The Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen of North America (AMC & BW of NA) was chartered by the American Federation of Labor in 1897 with seven locals, five of them composed of mostly skilled retail workers. In most meat packing plants, unskilled workers were the majority. Of this majority, 60 percent earned less than $6 a week. Skilled workers were paid better, with their wages ranging from $3 – $3.50 a day.
In 1903, the union demanded that the wages of the skilled workers be raised by 10 percent. The following year, the union asked that the wage increase be extended to both skilled and unskilled workers. After this demand, the companies’ response was to reduce hourly rates for all workers.
In 1904, the union organized a nationwide strike with 50,000 members participating. The strike ended in defeat, with a severe decline in membership as well as a long list of strikers being permanently blacklisted.
In 1921, the union called for another strike, this time with the intention of reneging on wage increases which had been awarded under a war-time arbitration agreement. The strike was unsuccessful for the union, leaving five strikers dead at the hands of police. Strikebreakers once again enabled the packers to overwhelm the union. At this point, packinghouse membership was at an all-time low, and the majority of strikers were blacklisted for the rest of their lives.
An epic two-year strike against the Morrell Company, which ended in 1937 with a union victory, helped to reunite and strengthen the packinghouse workers. Later that year, the Congress of Industrial Organizations formed the Packinghouse Workers Organizing Committee (PWOC).
As a result of a series of mergers, the AMC & BW of NA experienced continued growth and further expanded its jurisdiction. In 1943, the PWOC was dissolved to form the United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA). By 1953, the two unions had agreed to coordinate collective bargaining with national meat packing companies. However, it wasn’t until 15 years later that the UPWA and the AMC & BW of NA merged, uniting two strong unions and almost half a million members. The union of the two created one of the most powerful and progressive worker organizations seen in the history of the labor movement. Eleven years later, a merger between the Retail Clerks International Union and the AMC & BW of NA formed the UFCW.