Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Martin P. Durkin (1953–1953): Secretary of Labor

Martin Durkin was secretary of labor under President Eisenhower from January 21, 1953, to October 8, 1953. In 1911, at the age of seventeen, Durkin became a steamfitter's apprentice; he would go on to fight as a private in the First World War.

In 1921, he was elected business manager of Steamfitters Local 597, United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the U.S. and Canada, also known as UA, a post he held until 1933. Henry Horner, the Democratic governor of Illinois, recruited Durkin to be state director of labor (1933-1941). In this capacity, Durkin introduced a number of reforms, including a state unemployment benefit, a state labor mediation service, and minimum work safety legislation; he was also an advocate of minimum wage/maximum hour regulations.

Durkin would also serve as president of the International Association of Governmental Labor Officials, or IAGLO, from 1933 to 1955. In 1941, he resigned his state position to become secretary-treasurer (1941-43) and later president (1943) of the UA. During World War II, he was a member of the National War Labor Board, and in 1951, he became a member of Defense Mobilization Board and National Security Resources Board under President Harry S. Truman.

President-elect Eisenhower sought an inclusive cabinet with a trade unionist in charge of labor relations, yet his appointment of Durkin to the post of labor secretary was fraught with trouble. Once in office, Durkin tried to rescind portions of the Taft-Hartley Act requiring loyalty oaths from union officials and open shops.

He had initially convinced Eisenhower to abide by his plan, but during a delay caused by the death of Senator Robert Taft, Secretary of Commerce Sinclair Weeks changed Eisenhower's mind. Durkin resigned after less than eight months on the job, denouncing Eisenhower for going back on his word. Durkin died after surgery for a brain tumor in 1955.