Thursday, December 20, 2007
M & M Fights Off Efforts to Create Union Shops
By ROGER M. GRACE
When a Teamsters strike was instituted in Los Angeles on May 1, 1907, trucking companies were the immediate target, but wholesale and retail businesses in the area stood to lose substantial revenues by virtue of the non-arrival of shipments. The Merchants’ and Manufacturers’ Assn. took charge of the situation.
What the union sought was a new contract with a higher wage...50 cents a day more. As related last week, M & M Secretary Felix Zeehandelaar spoke on behalf of the trucking companies in announcing that they were actively recruiting drivers, that they would now maintain open shops, and that union members were free to apply.
The Teamsters sought to stir up sympathy strikes by other unions. The move failed.
The union on May 7 offered to call off the action if all the strikers could get their jobs back. The answer was “no.” Only the worthiest would be employed.
On May 10, the strike ended. Those union members who were accepted for reemployment would receive the 25-cents-an-hour pay boost the companies had agreed to before the strike.
Union tailors went on strike. The M & M responded by recruiting tailors from the East and providing publicity and support to the city’s “open-shop” suit-makers. An ad placed by the M & M, appearing in the Los Angeles Times on Feb. 16, 1908, is headed “The ‘Open Shop,’ ” followed by a smaller headline, reading: “Skilled Workmen Prefer to Work in It.” The ad explains that in the open shop, “[t]here is at all times an incentive to make each garment better than the last, as the remuneration is based on real merit,” while in a closed shop, “the mediocre workman draws the same wages as the thoughtful, painstaking conscientious workman of superior ability.”
The men the M & M brought from the east are marked by “their ability for fine workmanship,” the advertisement declares, adding that by patronizing the establishments employing them, “you not only encourage and stimulate open-shop principles but have the benefit of these men making your clothes.”
There then appears a list of the local tailor shops that were bucking the union, with their addresses.
Another technique the M & M employed 100 years ago this week was a reverse boycott. While unions were urging their adherents to avoid those shops, the M & M was exhorting businessmen to make a point of patronizing them. A letter sent on Dec. 22, 1907, begins:
“The members of the Tailors’ Union have been on strike for more than a year, demanding a closed shop, and thereby depriving their employers of their rights as American citizens to conduct their business as they see fit. We appeal to you as a citizen, who has the vital interests of the community at heart and who desires that our prosperity and development continue, to support the merchant tailors whose names appear on the inclosed card….”
All of the major clothes-cutting establishments in Los Angeles became open shops, and the strike thus fizzled.
When a threat loomed of a massive multi-union strike in 1910, Zeehandelaar defused it by boasting of a potential army of 400,000 trained workers who would be glad to come here, filling the job of every striking union member.
The annual dinner of the M & M was held Jan. 15, 1917, at the Alexandria Hotel. About 400 men attended. An account the following morning in the Times says:
“Frank indorsement of the open-shop policy as a continued main principles of the association was given.”
A retrospective piece in the Times on Oct. 10, 1929 says of the M & M:
“Since 1900 the continuous campaign to unionize Los Angeles has made it necessary for the M. & M. to work ceaselessly in defense of the open-shop principle. As the problem and the city grew the former functions of the M. & M. were transferred to the Chamber of Commerce. By 1920 the M. & M. was confining its activities solely to industrial relations, with the single exception of frauds in merchandising and in 1927 dropped also that activity.”
Far behind it were its days of staging fiestas and expositions, and complaining to the city over the method of street-cleaning.
The M & M, in concert with the Times, substantially retarded the closed-shop movement in Los Angeles, fighting for what the newspaper long described in its masthead as “True Industrial Freedom.”
It was on July 20, 1896, that the M & M was formed and an open house was held at the association’s offices in the newly opened Wilcox Building. By 1920, the group had moved to the Van Nuys Building.
In 1993, the M & M merged with a San Francisco outfit, becoming the Employers Group. With an office on South Olive Street, it provides “human resource management” consulting services. Next week: a look at Felix Zeehandelaar.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company
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