It is also true that the history of the Ironworker goes back to even biblical times. In Genesis, Chapter 4, 22, one of the descendants of Adam named Tubal-Cain is described as the instructor of workers in brass and iron. This would make him the very first ironworker apprenticeship instructor. An article on apprenticeship written by General President Jake West in the May, 1993 issue of The Ironworker mentioned the following:
“The world’s first written code of law, the ‘Code of Hammurabi,’ named after the King of Babylon in the 18th century B.C. included the formalization of the training which we identify today as apprenticeship.”
Among the Greeks and Romans, Vulcan was the god of fire and iron. He was often portrayed as a blacksmith standing by his anvil. Due to their resistance to corrosion, objects of utility and decoration, fashioned from brass, bronze, gold, silver, etc., are still in existence as records of the early civilization which produced them. The iron works of ancient peoples, however, have long rusted away, but we know from the earliest written records that iron was in common use. The earliest known labor-management agreement dates back to 459 AD. and is known as the Sardis Building Trades Agreement. An American archeologist, W.H. Buckler, while digging at the site of the ancient city of Sardis in what is now modern Turkey, discovered a very large gray marble slab with an inscription on it. When Buckler translated the inscription he was surprised to find it was a collective bargaining agreement between the local Roman pro-consul and the Sardis Building Trades Crafts. This marble slab was hardly the kind of contract that you would carry around in pocket. It seems that the city of Sardis was experiencing a building boom, and contractors were finding that there was a shortage of labor. This put construction work in the position of being able to demand higher wages as they moved from one contractor to another. The Roman pro-consul then negotiated a collective bargaining agreement. Although this is the earliest agreement that has been found certainly even earlier agreements must have existed between workers and employers.
With the collapse of the Roman Empire new means of protecting workers developed during the Middle Ages. This new system was the “Craft Guilds.” Everyone in a particular field in a town or district belonged to a guild. Ornamental ironworkers had such an organization. The members drew up the statutes of the guild, elected their own officers, and paid dues. Once a guild was organized only its members could work in that field. Members included the master, the apprentices, and the journeyman. The theory was that after years in a trade a journeyman would become a master. An article in The Ironworker described the way the system worked:
“In medieval England, apprenticeship agreements called indentures were made between master and apprentice. The English word ‘pretence’ or ‘apprentice’ came into use during this time; it derives from the latin word apprehendere, ‘to lay hold of’. The relationship between master and apprentice was much like parent and child, with the master’s authority extending to every phase of the apprentice’s life; the master provided food, clothing, housing and tools. He taught the trade and instructed in ethics, morals and proper behavior, usually for a period of seven years. At the end of training, the apprentice had to develop a ‘masterpiece’ as a final exam. If he passed he became a journeyman.’ When he could pay the necessary fees and could set-up his own shop, he became a master.”
Once an apprentice finished his training he would become a member of his craft guild. At their height, the guilds performed many of the same functions that unions perform in Canada today. They engaged in political action to secure liberties for their members and the community. They regulated trade and industry and provided education for their members. They helped sick members and provided them with a decent funeral. They were involved in both the artistic and religious life of their communities. However, after the 14th century the masters gained control of the guilds and refused to allow journeymen to join the ranks of the masters. The journeymen then formed “journeymen guilds” and they engaged in strikes in order to gain higher wages. Thus was born the prototype of our modern trade unions.
Agreement Reached In 1902The following is a copy of the Agreement between the National Association of Manufacturers and Erectors of Structural Steel and Iron Work, and the International Association of Bridge and Structural Ironworkers:
Effective to January 1, 1905 (signed) H. F. Lofland Daniel Scanlan J.W. Johnston Frank Buchanan H. F. Donnelly Robert E. Neidig
At the Eighth International Convention held in Toronto, Canada in September, 1904, Buchanan was reelected President and John Joseph MeNamara of Local No. 17, Cleveland was elected Secretary-Treasurer in a run-off with James Crowley, of Local No. 1. The incumbent Secretary-Treasurer, John Johnston, of New York, had been eliminated in the first ballot. With McNamara’s election, the headquarters moved from New York to Cleveland. The International’s headquarters in its first decade of existence was always the home town of the Secretary-Treasurer. (Two more years would pass before the International felt financially secure enough to establish headquarters in Indianapolis).
This Convention, the first held outside the United States, clearly established the international aspect that the founders desired. The Toronto local had been chartered as Local No.4, just two years earlier, on September 15, 1902. Canadians since have been staunch and loyal members of the International Association.
The Quebec Bridge Disaster of 1907On Thursday, August 29, 1907 the Quebec Railroad Bridge collapsed. A 20,000 ton section of the bridge fell 300 feet into the St. Lawrence River. A total of fifty Ironworkers and 36 workers were killed.
D.B. Haley wrote a letter to The Bridgemen’s Magazine about what happened and it was published in the October 1907 issue. Haley was lucky he only had his legs and ankles badly sprained in his fall into the river. Haley had just come from Wheeling, West Virginia in June of 1907 to work on the bridge. The work was being done by Local No. 87. The bridge was being built for Canada’s transcontinental railroad about seven miles above Quebec City. It was to be the largest bridge of its kind in the world, designed to set a record for a steel cantilever span of 1,800 feet.
Construction was being done by the Phoenix Bridge Company. They hired at 50 cents an hour from all over the United States and Canada. The company would have preferred only non-union men but they found they needed skilled workers for this job. However, many of the workers became dissatisfied. When a man quit, the company would deduct from his wages the amount they had paid for his transportation to and from the work site. On August 6th, almost two weeks before the collapse, many of the men had gone on strike because of the poor working conditions. By a vote of 40 to 36 they decided to go back to work on August 10th.
Engineers inspected the bridge on August 26th and 27th and noticed that some of the cantilever arms were buckling. None of the men were told about the problem in order to keep them from leaving the job. The general foremen disregarded the orders of the engineers and told the men to continue working.
On Thursday, August 29 the crash came without a moment’s notice. Among those killed were 33 Canadian Ironworker Indian members. The Indians were members of the Caughnawaga Indian Reserve. The left 25 widows and numerous fatherless children behind. Six apprentices were also killed, along with some management personnel.
An investigation was conducted by a Royal Commission appointed by the Canadian government and published on March 14, 1908. It was very confusing, placing some blame on the engineers’ design, the policies of the Phoenix Bridge Company, and the Quebec Bridge and Railway Company. As a result none of the wives was able to sue for damages.
A new bridge was designed. The central span also collapsed while being put in place in 1916. Fortunately no lives were lost at this time. The bridge finally was completed and opened for traffic in August of 1918. But the tragedy of 1907 ranks as one of the worst losses of life in the history of our Union.
Conditions in Canada for Ironworker Locals during the ThirtiesPresident Morrin in October of 1932 reported that the conditions for Canadian workers at this time were as difficult as those in the United States. The International Association exempted the members of the Canadian local unions, whose wage scale was less than $1.00 per hour, from paying the International $2.00 assessment. The non-union steel erecting firms in Canada had reduced the wages of Ironworkers, which the International and the Canadian local unions resisted in every way possible even to the extent of appealing to the Provincial Government officials against the unfair tactics of these non-union firms. These reductions necessarily affected the fair Canadian firms because they continued to pay the union scale of wages and, in doing this, placed themselves in a position where they were unable to compete on a fair basis with non-union firms in securing work for the members of the Iron Workers.