History of a Great Union - PACE
Since the 1980s the UPIU and the OCAW have worked together to provide a progressive voice inside the AFL-CIO and internationally. Both unions have been leaders in the effort to internationalize their own members' campaigns and to render assistance to unions abroad.
When it became clear in the mid-1990s that new leadership was needed in the AFL-CIO, both unions stepped up to the plate to promote the change. Both played important roles in electing the Sweeney/Trumka/Chavez-Thompson team to the labor federation's helm in 1995.
In 1996 the two unions began to talk seriously about merger, continuing a discussion that had begun in 1979. Intensive talks through 1997 and 1998 resulted in a workable plan to combine their forces. On Jan. 4, 1999, both unions came together in simultaneous conventions, and both approved the merger by voice vote.
On that day, PACE was born as a vibrant new union committed to organizing new members, serving its current members and bringing about a better world for workers everywhere.
A Short History of the UPIU
Ever since a small group of paperworkers organized the first local in 1884 in Mt. Holyoke, Mass., the history of unionism in the paper industry has been one of growth and expansion. The first locals began in New England, but the present-day UPIU has members across the United States and Canada. Originally, union membership was concentrated among skilled workers, but today the union has members across the paper industry as well as those from many other industries. Unions in the paper industry have consistently sought to broaden their horizons. From small beginnings, the UPIU and its predecessor organizations built a union of 250,000 members, and the union intends to continue its long tradition of growth.
Paperworkers have one of the longest traditions of union activity in American history, with the first organizing efforts dating back to 1765. Prior to the 1930s, however, there were no federal laws to protect union supporters from being fired, and those who supported organizing efforts often risked losing their livelihood. Despite these risks, many local unions were formed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These eventually coalesced into two organizations; the International Brotherhood of Papermakers, representing skilled members on the paper machines, and the International Brotherhood of Pulp, Sulphite, and Paper Mill Workers, representing skilled, semi-skilled, and non-skilled members in the mills. Present-day UPIU members owe a great deal to their predecessors who were willing to risk all in the battle to establish a strong union in the paper industry. Time and time again, American employers bitterly resisted workers' efforts to improve their conditions. In 1912, most employers fought workers' attempts to secure the eight-hour working day; in the 1920s, paperworkers endured a five-year long strike at International Paper Co. that saw union supporters evicted from their homes, guns erected on mill property and strikers shot by company guards.
Workers' desire for unionism was finally rewarded in the 1930s when the federal government, for the first time, recognized the right to form and organize unions. With federal protection now in place, union membership in the paper industry took off. During the 1930s, the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) established its own organizing committee for paperworkers that became the United Paperworkers of America a few years later. Becoming firmly established in the 1930s and 1940s, pulp and paper unions negotiated wage improvements and many of the benefits that UPIU members continue to enjoy today. Since the 1930s, union pressure has also helped to establish paperworkers as some of the most highly-paid manufacturing workers in the entire United States. In 1957, after the merger of the AFL and the CIO united the house of labor, the CIO Paperworkers merged with the Papermakers to form the United Papermakers and Paperworkers (UPP). Then, in 1972, the UPP merged with the Pulp and Sulphite Workers to form the UPIU.
In recent years, the UPIU has continued to confront new challenges. In the 1980s, for example, the union again faced determined employer opposition and bitter strikes as corporations pressed to exact concessions from UPIU members. The union, however, has met all challenges head-on, and has increasingly recognized the need for all workers to stand together. The UPIU continues to diversify its membership base, joining with other unions in a drive to build a more powerful union. In 1991, the UPIU welcomed 74 locals of the Independent Workers of North America (IWNA) into its fold. The IWNA merger brought in over 7,500 new members, who work in the cement and kaolin industries. In January 1994, the UPIU merged with the Allied Industrial Workers, gaining members in automotive parts and a wide variety of related industries.
In recent years, the UPIU has continued to welcome members not simply from pulp and paper mills but from many other industries. The union has a broad membership base, and a pending merger with the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers' Union would only continue this diversification. The UPIU is truly a union for all workers, and it looks to the future committed to organizing in this inclusive spirit. In 1996, Boyd Young was elected as UPIU President, and he continues to reaffirm the union's commitment to organizing the unorganized, urging the union's staff and locals to preserve the its future by "Changing to Organize."
Throughout history, workers in the UPIU and its predecessor organizations have fought and sacrificed to build the large, successful union that exists today. They have battled against determined corporate resistance to maintain a decent standard of living, whether it be in the 1920s or the 1980s. The UPIU members' spirit is captured by Leonard Wensel, a member from Lock Haven, Penn., who participated in the bitter 1987-88 strike against International Paper Co.:
"I am union. I was forged with the sweat of many people. I was born to provide strength and protection for workers worldwide and I am dedicated to the goals of fair treatment for workers throughout the world and advance the goals of freedom everywhere. The blood of many members flows through my veins. I am thousands of people striving for better working conditions. . . . I can be found in small villages and large towns in countries all over the world. I am black, white, red and yellow and every color in between. I am a catholic, a protestant, a jew, a christian and many other religions. . . . I am the spirit of the world. I was the spirit that would not die during the confrontations with companies in the '20s and '30s. I am the spirit that small unions spread and developed into large unions and then into international unions. I am the spirit that still leads people to run for union office. . . . I have made my mark on time by standing with the leaders of the earliest of unions and with the newest of locals. I am a union member building my country. Be proud, be great and know that I am you, a union member."
A Short History of the Independent Workers of North America
In 1991, 74 locals of the Independent Workers of North America (IWNA), representing 7,500 members, voted to affiliate with the UPIU. After seven turbulent years of reorganization, including four years of disaffiliation from the AFL-CIO, the cement-industry union found a workable structure and a similar striving for union democracy in the UPIU.
When 130 delegates gathered for what would be the final IWNA convention in February 1991, they brought along the memories of their struggle for accountable leadership. They also brought the results of balloting and discussions on affiliation around the country by each of their locals.
Taking the extra time to emphasize the drama of the decision, and the fact it was rooted in these rank-and-file discussions, delegates chose to conduct a roll-call vote. When all the votes were recorded, the IWNA chose representation with the UPIU by a 92 percent margin. Seventy locals became part of the UPIU, and four major locals at Lehigh-Portland Cement Company voted to affiliate several months later in Board-conducted elections.
The IWNA unions primarily represented workers involved in the manufacture of building materials and mining. The majority of IWNA unions had roots in the United Cement, Lime, Gypsum, and Allied Workers (CLGAW), which was reorganized as a division of the Boilermakers in April 1984. The IWNA was formed when cement, lime, mining, and gypsum locals began to leave the Boilermakers after that union's August 1986 convention when dissension occurred within the Boilermakers' leadership.
Despite problems, the cement workers short-lived marriage to the Boilermakers had a number of successes. An in-plant strategy known as the Solidarity and Unity Program was developed and played a role in reviving locals that were decimated by the recession of 1981-82. The program was generally credited with helping the unions "hold the line" in the summer of 1984, when 70 percent of cement workers nationally were without a contract or under company-implemented contracts.
There were numerous threads of similarity in the cement unions and the UPIU. Both unions grew rapidly during the Great Depression. Both placed a strong emphasis on open decision-making, and both traditionally had high-wage bases, developed through pattern agreements within respective industries. Both unions began the use of in-plant strategies as a response to company-imposed concessionary bargaining in the 1980s.
The affiliation agreement signed by the IWNA and the UPIU leadership in 1991 specified that IWNA locals would remain as formerly constituted.
A Short History of the AIW
The Allied Industrial Workers of America (AIW) was chartered by the American Federation of Labor (AFL) as the United Auto Workers on August 26, 1935, to organize auto industry workers in the bitterly anti-union days of the Great Depression.
The charter was one of the first issued to an American union to organize on an industrial basis. The old AFL, which was founded in 1881, had traditionally organized unions on a craft basis-electricians in one union, plumbers in another, machinists in their own craft union. William Green, then President of the AFL, recognized that organizing on a craft basis would not be effective in large industrial plants.
With the enactment of the National Labor Relations Act in 1935, millions of industrial workers sought to organize their own unions.
On August 26 of that year, just eight weeks after President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the National Labor Relations Act into law, the AFL's Green called the first convention of the UAW-AFL in Detroit, Michigan. Some 250 delegates from auto plants throughout the country attended. Over the objections of auto industry workers who sought an open election of officers, Green appointed Francis Dillon, an AFL representative, president of the UAW, and Homer Martin as vice president.
Martin immediately began visiting various strongholds of auto industry workers-already organized in UAW locals-and urged support for the democratic election of officers directly from auto-related plants. The AFL finally agreed in April 1936 to call a convention in South Bend, Indiana, to allow UAW members to elect their own officers. The delegates promptly voted in Martin as their union's first elected president.
Homer Martin was just what the UAW needed at the time. A spellbinding speaker, he was an outstanding organizer. At the time he took over as president of the UAW, the union had approximately 24,000 dues-paying members. Sparked by dramatic industrial actions, such as sit-down strikes, 1937 proved to be a year of fabulous growth. In February of that year, membership of the union stood at 88,000. But by October, dues-paying membership soared to 400,000.
In the midst of this unprecedented union growth, brewing factionalism was seeping into the burgeoning AFL, factionalism that would soon have a profound effect on the auto workers' union. In 1936, John L. Lewis, president of the United Mine Workers, formed the Committee for Industrial Organizations (CIO). Most of the industrial unions within the AFL immediately joined the CIO. In September of that year, the AFL suspended all of the unions associated with the CIO.
By the end of 1937, when efforts to resolve the differences between the AFL and CIO failed, the CIO formally broke from the AFL. Meanwhile, a split was also growing within the UAW. The rift culminated in 1939 when the larger, Detroit area local unions decided to stay with the CIO under the new leadership of Lewis. The Homer Martin faction, carrying the original UAW charter but with fewer members, re-elected the fiery former preacher as president and continued as the UAW-AFL, the predecessor of the AIW.
The AFL restored the original charter to the union, and promised that it would be "an autonomous industrial union" with complete jurisdiction in auto plants, auto parts plants, and in aircraft and farm implement industries. Such a pronouncement by the AFL was seen as a major change of federation policy.
This meant that from 1939 to 1955—the year the AFL and CIO merged—there were two United Auto Workers unions. Shortly following the AFL and CIO merger convention in December 1955, the UAW-AFL changed its name to the Allied Industrial Workers of America.
The AIW grew steadily until the mid-1970s. But throughout the 1980s, the union slowly lost membership as more and more industrial companies moved their plants from the union's stronghold areas to rural areas of the South or to Third World countries. The AIW also lost membership due to technological change. By the early 1990s, the AIW's membership had declined by 50 percent from its 1975 figure of 100,000 members.
Nick Serraglio, who had served as the union's secretary-treasurer for two years and as a vice president and regional director in Cleveland for 18 years, was elected president in 1991. He immediately began seeking a larger, stronger union with more resources to merge with the Milwaukee union. Delegates to the 1991 convention had instructed the AIW's executive board to seek a merger partner.
An AIW merger committee headed by Serraglio reached agreement with the UPIU board in the first quarter of 1993. The AIW executive board approved the merger unanimously, and delegates to the AIW's 29th Constitutional Convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota on September 20, 1993, ratified the merger by a 302-35 vote. The merger became effective on January 1, 1994.
A Short History of the OCAW
Although local unions in the oil industry since the early 1880s had been born, had fought battles both won and lost, and had died as workers' demands were met or employer pressure grew too great, the first lasting union in the oil industry arose when oil rig workers in California's San Joaquin Valley called a strike in 1917 to punctuate their demand for an eight-hour day.
This strike and a simultaneous battle on the Texas Gulf Coast led to the issuance in 1918 of one of the American Federation of Labor's only wall-to-wall industrial union charters. The union, originally known by the unwieldy name of the Intl. Assn. of Oil Field, Gas Well & Refinery Workers of America, became the Oil Workers Intl. Union in 1937.
The OCAW's roots have been in small towns and rural areas outside the major urban areas of the Northeast and Midwest. This does much to account for the strong streak of independence and the persistent commitment to union democracy exhibited by the members the organization over the years.
In the late 1930s, as conflicts grew between industrial workers and the more traditional craft-oriented unions that dominated the AFL, the Oil Workers joined with six other unions to found what became the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). The CIO led a renewed upsurge of organizing that put labor in the U.S. on the map to stay.
Also during the 1930s, workers in many of the urban gas houses that burned coal into coke for the steel industry and into cooking gas for homes before the advent of gas pipeline networks organized into local unions. The locals were soon chartered as District 50 of John L. Lewis's United Mine Workers.
Many chemical workers began to join District 50. In the early 1940s, after Lewis split with the CIO, most of the gas house locals and chemical workers' locals split with District 50 and received a CIO charter as the United Gas, Coke & Chemical Workers of America.
Throughout the next decade both unions enjoyed frequent organizing success and both continued to grow. As the unions grew, leaders in both organizations began to see the virtue of combining forces. I· 1955, the two unions did so, forming the modern OCAW.
That same year, the AFL and the CIO merged, creating the AFL-CIO we know today.
In the 1960s, the union succeeded after many years in establishing nationwide bargaining as the norm in the oil industry. During that time period, the OCAW became a key player in the effort that led Congress to pass the Occupational Safety & Health Act (OSHA) late in 1970. Three years later, the union signed its first collective bargaining agreement containing a specific health and safety clause.
These agreements soon became standard in OCAW contracts, but not without a fight. As the 1973 collective bargaining agreements began to be signed by oil company after oil company, Shell Oil refused to negotiate health and safety language in its new labor contracts.
It took a four-month strike, marked by an upsurge of support from unions around the world and by many in the environmental community, to force Shell's agreement to health and safety language. The OCAW continued to lead the way on health and safety issues throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
In 1974, Karen Silkwood, a young OCAW member at the Kerr-McGee Nuclear Corp. plant in Crescent, Okla., began to raise safety concerns and protest working conditions in the plant. She was exposed to a massive dose of plutonium, and contended her exposure was due to unsafe conditions at the plant.
A few weeks later her car ran off the road as she was driving to meet an OCAW representative and a New York Times reporter. She was killed instantly, and there were suggestions of foul play. Documentation she had been carrying in her car vanished. Silkwood's family later won a multi-million dollar damage suit against the company.
At the time of the merger, the OCAW represented 80,000 members in the oil patch, in refineries, in chemical plants, and in the pharmaceutical and nuclear industries. The union's largest concentrations of members have been along the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast, in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and the upper Midwest, and along the West Coast.