The Origin of Organized Labor in the Paper Industry
The origin of modern labor unions in the paper industry dates to the formation of Eagle Lodge in Holyoke, Massachusetts which was granted a charter by the AFL in 1883. The first union members were skilled paper makers who sought to reduce the number of hours worked in the two-tour system which required that men work an eleven-hour day shift and a thirteen-hour night shift, six days per week, on alternating weeks. Intensive rivalries among paper machine workers with differing skills limited the progress until the combative factions within the Lodge settled their differences to form the International Brotherhood of Paper Makers (IBPM) in 1902.
The semi-skilled and unskilled common laborers who worked in pulp production were denied an AFL charter and were assigned to the IBPM where they were relegated to second-class status, denied certain privileges of the union and unable to hold office. When discrimination against pulp workers continued and their numbers grew in the industry, the International Brotherhood of Pulp, Sulfite and Paper Mill Workers (IBPSPMW)was organized and granted an AFL charter in 1906.
Residual animosities between the IBPM and IBPSPMW prevented them from being able to work together between 1906-1908, a fact that came into full view during a strike against International Paper when each union worked against the interests of the other. The decline in union membership, from 8000 in 1908 to 2000 in 1910, that was a result lead to increased cooperation after 1908 which was inadvertently aided by International Paper which began to discriminate against it employees who were active in the 1908 Strike, firing many of them. New workers hired after 1908 were forced to sign “yellow dog” contracts wherein they promised not to join a union. As a result, animus between the unions and International Paper intensified between 1908 and 1910.
The 1910 Strike
On March 4, 1910 Hudson River Mill manager Charles Walker fired Cornelius O’Leary, a back tender on the No. 4 paper machine, allegedly for the theft of Company property. His co-workers confronted Walker asking for an explanation of the firing and seeking his reinstatement. When Walker refused both requests, all the men working on the No. 3 and No. 4 paper machines walked off their jobs and left the mill in protest. Gradually, other day-shift employees also left their work, and paper workers scheduled for the 3-11 PM shift failed to show up for work.
The next day a union rally was led by IBPSPMW President John Malin at the Central Opera house on Center Street in Corinth. Speaking for himself and IBPM President Jeremiah Carey who was in Maine, Malin pledged their support for the walkout and encouraged the local union members to hold a formal strike vote on March 5.
The walkout by Corinth paper workers on March 4 and the strike vote taken on March 5 was about more than the firing of Cornelius O’Leary. On March 12 a petition was circulated among Corinth businessmen and citizens, which asked that International Paper remove Charles Walker from his position as Manager of the Hudson River Mill, exposed the deeper reasons for the walkout. The petition alleged that since the 1908 Strike, Walker had discriminated against union members by not hiring them for employment at the mill, while he had discharged other paper workers for their union activity. The petition also compared Walker to a “slave driver” in the way that he treated employees.
After the strike vote passed on March 5, International Paper wasted little time in trying to resume operations at the Hudson River Mill when it attempted to bring 70 strikebreakers into the mill by rail at Midnight on March 8. The train ran into barricaded tracks near the Palmer Avenue crossing in the village where a large crowd gathered in the darkness. Gun shots were fired into the rail cars and dynamite was donated underneath one of them. Later that night, after the engineer had reversed the train out of the Village, the wooden trestle over Sturdevant Creek was set on fire. After Delaware and Hudson Railroad employees repaired the damage, dynamite was detonated at one end of the trestle in an effort to destroy it. The next day, International Paper secured a court injunction against the local labor unions.
The attack on the train by Corinth citizens and Palmer Mill strikers offered the threat of further violence. Saratoga County sheriff’s deputies had been unable to maintain order, so Governor Charles Evans Hughes activated Company L of the New York State National Guard for duty in Corinth on March 9. Two more Guard companies were ordered there the next day. By March 10, 225 National Guard troops are stationed in Corinth. International Paper sought to beef-up the security provided by the Guard by hiring Pinkerton agents for duty at the Hudson River Mil.
Damage done to the wooden rail trestle required that National Guard troops escort strikebreakers from the train station to the Hudson River Mill. Corinth citizens often gathered to taunt the Guard as they marched through the streets of the community, and in one instance a group of 200 strikers forcibly removed several strikebreakers from a wagon that was being escorted by National Guardsmen. The resolve shown by the Corinth strikers and the harboring of of grievances by paper workers at other International Company mills led other IBPM and IBPSPMW several locals to strike in sympathy. Sensing an opportunity as the strike spread, IBPM President Carey led a rally at Corinth and listed the union’s demands for 10% pay increase, double-time for Sunday work, and a closed union shop as condition to end the strike. More IP mills went on strike in support of Carey’s demands, reaching a total of eleven mill within a week of the original March 4 walkout at Corinth.
International Paper actively recruited strikebreakers to the mill, bolstered by the protection provided by the National Guard and the Pinkertons. Their escorted approach from the train station through the streets of Corinth was signaled by the ringing of Methodist and Catholic Church bells which typically drew several hundred people onto the sidewalks who then followed the Guard and the strikebreakers all the way to the Hudson River Mill. Young boys, stimulated by all of the military activity in the community, often “played militia” in the street of Corinth.
Many of the strikebreakers were recruited to work at the Hudson River Mill but were not told there was a strike underway. Many of these men decided to leave town when they discovered their true mission. By March 17 Charles Walker reported that four of the mill’s nine paper machines were operating, although salaried personnel who were friends of the strikers confirmed that the paper was of poor quality.
About a week after the strike began, Father P.J. Donnelly of Corinth made headlines when he addressed his congregation at the Immaculate Conception Church on Palmer Avenue to present his view of how the strike should be settled. At a mass that was attended by strikers and their families and also about 50 of the National Guardsmen stationed in Corinth, Father Donnelly asserted that arbitration was the best way to resolve the conflict. Concerned that the strike would drag on and have an adverse impact on the community, a committee of Corinth citizens comprised of clergy, businessmen and former Village officers followed-up on Father Donnelly’s suggestion and appealed to the New State Board of Mediation and Arbitration for help.
Shortly after the Father Donnelly spoke of arbitration, two of International Paper’s Directors visited the Corinth mill and asked Father Donnelly to meet with them. Since many Hudson River Mill workers were Catholic, it was hoped that Donnelly could convince them to accept a settlement that the Company would soon offer in order to prevent involvement in the strike by the Mediation and Arbitration Board. At a mass meeting at the Central Opera House on April what occurred after his meeting with the IP Directors, Father Donnelly told the strikers gathered that they soon would be hearing good news from IP in the coming days. On April 7 International Paper issued a press release which said that it had rejected the New York State Arbitration Board’s offer to arbitrate an end to the strike, although it did say that the Company would propose a settlement itself.
Movement towards settling the strike was stalled after International Paper refused to meet with the Mediation and Arbitration Board, and the New York Times reported in early April that IBPM President Carey had alleged that International Paper offered him a $25,000 bribe to bring the strike to an end. Carey provided a detailed account of the bribery attempt in the April issue of the Paper Maker’s Journal. Proffered through an intermediary of the IP President, A.N. Burbank, Carey claimed that IP’s offer to him to end the strike started at $1,000 and increased each time he refused. As the offer escalated to $25,000 in cash, Carey said that the Company also promised to make him superintendent of any International Paper Company mill he chose.
The Company denied the accusation, and then published large ads in local newspapers which sought to blame the unions for the strike. News coverage that Carey’s accusation received may have moved the Mediation and Arbitration Board to act.
The Board launched an investigation of the strike on May 4, 1910 with public hearings held over two-week period in Corinth and Glens Falls. Corinth strikers who testified told of Company practices that threatened them with job termination if they belonged to a union or being forced to sign a “yellow dog” contract promising as a condition of their employment that they would not join a union. Testimony also revealed that some men active in the 1908 Strike had been blacklisted and were unable to secure employment within the paper industry.
Concerned that the Mediation and Arbitration Board might rule against them, International Paper took the initiative to end the strike on its own terms. Maurice Jones, President of IBPM Local No. 7 at the Hudson River Mill, John Connolly, President of IBPSPMW Local No. 4, along the with both IBPM and IBPSPMW International Presidents, went to New York City on May 16 to meet with IP management. The negotiations for an end to the strike, which included a representative from the New York State Department of Labor, produced a settlement that ended the 10-week conflict. The agreement, which featured a 5-percent wage increase, a promise of no Sunday work, and a closed shop, represented a significant victory for the unions and provided the paper workers who walked out of the Hudson River Mill on March 4 with a deep sense of pride in having led the union fight against International Paper.
Postscript to the 1910 Strike
The end of the 1910 Strike came as a relief to not only to strikers and their families but to the larger Corinth community. Men had gone ten weeks without a paycheck in an era when the unions lacked the financial resources to provide strike support to their members. While the National Guardsmen encamped in the community provided some business for local merchants, the return to work in late May with the promise of a 5-percent pay increase provided a welcome return to normalcy in Corinth whose economic fortunes were increasingly shaped by the fortunes of the 650 men who worked at the Hudson River Mill.
On Sunday, September 3, 1910 a pre-Labor Day interfaith religious service was held Corinth’s Central Opera House, an event that symbolized the degree to which the community’s citizens, businessmen, its clergy and the local labor unions viewed their fates as integrally related to the paper industry and the Hudson River Mill. The over 300 people who attended the service heard sermons by Father Donnelly of the Immaculate Conception Church, followed by Rev. Cook, pastor of the Methodist Church and Rev. Gates, pastor of the Presbyterian Church who offered messages of unity, fraternity, and the dignity of the working man.
The actual Labor Day celebration embraced the theme “Industrial Peace” which had become a national slogan in the pre-World War I years as an expression of the desire for an end of labor strikes and the corporate embrace of unions and the better wages and working conditions they sought for industrial workers. There was a parade through the streets of Corinth with floats and marching bands that ended at Cedar Park on Palmer Avenue where a picnic and sporting events were held. The theme of Industrial Peace was expressed literally in Cedar Park when Charles Walker, the Hudson River Mill Manager who had been the object of union scorn, was invited by the Corinth Allied Trades to sit at their table with the Corinth Village President and Trustees and the entire clergy of the community. Officials of International Paper were invited to attend, but in their absence the Company provided $160.00 in prize money to contestant competing in Labor Day sports. The Paper Makers Journal referred to IP’s gesture as “a new and progressive move between employer and employee.”