When the Bakery & Confectionary Workers International Union and the Tobacco Workers International Union merged in 1978, it was a natural alliance - an affirmation of a shared past and a precursor of a common future.
Both unions were born in difficult times, in small shops where the work was done by hand and under abysmal conditions.
Both put particular emphasis on the role of the union label in organizing - and each had a record of supporting the other's label campaign in the struggle to win human dignity and economic security for working men and women.
Both battled the powerful Trusts which were intent on dominating their respective industries and denying workers their right to bargain collectively.
Both were caught up in the struggle for equal rights - on job and when the day's work was done.
A common past was a good reason for merger. But it wasn't the only one, for the leaders of both B&C and the TWIU could see they were on the brink of a common future.
A corporate merger mania loomed just over the horizon. Today, multi-billion-dollar conglomerates dominate the scene - among them powerful corporations formed by the amalgamation of some of the tobacco giants and the baking giants.
So, whether from the trade union point of view or from the perspective of the changing face of corporate America, the merger was right - and it was timely.
Singly and together, the unions which united to form the Bakery, Confectionery & Tobacco Workers Union wrote an important chapter in labor history. What follows is the story of how they set down roots in the fertile soil of American trade unionism.
In the latter part of the 19th Century, before the advent of machinery and the passage of laws designed to make the workplace less onerous, life was hard for bakery workers and tobacco workers, alike.
Bakery workers were more than slaves. they worked 16-hour days from Monday through Friday, as many as 23 hours on Saturdays and five hours on Sundays. Their workplace was the infamous cellar bakeshop - characterized by poor ventilation, stifling heat, leaking sewage, cesspools of putrefying water and a population of rats and cockroaches.
These cellar bakeshops were also "home" to bakers who were required to board where they worked, their bedding consisting of covers used for molding bread, on call at any hour of the day or night if the boss baker needed flour unloaded, a horse harnessed or some household task performed.
Life was hard for tobacco workers, too. In the cigarette-making shops, men and boys worked 10-hour days at clumsy machines, moistening tobacco with cold steam, squeezing it under enormous pressure into blocks and slitting it into cigarette-length shreds.
Women and girls performed the delicate task of shaping the final product. Bent over stone slabs, they rolled the tobacco and pasted the paper, working under overseers who summarily rejected whole batches of cigarettes - causing the loss of as much as half a day's pay — if the pasting was crooked, the paper soiled or the cigarettes too tightly or too loosely rolled.
For this work they received a pittance, even by the standards of that era. Men earned $16 a week, boys $4. The women, who were paid 70 to 80 cents for each batch of a thousand cigarettes, averaged $12 a week.
It was against this background that the first stirrings of trade unionism commenced.
In the latter part of the 19th Century, there were some 7,000 bakers in the New York and Brooklyn are, all but a few hundred of them German immigrants. In 1880 they formed the Journeymen Bakers Union. Although 3,2000 bakers signed up, the union was relatively powerless. An 1881 strike for a shorter workweek and an end to the boarding requirement collapsed within two weeks in a general stampede by men fearful they would be replaced by other job-seekers. In the wake of that abortive strike, bakers quietly drifted away from the fledgling union.
Several other local bakers' unions took form in that era in such cities as Chicago and Philadelphia, but either disappeared or became simply benefit societies. The Knights of Labor undertook to organize New York's English-speaking bakers, with mixed results.
It soon became clear that bakers' best hopes lay in a national union. On January 13, 1886, representatives from local unions, Knights of Labor assemblies and fraternal organizations - from Brooklyn, Buffalo, Chicago, Cincinnati, Detroit, Milwaukee, Newark, New Haven, New Orleans, New York and St. Louis - came together in Pittsburgh to found the Journeymen Bakers' National Union.
The first step was to adopt a union label, patterning it after one already in use by bakers in Newark, N.J., who had brought to this country the medieval guild symbol of the Austrian bakers. To the members of the new-born union, the label meant quality. It also symbolized their determination to throw off the yoke of the master bakers.
In tandem with the boycott, the label became a powerful organizing weapon for the new union. The bosses soon came to fear the influence of their unionized workers to get members of other trades to stop buying their products.
The boycott often brought down on bakers the wrath of judges who thought it was a "criminal conspiracy" to interfere with an employer's business. Risking fines and jail, bakers continued their struggle and soon New York bakers could boast that 75 shops, accounting for half the city's consumption, were selling only labeled bread.
The time seemed ripe for unions. Within two months of its founding, the JBNU claimed 26 locals with 12,000 members. The number of locals rose to 45 by 1887 - the same year the union became a founding member of the American Federation of Labor. But the gains were short-lived. By the end of 1889, national membership had shrunk to a scan 200 members as a result of strikes and lockouts.
The 1890 convention changed the union's name to the Journeymen Bakers' & Confectioners' International Union to reflect expansion into Canada and the organizing of a small number of confectioners by some of its locals.
The union struggled to regain membership and was making slow but steady gains when the depression of 1893 ravaged the country. A flood of unemployed bakers willing to work at reduced wages forced many locals in smaller cities to disband while larger locals suffered heavy membership losses.
The great Chicago lockout of that year proved the vulnerability of the union in the face of a faltering national economy. Chicago's owners refused to deal with bakers except on an individual basis, and the local put up bitter resistance for a year before being forced to throw in the towel.
A new era for bakers was born in 1895 when Minnesota imposed sanitary regulations - particularly on cellar bakeries - which mandated standards covering plumbing, lighting, air quality, pest control, cleanliness, toilets and sleeping arrangements. The Minnesota law also established a maximum 10-hour day.
A month later, New York passed a similar law, followed in rapid succession by Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, the cities of Milwaukee and San Francisco and the Canadian provinces Ontario and British Columbia.
Getting the law on the statute books was one thing; getting it enforced was something else, again. What was needed was the vigilance of the union and the determination of the bakers, themselves, to make employers live up to the letter and spirit of the new regulations.
Eighteen Hundred and Ninety-Five was a landmark year for another reason. On May 20, delegates met in St. Louis to form the National Tobacco Workers Union of America. St. Louis was a major tobacco manufacturing center, but it was already suffering the effects of the industry's first tentative migration of the South, where production facilities would be closer to the tobacco fields, and in the heart of the depressed Southern labor market.
The goal of the new union was to organize wherever tobacco products were produced, and to build fraternal support unions of others trades wherever tobacco products were marketed.
In quick succession, the union joined the AFL and then launched a union label campaign of its own. As its first leaders pointed out, the strike weapon was not a viable option when the struggling new union was weak and management was strong. The best way to bring recalcitrant employers to the bargaining table was to threaten, not the production end of the business, but the selling end.
The sent "traveling salesmen" for the union label out across the country, talking to miners, bricklayers, carpenters, molders, painters, cigar makers, tailors - to any trade unionists who would listen - at plants, union halls and on street corners.
Tobacco workers often worked side-by-side with representatives of the Bakery & Confectionery Workers International Union in the label struggle. Bakers' union leaders set up meetings, visited merchants to urge them to order union-made tobacco products, distributed promotional material, and even set up systems of fines for bakers who bought non-union tobacco.
Within a relatively short time, these efforts in New England, the Midwest, the Mid-Atlantic states and the mining districts bore fruit. They created enough demand for products bearing the Tobacco Workers' label to convince a number of firms, including a few in the South, to end their hostility to unions.
Over in the Journeymen Bakers, mean-while, new dimensions to the union were taking shape. A membership referendum approved a voluntary program of sick and death benefits. The vote was close, but the majority agreed with their leaders that the union had a responsibility to help replace income lost by either death or sickness.
Although the NTWA changed its name to the Tobacco Workers International Union in 1898 to reflect its interest in developing Canadian locals, their real focus of that year's convention was the South, where the emergence of the giant American Tobacco Trust was changing the industry.
Large operations in the North and Midwest were shutting up shop and moving their machines southward, and the union intended to follow the industry, even though it meant entering one of the most hostile organizing environments in the nation.
It was on those notes - with the bakers expressing their social consciousness through the benefit programs and the tobacco workers girding up for a Southern showdown - that the 19th Century drew to a close.
The sun that rose on the 20th Century bathed bakers and their union in a warm glow. they had survived the depression and restored their membership ranks to a respectable 4,000. The first three years of the new century would see the union grow to almost five times that size.
Among these new members were the first production-line workers brought into the industry by a of technological change and the emergence of wholesale operations producing up to 15,000 loaves of bread a day.
The changes were profound. Production-line operations depended less on journeymen bakers than did the small neighborhood shops. they used less-skilled men as well as women and children, changing the face both of the workforce and the workplace.
At their 1903 convention, delegated changed their name to the Bakery & Confectionery Workers International Union, dropping the word"journeymen" in recognition that, for better or worse, the times were changing.
The new century saw another change. After years of shifting the union's head-quarters and the International Executive Board back and forth between Cleveland, Chicago and Brooklyn, delegates finally centered the B&C's operations in Chicago, where they would remain for more than 50 years.
The century was still young when, in 1905, a bare majority of the U.S. Supreme Court struck down New York state's law which limited bakeshop employment to the 10-hour day and the 60-hour week.
The decision merely confirmed the union's long-held belief that it could expect little help from the government in improving conditions in the workplace. What progress was to be made, the union believed, would come from the pressure of the workers, themselves, through the institution of their union.
Meanwhile, the TWIU continued its struggle to establish a foothold in the anti-union South. Again, the label loomed large, with traveling shows fanning out across the Midwest with a two-hour lantern slide presentation attracting more than 75,000 people - most of them women - to hear lectures and listen to unions songs.
The TWIU meant business. In 1909, Ware-Kramer Co., of Norfolk, Va, refused to sign a union contract. The union withdrew the privilege of the label and put organizers into Norfolk to agitate against Ware-Kramer's products. Sales declined sharply, and when the company declared bankruptcy, it was taken over by Reed Tobacco Co., a unionized firm.
The Tobacco Trusts were in full swing, with American Tobacco Co. launching a full-scale assault on independent manufactures. This was bad news for the union, because it was only among the independents that it had made any inroads.
If there was any doubt that the Trusts were bent on union-busting, they were removed when an American Tobacco official admitted to the U.S. Industrial Commission that the company would not permit unions to "organize, inaugurate and lay down rules by which we are to govern our factories."
The Trust had declared was on the union, and the TWIU fought back. With AFL backing, it launched a massive boycott aimed at selling the labeled goods of the unionized independents and depriving Trust of a market. Hundreds of pieces of literature were posted on telegraph poles, outbuildings, street corners and the walls of saloons, cigar stores and union halls.
The American Tobacco combine adsorbed such major producers a Drummond, P. Lorillard and Liggett Y Myers, and put pressure on jobbers not to handle union-made products and to force retailers to clear their show windows and shelves of labeled goods or face the loss of the 80 percent of their business which Trust brands represented.
The tide of this battle washed over the Canadian border, where the TWIU had established a beachhead at independents in Hamilton, Montreal, Learmington, London and Joliette. But the Trust had three factories in Canada and made a formidable push to crush the union.
There was trustification going on in the baking industry, too. It began when B.H. Kroger, a chain of 42 Midwest grocery stores, formed its own baking operation in 1901. Six years later, American Baking Co. was formed by merging seven small bakeries in St. Louis. This was followed, in 1910, by the merger of 12 wholesalers in Brooklyn, New York, Mt. Vernon and Hobken into Shultz Bread Co. and, in 1911, by creation of General Baking Co. with plants in 17 cities from Boston to St. Louis and New Orleans.
Ward Baking Co., though, was the "conglomerate" of its day. Not only did it have factories in New England, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Ohio, it also had ties to multi-state baking equipment manufacturing, a yeast manufacturer and a company which built its own fleet of delivery trucks.
Because the Trusts operated out of the most mechanized factories, their spread meant the loss of jobs for skilled bakers. The B&C recognized that the trend toward mechanization was inevitable - but it wanted to organize the workers in these factories to improve their economic condition. It was no easy task, for the Trust plants were bastions of anti-unionism.
Trustification was on the march. In 1911, 78 leading independent cracker, bread and candy manufacturers linked up to form Federal Biscuit Co., with operations in 30 states. And across the northern border that same year, Canada Bread Co. absorbed three bakeries in Toronto and another in Winnipeg with a combined output of over a million loaves of bread a week.
The B&C's 1911 convention launched an all-out campaign to combat the Trusts, targeted at New York, Cleveland, Boston, Providence, Pittsburgh and St. Louis, backed by a nationwide mailing of thousands of circular letters urging local unions and central bodies to mobilize behind union-labeled goods.
The drive began to bear fruit. In 1913 the B&C struck Kroger's operation in St. Louis in a campaign which included the Butchers and Teamsters. when the company exploited racial divisions by bringing in black drivers to man delivery wagons, the Teamsters returned to work But the bakers and butchers held tough, backed up by a central body boycott. Kroger capitulated 13 weeks later.
Buoyed by this success, the St. Louis local went on to win an agreement at General Baking, and three months later American Bakery followed suit, with both giants signing pattern agreements keyed to the union label and containing wage gains, the eight-hour day, and over-time payments.
At the same time, the union scored a major breakthrough at four Ward plants in Chicago and a fifth in Newark, and gained recognition at a New Jersey plant of Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co.
The Tobacco Workers, meanwhile; were fighting their battle on the foreign Southern terrain, and it was here that the union came face to face with the racial reality which marked the culture of that place and time.
The advent of mechanization made it possible for blacks to find work in the tobacco industry. This suited the bosses fine, because it was management's firm conviction that they never "rebel" and join a union.
Whites got the best jobs. White women operated the cigarette-making machines while white mailers were machine mechanics and set-up men. Blacks were relics and set-up men. Blacks were relegated to the low-paying hand labor in tobacco processing and stemming operations. The Soutt's pattern of racial segregation was firmly in place in the industry.
There were concerns on both sides of the color line. Whites were fearful that unionism would mean that blacks might take over their jobs; blacks were concerned that whites meant to take control of the black locals and deprive them of a voice in their own future.
For the TWIU, it was a time of frustration. Trust shops seemed impregnable and it was only at the independents that the union was gaining ground. The dimensions of the problem were evident in Richmond, where the independents employed only a small portion of that city's 15,000 tobacco workers.
Then, in 1911, the Supreme Court ordered the breakup of American Tobacco. The anti-trust ruling replaced the giant corporation with four firms destined to dominate the industry for generations - American, Liggett & Myers, P. Lorillard and R.J. Reynolds. To the TWIU, it was a distinction without a difference; the same interests still controlled the four firms.
Meanwhile, the dark clouds of war hung over Europe, and the United States would eventually be drawn into that conflict. In its wake would come a period of challenge and change for both tobacco and bakery workers.
World War 1 brought profound changes for workers in the baking and tobacco industries. To Deal with the problem of scarce resources, Food Administrator Herbert Hoover instituted sweeping new regulations. Although many of them were harmful, they produced one major benefit, channeling into commercial bakeries 60 percent of the bread baking that had been done at home.
When selective service classified the baking of pies and cakes non-essential, making men in these jobs between 18 and 45 subject to the draft, the union launched an energetic campaign to offset the man-power drain.
The solution lay in bringing women into the industry. The union's acceptance of them was conditional. They were to be only paid $4.50 a day and management had to consider them "temporary replacements." To underscore this point, the B&C established separate women's auxiliaries, rather than admit them to full membership.
Wartime inflation was good for the industry. It brought Ward a 27-percent increase in profits. But it was good for the workers, too, because they won back-to-back pay hikes of 10 percent in two consecutive years.
The tobacco industry, meanwhile, was booming, as cases of American-made cigarettes went off to the American Expeditionary Force, creating a new market among men who previously had either smoked cigars or chewed tobacco. This growth was helped along by a war-induced shortage of imported tobacco, and the industry took advantage of the opportunity to solidify its hold on the market.
It was a period of fierce competition among the national brands - Lucky Strike was American's entry into the field, Liggett & Myers concentrated on Chesterfield, Reynolds promoted Camels and Lorillard spent several years unsuccessfully pushing Tigers before switching to Old Gold.
In those boom times, the Big Four's preoccupation with profits, their fears of production interruptions and their need for a dependable labor supply worked to the union's advantage.
When women walked out of a packing department at a Middletown, Ohio subsidiary of Lorillard in the spring of 1917, for example, it took just three days to get the company to increase wages. A strike at eight American and Lorillard plants in New York and New Jersey yielded a 10-percent wage increase and a reduction in hours from 60 to 51 a week. At three Liggett & Myers plants in St. Louis, a strike produced an increase of 10 percent in wages, and a reduction in the working day from ten to nine hours.
The war's economic good times were not to last. Tobacco workers may have won wage gains, but th4e settlements embodied management's stubborn opposition to recognizing the union. As for bakery workers, the industry giants were about to join management across the country in an onslaught against unions.
War's end saw the B&C at a pinnacle. The 1920 convention reported 27,709 members in good standing, with another 11,000 on the books but in arrears. Virtually all locals had achieved the eight-hour day and wages were good. But the optimistic convention reports masked a serious problem. If Ward had adjusted to union representation, General still was as resistant as ever.
And in the bitterly hostile South, the B&C was encountering the same racial problems that had confronted the TWIU. The situation forced troublesome compromises on the union's liberal leaders. Like it or not, they had to issue separate charters to black and white locals whenever either race desired this arrangement - and both races in a deeply divided South usually did.
The nationwide compulsory open-shop drive - called the "American plan" by its promoters - swept through the baking industry, disrupting a 20-year pattern of peaceful labor relations. From New England to the West Coast, and in Canada as well, employers locked out some workers and forced others to strike over the union-shop issue.
The storm center for the controversy was Chicago - home base for the open-shop movement. General launched a massive public relations drive, aimed at convincing homemakers that bread prices were artificially high because of unions and claiming that the open-shop would bring prices down. Meanwhile, Ward and a consortium of large bakeshops decided to abrogate their B&C contracts.
The strike was long and bitter. "Sluggers" and managers tried their best to destroy the picket lines. Scabs were brought in from nearby communities. An acting deputy shot and killed a striker. And police raided the local's headquarters, seized its books, and arrested union leaders and 40 unemployed members who happened to be in the union hall.
And when it was over, the largest baking firms had instituted the infamous open shop. Although most small shops stayed union, they were under intense economic pressures from the giants and their completive position was uncertain.
Strikes flared across the country - in New York, Brooklyn, Boston, Providence, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and elsewhere - with police assisting scabs and harassing strikers, and with the trade union movement standing should-to-shoulder with the embattled B&C members through boycotts that hit hard at the market share of the giants.
While it lost 70 percent of its trade in rural and seashore communities in New Jersey because of an intensive boycott campaign, Ward did not back off from its plan to consolidate the industry. It acquired new firms in Missouri, New York and Maryland; took control of 191 plants in the United States and nine more in Canada and finally consolidated all its operation in one giant firm that controlled 20 percent of the nation's bread production.
The empire was to be short-lived, however. In 1926, the Justice Department invoked the Sherman Anti-Trust Act to dissolve the conglomerate, breaking it up into three independent companies.
The period saw an enormous expansion of chain-store baking, with the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. setting the trend. The company was, as the B&C put it, "particularly unfriendly" toward labor. And it enjoyed substantial cost savings by its control over retail outlets. A&P launched a savage price war and Wards responded in kind. There was little room for the union in that fight for supremacy among the giants.
Despite the hostile open-shop climate, B&C membership held surprisingly steady. It peaked at just over 28,000 in 1921, dropped off to 24,000 the next year and then bottomed out at about 22,000. The union was forced to retrench, abandoning its pension fund to hold the line, unable to make any headway with Ward, and recording little progress with Continental and General. Among the independents, the picture was equally dismal.
For tobacco workers, these were contradictory times.
Early in 1919 their union went to the mat at Liggett & Myers' Philadelphia plant when over half the 600 workers struck for the eighth-hour day. Under instructions from corporate headquarters not to negotiate with the TWIU, the manager kept the plant open under the watchful eye of city police and 200 members of the Pennsylvania Mounted Constabulary.
Yet that same year saw the union score a legendary success in the heart of the R.J. Reynolds cigarette empire. In Winston-Salem, the union launched an intensive organizing campaign, defying pressures from a company which quickly fired known union sympathizers and from a community which owed its livelihood to the tobacco giant.
Blacks and whites flocked to the union, their ranks held firm, and within months the company had come to the bargaining table and agreed to a contract establishing the 48-hour week, providing time-and-a-half for overtime, and raising wages 20 percent. other Winston-Salem manufacturers - Brown & Williamson, Bailey Brothers and Taylor Brothers - quickly followed suit, and when the organizing drive was over, 10,000 tobacco workers in that one community were covered by union contracts.
But success was fragile. Two years later, seizing on the postwar recession as an excuse, Reynolds refused to negotiate a new contract, unilaterally reduced wages and raised hours, and introduced a "spy system" to weed out union members. Just as the other cigarette companies had followed Reynolds' lead in signing contracts, they now followed Reynolds in renouncing unionization. By 1923, there was not a single TWUI local left in Winston-Salem.
The TWIU tried to fight back, but it was a futile battle. A new organizing effort in Winston-Salem collapsed in 1927 when hundreds of suspected members lost their jobs in a firing spree.
Tobacco workers hung in there - but barely - existing only on the periphery of the South. As for bakery workers, it was a time for caution and restraint.
The golden Postwar era came to a shocking end in 1929 with the stock market crash. Factories shut and locked their gates, families lost their meager savings and their homes as banks closed and mortgages were foreclosed. Breadlines and soup kitchens sprang up across the land, and the Great Depression descended on the nation.
The collapse of the economy spawned a community of misery for the nation's working-class families.
Tobacco workers found themselves working 50 hours a week for $11, turning to charities for fuel, food and clothing to survive - yet managed to feel "lucky" to have at least that much on which to subsist.
Workers in the baking industry suffered deplorable conditions and substandard wages in silence, fearing for their jobs if they complained. The B&C bitterly denounced these conditions as the "ruthless displacement of labor." The Depression intensified the price competition, with non-union employers best able to take advantage of cheap unemployed labor to slash prices.
Many locals voluntarily accepted pay cuts and shorter workweeks to spread the work among others less fortunate than themselves. Bakers knew the union's very existence was at stake. Unemployment benefits had depleted the treasuries of large locals, and work-sharing became a vehicle for easing the economic pressures on a troubled union.
On a raw March morning in 1933, Franklin Roosevelt took the oath of office as president of the United States, told a nation with one-fourth of its workforce unemployed, that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself," and pledged a New Deal for Americans who had been suffering a raw deal.
With that, FDR embarked on a sweeping program to put American industry back on its feet and American workers back on payrolls. The principal vehicle was on the National Industrial Recovery Act. - a mechanism for setting price and production levels for each industry, and wage and hour levels for works.
Most importantly, NIRA guaranteed all workers the right to organize and bargain collectively - and tobacco and bakery workers hoped this would breathe new life into their faltering unpins.
Putting industry-by industry codes into effect was no easy task. Both the B&C and the TWIU sought to participate in the process, but their voices were ignored and management prevailed in the crucial area of setting wages. What emerged was a jigsaw puzzle of wage scales for various branches of the same industry, coupled;led with a differential which kept Southern wages artificially depressed.
The right to join a union was one thing - getting management to honor that right was something else again. In the baking industry, intimidation abounded. Employers established company unions and "encouraged" workers to join, rooting out those who supported the B&C.
Nabisco workers began to organize under the protection of the NIRA in 1933, to offset the management's efforts to prod them into joining the company union. But it was not until four years later that the independent union joined the B&C.
So, even with the New Deal, there were obstacles that had to be overcome, and the B&C did so, forging doggedly ahead. Its membership had bottomed out at 16,000 in 1933; three years later it had more than doubled to stand at a respectable 37,000.
In the tobacco industry, meanwhile, the TWIU used NIRRA's guarantees as a springboard for vigorous organizing drives at all of the major companies and began bringing in large numbers of members.
For a time, NIRA's most positive impact was psychological. The TWIU appealed to Washington when union members at L&M and American were harassed by management and the situation was corrected. Meanwhile, with the label once again playing a key role, the TWIU scored a breakthrough in organizing Brown & Williamson workers in Louisville, Ky., Petersburg, Va., and Winston-Salem.
Organizing efforts came to a halt in 1935, when the Supreme Court ruled the NIRA unconstitutional, but Congress responded by enacting the National Labor Relations Act, which was ratified by the nation's highest court in 1937 - clearing the way for a concerted TWIU campaign.
Within a year, the union's ranks swelled to 16,000 and it could boast contracts with six L&M plants, four American plants, and Phillip Morris in Richmond. But breaking the ice with the Big Four wasn't easy.
Liggett & Myers' first reaction was to lay off workers, threaten to close its plants and refuse to negotiate. although it agreed to bargain in 1935, it did not sign an agreement for two years. Durham and Richmond workers got their contracts first, and the following year the union negotiated a national agreement that extended it to plants in St. Louis, Toledo, Chicago and San Francisco.
American gave in just as grudgingly, capitulating only after L&M signed with the union. Even then, the first contract at american covered only the white locals' it took another year for black locals, backed by their churches and community leaders, to get contracts in Reidsville and Durham.
In a sense, TWIU owed its success in organizing blacks to a very unlikely source - the CIO. After the industrial unions broke from the AFL in 1935, they launched sweeping drives in the mass production industries. Tobacco was one of those targets, and specifically the still-under-represented blacks.
The CIO was victorious at Lorillard's Middletown Ohio, plant, followed by a furious campaign which netted the CIO's Food, Tobacco, Agricultural & Allied Workers Union 17,000 workers at Reynolds' plant in Richmond.
A CIO challenge at the Lorillard plant in Louisville failed when the National Labor Relations Board ruled that the TWIU already represented 525 of the 600 workers. And at Larus & Brothers in Richmond, where the CIO represented one black local and the TWIU represented on white local, the Tobacco Workers won the election for a newly merged local by a 2-1 margin.
The CIO battled back briefly, winning a barrage of elections among leaf workers at Reynolds that added 10,000 seasonal workers to the trade union ranks. But, as far as tobacco organizing was concerned, the CIO had reached its zenith and eventually would recede from the field under the combined weight of the TWIU's increased organizing efforts and the anti-Communist provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act.
Both the TWUI and the B&C under-went significant internal changes in this period. The old guard was dying off or retiring, and new young leaders were taking hold of the reins. They had risen through the ranks, endured the hard times and participated in the successes and were ready to face a future that would be marked by challenges from both without and within their unions.
As America fought its way out of the depths of the Great Depression and worked its way through World War II, profound changes were taking place for tobacco and bakery workers.
In the B&C, younger men were busy organizing confectionery plants, undeterred by the feeling of the old-timers that it was a waste of time to concentrate on an industry characterized by a predominantly female workforce and seasonal work. The persistence of the new leaders paid off, and Candy Workers Local 350 in Philadelphia soon became a thriving organization of 1,500 members, setting the stage for similar organizing gains.
The chemistry of the B&C was being permanently altered. Where once the typical member had been a skilled worker of foreign background, the union now had a preponderance of native Americans, many of them women. Craft-oriented bakers still proudly carried their union cards, but the membership was made up more and more of workers from the mass-production side of the the industry.
The figures presented at the 1941 convention provided convincing evidence of the profound changes. The B&C could boast 344 locals in 46 states and Canada. Eleven of the were over 50 years old, another 33 were over 40 years old and 63 had been in existence at least a quarter of a century. But 100 new locals had received charters since the 1936 convention.
The membership rolls looked like this: 62,581 in bread, cake and pie shops; 10,630 in candy and confectionery; 3,568 in biscuits and crackers; 1,159 in macaroni and noodles.
Even as the face of the membership was changing, so, too, was the face of contract negotiations. Maturing collective bargaining relationships had produced agreements providing for classification systems to describe workers' duties and set their pay scales; 60 percent of the contracts provided hiring through the union office; 75 percent contained union label provisions; the eight-hour day was standard throughout the industry - in small shops and large plants, alike; more than half the agreements included vacation and paid holidays; seniority provisions were incorporated in a third of the contract; many agreements embraced work rules protecting bakers from having to perform unrelated tasks, and 20 percent provided for appointment of shop stewards from among regular employees.
At the shop-floor level, meanwhile, World War II saw the influx of thousands of new workers, primarily women, into the workforce to replace men who joined the armed forces or took jobs in war industries. Although management sought to put these new employees on lower wage scales, the B&C fought effectively to maintain the same pay scale for women and men - demonstrating how much it has matured in the generation that had passed since World War I.
Moving center stage, younger leaders concentrated on national bargaining with the gib chains. Seventy of Continental's 83 plants were under contract; all but one of General's 45 and Schultz's 19 had B&C agreements; and 45 of Purity's 47 plants were similarly covered.
For tobacco workers, the need for coordinated bargaining was equally compelling. Automation was on the march. The use of conveyors, automatic feeding devices and continuous process operations was on the rise. so were the speedup and consolidation of operations through relocation - all designed to increase productivity with a stable, or even declining, workforce.
Workers were excluded from the decision-making process and were forced to absorb major changes with little fore-warning. The most traumatic of these changes were plant closures. When Lorillard closed its Jersey City facility in 1955 and moved to a highly automated facility in Greensboro, for example, it saw no necessity to inform workers.
TWIU's collective bargaining in that era included a broad range of non-wage issues and the negotiation of master agreements covering two- or three-year periods put the union in a better position to mediate the effects of automation on its members.
The union worked toward such financial cushions as supplementary unemployment benefits and severance pay for displaced workers; higher wages for jobs modified by machinery changes based on productivity, work load, responsibility and skill; and spreading work through reduced hours for all workers, compulsory actions, more holidays, and a shorter work-week without reduction in pay.
In fleshing out these proposals in actual negotiations., it was the Canadian locals which emerged as the past setters. By 1946, the TWIU had organized 8 Canadian plants with a combined membership of 6,600 including some 2,800 at Imperial and 1,300 at McDonald in Montreal. It was at this juncture that the union chose to confront the resistance of the notorious B. Houde & Grothe in Quebec, a firm controlled by Imperial.
Fiercely anti-labor, Houde fired workers who attended union meetings, sought to blunt organizing efforts by granting its workers improvements negotiated by the TWIU at organized plants and funneled work from organized to non-unionized facilities.
The union's answer was joint policy committee on contract demands, with each local pledging not to accept any offer unless the company agreed to a similar contract with all other locals. A 1951 strike in Hamilton and Montreal spread to Granby and eventually involved a total to 5,000 workers. The settlement provided for a 7-cent hourly increase and a 40-hour week. But its most important feature was that it paved the way for joint bargaining.
Four years late, Houde finally yielded to the union and subsequently became a part of joint negotiations with other Imperial locals.
By decade's end, Canadian leaders saw themselves at the cutting edge of automation. They led the TWIU in achieving a shorter workweek by threatening to take 3,700 members out on strike at Imperial in Montreal, Granby, Quebec, Hamilton and Guelph. Two months of confrontation ended with Imperial agreeing to a 37 1/2 hour week for shift workers the first year, to be extended to all workers in the second year.
Five years later - when Lorillard, Philip Morris, Brown & Williamson and American accepted the short work-week in the United States - the Canadian arm of the TWIU brought McDonald's contract down to a 36 1/4 - hour week, and this became a general pattern for Canada. In addition, the Canadian locals succeeded in winning programs to train workers for more highly technological and skilled work in the industry.
In the Deep South, meanwhile, the TWIU was still wrestling with the remnants o the Jim CVrow system which continued to limit the access of black workers to jobs with responsibility.
When black locals protested Brown & Williamson's displacement of members with many years of seniority while it was hiring whites in job classifications from which blacks were excluded by reason of race, the union fought back on their behalf. It invoked provisions of federal law barring government contracts to companies discriminating in hiring. Stock-holders quickly insisted that the company reinstate the laid-off blacks.
While blacks were beginning to achieve job security in units in which they had established seniority, the larger issue of the right to bid on all jobs in the plant on the same basis remained in contention. It was an issue which both the TWIU and the blacks insisted must be resolved - and it took more than a decade to achieve that goal.
Under pressure from the President's Committee on EQual Employment Opportunity, Liggett & Myers reluctantly agreed t plan-wide seniority. To extent, though, it was an illusion. The company had not hired new workers in years, the size of the workforce was shrinking, and jobs didn't open up very rapidly.
Three years after the new system went into effect, only 70 of the company's 900 had moved into any of the 1,600 jobs in manufacturing classifications - and when they did, they often faced wage cuts in moving from the advanced steps of their traditional classifications to the lower rungs of the previously all-white ladder.
At the same time, the issue of racially segregated locals remained to be resolved, because their existence contributed to denial of equal opportunity. The TWIU supported the concept of margin black and white locals but it initially encountered opposition from blacks, themselves, who feared that merger would destroy the only organizational base their members had to fight for black job security. In the end, merger did take place - and the union was able to put aside the last vestiges of racial division it had inherited decades earlier when it made its first forays into the South. Equal employment opportunity applied to the parallel issue of sexual discrimination, and Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act paved the way toward merger of male and female seniority lists and the development - often in the face of stiff management resistance - of a policy of assuring equal opportunity without regard to gender.
The B&C had to come to grips with racial problems, too. The union believe in a strict non-discrimination policy, insisting that blacks, who made up 40 percent of the union's strength in the South, be paid the same wages as whites. It established segregated locals only when blacks insisted on them - as they did in Savannah, Charleston and Wilmington. Everywhere else in the South, B&C locals were racially mixed.
On the national level, the B&C consolidated its locals into divisions covering Continental, Ward, General, Purity and Hathaway and was making steady progress on the collective bargaining front when the NLRB, invoking provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act, ruled that a chain-wide division was not an appropriate bargaining unit. Rather than return to the old patter of local-by-local bargaining, the union brought locals in a defined multi-state area into coordinated negotiations with large wholesalers and local bakers' associations.
Then scandal rocked the B&C.
Charges of corruption among the union's leadership surfaced along with the disclosure of ties to the scandal. scarred Teamsters Union. They came at a time when the McClellan Committee was busy investigating labor racketeering., and the national AFL-CIO was deeply involved in trying to deal with the corruption issue.
The federation set u an Ethical Practices Committee, which heard charges of financial relationships between the B&C president and a accompany with which the union bargained, the acceptance of substantial gifts from locals under trusteeship, questionable expenses and other financial irregularities.
The committee gave the B&C a month to clean its house, and when the union's actions failed to satisfy the Executive Council, the B&C was suspended from the AFL-CIO. The final confrontation came at the federation's 1957 convention in Atlantic City, when delegates voted to expel both the B&C and the Teamsters.
Delegates from scores of locals formed an alternative body - the American Bakery & Confectionery Workers' International Union - and received an AFL-CIO charter. The B&C responded by warning employers under contract not to assist the ABC in any way and tied up the funds of several locals attempting to affiliate with the new international union
The ousted union managed to hold on to a hard core of membership, but the ABC quickly outstripped it to become the leading union in the industry. ABC leaders established a Washington headquarters and a union-industry welfare and pension fund. By January 1958 the ABC counted 60 locals and 44,000 members; three months later, its ranks had almost doubled.
The struggle for supremacy was fought out in the courts , as, where judges agreed with the ABC's argument that expulsion from the labor federation relieved locals of any further obligation to the B&C, paving the way for them to join the ranks of the new international.
By April 1958, the erosion of the B&C base was clearly evident. The ABC had 120 locals, representing 75,000 members and was still growing. In the end, the B&C held onto less than two-fits of its original membership.
The handwriting was clearly on the wall. Whole the ABC battled the B&C for membership, a determined band of officials in the B&C waged their own battle against corrupt elements in their union.
What followed was a general housecleaning, the officers whose activities had led to ouster from the federation were removed from office, and ultimately they were tried and convicted of embezzlement.
It was a painful experience and it lasted for 12 years, but in the end reunification took place - the first time in labor's history that a divided union had put itself back together again. What emerged after those years of division was a union more democratic than ever and proud to regain its old name of the Bakery & Confectionery Workers International Union.
It was time to make up for lost ground in a period of mounting unemployment and rampant inflation. The industry had been staggered by the runaway cost. complicated things further. There were inflationary implications in the sale of wheat to the Soviets, the deregulation of natural gas, and the surge of import competition for the macaroni and candy industries.
The reunited B&C rolled up its sleeves and went to work, fighting to help workers whose jobs were wiped out by automation, trying to keep up with spiraling inflation, and helping bring wages and working conditions in the South up to national standards.
The TWIU was struggling with the changing times, too. It embarked on an ambitious program of staff training, made its Executive Board the militant center of organizing and negotiating activities, and reached a watershed in collective bargaining, when in, in 1967, it brought delegates from 12 locals representing 22,000 members together in Atlanta in the first test of a pre-bargaining strategy which was to change negotiations in the tobacco industry.
The first test came when negotiations with American Tobacco reached an impasse and the TWIU led 5,000 workers out on strike in January 1968, closing the company's plants in Louisville, Reidsville, Richmond and Durham for five weeks. This first postwar strike against a major manufacturer led to the biggest monetary gain ever achieved in the industry.
The key to success lay in close communication with rank a-and-file members and better communication with management. The union came to the bargaining table with sensible proposals and walked away with satisfactory contracts - in the process, lighting a path for the rest of the labor movement to follow.
Just as the TWIU had pioneered the shorter worker week earlier, it now took the lead in winning lon-sought-after improvements in pension programs. In 1974, the union won full retirement benefits for workers at age 55 with 30 years of service.
Organizing at R.J. Reynonlds continued to elude the TWIU, however. A three-year drive to unionize the company ran head-on into Reynolds's well-greased anti-union propaganda machinery, and when the votes were counted in 1974, the TWIU lost by a margin of 4,963 t0 2,608.
But it couldn't pierce Reynolds' armor, the TWIU was able to make important gains in the seasonal field. A three-year organizing drive, followed by a strike, finally brought substantial gains at Export Tobacco Co.in Wilson, N. C. and subsequently at other field operations.
But changes were taking place in the industry that were beyond the union's ability to control. The product was under heavy attack because of the Surgeon General's report suggesting that cigarette smoking could cause cancer. In quick succession, the industry suffered the repeated jolts of still hikes in cigarette taxes, the segregation of smokers in public places, restrictions on advertising, and the requirement that their product bear warning" labels.
A jittery industry diversified its financial holdings, investing increasing amounts of its capital outside of the tobacco field - and in the process set up a new challenge of the TWIU that would ultimately impact on the B&C, as well.
For both union, the 70s posed difficult problems.
Their members faced the uncertainties of large-scale automation, plant closings and industrial reorganization and the emergence of international conglomerates. Significantly, the diversification of industrial investments was increasingly bringing the production of tobacco and baked goods under common corporate ownership.
The situation was particularly acute for the TWIU. Its membership had average 33,000 in the decade spanning the years from 1965 to 1975. In May 19776 it stood at 32,569 and a year late had skidded to 30,518. The industry was diversifying at an ever-accelerating rate, and the union knew it had to diversify, too, if it was to survive.
TWIU leaders opened merger discussions with a number of unions but, in the end, several important considerations beyond the emergence of tobacco-bakery conglomerates led them to the B&C. Their separate industries long had used common distributors. Some of their manufacturing processes, particularly the packaging of finished goods, were similar. So on a purely industrial basis, merger of the TWIU and the B&C made sense.
Merger was natural from a trade union point of view, as well. The constitutions of both unions were similar, as were their dues structure. The leaders of the two organizations had worked together in the AFL-CIO Union Label & Service Trades Department and in the International Union of Food & Allied Workers' Associations. They know each other, and they shared a common philosophy.
Most importantly, TWIU's leadership felt that, among all of the unions with whom they considered merging, the B&C was the only one which would guarantee tobacco locals the authority to continue to run their own operations and service their own members.
The TWIU merger committee brought its findings to special conferences in Toronto, Montreal and Myrtle Beach, S. C. in March 1978, and in August of that year, separate international conventions ratified the merger of the 30,000-member TWIU and the 137,000-member B&C to form a new union: the Bakery, Confectionery& Tobacco Workers International Union.
The merged union wasted no time in mobilizing its resources to do battle on behalf of its members. Innovative, militant and progressive, it established the BC&T Political Action Committee to counter the rising political power of the right wing and to confront the increasingly sophisticated way in which employers were short-circuiting the basic guarantees of the National Labor Relations Act, the Occupational Safety & Health Act, and other legislation designed to protect the rights of working men and women.
A sweeping new education program was inaugurated, the keystone of which was the convening of area conferences for local union officers and stewards . They cover a broad range of basic trade union issues - organizing, OSHA, Landrum-Griffin, voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives. Their purpose is to involve local union leadership in the important grass-roots task of alerting members to the onslaught of the union-busters and, as the BC&T leadership puts it, to "tighten the muscle and guts" of the union.
One of the most visible signs of the sense of unity and purpose achieved by the merger was the establishment of the union's new headquarters in the Washington suburb of Kensington, Md. Here the union's international administrative offices share space with the most enduring of the unions institutions - the Health, Welfare an Pension Funds.
And i is her that, as the BCC&T marks the end of its first century of challenge and change, of struggle and achievement, the leaders of the Bakery, Confectionery & Tobacco Workers International Union work to carry out their mandate to move the union forward into its exciting second century of service to its 140,000 members.
It isn't easy to tell the union's story in just a few pages. During the past hundred years, the B&C, the TWIU and the merged Baker, Confectionery & Tobacco Workers International Union wrote page after page of achievement in the history of the American trade union movement.
If you want to know more about your union's roots, there are tow excellent volumes, written by historian Stuart B. Kaufman of the University of Maryland, which deal with these achievements in greater detail:
A Vision of Unity - History of the Bakery & Confectionery Workers International Union.
Challenge and Change - History of the Tobacco Workers International Union.
They make excellent reading for union officers and members, and would make ideal additions to college, hi school an community libraries.
For information on how you can obtain copies, white to the International Union headquarters.