Local Union No. 188 - Savannah, Georgia
UA Charter: November 8, 1899
"It has been said that in the process of charting a course for where we want to go, we must sometimes pause to look back to where we have been."
Few written records remain to help us understand exactly what motivated 27 plumbers and gas fitters to bind themselves together with pledges of fidelity and brotherhood in Georgia's premier city on the Savannah River in 1899.
Local 188 came to life in Savannah, energized by her rise as the embarkation point for U.S. troops shipping out to Cuba to participate in the Spanish American War. During its first century, Local 188's members, like millions of other Americans, went on to survive the Depression, served in World War II, the Korean and Vietnam conflicts and become a part of the Computer and Space Age.
At the turn of the century, Savannah's nights were still illuminated by gaslight although electricity was available and would replace gas in the coming decades. Horse, mule or ox-drawn wagons were the work vehicles of the day. Local 188's President T. W. Hall, in 1900, was the victim of a reckless wagon driver's carelessness while he rode his bicycle to work. The encounter caused Hall two broken ribs as reported in the Official Organ of the UA, November 1900.
The last year of the 19th Century saw the beginning of a building boom in Savannah. Her port facilities and location on Georgia's East Coast gave the city a competitive edge in the competition to become the shipping point for crops and other goods from the state's interior. Also, as the Industrial Revolution began to take hold in America, many people chose to leave the rural countryside and pour into the cities, looking for better-paying jobs in plants and mills. Savannah was no exception. The two-fold needs they brought to craft unions for decent working and living conditions imbued Local 188 with the obligations for benevolence and protection symbolized in the UA logo.
A good example of 188's sense of brotherhood is found in a letter from 188 Secretary John W. Downey to the editor of the UA Official Organ in the March 1902 issue. Downey reported on 188's first strike, undertaken less than two months after receipt of the charter. The issue was a nine-hour day and wage increase for "the junior class."
Downey wrote, "…We were fighting hard for the past 11 months. We lost several of our members who went back "scabbing," and some going in business, and what few are left are good and firm to hold to the union. We have about 15 left out of 27…" He went on to comment, "In our last Journal I noticed where the locals were taking up the subject on state conventions. I think that is a very wise plan. You can count on 188 for her support and would like to hear from the Southern locals on this subject."
When Local 188 joined the United Association there were some trade regulations already in place. The Corps of Engineers, whose mission was to control the Savannah River shipping channels and keep the port open, was already 70 years old. City Government included a plumbing inspector and a water committee.
As late as the early 1900's, coastal residents still lived under the threat of the dreaded malaria and smallpox outbreaks. In 1906, a 24-year old member of Local 188 died of malaria. He was the first member of the Local to receive a death benefit from the United Association.
Today's pipe trades brotherhood has been refined, tested and reworked by a century of experience, expanding technology and a variety of legal and trade standards. Communications, personal living standards, incomes and leisure would be unrecognizable today to a charter member of Local 188. Tools of the pipe trades, transportation and safety measures have been developed which were unimaginable 100 years ago.
The future looks promising for the heirs of yesterday's 27 farseeing men who had the courage to pursue and establish their local. The flame still burns, waiting to be passed along to tomorrow's Journeymen. As Secretary Downey said in his letter in 1899, "What few left are good and firm to hold to the union."