On May 21, Labor’s International Hall of Fame will be inducting Teamsters long-time General President Daniel J. Tobin at its 2015 Induction Ceremony. In honor of the visionary labor leader’s long-deserved induction, the Teamsters History Project will be honoring Tobin’s life and legacy. Over the next 45 days, we will take a look at each of his 45 years as Teamsters General President. You can follow along on this post, and by following us on our social media pages.
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Tobin’s vision for the future of the union and his goals for improving the lives of members helped push the Teamsters to the forefront on every major issue in the 20th century and made the union a leader in the labor movement.
The International Headquarters in Indianapolis was a modest building with only a few employees, including General President Tobin and General Secretary-Treasurer Hughes. Tobin and Hughes worked in lockstep to grow the union nationwide.
In September of 1914, President Woodrow Wilson addressed the Teamsters Convention. This event was a major milestone for Tobin and the Teamsters. The union was now a key player in the political realm and a powerful force in the labor movement. Although a frequent critic of the president during his first two years in the White House, Wilson graciously thanked Tobin for his role in the 1912 campaign and pledged his support for workers’ rights.
On March 4, 1913 just a few hours before Woodrow Wilson took office, President William H. Taft signed into law the act that gave birth to the Department of Labor. Not much fanfare was given to this historical act due to it being the Inauguration Day for President Woodrow Wilson and all the activities associated with it.
1912 proved to be a landmark year for the IBT. Following Tobin’s return from the British Trade Congress, the union found itself the beneficiary of a changing world. This was an exciting time for the Teamsters—full of possibilities for the future.
By the end of 1910, the Teamster International claimed more than 36,000 members. Although not among the largest of the AFL affiliates, it was growing in importance; however, the Federation did not give the Teamsters the respect as a union commensurate with its size and national impact. Tobin, along with other younger, more progressive AFL members, would play a role in changing some of the AFL’s practices for the better, and changing the standing of the Teamsters within the AFL would become one of Tobin’s main focuses.
In 1910, Tobin traveled with General Secretary-Treasurer Hughes to San Francisco and successfully re-affiliated Local 85, a large and financially sound Teamsters union founded in 1900 by Michael "Bloody Mike" Casey (1857-1937). Casey had served as one of the IBT’s seven regional vice presidents and the chief IBT representative and organizer for the entire United States west of Chicago.
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.