Scenes from a union life
|In 1962, Business Agent Kane
confers with Jones & Lamson workers who walked out in protest against discriminatory layoffs. From left, Kane, William Rodeschin,
Richard Peck, Philip Brochu and Robert Farnsworth.
|A J&L strike discussion with
Intl. Rep. Hugh Harley, Genl. Pres. Albert Fitzgerald and Robert Farnsworth. Below, Genl. Pres. Kane is interviewed by Pittsburgh
news media outside the Westinghouse corporate headquarters during a 1984 jobs rally. Looking on are Local 610 Vice Pres. James
Hawthorne, Chief Steward Kent Buchholz and Daniel Gavin, president of the Lester, Pa. salaried employees.
James M. Kane, who served as president of UE during the Reagan years, died April 1 at age 78. A militant leader of Vermont
machine workers in the 1950s and 1960s, Kane was president of UE’s northeastern region in the 1950s — and mentor to hundreds of high
school students in the 1990s.
Despite many years in union office, Kane had difficulty with the notion of being a "professional" labor leader.
"It’s hard for me to get over the idea that I’m not a worker," he told a reporter in 1981.
"He stood out way beyond other people because of his character," says Hugh Harley, whose years as UE director of
organization overlapped Kane’s tenure in national office. "He was true man. He was tough but he had a good heart. He was a fighter,
but he was never looking for a fight."
Kane was born, raised and educated in Bellows Falls, in Vermont’s Connecticut River Valley, a region long associated
with the machine tool industry. Following U.S. Army service in World War II, Kane went to work for the Jones and Lamson Machine Tool Co.
as an expeditor, assembler and surface grinder.
JOINING THE UNION
Kane would later recall how he hadn’t been on the job long when a UE steward came by his work area and suggested he
ought to join the union. Instead of simply signing up, Kane insisted on knowing why he should do so. Once he got answers from union
officers, he signed a card — and gave UE his unwavering commitment.
"He was highly respected by the bosses," says Harley, who as an organizer was closely associated with the
organization of Vermont’s machine tool industry. "Jimmy was an excellent grinder. He did a good job for the company but he wanted a
voice for himself."
Within six months, Kane was elected shop steward, and was later tapped as chief shop steward and then president of the
local union. In 1962, he was elected full-time business agent of Local 218, which represented employees of other Springfield area machine
tool plants. He gave leadership both to the defense of UE against raids in the 1950s and to the union’s dramatic growth in Vermont in
LOCAL BUSINESS AGENT
As business agent, Kane helped organized Bryant Chucking Grinder and Fellows Gear Shaper in Springfield and other shops.
He led negotiations with — and notable strikes against — the area’s major employers, during a period in which Springfield’s
machine tool shops were taken over by international conglomerates. Kane developed a reputation for "quick-thinking toughness,"
as a Vermont reporter put it. He was equally adept at addressing a roomful of workers or management representatives.
He was elected secretary-treasurer of UE District Two, encompassing New England and northern New York, which automatically
placed him on the UE General Executive Board. Kane was elected district president in 1971, making him a general vice president and
continuing his position on the General Executive Board. As district president he was closely associated with the range of union activities
— collective bargaining, organizing and political action — throughout the region.
Kane was elected UE general president in 1981, taking office as the Reagan Administration launched a major assault on the
labor movement and presided over massive deindustrialization. Just three days after his election, Kane led a sizeable UE contingent in the
Solidarity Day march in Washington, D.C. to protest the Administration’s unionbusting.
In the months that followed, Kane and the other two national officers toured the United States to take stock of the damage
and to encourage UE members to resist the attacks from corporate headquarters and the nation’s capital. The officers presented the union’s
program in remarks at press conferences and local union meetings.
President Kane led UE in negotiations with the giants of electrical manufacturing, General Electric and Westinghouse. And
Kane was part of the national leadership that superintended the move of the union’s national headquarters from New York to Pittsburgh in
"He lived his whole life for the union," comments his daughter, Kathleen Morrison. "It really was his
"I doubt that I would be in the position I hold today without Jimmy Kane’s guidance and prodding," says Genl.
Pres. John Hovis, who succeeded Kane. "His patience and steady hand and the confidence he displayed were proof that you don’t have
to be flamboyant, boisterous or obnoxious to be a good leader. I called Jim for advice on several occasions after he retired because I
knew that he would walk me through a problem to help me find a solution," Hovis says. "When you asked Jim for advice that’s
exactly what you got, I don’t remember Jim ever giving anyone a lecture. Jim Kane was living proof that nice guys don’t always finish
Kane chose not to seek re-election in 1987, returning to Springfield for his retirement. He was president of the Local 218
retirees’ association for many years. He also developed an interest in sports photography, becoming closely associated with high school
teams. (Kane’s role as an unofficial high school photographer and mentor to students was profiled in the April 1998 UE NEWS.)
Three years ago, Kane launched a successful campaign to raise funds for lighting for night games. Last year the
Springfield Teachers Association presented him with its annual "Friends of Education" award. An annual award has been named
after Kane and given to the student athlete who worked hard for the team but didn’t always make the spotlight.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Springfield Booster Club, P.O. Box 668, Springfield, VT 05156.
He is survived by his wife Jenny, daughter Kathleen Morrison, three grandchildren and several nieces and nephews.
UE News - 4/02