In 1905 a labor dispute arose
in the structural steel industry, affecting all those engaged in the enterprise
of erecting buildings, bridges, and steel-framed structures. The dispute
was originally between the Bridge and Structural Iron Workers Union (BSIW)
on one side and the American Bridge Company on the other. The union demanded
a closed shop contract under which the company would not be permitted to
use nonunion labor or to use or deliver materials made by nonunion labor.
The company refused, and a strike was called. Shortly thereafter there
was a change in the union’s leadership. Frank M. Ryan was elected president
of the BSIW and John J. McNamara, a lawyer, was elected secretary-treasurer.
Both men were considered to be militants.
The strike spread and by
1906 had become nationwide. The employers banded together and formed an
organization called the National Erectors’ Association, adopting the open
shop as their fixed policy. By this they meant that workmen would be employed
irrespective of membership in any organization, except that preference
would be given to those who had accepted employment in defiance of the
The strike was a failure.
Despite all the union could do, the construction of buildings and bridges
continued unabated. In all major cities except Chicago and San Francisco
the open shop prevailed. The contest was not without incident, however,
and steel-framed structures erected by nonunion labor had a way of blowing
up in the middle of the night. Eighty-seven such bombings were recorded
between 1906 and 1911.
Nowhere was the struggle
more fierce than in Los Angeles, which remained an open shop city despite
the most determined efforts of organized labor. The Los Angeles Times and
its owner and publisher, Harrison Gray Otis, were outspoken opponents of
the labor movement in general and the closed shop in particular. The Times
and its editorial policy were anathema to organized labor.
Early in the morning of October
1, 1910, a bomb placed in an area used to store inks and flammable liquids
exploded at the downtown plant of the Los Angeles Times, killing 20 people.1
An improvised, four-page edition appeared the next day with the headline:
“Must Blame The Unions.” A year later a monument was dedicated to those
“who fell at their posts in the Times Building on the awful morning of
October 1, 1910—victims of conspiracy, dynamite and fire: The Crime of
Labor involvement in The
Times catastrophe was denied indignantly by the unions. A panel of experts
named by the California Federation of Labor, after making an investigation,
attributed the explosion to a gas leak caused by faulty pipes and fixtures.
Others took a different tack. Socialist Eugene Debs accused Otis of dynamiting
his own newspaper, comparing him to Nero burning Rome and blaming the Christians.
“The Crime of the Century” polarized American society ... .
. . .
On the same day as The Times
disaster, a bomb exploded just outside a bedroom window at Otis’s home,
but no one was hurt. Another bomb was planted at the house of F.J. Zeehandelaar,
the secretary of the Merchants and Manufacturers Association (M&M),
but did not go off. It consisted of 15 sticks of dynamite attached by electric
wires to an alarm clock; the clock had been wound too tightly and had stopped.
The apparatus was dismantled and kept for evidence.
. . .
On Saturday, April 22, six
months after The Times bombing, William J. Burns and local policemen walked
in on a meeting of the BSIW executive board at the union headquarters in
Indianapolis with a warrant signed by the governor of Indiana for the arrest
of John J. McNamara. Less than an hour later, after a snap arraignment,
McNamara was on his way to Los Angeles. That night the two McNamara brothers
and Ortie McManigal were in a closely guarded railway car headed for California.
The raiders also held a warrant
issued by a local judge to search the BSIW offices or headquarters, a three-room
suite on the fifth floor of the American Central Life Building in downtown
Indianapolis. While this search was going on, one of the officers talked
to the building superintendent, who told him he had given John J. McNamara
permission to use a recessed area of the basement for storage space. The
warrant could not have described this as a place to be searched since the
police did not know of its existence until after the search was under way.
In the basement the police
found a small room made of rough pine boards which had been constructed
in an alcove. The door was secured by a padlock to which McNamara was said
to have the only key. Breaking the lock, the police entered and found shelves
on which lay “100 pounds of dynamite, several yards of fuse and twelve
clocks similar to those with which bombs are discharged.”6 Also
found were files and account books to which the hierarchy of the BSIW attached
considerable value. According to the Indianapolis Star, they were evidence
of a most incriminating character:
Among them are receipts
showing that money had been paid out by the iron workers organization to
the men charged with actual part in the blowing up of the Los Angeles newspaper
plant. Other receipts prove, the detectives say, that the organization
paid money to men suspected of having had part in other explosions. The
dates of the receipts and those of the explosions correspond, they say.7