Digital History>Voices>Social History>A Teamster

The Chicago Strike: A Teamster
Independent, LIX (July 6, 1905), 15 20.

After I had worked as cash boy when a little chap, left an orphan, I improved my chances by becoming a grocer's clerk. I had by that time grown to be quite a chunk of a lad, and my new job included the delivery of goods with the grocer's wagon. I took care of my horses and the barn and became very much attached to the animals.

One of the horses was my particular pet. He would permit no familiarity from anybody but me. He knew me, my step and voice and would prance about in his stall when I came in the morning, lay back his ears and show his big, strong teeth in a way that to others would have been a danger signal but to me meant his morning salutation. I would go fearlessly into his stall, pat his flank and shoulder and neck, ending by feeding him a lump of sugar. He sulked and was stubborn when driven by any one else, but for me would do anything I asked He seemed to understand when I talked to him I guess most horses must understand me, for they are all my friends.
I worked for the grocer seven years; got up between 5 and 6 in the morning, looked after the horses, had my breakfast and was out with my wagon soon after 7. I frequently did not get through until 9 or 10 at night, but I liked the work and my employer was a good man. He paid me $6 a week and boarded me. It was really the only home I had had since my early boyhood, so when the grocer failed in business I felt as sorry over it as he did himself.

I next got a job with a department store, first as helper and afterward as driver. About that time the teamsters formed a union and I became a charter member of the delivery wagon drivers' branch. Through the influence of the union we got a regular scale of wages, the first year $12 a week and after two and a half years $15 a week as the minimum. We have nothing to do with the care of the horses. When a wagon is taken to the barn afer the day's work is finished the"inside" men take charge and we have nothing further to do until the next morning, when we find our teams hitched, ready waiting for us to start right out

I make one exception to the regular rule, however. I go to the barn a while before leaving time and personally grease my wagon. My reason for this is because I want it to run without grinding. I have learned just what attention the wagon requires and I find I can do the greasing more satisfactorily myself. After I have fixed it up the wheels run along easily and without "catching." A driver gets to know his wagon, what it requires and what it can do, just as a locomotive engineer knows his engine.

If there is a hitch anywhere he recognizes the cause of the trouble at once; so sensitive does a driver become to the smooth running of his wagon that he can actually tell the instant a boy catches hold of the tailboard as he drives along the street. That little additional drag is felt by the man on the seat just as certainly as it is by the horse in the shafts.

The union not only regulated wages and working hours, but improved the class of men employed. We of the Delivery Wagons’ Union are under bonds, and on account of the responsibility attached to the work we exercise care in admitting men to our organization. We frequently have the collection of C.O.D. bills, so it is to our own interest to have honest and reliable men One man going wrong brings the whole organization into disrepute. I can see trouble ahead in getting back to our former standard when the strike ends.

Now, about this strike. The teamsters of Chicago are subdivided into over fifty different unions. Each branch of the work has its separate organization There are over 35,000 teamsters enrolled, and at the height of the trouble something less than 10,000 drivers, helpers and boys became involved If less than one third of our number have been able to kick up all the fuss we are charged with, it is interesting to conjecture what might have been done if the entire number had taken an active part.

The strike started to compel Montgomery Ward & Co. to arbitrate the causes leading up to the walk out of their garment workers. The
teamsters, being a powerful organization, voted to help the garment workers and to refuse either to haul from the boycotted firm or to ' deliver goods to them That naturally led to including in the boycott houses that insisted on their drivers delivering to strike bound houses. Drivers for coal dealers, express companies, department stores, lumber firms and many wholesale houses were from time to time added to the boycott list. Ward & Co. would not yield to the demand for arbitration of the garment workers' difficulty, claiming that the workers left their employ voluntarily nearly a year ago and that the places left vacant had been filled at once and in a satisfactory manner. As the strike progressed the garment workers' grievance became rather lost sight of in the greater question of holding the teamsters' unions together.

Many things have occurred to hurt our side of the fight I will not admit that all the things charged against us, directly, are true, but at the same time I must admit that many, many things can have no defense. When the Employers' Association formed a teaming com¬pany and offered to put their men to work in the places of the strikers they brought to Chicago for that purpose a lot of non union drivers, some of them pretty tough customers. The new drivers for coal teams were mostly negroes from Southern cities, and they had nerve to stay on their wagons in spite of persuasion to give up. Then some of the overzealous union drivers, assisted by sympathizers, who regarded force a better argument than mere words, undertook to dispose of these strike breakers. Every union driver conceived it to be his privilege, if not duty, to block the way of the "scabs." One thing led to another until stones and bricks were freely thrown at the imported drivers. The officers of one of the local unions took part in the forcible style of argument, and their arrest followed.

It was charged in the hearing before the grand jury that a gang of fighters, known as the "Educational Committee," was employed to I "do" certain drivers. A man would be spotted and when the chance came he would be attacked by the "Educational Committee." In some instances he would not recover from the beating, and in other cases he would be crippled for life. That sort of thing, of course, instead of doing our cause any good injured us with the public and caused discontent in our own ranks. Many of us are bitterly opposed to any such methods.

It got so that a man really carried his life in his hands when he started out to drive a team for a boycotted firm, if he happened to come in contact with a crowd of these "educators" without being amply protected by a police guard.

When the strike extended to the lumber drivers there was all sorts of trouble over in the West Side lumber district. A large number of the union drivers are Poles Polaks, they are commonly called and they live in small houses in the vicinity. Their women are big and strong. It is no unusual sight to see one of these women carrying, with apparently little effort, a load of firewood or huge sack of coal that would stagger an ordinary man. They know but little English, but constantly are chattering in the strange lingo of their native land When their husbands and sons left their jobs and a new set took their places those women at once took a hand in the effort to drive away the men they regarded as interlopers. They knew little if anything about any conflict between the unions and employers. All that any one of them could understand was that a stranger sat on the lumber wagon that "belongs to my man." That was not to be tolerated for a moment Armed with heavy clubs they charged on the non union drivers, and unless the police guard was strong enough to cope with infuriated amazons it went pretty hard with the drivers if the women got within reach of them with their clubs.

In all the riotous scenes attending the strike there was nothing done even to approach the fierceness of the attacks by these women. The police would charge upon them with drawn clubs, but hesitated when it came to rapping them over the head as they would have done in the case of dispersing a mob of men. The officers would content themselves with laying vigorous licks on the well developed part of the muscular women's anatomy presenting the most promising target, without accomplishing much more than drawing the "fire" of the attacking party to themselves. Many a time drivers, policemen and bystanders would be compelled to flee pell-mell before a mob of these women, flourishing clubs of enormous size.

A favorite way to oppose the strike breakers at the lumber yards was to set fire to their loads. A can of oil poured over the rear of the load and a lighted match did the work. In spite of the vigilance of the guards, the loads frequently would be set on fire, and, of course the sight of a load of burning lumber soon attracted a big crowd.

The attacks next hardest to handle by the police were those engaged in by school children. These young sympathizers soon picked up the spirit of lawlessness. At the public schools when a non union driver brought a load of coal for the building the children, only too pleased to have a chance to yell and get into mischief, hooted at the drivers, finally going to the extent of throwing stones at them. It was only by the aid of parents that the police at last were able to put a stop to these outbreaks.

But far the greatest blow our cause received was the discovery that some of our leaders were engaged in the most disreputable mode of life. They spent nights in low resorts and spent money freely in entertaining women of the vilest character. On top of all this it was openly charged that some of these officers had been receiving money from certain employers, either for the purpose of calling a strike or to settle one. The only offset to these damaging stories lay in the fact that the paying employers were equally to blame.

As already stated, many of us are opposed to violence and to the destruction of property. I, for one, think the cause of unionism has received a blow that will take some time to recover from. These lawless acts were practiced by a bad element in our own ranks, I am sorry to say, but were largely participated in by a lot of hoodlums, who took advantage of conditions to defy the law. Teamsters are not all angels, any more than are all men engaged in other lines of work, but in our ranks we have some good law abiding citizens, who will compare favorably with the best. We have been charged with things of which I feel sure none of us have been guilty. For instance, we have been charged with throwing acid on horses driven by non union drivers. I would not be afraid to wager my life that no teamster worthy the name ever did such a dastardly thing Why, we fairly love horses, and I know if anybody attempted to hurt my horses I would be down off my wagon in a jiffy with my coat off ready to fight. I cannot deny that acid "eggs" were thrown at horses at times, but it couldn't have been done by teamsters.

It has been said that driving a team is not a trade and that teamsters should not be classed as trade unionists. It may not be a trade in the sense that, say, carpenter work or printing is, but still a good teamster must possess certain qualifications that every ordinary "laborer" does not possess. In our union a member must serve three years before he can receive the highest wages of the scale. He must read and write and know the city thoroughly. He must know what to do in an emergency if anything happens to his horse or wagon. His horse may pick up a nail, take sick, go lame, or show distress from any cause. If the driver is capable he knows what to do for the time being. If the harness break or the wagon meet with an accident, he must be able to patch up the one and make shift with the other.

I heard of a non-union driver, during the early days of the strike, who broke a shaft by running into something way out on the southside. When a crowd gathered around and laughed at his mishap, he seemed to be perfectly helpless. He simply took to his heels and left his wagon on the hands of his police guard. The officer had to tie up the shaft with a strap, take the outfit to a neighboring livery stable and telephone for another driver. I also heard that the darky driver had collected $40 on a C.O. D. before the accident.
I refer to this incident to indicate the difference between trained and trusty drivers and pick ups.

From present indications the strike soon will be over. I am both sorry and glad sorry that it was so badly managed, but glad that we will have the chance to get work again at living wages. I am quite sick of living on the "benefit."

Some of us, most likely, will not get our old jobs back in a hurry, but then well, we'll have to make the best of it

Chicago, Ill.

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