James Kane, Retired UE President, Dies at 78

April 3, 2002

In Memoriam ...

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, Kane was also president of UE’s northeastern region for many years.

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 a worker," he told a reporter in 1981.

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.

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. He did – but not before he asked questions and got answers as to why it was important to join. 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.

As business agent, Kane led negotiations with – and notable strikes against – the area’s major employers. During those years Springfield’s machine tool shops were taken over by international conglomerates.

Kane also took part in union organizing, among other campaigns, the efforts that brough Bryant Chucking Grinder and Fellows Gear Shaper into UE.

The feisty business agent developed a reputation for "quick-thinking toughness," as a Vermont reporter put it. He 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.

President Kane led UE in negotiations with the giants of electrical manufacturing, General Electric and Westinghouse.

Kane was part of the national leadership that superintended the move of the union’s national headquarters from New York to Pittsburgh in 1987.

He chose not to seek re-election in 1987, returning to Springfield for his retirement. Jimmy Kane 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.

A funeral mass will take place Thursday at 10 a.m. at St. Mary’s Church.

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.

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