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A Liberty Lodge union pin

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A Liberty Lodge union pin

IN CONTEXT

This object appears in the following sections:


Lives on the Railroad: Salisbury, North Carolina, 1927
Lives on the Railroad: Salisbury, North Carolina, 1927 — Railroaders behind the Scenes

RELATED OBJECTS
Porter's Membership Card


Railway clerks union button
Catalog #: 1989.0693.2128, Accession #: 1989.0693
Currently on display
From the Smithsonian Collection
Railway clerks organized into a union in 1899, and became the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks in 1904. The clerks were affliliated with the American Federation of Labor from 1900-1901, and then after 1908. The BRC was a weak railway union with a small (around 5,000 people) membership in its early years of existence. That situation changed during the First World War, when the federal government took control of the nation's railway system, and put it under the management of the United States Railroad Administration (USRA) which ran the nation's railroads from January 1918 through March 1920. The USRA recognized the rights of all railway employees to join unions, and raised many clerks salaries. Tens of thousands of clerical workers joined the union during the war era. This button, from Rhode Island, was for a union local that more than likely formed during the war since the word "Liberty" was used in locals names during the era, perhaps to indicate patriotism (Liberty Bonds financed part of the US's war efforts).
Physical Description
artifact. 1" diameter; Metal: brown/ white, April 1920, initials B of R (the "C" is on the brown rim). "Liberty Lodge 2136 Providence, R. I."
Details
Date Made:
1920
Locations:
Rhode Island
History
American railroads were one of the nation's first big businesses, and, as such, workers joined the new industrial order in its infancy. Many rail workers responded their working conditions by trying to organize themselves into unions. Most railway workers organized along craft lines. That is, people doing the same jobs like conductors banded together, rather than all the workers on the trains. Other skilled workers joined unions based on their trades: they joined the machinists or boilermakers unions. Workers who performed railroad-specific tasks, notably those done on the trains themselves, were often more successful in getting their unions recognized by employers than those workers who did jobs that were transferrable to other settings. By the 1920s, railroad workers were organized into both independent unions and into those that were affiliated with the American Federation of Labor. Craft unions in the early 20th century often excluded women and people of color from their membership rolls and most railroad unions followed the conventions of the day, restricting membership to white males.

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