As time passed, some Master Plumbers began paying some of their men extra, but no uniform increase was forthcoming. In 1882 there was a difficult strike in New York City for an all inclusive wage increase. It disrupted New York City and had impact in Brooklyn as well. In the New York Times of April 25, 1882 there is recorded the following:
The strike was a disaster, and in the end the Journeymen lost. They returned to work at the old wage, and the New York City Journeyman Plumbers Society was badly damaged by the strike. The general public was extremely upset and blamed both sides for the inconveniences the residents of the city had suffered during the strike.
During the 1882 New York City plumbers strike, PUCK (a news magazine) published the this political cartoon capturing the feelings of the day.
Following the unsuccessful strike of 1882, the New York City Journeymen Plumbers Society decided to join up with the Knights of Labor. The Knights were a secret society which had its roots in the labor movement of Philadelphia. They had formed initially as a single craft union (garment cutters), but had adopted a philosophy of uniting all labor in a broad union. By accepting members from other trades, known as “sojourners”, they began to expand. By 1882 they were becoming a rapidly growing national movement. Secrecy was initially a big part of their rituals, and they were arranged in groups called “Assemblies”. The New York City Journeymen Plumbers Society became Local Assembly 1992 of the Knights of Labor. Affiliation with the Knights contributed greatly to the recovery of the local, and a pay raise was negotiated without another strike. The grouping of so many trades under one umbrella made business owners and some public officials nervous, and encouraged negotiation rather than allowing a strike to start. The Brooklyn Plumbers and Gas-Fitters Association subsequently joined the Knights with the assistance of the New York Local Assembly 1992 plumbers.
A political cartoon of the time ridiculed the Knights.
(Marcher #3 is the Plumber)
The 1880’s became a period of great prosperity in the building trades, and by 1884 there were in the New York City area five local assemblies of the Knights composed solely of pipe trades craftsmen. The Steamfitters in New York City organized themselves as the “Enterprise Association” in that same year of 1884 and shortly joined the Knights as Local Assembly 3189.
Under the Knights, the journeymen plumbers in New York City and Brooklyn originally flourished, adding new members and enjoying the prestige of being part of a large national movement, but within a few years there was trouble. The plumbers Local Assemblies were under the authority of District Assembly 49 which comprised many crafts and mixed assemblies of Knights locals in New York City. The plumbers felt that District Assembly 49 was not operating in the best interests of the pipe trades. Under the Knights constitution it was possible to organize district or even national assemblies of one particular craft. The formation of a pipe trades craft assembly in New York would save the local unions of plumbers, gas fitters, and steam fitters considerable amounts of money which, instead of being sent to District Assembly 49, could be used for the furthering of interests of journeymen in the pipe trades. Perhaps more importantly, it would also free the pipe trades locals from the interference of the leaders of District Assembly 49.
They organized a conference. The result was the formation of the “National Association of Plumbers, Steamfitters, and Gasfitters” led by Patrick Coyle, a prominent member of the New York City plumbers union. This was originally intended to be a national organization within the Knights of Labor, perhaps to be recognized as its own national assembly, but it was never sanctioned by the Knights. “The National” continued to operate unofficially, organizing locals in several cities. By 1885 there was confusion among the New York City plumbers.
Many had joined the National Association, but still held membership under the Knights. The situation came to a head when the Knights, perhaps fearful of losing the pipe trades altogether, granted an earlier request of the New York City and Brooklyn plumbers local assemblies to start their own District Assembly. The new District Assembly 85 was a Knights of Labor body composed of several unions of plumbers, gas fitters, and steam fitters which would no longer have to answer to District Assembly 49.
When the National Association of Plumbers, Steamfitters, and Gasfitters held its annual convention later in 1885, they concluded that the formation of District Assembly 85 in New York proved that the Knights were never going to recognize a national assembly of pipe trades, and voted to break with the Knights, establishing an independent national trade union. With the inclusion of some Canadian locals, they also changed their name to “International Association of Journeyman Plumbers, Steamfitters, and Gasfitters”.
A breakdown of unity resulted, particularly in New York City. The I.A.J.P.S.G. grew in strength, adding seventeen locals around the country throughout 1885 and 1886, but the New York City and Brooklyn locals formally withdrew from the I.A.J.P.S.G. in 1886. The reason for this was that the membership of the New York City and Brooklyn assemblies, all of them in District Assembly 85, refused to be affiliated with an organization outside the Knights of Labor. They also had been favorably discussing with the leader of the Knights, Grand Master Workman Terrance Powderly, the upgrading of District Assembly 85 to a “National Trade Assembly” within the Knights.
In June 1886 New York City and Brooklyn received a charter from the Knights to set up a national trade assembly. A preliminary convention was held in Brooklyn, and the new organization was formally named the “United Progressive Plumbers, Steam and Gas Fitters, National Trade Assembly No. 85” of the Knights of Labor. Now there were two national unions in the pipe trades.
1886 was turning out to be the most critical year in the history of the plumbers union in New York. New York City local assembly 1992 of the Knights of Labor started another strike. This was an unusual strike because it did not center on wages or hours. The only issue was apprenticeship rules; there was no disagreement on other matters. The employers wanted complete control over apprenticeship. The union demanded a ratio be established at one apprentice to four journeymen; on union voice in acceptance of individual apprentices; and on union examinations for apprentices to advance to journeymen. The 1886 strike dragged on for several months and ended in complete union defeat. Local assembly 1992, which was the core local of National Trade Assembly No. 85, was almost entirely destroyed. In order to survive, some members organized a new local under the I.A.J.P.S.G. This led to an all out labor war, as former brother journeyman plumbers, now in different locals under different national organizations, battled for the same jobs in New York.
National Trade Assembly No. 85 struggled on with the remnants of the New York plumbers local, the Brooklyn plumbers local, and the Enterprise Association steam fitters in Local Assembly 3189 hanging together through 1887. In 1888 the New York City steam fitters decided to quit National Trade Assembly No. 85. They left to help found the “National Association of Steam and Hot Water Fitters”. This additional blow to the Knights organization of pipe trades in New York was severe.
The Brooklyn Local was sticking together at home, but both of the national plumbers unions were falling apart. The I.A.J.P.S.G. had gotten into financial trouble and was struggling. As for the Knights of Labor, the whole organization was in disarray. This was in part because of Terrance Powderly’s refusal to allow “Trade Unions” to form within the Knights, and also due to devastating strikes by Knights in coal mining and railroads.
There were still feelings that somehow a strong international union of pipe trades could be formed. The leaders of National Trade Assembly No. 85 began to correspond on the issue. They contacted locals of the now bankrupt I.A.J.P.S.G., as well as bigger independent locals like the Boston plumbers. A positive correspondence between National Trade Assembly No. 85 secretary-treasurer Richard A. O’Brien of Washington D.C., and Boston independent plumbers’ leader Patrick Quinlan, encouraged the Brooklyn based leadership of National Trade Assembly No. 85 to call for a meeting.
The meeting was held in Brooklyn, July 29 through 31, 1889, and delegates were invited from all the locals of the I.A.J.P.S.G., National Trade Assembly No. 85, and all the independent unions known to exist. The meeting was attended by about a hundred delegates. The discussions were favorable to the formation of a new single international union to represent the pipe trades. They elected an executive committee of three representatives; one representative from National Trade Assembly No. 85, one from the I.A.J.P.S.G., and one to represent the independent locals. This group of three then scheduled the founding convention of what would become the “United Association of Journeyman Plumbers, Gas Fitters, Steam Fitters, and Steam Fitters’ Helpers of the United States and Canada” or the “U.A.”.
They set the date of that meeting for October 7 through October 11, 1889 in Washington D.C., and in accordance with the instructions given during the Brooklyn meeting, each local was entitled to send one delegate for one hundred members or less, and one additional delegate for each majority fraction of one hundred members. In the Brooklyn Daily Eagle of December 19, 1889 there is recorded the following:
At the 1889 “Founding Convention” of the United Association, the Brooklyn delegates were very influential, since most of the founding locals were members of the Knights of Labor National Trade Assembly No. 85, which Brooklyn had been running since the devastating New York City strike of 1886. Brooklyn also had more members, and more delegates than any other local represented. The Brooklyn local became Local No. 1, and New York City was designated as Local No. 2. The date now recognized as the founding of the United Association was the final day of this convention, Friday, October 11, 1889.
The delegates from the Brooklyn and New York City plumbers’ locals at the 1889 “Founding Convention” of the United Association were as follows:
D. Cassin – Brooklyn James Rankin – New York T. Kinsella – New York
P.H. Gleeson – Brooklyn H. Fox – Brooklyn D. Hodgens – Brooklyn
M.J. Driscoll – Brooklyn M.F. Murray – New York (Gas Fitters)
John Todd – Brooklyn M.F. Dolan – Brooklyn (Eastern District) - Williamsburgh
For the most part, the Steam fitters did not participate, because they were still trying to set up their own national union known as the “International Association of Steam and Hot Water Fitters” or the “I.A.”. Not one local made up solely of steam fitters actually joined the United Association at the “Founding Convention” of 1889. The United Association held its next convention in Pittsburgh in 1890.
The delegates from the New York plumbers’ locals at the 1890 “First Annual” United Association Convention were as follows:
James J. Doody – LU1 Augustus Esser – LU1 John Hand – LU1
Michael Driscoll – LU1 James F. Hickey – LU1 John J. O’Connell – LU1
William J. Carey – LU2 Edward Farrell – LU2 William W. O’Keefe – LU2
James Laverty – LU6 William Till – LU6 Note: LU6 - Brooklyn