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IAM Celebrates 134 years of strength and solidarity

Nineteen machinists working for the East Tennessee, Virginia, and Georgia Railroad gather in a locomotive pit to decide what to do about a wage cut. They vote to form a union, which later became the International Association of Machinists (1888).​The union was originally called the Order of United Machinists and Mechanical Engineers and later changed to the National Association of Machinists.

Thomas Talbot, the union’s founder, believed that a union needed to be formed for railroad machinists that would resist wage cuts. He wanted to provide insurance against unemployment, illness, and accidents but also wanted railroad machinists to be recognized for their craft skill.

On May 6, 1889, the Machinists held their first major convention in Atlanta. Talbot was elected the Grand Master Machinist (later known as the International President), and William L. Dawley was elected as Grand Secretary (now known as General Secretary-Treasurer).

The Organization’s name was changed to the National Association of Machinists (NAM) and a constitution was drawn up. The NAM began publishing the 16-page Machinists Monthly Journal. Also in 1889, Frank French designed an emblem for the union. The emblem consisted of a flywheel, a friction joint caliper, and a machinist’s square with the initials of the organization. According to French, the flywheel represented the ongoing power of the union once it started, and the caliper signified an extended invitation to all persons of civilized countries. The square signified that IAM was square and honest.

In 1890 and 1891, NAM reached Canada, making Canadians the first international members. Locals were also formed in Mexico. To reflect this, in 1891 the name was changed from National Association of Machinists to International Association of Machinists (IAM), at a conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Despite the danger in belonging to a union, the word spread beyond Georgia, thanks in part to “boomers”, men who traveled the railway lines for work. These boomers established local lodges in new areas. Within one year there were 40 lodges, and by 1891, there were 189.

In 1890 and 1891, NAM reached Canada, making Canadians the first international members. Locals were also formed in Mexico. To reflect this, in 1891 the name was changed from National Association of Machinists to International Association of Machinists (IAM), at a conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

“Happy Birthday to all Machinists Union members”, said Dave Chartrand, IAM Canadian General Vice-President. “We have come a long way from that locomotive pit in Atlanta and the days when unions were illegal. But that doesn’t mean we should take anything for granted. We all know how quickly we can lose all we have fought for. We have two major provincial elections in Canada this year, and a critical mid-term election in the US. I urge all members and their families to get out there and vote for people who support workers. Do this for the generations who will come after us. Happy Birthday IAM!”

With files from Wikipedia

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This article was originally posted on the IAM Canada website. View the original post here: IAM Celebrates 134 years of strength and solidarity