The Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers of America (IUMSWA) was formed in 1934 to unite all shipyard workers regardless of their trade/craft or level of skill. Records include extensive documentation of locals' activities and contracts; national administration; organizing efforts; negotiations; conventions; National Labor Relations Board and National War Labor Board cases; actions taken to stabilize the shipbuilding industry; and relationships with other unions. The IUMSWA archives also contain records from unions outside the shipbuilding industry that were in some way associated with IUMSWA, such as the United Railroad Workers of America, Marine Draftsmen's Association, and the Provisional Metal Workers Council.
This collection is open for research.
Photocopies of original materials may be provided for a fee and at the discretion of the curator. Please see our Duplication of Materials policy for more information. Queries regarding publication rights and copyright status of materials within this collection should be directed to the appropriate curator.
188.75 Linear Feet
The Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers of America records date from 1934 to 1970, with the bulk of the materials covering the period 1940 to 1960. The records consist of a variety of materials, including extensive correspondence; reports; minutes; case files; publications; newspaper clippings; conference and convention proceedings; constitutions and bylaws; and speeches. Also present are regulations; press releases; statistical and other analyses; resolutions; petitions; membership lists; and legal records. In addition, the IUMSWA archives include such special format materials as photographs, memorabilia, posters, and scrapbooks. The archives document the wide range of IUMSWA activities. Coverage of union administration, locals, and relations with the United States government is particularly strong.
Prior to the 1930s, shipyard workers had been organized into a number of craft unions affiliated with the American Federation of Labor (A. F. of L.). During the First World War, A. F. of L. unions flourished as the demand for wartime shipping led to an unparalleled expansion of the industry. Yet following the signing of the Armistice, government construction orders fell sharply and the industry entered a sustained period of economic stagnation. The massive layoffs that followed the collapse of the wartime boom rapidly depleted trade union membership, and the high unemployment accompanying the general postwar depression of 1920-1921 further undermined union power. It was at this time, moreover, that the various shipbuilding firms launched their "open shop" offensive in an effort to eliminate remaining trade union presence. By 1923, the employers had defeated the unions, and many established company-dominated unions to replace legitimate labor organizations.
Both the Great Depression and the rise of fascism in Europe in the early 1930s, however, brought about abrupt changes in the status of the shipyard workers. Confronted by severe, arbitrarily imposed wage reductions and the spread of massive unemployment accompanying the Depression, workers increasingly turned to unionism as a means of resistance. By September 1933, workers employed at the New York Shipbuilding Corporation in Camden, New Jersey, had organized an independent union which defeated the company union. And in March 1934, following a strike under the leadership of John Green, a sheetmetal worker and shipfitter who emigrated to the United States in 1923 from Clydebank, Scotland, this union won recognition and successfully negotiated immediate wage increases and improvements in working conditions. Other shipyard workers employed along the east coast soon joined in the struggle to achieve organization, and in September 1934, six locals met in Quincy, Massachusetts, to form the Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers of America (IUMSWA). The IUMSWA's subsequent organizational drive was thus propitiously launched at a time when the Roosevelt administration's preparations for the war against Nazism necessitated both the revival of naval shipbuilding and the rapid expansion of the merchant marine fleet.
The emergence of the IUMSWA marked a new departure in the nature of shipyard unionism. Like most of the new unions formed in the early thirties, the IUMSWA eschewed organization along craft lines, which would have created a separate union for each of the shipyard trades, and instead adopted the strategy of industrial unionism, by which all workers, irrespective of their particular trade or level of skill, were brought together into a single organization. In keeping with this "one union, one yard" plan of organization, the IUMSWA affiliated with the Committee for Industrial Organization (later the Congress of Industrial Organizations) in 1935. With the added strength provided by the CIO movement and the benefits of federally-supervised collective bargaining provided by the Wagner Act, the IUMSWA's bold organizing drives brought membership to well over 100,000 by 1940.
With the enormous expansion of shipbuilding during the Second World War, the Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers of America achieved unprecedented gains in both membership and influence. A major victory for the IUMSWA during the buildup of the national defense, 1940-1941, occurred when Local 15 secured an agreement with the Bethlehem Steel Corporation for workers employed at the firm's Hoboken, New Jersey, shipyard on May 15, 1941. This agreement effectively ended Bethlehem's maintenance of the open shop in shipbuilding, an industry which it had dominated throughout the prewar years, and prepared the path for the successful organization of that company's steel manufacturing plants by the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC-CIO). As membership reached 250,000 during the war years, IUMSWA officials held important posts in government agencies responsible for setting wartime labor policies. When the war stimulated steady membership growth in the more established east and west coast locals, the previously weaker locals in the South Atlantic and Gulf shipbuilding districts likewise experienced dramatic gains.
In the years immediately following the war, the IUMSWA suffered huge losses in membership, as the industry once again experienced rapid decline in the wake of demobilization. Although in the ensuing period, the IUMSWA launched campaigns to secure federal commitments to rebuild the nation's merchant marine, no such action was forthcoming. The Korean conflict (1950-1953) only temporarily reversed the general post-WWII slump in new ship construction. The decisions of U. S. investors to finance shipbuilding overseas severely undercut the union's efforts to maintain jobs in the later postwar decades. Indeed by 1973, the IUMSWA's membership had shrunk to approximately 21,000.
In the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, the IUMSWA has concentrated its efforts on two major issues: 1) worker health and safety, and, 2) revival of the shipbuilding industry in the face of continued unfair trade practices by foreign builders, which have been bolstered by the willingness of U. S. companies to utilize foreign-built ships under American flags.
In attempting to extend worker control over issues of job safety and health, the IUMSWA has conducted several major studies to measure the effects of asbestos exposure and the harmful impact of exposure to various metals during such processes as welding and burning. The first Occupational Disease Study was begun at the Bethlehem-Key Highway yard in Baltimore, Maryland, directly under the auspices of Local 24 and the Mt. Sinai Medical Center. Additional studies have since been conducted at other major shipyards under IUMSWA contract.
The influx of foreign-built vessels into the American merchant fleet has led to massive layoffs in several important yards. In 1979, workers at Bethlehem-Sparrow's Point, Maryland, were hit with some 2,000 layoff slips. In addition to unemployment caused by merchant fleet usage of foreign-built ships, the IUMSWA has also had to deal with the Reagan administration's encouragement of foreign companies in producing material for the U. S. Navy. The problem of foreign competition was aggravated by the refusal of the Administration to provide the industry with the type of protections other governments have afforded to their home producers, especially heavy domestic subsidization. To counter the foreign-built problem, the IUMSWA has been working closely with the AFL-CIO Maritime Trades Department to secure much-needed legislation to make the market fair, and has successfully won application of the 1974 Trade Adjustment Act, which made workers laid off by unfair trade practices eligible for cash allowances, to the shipbuilding industry.
The IUMSWA has also been able to maintain union presence in related marine construction projects, including dredge building and offshore oil rig production, while at the same diversifying its membership to include city employees in Bath, Maine, fire equipment workers in West Virginia, employees in the New Jersey natural gas industry, and workers at an automobile dealership in Portland, Maine. Despite this diversification, the IUMSWA's membership numbers continued to decline, by approximately 50 percent, during the 1980s. The resultant financial difficulties led in part to the union's merger with the International Association of Machinists in 1988.
Organized as ten series:
The Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers of America records were accessioned in 1967 by the University of Maryland Libraries. They were donated by the IUMSWA national office, then headquartered in Camden, New Jersey. Additional materials were received in 1985 from Robert W. Pemberton, Vice-President of the IUMSWA.
When received, the Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers of America records were stored in file cabinets. Subsequent to their transfer to the University of Maryland Libraries, the records were reboxed into record center cartons and placed in storage until 1981 when processing began.
The current order of the collection was established completely by the processors. Originally, the records were maintained in yearly chronological runs, irrespective of series arrangement. The initial arrangement scheme called for the IUMSWA archives to be divided into four series, Administration, Locals, Government Relations, and Miscellaneous Records. The large number of subseries in the first series prompted a reorganization of these materials into the current series numbers 1 through 4, with the nineteen groupings divided among them.
The archives have been refoldered into acid-free folders, with many of the more acidic materials placed at the end of individual files, preceded by a sheet of acid-free bond paper. The folders have then been housed in acid-free boxes. Oversize materials have been separated from the collection and housed in flat storage. And photographs and memorabilia have been transferred to the appropriate collections.