolition of child labor in manufacturing and mercantile establishments, and the raising of the school age to 16.

“3. The abolition of contract labor on all public work.

“4. The abolition of employing armed forces by private corporations.

“5. The regulation of prison labor so as to reduce to a minimum its competition with free industry.

“6. An Employers' Liability Act that shall not interfere with the common law right of recovery.

“7. The initiative and referendum principle of making laws governing the State.

 

“The Rhode Island Central Trades and Labor Union shall consist of delegates from any regularly constituted trade or labor organization in Rhode Island; but no delegate from any organization or party of a political nature shall be admitted to this body- the basis of membership to be five from every organization numbering 100 or fraction thereof.

 

“Officers of the union shall consist of a President, two Vice Presidents, Recording and Corresponding Secretary, Financial Secretary, Treasurer, five Trustees, five Auditors, and a Sergeant-at-Arms. They shall hold office for the term of six months and until their successors are qualified.

 

“They shall be nominated and elected on the last regular meeting in January and July.

 

“The executive committee shall consist of the President, two Vice Presidents, Treasurer, Recording, Corresponding and Financial Secretary and Sergeant-at-Arms.”

 

In case of a dispute between an employer and any organization represented in this body, when request shall be made by such organization, the case may be referred to a special committee for investigation, and if the complaint is found, upon report of the committee, to be just, a call shall be made on all trade and labor organizations here represented to assist the one in difficulty.

 

This union, recognizing the necessity of systematic action by the delegates representing the different branches of labor, deems it advisable to form the following standing committees to be appointed from the floor, which shall be composed of not less than three members each.

 

It shall be the duty of the organizing committee to visit any and all branches of labor when requested by the proper authorities, assist in organizing any branch of industry that may not be organized, and assist in strengthening those that are organized. Its necessary traveling expenses shall be paid for by the Rhode Island Central Trades and Labor Union.

 

The committee on statistics shall prepare a full statement of the condition, strength and officers of every labor union in this State, wether represented in the Rhode Island Trades and Labor Union or not, seek all information relative to labor organizations and report to the organizing committee when they deem it necessary to visit branches of labor.

 

It shall be the duty of the legislative committee to use all honorable means to secure labor legislation; to prepare petitions and attend public hearings on this subject, and to prepare for introduction before the Legislature as the Rhode Island Central Trades and Labor Union may direct. They shall make reports of all steps taken, subject to the approval of this body.

 

It shall be the duty of the grievance committee to acquaint the members of this organization with the names and addresses of establishments handling the products of unfair shops, and to use all lawful means to decrease the patronage of such unfair goods by dealers and consumers.

 

It shall be the duty of the label committee to endeavor to secure the adoption of a union label by all organized craftsmen, to familiarize union men and women with such labels and to keep a copy of each label for the inspection of the delegates to this body, and in all other ways to advance the interests of union made goods. If a label is brought to the Central Trades and Labor Union for endorsement, it shall be referred to the label committee, who shall investigate its claims and report to the next meeting of the Central Trades and Labor Union.

 

It shall be the duty of the education committee to investigate any cases of violation of the law which may be brought to its attention; to seek the co-operation of all bodies of organized labor in the enforcement of the law, to compile and submit such evidence as it may obtain for the furtherance of such enforcement, and to collect statistics bearing upon the subject of child labor.

 

Delegates absent from three consecutive notified meetings of a committee upon which they may be appointed shall be so reported to the President by the Chairman, and the President shall declare the place vacant unless sufficient excuse is made, and he shall fill the vacancy within 10 days; if possible from the delegation to which the delinquent committeeman belonged.

 

Section 1. The above shall be composed of delegates of trades employed in the erection and construction of buildings only. The same to be those who are represented in the Rhode Island Central Trades and Labor Union.

 

Section 2. They shall have the power to frame laws and working rules governing their trades, but in no case shall they infringe on or conflict with the constitution and laws of the Rhode Island Central Trades and Labor Union.

 

Section 3. All grievances and matters appertaining to those trades shall come before them only, but in cases where they should require the assistance of the body as a whole the matter must then be submitted to the central body before any action is taken.

 

Section 4. They shall also have power to issue quarterly working cards for the purpose of ascertaining the union men employed on buildings. The card to read as follows:

 

Rhode Island Central Trades and Labor

Union

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Building Trades Section

 

Section 5. This building trades section shall meet at such times as said building trades section may determine.

 

What Labor Has Accomplished.

 

Many of the aims and objects for the furtherance of which it was organized have been accomplished. Shorter hours for all employees has been secured; the abolition of child labor in manufacturing and mercantile establishments has been abolished; an employers' liability act has been passed by the General Assembly and is now on the statute books of the State; so is a 54-hour act, and above all the wage earners of Rhode Island work to-day under better conditions than they ever worked before. Much progress has been made, but the future is bright and promising. In the big Labor Day parade to-morrow there will be two unions which were not in line last year for the simple reason that they were not in existence. After an industrial struggle which at times seemed to take the aspect of a political fight the textile workers in the Greystone Mills rejected the advance of the Industrial Workers of the World and affiliated themselves with the American Federation of Labor. They will be in line to-morrow. After several years of agitation and a number of failures, the employees of the Rhode Island Company succeeded during the past year in forming a labor union which is affiliated with the American Federation of Labor. Within a few months of its organization it has 1000 members, and most of these will participate in the labor demonstration to-morrow.

 

The jewelry workers have also reorganized and it is hoped that before many months have passed that their union will be among the strongest in Rhode Island. One of the events of next year in local labor circles will be the big convention of the International Typographical Union, which will be held in this city. Through the efforts of the boosting committee of the local union, headed by John J. Murphy, the delegates to the recent convention in Nashville, Tenn. voted to come to Providence next year, and this will be of inestimable benefit to the labor movement in general.

 

The officers of the Central Federated Union are: President-Roderick A. McGarry; Vice President-Bart McCarthy; Second Vice President-Samuel R. Macready; Secretary- Lawrence A. Grace; Treasurer-Philip Agnew; Trustees-Thomas F. Gamble, C.A. Dunn, Patrick Hawkins.

 

The Building Trades Council.

 

Besides the Central Federated Union there is also in this city a branch of the Building Trades Council of the American Federation of Labor, which is affiliated with the central body in so far as the local movement is concerned, but which, in matters pertaining to the building trades, acts independently.

 

Since the organization of the Building Trades Council, Feb. 6, 1902, the wisdom of the step has been clearly demonstrated in many ways.

 

The council was organized with but five local unions, which number has been increased by the addition of most all of the trades engaged in the erection, construction and alteration of buildings.

 

Realizing that men only who are actually engaged in the erection and construction of buildings were best fitted to solve the problems that are constantly brought before them, delegates from such trades are the only ones seated in the council.

 

“The interests of one are the concern of all” is the motto of the council, and believing this to be the right line to follow is shown by results, such as the betterment of conditions, the eight-hour law, and a helpful increase in the wage scale for all affiliated trades.

 

The objects of the council are fair and living conditions for the men who work, and to eliminate from the building industry the chief cause of poor conditions, namely, the non-union man, and also to establish that harmony of feeling with the contractor that shall make it possible for work upon buildings to be carried on without trouble of any kind, which certainly would appeal to all fair-minded people.

 

The fear expressed at the inception of the council that sympathetic strikes ordered by that body would disrupt the affiliated unions has not only proved groundless, but instead has been the means of building up many weak trades, strengthening the more powerful ones and of driving out of the competitive field many cheap self-styled contractors who employ inferior non-union workmen at low wages.

 

Lack of knowledge or appreciation of the best methods looking toward harmony between contractors and employees has shown itself at various times in the attitude of contractors and others, which seemingly had for its intent the disruption of the council, but the council has stood firm for its principles, and after several years of its existence has proven that it is best for employee and contractor alike.

 

The Building Trades Department and its allied Councils typify mutual understanding in its highest form. The objects aimed for are:

 

  1. Rigid loyalty to the labor movement as exemplified by the American Federation of Labor.

  2. A settlement of trades questions between the workmen involved without exposing others to loss or injury by strike or other cessation of labor.

  3. To encourage agreements and maintain them inviolate until their lawful expiration.

  4. To honorably discourage strikes whenever and wherever possible.

  5. To protect the autonomy of every trade and organization represented.

  6. To secure the best possible protection against the loss of life and limb for the workmen in the important but hazardous building industry.

  7. To impartially award all new and ingenious devices, specialties or methods of construction to the trade to which these rightfully belong.

  8. To encourage and develop a thorough and intelligent organization of all workmen engaged in building erections.

 

The officers of the Building Trades Council are: President- J.H. Duggan; Vice President- George Lambert; Secretary and Treasurer- William St. Clair; Recording Secretary- James B. O'Neil; Sergeant-At-Arms- R.A. Ripley.

 

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To-morrow's holiday for the workers in the labor vineyard brings to the minds of most trade unionists hereabouts the annual convention of the International Typographical Union, which will be held in this city next year. The “I.T.U.”, as it is always referred to by printers and their allied craftsmen, is one of the oldest trade unions in the country, and its annual gathering is far and away the event in printerdom as far as union men are concerned. Next year's convention of typo's will hold especial interest for members of the craft who reside in the East, as but one session of the body has recently been held here, that in Boston in 1908.

 

Another reason which makes the coming of the printers' delegates of more than usual interest at this time is the national prominence of its President, who in recent months has been very much in the public eye, first through his mention for the office of Public Printer and again in his nomination by Gov. Sulzer as commissioner of Labor for the Empire State. The latter nomination was not confirmed by the New York Senate and it is not expected by President Lynch's close friends and those best acquainted with the New York situation that it will.

 

“Jim” Lynch, as he is affectionately termed by those whose affairs he has directed for nearly a decade and a half, is easily entitled to the regard in which he is held in the printers' craft and in the labor movement generally. The head of an organization of 60,000 members in the United States and Canada, often re-elected after a campaign of the most bitter character and country-wide effort on the part of his opponents, he stands to-day the peer of Gompers, and in the estimation of union labor's closest political observers, as his logical successor as the head of the American Federation of Labor or labor's representative in the dominant political party.

 

Suggested political honors do not turn the head of the President of the I.T.U. He points to the many benefits enjoyed exclusively by the members of the big printer's organization, namely the Printer's Home for the Aged at Colorado Springs, Col., the old age pension fund, the graduated mortuary benefits, the employment agency and the monthly trade journal with its circulation of upward of 60,000 copies and its substantial reserve fund. These have nearly all been introduced during the past 15 years. Salaries of $2500 per annum are paid to the executive officers, and in the case of the President would undoubtedly be materially added to before parting with his services.

 

Providence citizens will have a chance to see how a modern labor convention is conducted when the printers meet here next August. The second Monday in that month is the date for assembling. A week previously, however, President Lynch, Secretary Hays and their secretaries and stenographers will arrive. The laws committee is also on the ground a week ahead of the convention proper. This is a committee appointed yearly by the President and comprises seven members chosen from the delegates in different cities at the election next previous. The laws committee is regarded as the most important and the members are remunerated at the end of the convention. A score of other committees take care of the special and routine matters referred to them during the first three days of the meeting and the convention proceeds with the regularity of a municipal or State legislative body. Indeed it is doubtful if many of the latter bodies ever transact business with the dispatch for which I.T.U. conventions are noted.

 

Elaborate formalities and entertainments generally precede the business of the convention, and the Providence typos intend to set a new mark in the line for the delegates and visitors next summer. Providence clubs are already forming in Cleveland, Chicago, Washington, and Nashville and the 60 th annual convention of the Typographical Union gives promise thus early of being the biggest in its history.

 

The delegates to Nashville from the local union, who succeeded in winning next year's convention for this city, received a warm welcome from their fellow craftsmen on their return home and have been busy since telling the story of their victory.

 

Plans are now under way by the local “boosters” to make the meeting a banner one and to send their visitors away from Providence next August saying that the get-together in the city of Roger Williams was the biggest and best ever.

 

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Images accompanying article:

Roderick A. McGarry, “President of the Central Federated Union and Chief Marshall of the Labor Day Parade”.

 

Lawrence A. Grace, “Prominent Labor Leader, for Years Secretary of the Central Federated Union, and Chief of Staff of the Labor Day Parade”.

 

John J. Murphy, “Chief of the Providence “Boosters” at the Nashville Convention of the International Typographical Union, Who Was Largely Responsible for Bringing That Important Labor Body to This City Next Year”.

 

Hon. R. Livingston Beekman, “Senator from Newport Who is Greatly Interested in the Labor Union Movement and Who Saved the State Thousands of Dollars by Having the Workmen's Compensation Act, Which Bears His Name, Drawn at His Own Expense by a Well Known Law Firm and Then Successfully Fought for Its Passage in the Legislature”.

 

Samuel R. Macready, “A Member of the Typographical Union, Vice President of the Central Federated Union, and Chairman of the Labor Day Committee”.

 

Philip Agnew, “Secretary of the Bartender's Union and Treasurer of the Labor Day Committee”.