In celebration of IBEW Local 1245’s 75th anniversary in April of this year, the union has published a full-length history about its origins.
Fist Full of Lightning, by Communications Director Eric Wolfe, was unveiled on April 23 at Weakley Hall, where copies were presented to Advisory Council and Executive Board members.
Wolfe told the Advisory Council he had been surprised to find that the local union’s roots go all the way back to 1900, when electrical workers organized an IBEW local to represent them in negotiations with several small utilities in San Francisco. The book includes detailed accounts of IBEW-led strikes against United Railroads in 1906 and against PG&E in 1913, and also looks at the forces that virtually wiped out the IBEW at PG&E by 1920.
Wolfe said that Business Manager Tom Dalzell originally proposed the idea of putting together a full history of the local to help celebrate the union’s 75th anniversary. Wolfe said his preliminary research got him wondering: “Who were these guys? How did utility workers in this area first get organized?”
The book includes dozens of photographs dating back as far as 1900 that depict the lives and the battles of IBEW utility workers in the Bay Area at that time. The book also reveals that IBEW had a large presence among electrical workers in Nevada in the early 1900s.
“I began to realize that our story is really very rich,” Wolfe told the Advisory Council. “And it started with electric linemen and telephone linemen and gas workers and power house operators and clerical workers, all looking for ways to unify and make the employer pay attention.”
Wolfe said the book is also about the employers who used various strategies, including violence, in an effort to split employees apart and dilute their power. These conflicts provided the story with plenty of action. Or as Wolfe put it at the Advisory Council: “Drama, intrigue, mayhem and murder: everything a writer could hope for!”
The book has received favorable notice from several quarters. Howard Kling, president of the International Labor Communications Association, called the book “a new labor history gem … fun, readable and important.” Carl Wood, former member of the California Public Utilities Commission, found it “thoroughly researched, fast-paced and eminently readable.”
The book was designed by Kathy Kifer, who has collaborated with Wolfe on many union projects, including award-winning design work on the Utility Reporter.
Wolfe told the Advisory Council that the union is placing the book in public libraries in California and Nevada, including libraries in every town where Local 1245 represents the municipal workforce. He also noted that the history section of the union’s website has been completely renovated, utilizing some of the information and photos he uncovered while researching the book.
Wolfe presented complimentary copies of the book to AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler, a featured speaker at the Advisory Council meeting, and to former Business Manager Jack McNally, who assisted the history project by sharing memories of his own 55 years in the union.
The book will be given to IBEW 1245 stewards at upcoming steward meetings, and will be sent to unit chairs in the near future. Copies will be available for purchase in early May when an order form will be posted on the Local 1245 website.