Teamster History: 1911: The British Trade Union Congress

Posted: April 14, 2015
Source: Teamster.org

Tobin in tophatBy 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.

At the 1910 AFL convention, he decided to be a candidate for AFL representation to the British Trade Union Congress scheduled for September 1911. His opposition for the position was a prominent candidate named Joseph Weber, International Secretary of the Musicians Union. Well-liked within the Federation, Weber was backed by its leadership powerhouse, including AFL President Samuel Gompers, AFL Secretary Frank Morrison, AFL Treasurer John Lennon, and AFL First Vice President James Duncan. At first glance, Weber appeared a shoo-in. Nevertheless, Tobin decided to try for the job. He campaigned for the position, with his friends, focusing on the younger convention delegates. When the votes were counted, he had won the position as representative to the British Trade Union Congress by a margin of 2-1. His election came as a “bombshell” to the old-time AFL leaders at the convention. Tobin was moving up and so were the Teamsters.

Having won the position, Tobin worried that he knew nothing about the British labor movement. He went to work educating himself on the issues from reports of previous delegates. With $400 the AFL had given him to cover his travel expenses and another $500 given to him by Teamsters, Tobin booked second-class passage in a shared room on a ship to Liverpool. Upon arrival, British labor officials welcomed him and made sure that he got on the right train to Newcastle-on-Tyne, where the convention was to be held.

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