Thursday, October 16, 2014
James (left) and John McNamara
The Los Angeles Times bombing was the purposeful dynamiting of the Los Angeles Times building in Los Angeles, California, on October 1, 1910 by a union member belonging to the International Association of Bridge and Structural Iron Workers. The explosion started a fire which killed 21 newspaper employees and injured 100 more. It was termed the "crime of the century" by the Times; brothers John J. ("J.J.") and James B. ("J.B.") McNamara were arrested in April 1911 for the bombing. Their trial became a cause célèbre for the American labor movement. J.B. admitted to setting the explosive, and was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. J.J. was sentenced to 15 years in prison for bombing a local iron manufacturing plant, and returned to the Iron Workers union as an organizer.
In 1903, officials of U.S. Steel and the American Bridge Company founded the National Erectors' Association, a coalition of steel and iron industry employers. The primary goal of the National Erectors' Association was to promote the open shop and assist employers in breaking unions in their respective industries. Employers used labor spies, agents provocateurs, private detective agencies, and strike breakers, and engaged in a campaign of union busting. Local, state and federal law enforcement agencies cooperated in this campaign, which often employed violence against union members. Hard pressed by the open shop campaign, the Iron Workers reacted by electing the militant Frank M. Ryan president and John J. McNamara secretary-treasurer in 1905. In 1906, the Iron Workers struck American Bridge in an attempt to retain their contract. The open shop movement was a significant success. By 1910, U.S. Steel had nearly succeeded in driving all unions out of its plants. Unions in other iron manufacturing companies also vanished. Only the Iron Workers held on (although the strike at American Bridge continued).
Desperate union officials turned to violence to counter the setbacks they had suffered. Beginning in late 1906, national and local officials of the Iron Workers launched a dynamiting campaign. The stated goal of the campaign was to bring companies to the bargaining table, not to destroy plants or kill people. Between 1906 and 1911, the Iron Workers blew up 110 iron works, although only a few thousand dollars' worth of damage was done. The National Erectors' Association was not unaware of who was responsible for the bombings. Herbert S. Hockin, a member of the Iron Workers' executive board, was a paid spy for the Association.
At 1:07 a.m. on October 1, 1910, a bomb went off in an alley outside the three-story Los Angeles Times building located at First Street and Broadway in Los Angeles. The bomb was supposed to go off at 4:00 a.m. when the building would have been empty, but the clock timing mechanism was faulty. The 16 sticks of dynamite in the suitcase bomb were not enough to destroy the whole building, but the bombers were not aware of the presence of natural gas main lines under the building. The bombers were also unaware that a number of Times employees were working overnight to produce an extra edition the next afternoon which would carry the results of the Vanderbilt Cup auto race. The bomb collapsed the side of the building, and the ensuing fire destroyed the Times building and a second structure next door that housed the paper's printing press. Of the 115 people still in the building, 21 died (most of them in the fire). The Times called the bombing the "crime of the century", and publisher Otis excoriated unions as "anarchic scum," "cowardly murderers," "leeches upon honest labor," and "midnight assassins." The next morning, unexploded bombs were discovered at the homes of Otis and of F.J. Zeehandelaar, secretary of the M&M; the Hotel Alexandria; and the Los Angeles County Hall of Records (then under construction by the non-union Llewellyn Iron Works).