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The Boss

By David Dayton McKean
This Web version, edited by GET NJ, COPYRIGHT 2003

Theodore Brandle was head of the ironworkers' union in Jersey City in the early days of the Hague regime. As his power grew he came to control the Central Labor Union and then the State Federation of Labor. He held organized labor in line for John W. Davis in the campaign of 1924, and the following year publicly announced his loyalty to Hague when he urged every wage-earner in the state to affiliate with the political organization. The labor vote that Brandle was able to command was often decisive in the election of Democratic governors.

While he was rising as a labor politician Brandle accumulated a considerable personal fortune. He owned or controlled a labor bank in Jersey City, a bonding company, Brandle- grant, and construction companies. As Mayor Hague said several years later in the C.I.O. case, Brandle was on both sides of industry. He made so much money that in 1932 he `paid the government $96,221 after pleading guilty to income tax evasion.' (Newark Evening News, April 7, 1938.) He was also sufficiently wealthy to lend $60,000 to Mayor Hague when his friend also got in trouble with the Collector of Internal Revenue.

The Newark Evening News once summarized Brandle's business-labor-political career as follows:

The power of the Brandle group of labor leaders grew stead- ily in the next five years [1926-1931]. So did stories about Brandle's connection with the Jersey City political machine. Some contractors talked about difficulty in getting specifications on public work without Brandle's approval, and suggested `cut backs' to campaign funds. When union men were involved in alleged assaults in Jersey City police could seldom be found in the neighborhood.

Reports that Hague felt that Brandle was taking in too much territory came out when the labor leader called a strike during work on the Jersey City Medical Center. Stories of sharp arguments leaked out, but Hague later gave assurances that `Teddy and I are as good friends as ever.' That was in 1931. (January 80, 1938.)

The time had come when Brandle was a dangerous rival to Hague; he had powerful support in the labor movement, and he had money. His strength was doubly dangerous because the economic depression, beginning in 1929, found the industries of Jersey City crushed by the great tax burden made necessary by the extent and size of the political machine; at the very time when there were the greatest demands upon the organization for jobs it was unable to obtain more tax money. Businesses were going bankrupt or leaving the area. To keep the political machine from collapse the process had to be arrested or reversed: no more industries must be driven out; new ones must be brought into Jersey City. Since the tax burden could not be lightened without reducing the public payroll, and since the payroll could not be permanently cut without affecting the organization seriously, there was nothing left for the Mayor to do but to offer employers freedom from labor troubles, which meant that they could reduce their costs by paying whatever wages they wished. A break with Brandle was inevitable.

The break came over the use of non-union labor by the McClintic-Marshall Company in the construction of the elevated highway over the meadows known as the Pulaski Skyway. In the words of the Newark Evening News:

The contractors hired scores of guards to protect their openshop workmen. Brandle's men assembled in large groups, and there were pitched battles on the meadows and in Jersey City. One gang of twenty men set upon five of the contractors' workers in a Jersey City street and killed one of them.

That was the end of Hague's link with Brandle. The wraps were taken off the police, and a score of Brandle's men arrested. All were finally acquitted of murder, but not for lack of effort by Hague's officials to get a conviction.

Hague started a war upon `racketeer' labor leaders. His explanation for the sudden turn against Brandle and other union leaders who had been political allies was that he had never known about their tactics. He had just discovered after ten years' association with them, he said, that there was 'sabotage, double-dealing, brutality, terrorism, intimidation, exploitation, and gorilla-rule' connected with some of the Hudson County unions.

If there were any 'lead-pipe tactics' in the future, Hague warned, `we don't give our cops nightsticks for ornaments.' .. . he followed with a public assurance to employers that they would be given ample protection against labor racketeers.

The Jersey City police broke the strike. As Mayor Hague testified in the C.I.O. case, `We simply cleaned the place out. We didn't allow pickets, we didn't allow anything then.' (Transcript, p. 1172.) The strike ruined Brandle. His labor bank closed, and he spent the entire fortune he had accumulated on strike relief, on a private hospital he operated on Staten Island for injured strikers, and on legal fees in the defense of the strikers accused of murder.


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