Posted: April 28, 2015
Tobin’s vision for the future of the union and his goals for improving the lives of members helped push the Teamsters to the forefront on every major issue in the 20th century and made the union a leader in the labor movement.
As editor of the International Teamster, Tobin wrote a monthly editorial to promote issues he found personally important to the labor movement. With social freedoms emerging and more women started entering the workplace, Tobin began using the column to push for equality within the union.
Building the Sisterhood
Tobin recognized the value of organizing women as a way to strengthen the union’s voice and increase membership; and, consequently, he used the magazine to lead the charge for women’s rights within the workplace, writing in 1917 that: “Equal pay for equal work should become a constant, vigorous slogan among all employees in all crafts. The strength and brains of women and girls are exploited the world over and especially so in the United States. All working men and women should become actively, and, if necessary, drastically interested in fighting for equal pay for duties performed by either sex.”
Concerned that unscrupulous employers would view these workers as easy targets, Tobin set out to bring union protection to working women across the country. With the aid of John Gillespie, organizing efforts were increased and Teamster women were given additional training in bargaining tactics. In 1916, Tobin established the first all-female negotiating committee from laundry workers in Chicago. Following their success at the bargaining table, the door was opened to organize more “auxiliary members” in the laundry, food, and other related industries.
“Teamsters Know No Color Line”
In addition to gender equality, Tobin pushed for racial equality. He was adamant that the contract for the female laundry workers in Chicago include a non-negotiable provision that black women must be paid equally to white women. Writing about the win for equal rights in the International Teamster that year, Tobin boasted that “Teamsters know no color line.” The union was on its way to becoming one of the most diverse organizations in the country.