The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, as the name implies, is at once a fraternal and a labor organization. It was fraternal in character because early meetings were held in secret for fear of reprisals from management. But its main purpose was and is to maintain the prestige of a highly skilled craft and to insure that its members are compensated accordingly.
The Preamble to the Constitution and Bylaws (1996) of the Organization reads: "The purpose of this Organization shall be to combine the interests of Locomotive Engineers or other persons in railway service who are now, or may hereafter become eligible to membership in this Organization, elevate their social, moral and intellectual standing; guard their financial interests, and promote their general welfare and safety; its cardinal principles sobriety, truth, justice and morality.
"The interests of the employer and employee being coordinate, the aim of the Organization will be cooperation and to guarantee the fulfillment of every contract made in its name by the use of every power vested in it.
"The true principles of the brotherhood of man and the fundamental principles of the Order 'Do unto others as you would they should do unto you,' and so fulfill the law . . ."
The Platform of the BLE states: "To work for safer, more healthful and sanitary conditions covering the entire scope of employees represented by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers.
"To stimulate the political education of the members, to understand their political rights and use the ballot intelligently to the end that the government may be a government of, for and by the people and not to be used as a tool to further the ends of combinations of capital for its own aggrandizement."
Membership Eligibility: (1996 Constitution and Bylaws, Section 26(a) Statutes) "No person shall become a member of the BLE unless able to read and write in the language used in operating the road where employed, is of good moral character, temperate habits, and in service as defined in Section 25(b), Statutes.
"No person shall be eligible for membership in the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers who is a member of a subversive group which shall advocate the overthrow of the United States and/or Canadian governments by force."
Such is the nature of the international (United States and Canada) organization that was born out of great necessity due to the hardships endured by the man at the throttle and by railroad workers in general.
Founded on May 8, 1863, the BLE was the first of the nowexisting labor organizations to champion the rights of railroad workers.
THE LOCOMOTIVE ENGINEER HAD MANY TRIALS
Railroading over a hundred years ago was a hazardous and dirty occupation. Soft coal smoke and black soot liberally covered the countryside, the train, and the engine. Those in the engine cab were coated with grime after every trip. Although the discomforts were many (hot in summer, cold and drafty in winter), the locomotive engineer had greater trials to face than this.
He worked for a low rate of pay and he was often kept on the road for long periods of time, needing rest and fighting sleep. Yet he was put in charge of trainloads of goods or passengers and expected to be alert at all times, being paid on the basis of the run he made rather than the time spent on duty.
Derailments were commonplace and wrecks with other trains due to human error or mechanical failure were the risks of the craft.
When the locomotive engineer was "resting," waiting to take out his train, he was expected to be packing pistons, valve stems, pumps, cleaning headlights, filling lamps, lubricating moving parts, or otherwise generally engaged in repairs on his engine. When he was at the other end of the line he was expected to pay his own way until he returned home again. He was a rugged individualist who had come up the hard way: by shoveling coal into the fiery, gaping maws of assortedsized fireboxes and trying to keep his feet at the same time on the dancing decks of the speeding iron horse. Despite the hardships, his was an honorable craft and he took pride in his work.
INTOLERABLE CONDITIONS BROUGHT ON A STRIKE
But the engineer's job was always subject to the whim of management. An engineer could work for years to obtain a good run, and then find it wiped out overnight by the discrimination of an official or through the consolidation of one road with another.
It was against this background that engineers on the Baltimore & Ohio went out on strike in 1854. As a result, 16 engineers lost their jobs and were replaced by inexperienced men. It was claimed that accidents resulted directly from the employment of these poorlytrained replacements.
Later, after two fruitless attempts to hold organizational meeting, 68 engineers representing the B&O and 44 other railroads in 13 states met in Baltimore in 1855 and declared themselves the "National Protective Association of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers of the United States." Bylaws were drawn up and officers elected. Thus the firing of 16 B&O engineers provided the momentum toward organized labor on the rails.
The machinery was set in motion for an effective way in which to seek redress for grievances by individual engineers. The idea of an association of locomotive engineers took hold rapidly across the country. But at the same time, however, railroad management fought back, and the difficult times which followed up to the commencement of the Civil War put a damper on all thought of organization.
The "William Mason" of the Baltimore & Ohio was built in 1856, just a year after engineers from that road and many others met in Baltimore to protest their working conditions and to unite in what they called the "National Protective Association of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers."
This locomotive is typical of the ones in use at that time: they afforded little protection to the crew against winter weather conditions.
Continued on Page 2
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