|“The Pit” Birthplace of the International Association of Machinists, May 5, 1888; Engine pit in old East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia R.R. Shops, Atlanta, GA.|
Washington, D.C., May 31, 2013 – The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), one of the nation’s largest industrial trade unions, will commemorate its125th birthday this week in Atlanta, the city where it was founded on May 5, 1888.
A far cry from the 19 white men who met secretly in a locomotive repair pit in Atlanta’s Mechanicsville neighborhood to establish the “United Machinists and Mechanical Engineers of America,” the union now known as the IAM is a showcase of diversity, administering more than 5,000 contracts across the U.S. and Canada. The leadership of today’s Machinists Union is equally diverse, with an executive board that includes men and women of African American, Hispanic, American Indian and Anglo descent.
“Just like the rail lines that carried our earliest organizers in every direction from Atlanta, this union expanded beyond the railroads to eventually represent workers in every major industry, including airlines, aerospace, shipbuilding, woodworking and manufacturing,” said Tom Buffenbarger, the IAM’s 13th International President and the youngest to take office at age 46 in 1997. “But that journey began right here in Atlanta and we’re back this week to reflect on our heritage and reconnect with the spirit and determination that drove those early organizers.”
After establishing “Lodge No. 1” in Atlanta, the young union grew quickly, adding 34 local lodges in one year and increasing membership from 19 to 1,500. The eight-hour day, a living wage and respect for skilled trades were among their earliest goals. The IAM today represents nearly 700,000 active and retired members across North America and is highly regarded as a forceful and influential advocate for workers’ pensions, health care and job security.
“The IAM is one of this nation’s oldest labor unions and we’re very proud of our roots here in the South,” said Buffenbarger. “It may be trendy for some to say that unions aren’t welcome here or that our time has passed, but they sure aren’t speaking for the millions of workers and their families who have benefitted from union-negotiated wages, pensions and health care benefits. This country still needs unions and it needs workers who get to share in the prosperity they help create. That’s what drove the earliest Machinists and it’s what still drives us today.”