1909: The Assault


In January 1909, Tobin went to New York City in attempt to merge two independent Teamsters locals. While speaking to the 200-plus members in attendance, Tobin sensed hostility in the audience. Tobin tried to speak but it was a fruitless endeavor; the crowds’ loud rants and heckles had drowned out the young president’s passionate speech for unification. The chairman of the meeting could not control the room, which soon escalated into rowdiness.

As the situation worsened, the crowd grew violent and Tobin was struck in the back of the head with what he would later describe as either “a piece of iron pipe or the butt end of a revolver.” He fell to the ground as three men stormed the stage and began kicking him in the face and head, worsening the original blow from behind and rendering Tobin unconsciousness.

The most disturbing factors in the first decade of Tobin’s administration were the internecine strife within the union, the schismatic behavior of many locals, the secession movements conducted by various men and groups, and the existence of dualism, that is, rival and competing unions, in many parts of the country. Most of these difficulties occurred in Chicago and New York, cities in which other international unions met similar problems.

When he regained consciousness, he found himself on the floor of the deserted meeting hall, bloody, with glasses broken. He had been rescued by Ed Gould, a member of the independent union and the one who, driven by his disgust of former Teamster President Shea, had led the secession from the International in the first place. Gould helped lift Tobin from the floor and guided him down two flights of stairs.

Tobin was in bad shape, bloodied and blinded without his glasses. As he and Gould passed the opened side door to make their exit, Tobin heard a member of the raucous mob inside comment: “Well, we thought we finished the job, but failed.”

Concerned for Tobin’s condition, Gould tried to persuade him to go to the hospital. But all Tobin wanted to do was to get back to Cambridge. Tobin rode the night wrapped in a sheet given to him on the train, still bleeding. When Tobin arrived home he looked a mess.

The following day, the New York newspapers ran a story about the attack. Headlines read: “ATTEMPTED ASSASSINATION, BRUTAL BEATING OF HEAD OF TEAMSTERS UNION, TOBIN.”

About a month after the New York incident, Tobin returned to New York and affiliated the local unions without serious trouble.