Thomas Wheeler, former Local 38 press secretary and inside wireman, was elected Grand President at the Sixth Convention; and he presided over another period of growth and prosperity for the union. However, the press secretary of Local 49, Chicago, Henry Martin, wrote in The Electrical Worker about the harsh working conditions and low wages electrical workers still had to overcome. He said,
To be compelled to work 365 days in the year without any rest is a hard task for a laborer. The Trimmers of the city of Chicago have no rest. They work on Sundays and holidays alike, and receive no more pay for work done on Sunday than for work done on any other day. Whenever we get a vacation, we must pay for it….Whenever we lose a day to sickness, we are not paid for that day….Should one of us get hurt, or taken with sever illness, we would not be able to pay for medical care for more than a few weeks before we would become wards of the hospitals or objects of charity. We cannot get insured and properly prepared for the future on so little a salary….Public opinion is with us. No citizen….who ever saw a trimmer freeze to the iron lamp-post when it was 20 below zero, or carried to the hospital when laid low by a shock, or trudging through the rain like a drowned rat, or swept from his feet by a blinding, cutting snowstorm, or racking with pains of rheumatism contracted on duty, would ever object to the arc-light trimmers getting a raise in pay.
The Eighth Convention, marking the Brotherhood’s 10th anniversary, held in St. Louis, elected W.A. Jackson, a Chicago lineman from Local 9, as Grand President. Between 1902 and 1903 the Brotherhood saw one of its fastest periods of growth. The number of locals increased by 147, from 248 to 395. With this growth, many union leaders realized the job of running the IBEW was too big for part-time officers; and in 1903 the dynamic F.J. McNulty was elected the first full time, paid president.
By the 1903 Convention in Salt Lake City, the IBEW had come of age. Very difficult internal struggles loomed around the corner; but the Brotherhood, with its membership of North American men and women representing workers in all segments of the fast-growing electrical industry, was on firm ground. The biggest battles for workers’ rights were yet to be fought, and questions on the ultimate direction of the union were yet to be answered; but after the Salt Lake City Convention, the idea of the Brotherhood launched 12 years before had been turned into a reality which would not be stopped.
Haymarket Square Riot
On May 4, 1886, a rally was held in Chicago’s Haymarket Square to promote labor unionism and the eight-hour day and to protest the police shooting of four strikers on May 3 at McCormick Harvester Company. The peaceful gathering turned into a riot when an unidentified person tossed a bomb at the police, killing four of them. The police opened fire on the crowd. When the riot was over, seven policemen and four workers were dead; hundreds of people were injured. Eight anarchists were tried, convicted to death—although no evidence linked them to the bomb. Samuel Gompers later noted, “[The] bomb not only killed the policemen, but it killed our eight-hour movement for a few years after.”
1834 Tolpuddle Martyrs, English agricultural workers, are banished from Canada to Australia for efforts to form a union. Some later settled near London, Ontario.