Brotherhood Helped Improve Conditions
By Jack Gurner
Around 800 men were employed by the Mississippi Division of the Illinois Central Railroad in Water Valley at the height of its operation. The men were represented by 21 different labor organizations often called brotherhoods or orders instead of unions.
You had the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, Order of Railway Conductors, Brotherhood of Railway Trainmen and so on. The shop crafts – such as machinists, boilermakers, welders, car men, pipe fitters and blacksmiths – all had organizations to represent them as well.
The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers in Water Valley lost their charter during the depression period of the 1870s. On October 1, 1880, they met in the home of Adam Fulmer to reorganize Division 99. They met in a private home because the railroad was so opposed to unions that the men had to meet in secret.
The most important man in the Brotherhood was the chairman of the grievance committee. When a man got fired he stood before the lodge and gave his case and the lodge would vote as to whether the chairman would take up his grievance.
The lodge records, some of which we have on display at the museum, show that during one meeting in 1897 seven grievances were awarded for men who had been fired for minor infractions of the rules. One of them was John Luther “Casey” Jones. Nine different times Casey was out of service for five to thirty days for minor infractions. But, by the standards of the times, this was a reasonably good record.
Not only did the brotherhoods strive to improve the pay and working conditions of the men, but their moral conduct as well. Railroad historian Bruce Gurner researched one case that Casey Jones had to oversee as Master Pro Tem one night in 1898, when a brother was tried before the lodge on the charge of “alienating the affections of another brother’s wife.”
The records state that the specific charge was that the brother “did go to the house of a brother and disgrace him in an unbecoming manner and we, therefore, feel it our duty to take action in this case. It was moved and seconded that (the brother) be expelled from the lodge for violation of obligation and unbecoming conduct to a Brother and that the secretary notify him.”
“But how noble they were,” Bruce added, “when the lady in question was mentioned in the minutes of the next meeting.”
“We want it understood,” the record states, “that we do not in any way implicate (the brother’s wife) or in any way doubt her being a true and virtuous lady.”
“How chivalrous can you be?” Bruce commented.