Posted: April 10, 2015
Daniel Tobin’s story is in large part the story of the American Labor Movement during the tumultuous first half of the 20th century. For most American workers of the period, earning a living meant toiling for long hours for near slave wages, further burdened by work schedules determined at the employer’s whim. Alternatives to these poor conditions were few and a worker’s efforts to change his or her circumstance put one’s livelihood in jeopardy, with no safety net on which to fall back.
Daniel Tobin arrived in America at such a time. An Irish immigrant, he, like so many others, came to the United States seeking economic opportunity lacking in his homeland. Instilled with a keen intellect and a passion for fairness, Tobin would rise from the workers’ ranks to lead the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) with a clearheaded, balanced approach that allowed the organization to thrive. Throughout his career, he would participate in many of the events that set into motion hard-won changes to improve the lives of workers. Basic rights, like the right to unionize, had to be fought for and won. Today’s workers sometimes take these rights for granted. For many labor organizers and dedicated union members, the price of the changes to come was physical safety, economic sacrifice, perseverance and the courage of their conviction.
As IBT General President for an unprecedented 45 years spanning 1907 to 1952, Tobin saw the union grow from 38,905 to 1,120,245 members, giving the Teamsters a power base unequaled by other labor organizations. With the IBT as his springboard, he would venture into national labor politics, becoming one of the most influential labor leaders of his time.