Teamster History: 1918, The War at Home

Posted: May 4, 2015
Source: Teamster.org

Women mechanicsThe war brought about unavoidable social changes. New inventions and technologies included both marvels and horrors, and seemed to emphasize and quicken the pace of the world’s move into the “modern age.” Industry was changing across the globe and, in order for the U.S. to stay competitive, Tobin was asked by President Woodrow Wilson to study production efforts. Due largely to his relationship with Wilson and growing stature at the AFL, Tobin became a national figure during this time; as a result, he became more than emboldened more than ever before to advance the union cause in the name of reform.

By summer 1918, the U.S. was sending 10,000 fresh soldiers to France every day. As union men went abroad as combat soldiers or support personnel, Tobin encouraged women to join the union and take over the jobs that they left behind. Tobin increased organizing efforts of Teamster women and provided them with the skills needed to keep the union running smoothly during the war. Tobin oversaw the training of women in the motorcar and motor truck industries, recruiting an army of female truck drivers to transport supplies at home.

Teamster women would show their Teamster power by playing a crucial role during WWI. With the great flu epidemic of 1918, Teamster women found themselves doing much more than keeping the home fires burning. Under Tobin’s leadership, women truck drivers transported medicine and supplies to hospitals and rural areas. These women would complete a day’s work, then pick up supplies to deliver to farm families. At each stop they would help with chores and get the family settled before moving on to the next stop.

As a tribute to the tremendous efforts of women and minorities in the war, Tobin sought to commend them for their service by continuing his push for wage equality. Wanting to leave no question that the Teamsters were strongly supportive of civil rights, the Teamsters adopted “equal pay for all” as their union slogan at the 1919 Convention.

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