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The Electrical Unions

Started by 212Mike, December 28, 2007, 05:40:42 am

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Good to see you Tony, and thanks for the invite.   I've always been interested in the fracturing of the electrical unions into so many different unions in the US and Canada, and perhaps we can discuss those issues.

Tony Budak

Hi Mike,

My own IUE split off from the UE. I believe in the early fifties. At that time there was a conservative element in the UE that would not go along with then current UE program. So they started the IUE.

Other wise, I know next to nothing about the history of the electrical unions.

If it's OK with you? I'll set up a forum for discussion. Then let me propose this history question to the CLNews members. There may be a history buff in the lists. Can't hurt to ask.

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Tony Budak, Site Owner and Webmaster

Please do not email or PM me for CLNews technical  support. Instead Post Questions and Concerns Here

Roland Garret Sheppard

The 'split' between the UE and the IUE occurred in June, 1950. The CIO formed the IUE from the UE, because the UE would not require the loyalty oath and CIO policy under their new anti communist amendments in compliance with the Taft Hartley Act of 1947. The IUE gained a majority (60%-40%) of the electrical plants through NLRB elections. It was part of the anti-communist campaign in the CIO initialy begun by the UAW under Walter Reuther.


I know that some of the more radical elements in the IBEW split off after the Reid-McNulty schism (early 1900s -- this group was the clear majority of IBEW members, by the way -- 75%/25%) and then some affiliated for a brief period with the IWW prior to WW1.
The early IBEW was organized by the linemen who ran the power lines, and only later did the "inside wiremen" (a term we still use) join the union. (They had their own organization called the "Electrical-Mechanics", but the records are very scarce, and the organization seems more like a fraternal organization than a modern union. There were fits and starts on issues like organizing women, telephone operators, telegraph operators (they still had their own union into the fifties, I think), black members and factory workers.

In the US, the largest local of the Utility Workers started as a company-union and then became an IBEW local (later UTW Local 1 & 2) before leaving (over the issue of representing ALL Con-Ed workers -- the IBEW national office said "no", the locals weren't willing to give up their members to another craft union) and creating their own union.

The AFL records seem to indicate that the UE split off from the IBEW, but I think the issue was a little more complicated than that because of the different locals and different representation systems involved.

I know that the IUE and the UE split over both politics and personal ambitions. The IUE is now part of the CWA, as is NASBET. Brooks and Bahr have written pretty good histories of the CWA/telephone industry.

The IBEW has a very good official history, written by Grace Paladino, which talks quite openly about the conflict of ideas over the years, but, of course, her history must ignore some of the developments to be readable. Much of the early electrical union material is either lost or archived in unexpected places.

I think there is some good material in these organizational developments to write about the intersection of personality, ambition, government interference and politics in the industry, but some of the materials are very hard to find.

I'm always interested in talking with others about their perceptions of the differences and developments.

Roland Garret Sheppard

Mike writes: "I know that the IUE and the UE split over both politics and personal ambitions."

There are always personalities involved, but this spit was over due to the anti-communist witch hunt that was going on at the time. The Communists Party was not the only people who were removed, most of the union militants were removed. The right wing of the trade union bureaucracy used the Tafet Hartely law to expel any opposition, to their class collaboration policies, from the leadership of the trade union movement. It was the beginnning of the problems that have grow full bloom leading to their currant policy of a 'partnership with the boss' and the situation we are now in today.

No Mike the split was not about personalities. To pawn it off that way negates what became of the split.

From pages 409-410 of the Book Labor's Giant Step Chapter 32 Splits and Expulsions by Art Preis, a Leader of the Toledo Auto Lite Electric Strike, 1934:

Once the resolution to ban communists from CIO office was accepted, the rest of the convention was simply a mopping-up operation. The very next morning, November 2, 1949, Baldanzi presented two more constitutional amendments. The first empowered the CIO National Executive Board "to refuse to seat or to remove" any board member who was deemed ineligible by virtue of the anti -communist amendment passed the day before. The second gave the Executive Board" further power. upon a two-thirds vote," to revoke the charter or expel any affiliated national or international union whose "policies and activities. . . are consistently directed toward the achievement of the program or the purposes" of the previously proscribed political organizations.

Following enactment of these amendments with scarcely any debate, the next major action of the convention was to adopt a special resolution declaring that the UE, which had bolted the convention . and withheld its per capita owed to the national CIO, had become "the Communist Party masquerading as a labor union" and was expelled by voice vote.

A similar resolution was then speedily adopted to expel the Farm Equipment Workers which had merged with the UE prior to the CIO convention in defiance of a CIO Board decision. In a formal ceremony at the convention, Murray then presented James Carey with a charter for a new union, the International Union of Elelectrial Radio and Machine Workers.

Finally, a resolution was adopted formally instructing coming Executive Board "immediately to exercise its powers" to take appropriate action  against CIO affiliates held in violation of "CIO policy" and the new anti-communist amendments.

After the convention, charges were brought against ten unions: American Communications Association; Food, Tobacco, Agricultural and Allied Workers; Fishermen and Allied Workers; International Fur and Leather Workers; International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union; International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers; National Union of Marine Cooks and Stewards; United Furniture Workers; United Office and Professional Workers; and United Public Workers.

Witnesses were heard and elaborate testimony was recorded at a series of formal hearings. The testimony was almost exclusively designed to show "Communist" and "Communist Front" connections of officials of the accused unions. Most of the witnesses were former Stalinists who tried to outdo each other in supplying lurid" evidence" against their former comrades and thus buy themselves into the good graces of the Murray machine. These hearings, however, were a mere formality. The split was already completed and the factional war was being fought out at the plant and job level.

In the spring of 1950 the CIO Executive Board expelled all the accused unions but one. Shortly after the CIO convention Morris Pizer, president of the Furniture Workers, declared his support for Murray's policies. The charges against the UFW were then withdrawn. At the Furniture Workers convention in June 1950, the Pizer forces took full control by a more than three-to-one majority.

By June 1950, the new IUE-CIO had won collective bargaining rights through NLRB elections in a majority of the plants of General Electric, Westinghouse, and other large corporations in the electrical equipment industry. But many plants of these corporations remained with the UE. Thus, in a poll held on May 25, the IUE-CIO with 47,486 votes captured 49 out of 89 GE units; the UE with 36,683 votes retained 40 plants. It is interesting to note that the UE officers not only complied with the Taft-Hartley non-communist-oath regulation but that the NLRB was compelled in numerous instances to recognize the UE as a bona fide union and not as "the Communist Party masquerading as a labor union."

The UE was whittled down by 1959 to 80,000 members, while the IDE, affiliated with the AFL-CIO, claims amembership of 280,000.


Greetings one and all.
Let me suggest this book, it's pretty good.
Ronald W.Schatz, , Electrical Workers: A History of Labor at General Electric and Westinghouse, 1923-60, University of Illinois Press, 1983, hardcover, ISBN 0-252-01031-0; paperback reprint ISBN 0-252-01438-3
The UE actually suffered at least two internal splits---- and tons of raids.
The first split is being discussed elsewhere. The second was a policy move by the CPUSA. I'm sorry I don't have the time line handy. The CPUSA took a position that the remaining independent CIO unions should "re-unite" with the "mainstream" of American labor. In the UE's case, those who "mainstreamed" either went into the IUE or the IAM (for the most part). This second wave of membership losses effectively helped to isolate the UE ---- and workers in the electrical industry (certainly in the large "chain" shops).