Thursday, December 13, 2007
M & M Turns Attention From Fiestas to Labor Issues
By ROGER M. GRACE
The Merchants’ and Manufacturers’ Assn. of Los Angeles staged a fiesta in 1907—an “electrified” one with dazzling, brightly lighted floats in night parades. A huge American flag was aglow at Third Street and Broadway, comprised of colored bulbs. The fiesta was a financial success, but was the last one with which the M & M would have any connection. Its role was changing markedly.
The city’s first grand-scale fiesta, dubbed “Fiesta de Los Angeles,” had been put on by the Merchant’s Assn. in 1894…and the organizing of that event was the sole purpose of the group when it was formed the year before. The same group coordinated a fiesta in 1895. The M & M in 1896 and 1897 shared responsibilities for the fiesta with the Chamber of Commerce and the Board of Trade. There was no fiesta in 1898…the imminence of the Spanish-American War put a damper on honoring the city’s Hispanic heritage…and no fiesta in 1899 or 1900. The event was revived in 1901.
As previously detailed here, the M & M induced President William McKinley to come to Los Angeles in 1901 to attend the fiesta, of which it had charge. It was now called the “Fiesta de Las Flores,” swiping a floral theme from Pasadena’s Tournament of Roses, instituted in 1890. Although the M & M had invited McKinley here, a committee dominated by the Chamber of Commerce managed the activities of the presidential party.
There were fiestas—featuring electrical parades—in 1902 and 1903, with the M & M organizing them. The one in 1902 was held in conjunction with the convention here of the National Federal of Women’s Clubs. President Theodore Roosevelt was a guest at the 1903 event, having been invited to Los Angeles by the Chamber of Commerce.
There was no fiesta in 1904 or 1905, but one took place in 1906—thanks to a national Shriners convention being held here—and the M & M had chief responsibility for it.
On April 17 of that year, it designated May 6 as a clean-up day for the city, explaining, in a statement:
“During the week from May 7 to 12, this city will entertain at least 100,000 strangers, and it will reflect to the credit of every citizen that the streets, vacant lots and grounds surrounding the homes be in a thoroughly clean and attractive condition.”
There was also a fiesta the next year, again held in connection with the Shriners.
That was it, the last of the fiestas, until one was held in 1931 in connection with the 150th birthday of the city. The M & M played no role in that fiesta or any of those held, sporadically, since then.
The fiestas ceased because of diminishing public interest in them. Also, the M & M’s focus was shifting.
By 1907, its primary mission had become that of maintaining Los Angeles as a “free” city…that is, one in which a worker was free to assume employment without paying for a “union card.”
It was 10 years earlier that the M & M backed the Maler & Zobelein brewery when it was boycotted because its employees, content with wages and working conditions, would not join a union.
Then, right around the turn of the century, a boycott was launched against the Los Angeles Times, which had an open shop, and against any businesses that advertised in that newspaper... with the spotlight cast on the huge department store owned by A. Hamburger & Sons at Eighth Street and Broadway. (It later became May Company.) The M & M supported the Times and its advertisers.
The M & M was soon speaking on behalf of the employers.
In 1907, there came a Teamsters’ strike. It occurred May 1 after the contract between the union and employers expired without a new accord being reached. The union had pressed its demand for a pay boost of 50 cents a day; the trucking companies posted notices on April 30 that they would offer a quarter a day increase and that henceforth, they would employ drivers without regard to union membership. The May 4 edition of the Times quotes M & M Secretary Felix Zeehandelaar as saying:
“We insist on an open shop and are prepared to fight this strike just as long as it may last. Union men can go back to work under the same conditions as existed before the strike when they were working under a labor-union contract.
“....No discrimination will be made against union men. No man will be turned away merely because he is a member of the union, but the employers must be the judges of whom they shall hire and of the qualifications of the applicants.
“We are hiring men as fast as we can use them at present and in a very short time we shall have all we need.”
Next week, I’ll tell of the outcome of the strike and what became of the M & M.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company
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