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Thursday, 24 October 2019 19:21

Firebombing at Valley Forge Plaza

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Times Herald Page 1 June 5 1972

From the Times-Herald, June 5, 1972

On June 5, 1972, the Roofers Local Union No. 30 bussed hundreds of members to a construction site in Upper Merion, but they weren’t there to work. They had come to protest the construction of the Valley Forge Plaza.

The picketers carried signs declaring that the contractor paid non-union workers substandard wages. The equipment and construction trailers were firebombed, causing $300,000 to $400,000 in damage. When the fire department arrived on the scene, state police blocked them from getting to the fire because the picketers had been pelting the police with rocks. When more state police were called in from Reading, the fire trucks were allowed to come on to the site. The construction company knew the protest was coming, and there were no workers at the site that day. Despite the large police presence, no one was arrested at the scene.

Times Herald Page 1 June 6 1972 pictures

From the Times-Herald, June 6, 1972

The developer, J. Leon Altemose, was running an open shop, hiring non-union laborers. Altemose, a native of East Norriton and graduate of Norristown High School and Penn State, had started in construction building homes. Altemose always claimed that he was not against unions, but insisted that workers should have the right to work without being a union member. He later claimed to have offered the union 50% of the jobs on the project.

march 6 22

From the Times-Herald, June 22, 1972

When a Montgomery County judge barred picketing at all Altemose construction sites, they picketed the company’s headquarters. One hundred twenty-five picketers were fined. In response, the local building trades staged a march on June 22, 1972 from Plymouth Meeting Mall to the courthouse.

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Photographs from our collection show a piece of the troubled time in the county. Notes on the back say that they date to the trial (16 were convicted, 11 went to jail), but those notes were made by a volunteer here at the Historical Society and seem to be a guess. The newspaper coverage of the trail (which lasted for four month in 1974) doesn’t mention a strong police presence at all.

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It’s possible that they are from the labor parade on June 22. The Times-Herald described state police standing shoulder to shoulder along route. Of course, the pictures don’t show any marchers, so this might be incorrect. The parade attracted about 20,000 workers despite tropical storm Agnes hitting the area the same day, leading to widespread flooding.

According to a Philadelphia Magazine article from 2008, the building unions in the Philadelphia suburbs never recovered from the Altemose firebombing. Altemose died in 2008.

 

Sources: 

"J. Leon Altemose, controversial contractor, dies at 68" The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 6, 2008

Norristown Times-Hearld

Upper Merion Township The First 300 Years by J. Michael Morrisson, Francis X. Luther, and Marianne J. Hooper, King of Prussia Historical Society, 2013

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