Longtime Activist Honored by Connecticut Machinists

Longtime IAM activist Clarence Gaskins, second from right, is honored with the “Lifetime of Service to Working Families” award. From left, IAM International President Tom Buffenbarger, Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy, Gaskins, and Connecticut State Council of Machinists President John Harrity.

In 1960, IAM Local 700 member Clarence Gaskins was denied his right to vote. Last weekend, he was honored by Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy for his union and political activism.

Gaskins was formally recognized by Malloy, alongside IAM International President Tom Buffenbarger and Connecticut State Council of Machinists President John Harrity, with the “Lifetime of Service to Working Families” award.

Gaskins, a South Carolina native and 47-year IAM member, remembers going through absurd “poll tests” when he tried to register to vote in the South.

A few examples Gaskins recalls: “How many bubbles in this bar of soap?” “How many seeds in this cucumber?” “How many kernels of corn in this jar?”

When he couldn’t answer, they told him he couldn’t vote.

In 1965, the year President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act to stop discriminatory voting practices, Gaskins left the South and moved to Middletown, CT. The first time he voted in a presidential election was in 1968 at the age of 28, when he cast his ballot for Hubert Humphrey. He hasn’t missed an election since.

“It felt good to vote; it made me feel like I was a citizen,” said Gaskins. “Before that I didn’t feel like I was a citizen of the United States.”

But Gaskins’ political activism didn’t stop in the voting booth. During election season, Gaskins helps family, friends and co-workers who can’t leave the house vote by absentee ballot. He drives people to the polls. He puts more mileage on his car during election time than some local politicians, estimates friend and IAM District 26 Secretary Shirley Dickes.

Gaskins also made a name for himself as a prolific organizer, especially in the “open shop” days at Pratt & Whitney, which ended in 1991. He would meet employees in the shop parking lots, the post office and the shop lobby to have them sign union cards. Harrity calls Gaskins “far and away the best organizer in the state, with records that will never be topped.”

“Brother Gaskins is a true working class hero,” said Eastern Territory GVP Lynn D. Tucker, Jr. “He embodies what the labor movement, activism and service to the community is all about. Working families in Connecticut, the IAM, and all across the U.S. are better off as a result of his dedication.”