by John Howells and Marion Dearman
(Discovery Press, copyright 1996)

Traveling Cards and Itchy Feet

Competent printers had little difficulty transferring their skills from one printshop to another. A new job was pretty much like the last one. Moving from place to place was often necessary, given the seasonal fluctuations in newspaper advertising and commercial printing as well as economic ups and downs. Losing a job wasn’t particularly traumatic, since layoffs in one plant or town were often matched by labor shortages in other places. So, printers commonly changed employers, transferring from shop to shop or from town to town as necessary.

To make mobility even easier, the Typographical Union developed a system of “Traveling Cards” which certified that the bearer was a union member in good standing and “entitled to the good benefits” of membership. A printer could draw a “traveler” from one local and go to work in another town simply by handing his traveler to a chapel chairman and requesting that his name be placed on the slipboard. 

If a tramp printer timed it right, at show-up time, he could go to work immediately, and rent a hotel room after the shift was over. He needed no approval from the foreman to work, no application blanks to fill out, no physical examinations. Just a yellow piece of paper with the seal of the International Typographical Union.

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