How pervasive was White Supremacy?

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Yesterday when I researched my father’s work with the International Association of Machinists, I found a couple of troubling facts. I feel proud of his work as a union employee but it should come as no surprise that the IAM was a severely flawed organization.

First of all, the “IAM is regarded as one of the most corrupted unions in the country!” This bold declaration comes from IAM Exposed which is loaded with documented facts. Remember Jimmy Hoffa? That was Teamsters but it should give us a clue. After all, as Lord Acton once said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

My Dad died all too early at 56 years old in 1968. So, I guess today’s bloated and dishonest IAM leadership does not directly apply. But, undoubtedly it was part of his experience. Maybe that is why he got out when did. Two steps ahead of the FEDS? May be.

The second and much more troubling discovery was the White Only stance of the IAM.  Once again, I should not be surprised. I lived in Jacksonville, Florida and experienced plain, old racism and bigotry on a daily basis. Read this from the history of the IAM in Wikipedia:

“In 1892, IAM signed a contract with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, establishing the first organized shop at a railroad in the United States. Because IAM had a color bar, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) did not accept IAM right away.After IAM finally did join the AFL, AFL President Samuel Gompers urged IAM to drop its whites-only rule. But IAM maintained racial segregation, arguing that it needed to retain southern members. IAM chief Talbot’s wanted the union to be “a fraternity of white men born in the United States who possessed good moral character.”

It wasn’t until my father had moved out of the IAM that in 1948 it finally opened itself to all regardless of color. I suspect it was a bit like major league sports. Workers of  color were needed in the unions just like Jackie Robinson was great baseball player.

One big reminder: We are not just talking the 1940’s and 50’s. Those days just continued the heritage of the European occupation of North America and the new settlers securing African slaves to work for them. Though White Supremacy pervaded my father’s life and times it was certainly not new and was still completely acceptable to those around us.

But worst of all: White Supremacy lives on in our days. Heaven only knows, if the our federal government promotes it, then how can anyone deny it is still present.

As for me, I continue to listen and try to understand. One the other hand, my two sisters sadly continue to think just like the white population of Dad’s days. What about you and yours?

 

 

Why I support unions

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When I was a toddler in Miami during World War II, my father was a machinist at ** Consolidated Vultee Aircraft (Convair), ranked fourth among United States corporations by value of wartime production contracts, higher than the giants like Douglas Aircraft, Boeing, and Lockheed.

Dad was in a labor union, today named The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. By the time I was in elementary school he was actually employed by the union, at that time called the IAM. He was a Grand Lodge Representative, one of the full-time staff of the IAM responsible for contract negotiations, organizing, arbitrating grievances, and representing the IAM before the National Labor Relations Board.

In 1948, National Airlines, based in Jacksonville, Florida, locked out striking IAM workers. Those men armed themselves and threatened scab workers who dared cross the picket line. So Dad went there to represent the IAM and negotiate with the likes of George T. “Ted” Baker, National Airlines President, who was notorious for his anti-union stance. And we moved to Jax because it was a very long struggle.

That job in general and the National Airlines strike in particular was tough.  It will come as no surprise, then, that by 1950 he had quit to go work as a wholesale meat distributor in Jacksonville. But the union was in his bones. The union is also in my DNA. So, even never having been a member of one, I am an 100% union supporter.

There are about 14.5 million union members in the United States. Guess what, though. The highest unionization rates in 2016 were in education, training, and library occupations (34.6 percent). Huh. Who knew?

We think of Labor Day as the official end of Summer. Most of us don’t celebrate the unions. Some of us will remember, however, what they have done for workers everywhere. And, as we should, be thankful.

 

**I have always thought it ironic that the plane my father built was the PBY Catalina flying boat because after he died my mother married an ex-Navy guy who served aboard that aircraft during the War.

 

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