The AFGWU comes to Cambridge

by Dr. James S. Measell
Issue No. 150 - October 1985

On July 4, 1927, the city of Cambridge, Ohio, put on its finest togs and rolled out the red carpet to welcome the 51st annual convention of the American Flint Glass Workers Union. The occasion was a real triple header: the nation's birthday party; the beginning of the union's second half-century; and the 25th anniversary of the Cambridge Glass Company! This article is based on the printed Official Proceedings of the convention (these, along with other union records, may be found at the AFGWU world headquarters in Toledo, Ohio).

The Convention of the "Flints," as they were called, opened on July 4, 1927, with an invocation by a clergyman and the singing of "America" by the assembled delegates. The men who gathered in Cambridge represented dozens of local unions throughout the United States and Canada. The AFGWU affiliate at the Cambridge Glass Co. was Local Union No. 74. The AFGWU's longstanding practice was to reassign numbers from defunct locals to new ones; when the Dalzell, Gilmore and Leighton Company closed its factory in Findlay, many of its employees found work at Cambridge, so it was fitting that L.U. No. 74 was transferred to Cambridge, too.

Each local union was entitled to send delegates to the national conventions in proportion to its membership. Cambridge's L.U. No. 74 was represented by Gus Weltz, Dan Robin, Chester Brannen and Charles Degenhart. Most of the union's real work was done by committees and sub-committees, and each of the L.U. No. 74 delegates served on several important groups. The union was always interested in work rules, regulations concerning machines, etc., and the committees drafted reports which were later acted upon by the convention, as a whole. In 1927, the AFGWU had a membership of 6,507.

AFGWU President William P. Clarke presided over the convention and participated in several local events during his stay in Cambridge (on Tuesday, July 5, for example, he addressed the noon meeting of the Cambridge Kiwanis Club). A. J. Bennett He responded to Mayor Henry's welcome on July 4, and he probably then introduced the day's featured speaker, Arthur J. Bennett (photo, right), president of the Cambridge Glass Company. Bennett spoke at some length about his quarter-century in the glass business and his analysis of the industry's current situation. His remarks were as follows:

"It is a great pleasure for me to be able to stand here and address you after twenty-five years of cooperation with you and to have you greet me as you do under the present conditions. It is a great joy to know that the efforts that I have been able to direct have been accepted and proved to be satisfactory. Your chairman has stated that I have always tried to be fair with your organization and I believe that goes without saying. I have tried to be fair at all times. The business that I have been able to buildup in the last twenty-five years is based on fairness to all. There is no contradicting that fact.

When I first came into the business twenty-five years ago, I little thought of any occasion such as this occurring during my life, but inasmuch as you were kind enough to select Cambridge as the convention city it is most fortunate and very pleasing to me that you did it this year when we are celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Cambridge Glass Company.

This fact makes me look back and review the conditions prevailing twenty-five years ago. Twenty-five years ago I came into the business as a glass manufacturer to be president and chief manager of the Cambridge Glass Company and that was my first experience in the glass trade from a manufacturing standpoint. Prior to that time I had sold china but had never been a manufacturer of glass. I was familiar with the conditions prevailing in the glass business, my business taking me to Bohemia, which is now Czecho-Slovakia and is the great European center for glass production and in our imported lines we did run across glassware, therefore, I was in touch with the people who purchased glassware in this country.

What are the changes that have taken place in the last twenty-five years? When I first came into the business it was, in my opinion, on a very low plane; true, we did not have the machines. They were just beginning to come into the production of glass, but we did have very low prices prevailing, prices for the sale of the goods and also very low wage rates. I admit it. When I first familiarized myself with the conditions and saw the low wages that were in effect in a great many lines I was astounded to think that labor of this character could be obtained at such very low rates. But due to the efforts of your well organized body you have been able to improve those conditions and today I believe you can look back and be assured that you have made practically as much success and as much advance as any other labor organization in the country. I look upon you as being an organization of exceptional ability and that ability comes from you not as individuals. Each one of you is a part or a cog in the piece of machinery and your success has been due to the wonderful management you have had from your executive body.

Now our business, and we have to talk about glass a little because that is what you are here for. You are here to legislate what you think best for the benefit of the organization, but it has drifted into a very peculiar situation. I scarcely know how to analyze it. There isn't the volume of business that I would like to see. That volume is not lacking due to the general conditions of the country, but apparently due to a change in taste or something that I have not been able to discover. But the fact remaining is this, we are facing a peculiar situation. I speak, of course, wholly from the standpoint of the manufacturers.

I am not familiar with conditions in the tank business excepting what I read in the Flint and in various newspapers. From the standpoint of the furnace manufacturer it looks to me, it has removed practically everything from us which could be depended upon for a volume. We have no volume business any more. We apparently have gone into a state of specialty. We pick up what we can and develop items; no longer is it possible for us to develop lines and I am wondering where this is taking us. When we get above a certain price in glass we naturally eliminate the consumption and I am wondering whether that isn't the situation today, that prices have gotten so high that we have throttled the business. Sometimes I think so and other times I don't.

In our efforts to find out what is going on I have gone through different stores in various parts of the country to find out what they are selling and I find practically only drinking vessels, tumblers, stemware, articles of pressed glass made by machine with a few colored items that are worked in to make a line, but as compared to the variety that was offered several years ago through agencies the present line today is very, very low. We have no jobbing trade any more. The small dealer in the country town buys very sparingly, in fact, that might be said of the large buyer. The volume buyer does not exist. Jobbers today want to buy less in quantity than the big retailer and this is forcing a burden on the manufacturers.

Had it not been for the introduction of colored glass into this industry I do not know what would have happened. We have seen the passing of the rich cut glass and we have seen the passing of the cheap cut glass to a great extent and we certainly have seen the passing of the crystal or the flint glass. The demand for anything in crystal outside of drinking vessels is apparently nil. I know this has been our experience and the experience of others, not from mere say so, but from the fact that within the last few weeks our representatives have seen large pieces of crystal glass such as water bottles, nappies, and comports made in paste mould being sold in the five and ten cent stores, which is a proof that the manufacturers desired to get rid of that stock at any price and I know that has been our experience.

I believe without having the actual figures before me that during the past year we have sold what originally cost us about $75,000.00 in crystal glass and I doubt if we received $20,000.00 in return for it and that is one of the phases or changes going on in our industry. How to overcome that is a question. I believe that this cause is so very broad that it is one that affects you and is one in the solution of which you should not fail to take part and legislate in some manner to find out what is the cause and then try to do something that will bring it back.

It may be only a cycle that comes periodically but I find no cycle has ever occurred before in our industry and it is something that we have to face. How to overcome it we do not know. If we only knew where we were going and how we could properly legislate to govern the situation we could consider ourselves fortunate. You men who are delegates to this convention in my opinion have an unusual responsibility that has not occurred at any previous conventions. You have to legislate for yourselves and also for the manufacturers. It must be apparent to you from the conditions of the trade that costs have reached the highest point possible. I was sorry when I saw the proposed changes that were submitted by your side. Most every demand that is being made means an increase in the cost of production. We have given you all that we can; we are on the decline, we must do something to build up the industry.

This is a question that needs a whole lot of thought. It is very much like the problem that is coming before the United States Congress on the question of waterways. It is something that must be studied out by practically every man. The thought I had was whether it would be possible for you to have a certain number of your workmen confer with certain manufacturers and see what can be done to bring about better conditions in our trade. Whether it can be accomplished by taking a reduction or changing moves on various items, I do not know. I am only saying that it may be possible because it seems to me that there must be some volume produced somewhere in order to keep the factories operating. High prices mean nothing to you fellows if you don't get the chance to work.

The manufacturer, in my opinion, in our particular industry has been most liberal with you. Some of our men may not agree with me because you are not familiar with conditions but I want to say to you that the manufacturers have given up everything that they can afford to give up as they have to have an opportunity of making a little for themselves. Of course they have to look after that or they couldn't stay in business. Personally I don't care what the wages are if I can sell the product and get a little for the investment I have put into the business. When it comes to the point that the public will not buy, then it is a question for us to get our heads together and find out what should be done. I now restate the fact that you delegates have a big responsibility. You men don't know perhaps, or your president don't, or your officers, but in my opinion in the last three or four months finished glassware has been sold with a less margin of profit than ever before in my connection in the business. The items upon which they experience any particular volume according to our cost have been sold at less than cost. In order to try to create and stimulate business I think the manufacturer has done all that he can do to bring about conditions that are profitable to you and to us.

In closing I want to congratulate you upon the position you have attained and I want to say you use good judgment. There is no one who feels kinder to you than I do. I appreciate the twenty-five years of cooperation I have received. I have enjoyed working with you and I do not begrudge you anything you have obtained because you have obtained it peaceably under the direction of your able executives who have kept you out of all trouble. By good judgment and diplomacy you have been able to make great advancement and I remember practically when those advancements were granted that the question was put from our side as to whether or not there would be the same spirit shown from the other side and it was always said that when that condition come you can always depend ~n us doing the right thing by you and I believe that statement is true and that you will do what is right.

I am convinced of that and I would like to make a little comment in passing on the application of the increase of cost. I think in some factories they have gone beyond the intended advances that were granted and created a very deplorable condition by trying to effect so many local agreements. If I was an officer of your organization and had the courage of my convictions as I know your president, Mr. Clarke has, and also Mr. Gillooly, I would not permit a single local arrangement to be made. The strength of your organization and your union is such that all factories should be treated on an equal basis. When you try to inject the different conditions in the factories that are against the rules calling for a different rate of wages then you are breaking down the morale of your organization, and I implore you for your own benefit to stop this system and be honest with yourself. I found that in the bituminous coal field in this particular district conditions were largely due to local arrangements that were put into effect during the war. Do not get into their condition.

You have a wonderful organization. You have the men and the ability to put over most everything you want by honesty. Treat all factories alike. Don't try to pull a stunt because there is no trick that was ever performed that someone else could not pull a better one, so go into it with an open heart. See that all are treated alike. Do the square thing. If you have something that is really wrong, show me someone that is in the business that will not listen to reason. Forget about these local agreements.

In our own factory there has been expended $150,000.00 in the last three years, trying to improve conditions, to make working conditions better, to improve production, and to give the men the best that I could afford, and yet we are confronted with this talk about local conditions as much as we were before. I do not blame our men locally. I know that this complaint is general.

I appeal to you to break away from local agreements. You are only putting a nail in the coffin of the organization when you insist upon local agreements. I thank you very much, I am glad to have had this opportunity to appear before you."

Following Bennett's speech, Congressman C. Ellis Moore of the 15th Ohio District addressed the delegates. AFGWU 1927 Souvenir pin Some of the AFGWU officers reported to the membership, and the convention's first day in Cambridge came to a close. The next seven days were devoted to committee meetings and the drafting of reports and resolutions.

All of the delegates were mindful of the 25th anniversary of the Cambridge Glass Company. (Refer to photo at left) A special lapel pin depicting a piece of Cambridge glass was given to them. (I wish I knew who was responsible for the idea, but I can only report that other AFGWU conventions in glass factory towns were graced with similar pins; there is a striking display of these in a stairwell case at AFGWU headquarters.) The pin, about 2¼" long including the banner with clasp, is made of so-called "white metal," which looks like Lead or dull Silver.

You'll probably recognize the "Big X" pitcher from Cambridge's early production catalogs. The words "Cambridge Ohio 1927" appear near the top rim of the pitcher, but the best verbiage is on the back: "Reproduction first piece of glassware made by Cambridge Class Co. 1902." The center area of the pitcher is pierced by a screw-post AFGWU lapel button. The usual banner clasp says "Delegate," but Bill Smith tells me that a gold banner clasp with "Guest" is owned by Bennett's grandson. Presumably, all of the convention's special guests were given such pins. Finding one of these pins today is a nice supplement to the usual quest for glass made by that favorite company of yours!

The AFGWU convention closed with a general session on July 13, 1927. Final reports were received and resolutions passed, especially regarding the workers' sentiments on foreign competition and the tariff. AFGWU Assistant Secretary Harry Cook entered the following editorial from the Cambridge Jeffersonian into the record:

"The delegates to the national convention of the American Flint Glass Workers Union, and officials, have finished their work and adjourned. By night-fall most of them will be on their way to their various homes.

For almost two weeks about 200 men, representing the great glass industry in as many cities, have been our guests. It was a rare privilege to have them. Their splendid conduct, the earnestness with which they entered into the work before them and the whole-heartedness of their enjoyment of the sports and other entertainment provided, won the hearts of all citizens.

The officials have repeatedly met our representative business men and by public utterance, as well as private conversation gained the unbounded admiration of all. When President Clarke stated in one address that "our union has no strikes" he made his hearers sit up and take notice. "We have," President Clarke continued, "transferred all that to the conference table where labor and capital meet shoulder to shoulder and have it out. Fight? Of course we fight, as hard as we know how for what we think is right. But the spirit of the Man of Galilee prevails and when we do reach an agreement, and it is always reached, we, labor, and capital, come out of the conference room sincere friends."

That spirit, manifested by union men and employers, is the true American spirit. The American Flint Glass Workers Union delegates and officers have taught Cambridge much. Officials in other industrial unions could learn much from these men, and if labor and capital in all lines would follow this lead there would be no strikes, no lockouts, no stalemates.

The local committees of the American Flint Glass Workers Union have done splendid work in caring for you, our guests, and all Cambridge has done her best to make you glad you came. We wish you abundant happiness and prosperity.

Goodbye---Come again."

On July 14, 1927, Cambridge was quiet. The "Flints" had gone back to their homes and places of work. In 1928 they would gather in Cumberland, Maryland.