Because more than 40 years have passed since the formation of the United Transportation Union (UTU) in 1969, the younger transportation professionals in our midst may not be acquainted with our rich heritage and our aims for the future.
The facts of our proud history explain how four international rail labor organizations, including the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen, the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen, the Order of Railway Conductors and Brakemen, and the Switchmen’s Union of North America, came together to form today’s premier transportation union.
But more than that, the story of each organization’s humble beginnings, their fierce struggles for survival, and their untiring efforts to better the rates of pay and the working conditions of their respective memberships puts the UTU’s current efforts into perspective, and may even provide the inspiration needed by those who might feel they are facing overwhelming odds.
Following is a brief outline of the major events that contributed to the creation of the UTU and its predecessor unions. Also included is the story of Eugene V. Debs, who became an officer of the firemen’s union, helped organize the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen, and possessed a vision of a single railroad union — the American Railway Union — which may one day become a reality.
The creation of the UTU in 1969 was another step toward the single union envisioned by Debs, and today’s UTU will continue to proactively pursue the goal of unifying rail labor for the sole purpose of providing the best possible representation to every rail employee and every member of our great union.
As you read the story behind the UTU’s predecessor organizations, bear in mind that the issues and concerns that workers faced in the late 1800s are not that much different from those being faced today.
We are still engaged in extremely hazardous occupations which require a constant vigil on Congress to ensure that legislation is not passed which dilutes current safety laws and regulations. Today, as it was in the past, it is up to us to initiate new legislation designed to further protect employees and enhance the existing laws and regulations. And we continue to negotiate for rates of pay and working conditions which reflect our productivity and our contribution to our employers’ and our nation’s economic strengths.
As we help write the story of the 21st Century, UTU members will remain at the forefront of the American labor movement, leading the way with control of our own destiny.
Eugene V. Debs was first rail trade unionist to champion unity
Rail strikes marked early days as workers organized unions
BRT largest of four unions
ORC&B reigned for a century
SUNA was youngest at 74
BLF&E an important part of labor history
UTU’s Yardmaster Department
UTU’s Bus Department
A short history of the American labor movement