The Electrical Worker online
October 2017

From the Officers
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A hundred and twenty-five years ago, 32 delegates gathered in the Windy City for the National Brotherhood of Electrical Workers' second convention. It was an uncertain time. The union was just a year old, and in that room at the Atlantic Hotel, things weren't easy.

Our first secretary, J.T. Kelly, wrote about that convention and "the early struggles of the Brotherhood to preserve its very existence." At the time, the NBEW had just 1,600 members in 43 local unions, which Kelly described as "untrained and untried, no standard of wages or conditions established anywhere and very few experienced men to whom they could look for proper guidance.

"In some places, it meant immediate discharge to have it known you carried a card in any union," he wrote. "Journeymen worked for as low as $1.50 per day of ten hours or longer at the dictation of the employer."

How far we've come.

When we return to Chicago in 2021 for the 40th International Convention, delegates — more than 1,900 of them — will represent 725,000 members and retirees from more than 900 locals. More importantly, those members won't know what it's like to work without enforceable safety standards or how hard it was to get by on substandard wages. Today's members don't have to worry about how they'll pay for a doctor's visit or whether they'll be able to retire with dignity. These are things this union and the people who built it fought and died for, and the fight continues even today.

When we last visited Chicago in 1954 for the 25th International Convention, more than 35 percent of American workers belonged to a union. Today, it's less than 10.5 percent. Working people and unions have had a hard time over the last 40 years. Wages have been stagnant, conservative politicians have jumped at every opportunity to reduce our collective power, and the gap between the top 1 percent and everybody else has gotten larger and larger. So we approach our 40th convention with lots of work to do.

Over the next several years, we'll be working on those issues and more, and preparing for the next Chicago convention, the fifth in our history, to be the best one yet.

In addition to the massive undertaking of planning a convention, our staff is working to digitize the entire operation, from registration right through the closing gavel. This effort will make it easier on officers, delegates and guests and allow us to spend our valuable time on the important business of this union and focusing on improving the lives of our members and working people everywhere. That's the most important job we have.

The IBEW's 40th International Convention will be held at Chicago's McCormick Place Convention Center from Aug. 30-Sept. 3, 2021.


Also: Stephenson: The Toughest Job We Have Read Stephenson's Column

Kenneth W. Cooper

Kenneth W. Cooper
International Secretary-Treasurer