Labors War at Home: The Cio in World War II (Labor in Crisis)

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Rubber, and General Electric, were determined to contain, constrain, and marginalize trade unionism. Sanford Jacoby sustains Harris's doleful perspective in the more recent Modern Manors: Welfare Capitalism Since the New Deal by rediscovering a cohort of powerful, "progressive" firms that successfully stymied the union impulse, even when this required outright violation ofNLRB and WLB directives. Historians of Southern labor and industrialization have never detected much managerial interest there in a postwar accord with the unions.

Moreover, Jefferson Cowie's superb Capital Moves: RCA's 7o-Year Quest for Cheap Labor, demonstrates that even when companies avoided an outright confrontation with labor, corporate liberal firms like RCA systematically relocated production to North American sites thought inhospitable to effective unionism. The participation of NAM leaders in FDR's labor-management conference setting up the WLB soon generated a backlash that put a new, aggressive set of anti-union, anti-New Deal leaders in charge of the business group.

This hardening of management outlook was best exemplified by the famous photograph of two fully armed soldiers carrying Montgomery Ward's reactionary chairman, Sewell Avery, out of the corporation's Chicago headquarters. Thus, by when the Truman administration tried to orchestrate a postwar compact between labor and capital, the NAM skillfully and determinedly sabotaged the high-profile labor-management conference finally held in November of that year. Above all, NAM wanted to eliminate the role of the state in establishing an industry-wide incomes policy, and it sought to discipline union strength at the shop-floor level.

This aggressive stance made unavoidable a massive postwar strike wave and thus helped precipitate the anti-labor backlash that saturated American political culture in the years immediately following. After a careful assessment, Ira Katznelson and his associates have determined that the key element cementing this conservative coalition was the hostility of both factions to the rise of a powerful trade union movement.

Until the late S, Southern Democrats supported most New Deal social legislation, albeit with the proviso that such initiatives protect the Southern racial order and the regional advantages of New South agriculture and manufacturing. But this Southern allegiance to the New Deal collapsed after I when organized labor became a more assertive component within the Democratic party. Southern pro-labor voting stopped, and in the warera Congresses an anti-labor conservative coalition became dominant. The war cemented the Dixiecrat alliance with the Republicans because a labor-backed reform of the South now poised a real threat to the racial oligarchy of the region.

Writes Katznelson: "In this more uncertain moment of rapid economic and central state expansion, the South redrew the line between those aspects of the New Deal it would tolerate and those it could not. Even as they increased their influence within the state's laborrelations apparatus, their social and economic power was challenged by a counter-mobilization from below that sought to take advantage of the unprecedented demand for labor while at the same time actualizing the social patriotic ethos that was the quasi-official ideology of the World War II home front.

Indeed, this increasingly contentious juxtaposition, Introduction to the new edition xvii between a rightward drifting state apparatus and an increasingly organized and self-mobilized working class, represents the great paradox of the war, a dichotomy that would be resolved in the postwar years by a rapid, politically brutal divorce between popular aspirations and the state policies needed to fulfill them. It went to war. In a majority of industrial workers in the North and West were still immigrants or the sons and daughters of immigrants. In what FDR called the Arsenal of Democracy, the workers became the soldiers of production, and it was now patriotic, not socially demeaning, to take a factory job.

Every foxhole movie and war bond campaign celebrated the ethnic heterogeneity of plebian America. Likewise, the new industrial unions were vehicles not only for gaining economic power but also for overcoming cultural discrimination. CIa electoral propaganda in proclaimed, "All of us in America are foreigners or the children of foreigners They built the railroads, they built the highways, they built the factories They all have equal rights to share in America. To Gerstle, rising wages and full employment "in conjunction with the wartime celebration of the nation's multicultural character allowed European ethnics to believe that the American dream had finally been placed within their grasp.

Indeed, the very sense of Americanism that Gerstle evokes so well laid the basis for the claims upon their employers and the state that working-class Americans made with such frequency during World War II. Although the character of their aspirations would differ xviii Introduction to the new edition according to their gender, race, age, and occupation, the social-patriotic ethos generated by anti-fascist propaganda and war-era mobilization politicized new aspects of working-class life.

Take the wage issue, for example. While wartime pay was higher than ever, wages represented more than money to most workers.

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The level of reimbursement symbolized a worker's social worth, and in years past the pay packet had often been an explicit social marker ranking the status of men and women, black and white, Slav and German. Thus, in a war in which patriotic egalitarianism was a pervasive home-front rationale, and in which workers' pay was a product of governmental fiat, inequalities of all sorts - in pay, promotions, seniority, and general respect proved to be among the most vexing and persistent causes of shop-floor discontent.

They therefore worked strenuously to manipulate and constrain an ideology of equal sacrifice, "to curb its subversive potential. Ethnic hierarchies lost much of their potency during World War II, although we also understand that one overripe fruit of the war era's social patriotism, even of its more liberal brand of cultural pluralism, was the transformation of ethnicity into a sense of entitled whiteness.

The white working class became more unified, more militant, and more determined to police its own boundaries, both at work, where seniority rights and skill definitions were highly racialized, and even more so in the workingclass neighborhoods where the defense of racial exclusivity consistently trumped laborite liberalism. McGreevy, and Bruce Nelson have shown in such graphic detail, this white defensive militancy became the submerged rock upon which postwar liberalism would splinter, first at the municipal level, and later on a larger political stage.

The degree to which New Deal pluralism and wartime social patriotism had reconstructed white ethnic America remained somewhat veiled for nearly two decades, until the rise of an antistate, Wallacite discourse in the s gave to this insular racism a politicallegitimacy it had never before enjoyed, at least outside the South. There is not much on this in Labor's War at Home, but there should have Introduction to the new edition xix been because, with some notable exceptions, most labor historians have postulated that mass industrial unionism has more often than not put the citizenship rights of its members and their families high on the sociopolitical agenda.

And this was certainly true during World War II, even taking into account the violent racism of so many in the white rank and file and the hate strikes that periodically exploded in Detroit, Mobile, Los Angeles, and other industrial citiesY There were two reasons for the giant leap forward in civil rights consciousness.

First, the war inaugurated a quarter century of MricanAmerican migration from farm to city and from the South to the North and West. Compared to the Great Migration of World War I, the Mrican-Arnerican proletarianization experience during the era from to and extended in a continuous fashion until the deep recession of was broader, longer, and more massive.

Second, this process of class recomposition was accompanied by an ideological transformation which pushed the issue of African-American political and economic rights to near the top of American liberalism's immediate postwar agenda. Just as the New Deal had offered a new kind of pluralist citizenship to immigrant America, so too did World War II engender a vibrant rights-conscious sense of entitlement among African Americans.

This was not because the Army or the mobilization agencies or even the newly established Fair Employment Practices Commission FEPC were staunch friends of civil rights liberalism. They were not, but the patriotic egalitarianism of the war effort, combined with the creation of a set of state institutions open to grievance and redress, laid the basis for a dialectically powerful relationship - not unlike that of the early s - between social mobilization at the bottom and state building from above.

Philip Randolph's March on Washington. The FEPC had little institutional power, but its symbolic import was hardly less than that of the Freedman's Bureau in the early Reconstruction era. FEPC hearings, investigations, and grievance procedures gave African Americans a point of leverage with the federal lex Introduction to the new edition government that proved corrosive to the old racial order. Despite its embattled status within the state apparat - a Southern filibuster would finally kill it early in - the FEPC's energetic, union-connected, interracial staff served as one of the late New Deal's great mobilizing bureaucracies.

As the Atlanta Journal sourly put it in , "So adroit are its maneuvers that it is usually out of the picture when any trouble it has started is full-blown. It calls on other government agencies to enforce its decrees and whip dissenters into line. In OPA employed nearly 75, and enlisted the voluntary participation of another ,, mainly urban housewives and union activists, who checked the prices and quality of the consumer goods regulated by the government. Writing in the early s, economists Samuel Bowles, David Gordon, and Thomas Weisskopf were among the first scholars to identify a "tacit agreement between corporate capitalists and the organized labor movement.

Indeed, phrases like "social compact" and "social contract" were first deployed in the early s by liberals and laborites anxious to condemn wage cuts, denounce corporate union-busting, and define what they seemed to be losing in Reagan's America. But such language was altogether absent in the first decades after the end of World War II.

Most unionists would have thought the very idea of a consensual accord between themselves and their corporate adversaries a clever piece of management propaganda. Unionists were well aware that no sector of American capital had agreed, even under wartime conditions, to an "accord" with labor or the New Deal state. There was no corporatist settlement, either of the hard variety embodied in tripartite mechanisms of economic regulation, nor in the soft bargaining patterns whereby the unions sought to regulate wages and working conditions - and even company pricing policies - in a single industry.

A kind of meso-corporatism did structure a few otherwise highly competitive industries, such as trucking, airlines, railroads, and municipal transport. There, the extraordinarily high level of unionization reached during the war - above 90 percent - did persist for three decades afterwards. But such corporatist arrangements came flying apart where management in highly competitive industries went on the postwar offensive: first in textiles, where War Labor Board orders were routinely violated in and , and then in retail trade, electrical products, and all along unionism's white collar frontier.

All across the business spectrum, from brass-hat conservatives on the right to corporate liberal statesmen on the left, postwar executives sought to privatize and ghettoize bargaining relationships and economic conflict. Conflict over the degree to which xxii Introduction to the new edition the unions could still enlist the state in recalibrating the relationship between capital and labor constituted the heart of so many of the celebrated struggles of the postwar era: the strike wave, the subsequent fight over OPA, enactment of the Taft-Hartley Act in , and the battle over company-paid health insurance and pensions during the collective bargaining round.

Although midcentury strike levels remained comparatively high, the industrial relations system of that era was so "free" that liberal Democratic political victories in , , and had virtually no impact upon this increasingly insular collective bargaining regime. So were there any alternative structures that might have emerged from the labor politics of World War II? But their allure has faded over the years.

Labor historians of mid-century America have fragmented pointof-production militancy into a set of competing impulses, not all admirable from a contemporary standpoint. Meanwhile, almost all historians have become more attuned either to formal political and policy initiatives or to the cultural, racial, and gender substructures that have framed the working-class experience. And in recent years trade union leadership, conservative as well as radical, has won a certain appreciation, if only because of its embattled role in American politicallife.

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Although the wildcat strikers of World War II never developed the kind of political program, or the kind of leadership, that could make their perspective fully legitimate, their unpredictable militancy did embody a syndicalist current that kept the old "labor question" a focus of unresolved contention.

By standing outside the corporatist structures of the wartime state, these industrial radicals brought into question a whole set of policy and political arrangements: WLB wage ceilings, labor's alliance with the Democratic party, even the meaning of patriotism in an era of endemic international tensions. They politicized the emergent system of industrial relations by adding a contingent, ideological dimension to issues that state managers, corporate executives, and not a few union officials sought to routinize and consolidate.

Their exit from the Introduction to the new edition xxiii postwar stage therefore made the union movement a more insular, depoliticized entity, and therefore one of far less potency and promise. Max Schactman, Irving Howe, Dwight Macdonald, Hal Draper, and others then argued that the Soviet Union was not, as Trotsky held, a "degenerated workers state" worthy of critical support, but a "bureaucratic collectivist" regime, as repressive in its own way as any state in the capitalist world. Solidarity is now largely responsible for publication of the widely respected Labor Notes.

The edition of The New Men of Power contains my appreciative introduction. Richard Abrams was the chair of my dissertation committee, but Michael Rogin exerted what little real interpretative guidance I accepted from any on the faculty. A scholar of Marx and Marxism, his most widely read and influential work was the pamphlet The Two Souls ofSocialism, first published in He later published Singlejack Books, which distributed shirt-pocket guides for rank and file militants.

As a dissertation, my book manuscript was rejected for publication by both Greenwood Press and University of Kentucky Press. The outside readers were from the world of industrial relations. Cambridge University Press decided to publish it because of a fortuitous political-generational shift. Steven Fraser had become xxiv Notes to the new introduction the history editor at Cambridge; one of the readers to whom he sent the manuscript was Peter Friedlander, who had just published the pioneering social history The Emergence of a UAW Local, A Study in Class and Culture Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, I I See especially Joseph A.

I kick myself for not consulting the Stone essay before my book appeared, but in the S when I did most of the research for Labor's War at Home, labor law scholarship, especially that involving the history of industrial relations, had become increasingly arid. Today no labor historian can afford to ignore the rich and plentiful work of the current generation of labor law scholars. Clark, Like Night and Day, 4. The pioneering work of Paul A. Koistinen sustains Waddell's view. And see the recent biography of Henry Wallace by John C.

Wallace New York: Norton, , Hirsch, eds. Journal of Social History, 26 Summer I , 7 2 But the institutional and social legacy was proportionally tepid because this demographic upheaval was unaccompanied by the kind of ideological legitimization that made the upgrading of black labor such a pivotal development. Horowitz, Beyond Left and Right: Insurgency and the Establishment Urbana: University of Illinois Press, ' A particularly good discussion of the way in which Taft-Hartley's threat to union security generated a more privatized, interest-group labor movement is found in Brown, Race, Money, and the American Welfare State.

Preface When I began work on this book in the early s, many of us who were active in the student movement concluded that radical social and political change could come only if it were based, at least in part, on a working-class mobilization equal to or greater than that of the os. However, when we looked to those who actually labored in American factories and offices, we found more inertia than activism, and the trade unions seemed sclerotic and increasingly impotent.

The old Roosevelt coalition was in its final stages of collapse. In New York City, construction workers on Wall Street only recently had beaten up antiwar demonstrators. George Meany's AFL-CIO seemed a bulwark of the status quo, unconcerned even about the declining proportion of the workforce enrolled in the trade unions. Labor still favored an expansion of the welfare state, but most unions nevertheless remained steadfastly in favor of a vigorous prosecution of the Vietnam War. Of course, this was also the era in which farm workers and public employees made significant organizational gains, in which an insurgent movement revitalized the United Mine Workers; and in which the young workers at General Motors' Lordstown, Ohio, assembly plant captured the attention of even the mass media.

Some ex-students began to "industrialize" in a conscious effort to build a socialist opposition movement within unions such as the Teamsters, the United Automobile Workers, and the United Steelworkers of America. Although I kept largely to academe, I shared their search for a program that could engender a new militancy among American workers and transform the unions once again into the premier progressive force in national life.

A study of the union movement in World War II seemed relevant. During the s, I followed with fascination and a sense of hope the wildcat strikes that flared in the coalfields and auto plants, so my interest was naturally kindled regarding the almost forgotten but far larger wildcat movement of the wartime era. What had happened to that insurgency, and what could be learned from its demise? In the s, an earXXIX xxx Preface lier generation of non-Communist militants had unsuccessfully sought to politicize that rebellion, to rescind the no-strike pledge, to smash the wage controls, and to make a start on building the long-delayed labor party; latter-day radicals can learn something from the successes and failures of that experience.

The S were also the years in which business and labor firmly established the industry-wide collective bargaining that would prove routine throughout most of the postwar era. Was this process necessarily counterposed to a more aggressive brand of working-class activism, as some contemporary New Leftists argued, or were there not more specific historical circumstances associated with the war and its legacy that spurred the growth of union bureaucracy and conservatism in the labor movement?

Finally, in both the and , the state had moved toward a system of wage and price controls that politicized all elements of the collective bargaining regime and brought patriotic union officials onto the various government boards designed to formulate a wage standard. Had this process effectively incorporated the unions in the state apparatus and robbed them of their oppositional potential?

If so, what role could the Left play within these institutions? Of course, no historical study can directly provide a political strategy for contemporary struggle, but I hope this work will help to create the larger context necessary for a resolution of these questions. This text originated as a doctoral dissertation at the University of California, Berkeley.

There I found the learning experience the most stimulating of my life, both within and without the walls of the academy. Richard Abrams proved a model thesis director, a probing critic of my endeavor, a forceful advocate of his own historical perspective, and a craftsmanlike editor of the emerging manuscript. Financial support came from two university fellowships and later from an American Council of Learned Societies grant-in-aid.

Scores of librarians aided me in my research. Various colleagues, comrades, and friends offered advice, argument, and support as this manuscript moved through several stages of revision. To Joanne Landy lowe an especially profound debt, for she did more than any to shape my politics and frame this work in its formative stages. Eileen Boris reworked several versions of this material with me, consistently providing incisive criticism, support, and encouragement. Her collaboration has given to my work both a higher standard and a great joy.

Washington, D. June Nelson Lichtenstein 1. Introduction In the summer of , a wave of sit-down strikes swept through the Chrysler Corporation plants in Detroit. The grievances of the men and women employed there - over the pace of work, dangerous conditions, and callous attitude of the supervisors - virtually duplicated those that had troubled and motivated the generation of workers who founded the United Automobile Workers U AW in the mid- 19 30s.

Using tactics not dissimilar to those of early union organizers, these largely youthful, sometimes radical strikers of halted or slowed production, battled security guards, and set up illegal picket lines at plant gates. Although management began to identify and fire the more prominent activists, its efforts to contain the insurgency proved inadequate. The movement was broken decisively only on the morning of August 16, when high officials of the UAW, many veterans of the union's early battles, assembled a "flying squadron" of 1, local officials and staff representatives that dispersed the picket lines, manhandled the militants, and persuaded hesitant employees to return to their jobs.

With scores of factories shut down, hundreds of thousands of auto workers unemployed, and billions of dollars of red ink flowing through company account books, the UA W agreed to renegotiate its unexpired contracts and accept an unprecedented rollback of wages and benefits won by the union in better times.

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These concessions soon spread to many of the plants and companies that the U A Wand other industrial unions had organized nearly half a century before. In the economically hard-pressed rubber, packinghouse, agricultural implement, and steel industries, union leaders could find no alternative but to accept the wage reductions and other "givebacks" management demanded.

The suppression of the Chrysler wildcat strikes and the bargaining retreat of the next decade symbolized to many the distance traveled by even the most progressive unions of the old Congress of Industrial Organizations CIO. By the S and s, their capitulation to a manage- 2 Labor's war at home ment-dominated industrial order seemed necessarily congruent with their maintenance of an unresponsive and sometimes coercive internal apparatus. Although one can easily overstate the militancy of the mass industrial unions in the S and exaggerate their bureaucratic and conservative nature today, the transformation of these key institutions of American life has never received the systematic historical attention such a major development usually commands.

This book about American workers and their unions during World War II seeks to illuminate a key stage in this great change by uncovering the largely neglected history of the industrial union movement during a crucial era of economic regimentation and social upheaval, of growing political conservatism combined with a still powerful tradition of working-class militancy. The vacuum in historical understanding has been largely filled by the work of an influential generation of social scientists who provided the initial, and still most widely accepted, explanation for the decline of union militancy and democracy in the years after In their pioneering studies of work process and union structure, social theorists such as Clark Kerr, Richard Lester, Daniel Bell, and Seymour Martin Lipset concluded that, given their mass character and their confrontation with powerful national employers, the new trade unions were virtually destined to develop an oligarchic regime and a set of accommodationist politics.

Much of this analysis derived from the work of Robert Michels, who fifty years before had recorded the tendency toward bureaucracy in the German Social Democracy and its allied trade unions. But if Michels, as radical critic, viewed this transformation with horror, Lipset, Kerr, and other liberal ideologues of a pluralist social order maintained that the tendency toward oligarchy in private organizations was a positive good; the fact that leaders did not exclusively represent the interests of their members, but interpreted them in an accommodationist, pragmatically conservative fashion, provided the necessary framework to sustain political democracy in the larger body politic.

The first post-World War II generation of American labor historians Introduction 3 largely followed the conceptual guidelines set out by the mainstream industrial sociologists. Writing what have become the standard histories of the early CIO, both Irving Bernstein and Sidney Fine implicitly accepted the modem orthodoxy of industrial relations, to wit, the establishment of collective bargaining on a legal, routine, and unchallenged basis represents the goal toward which all labor history moves.

Both Fine and Bernstein wrote as liberal institutionalists, identifying with the struggles of the industrial workers and their leaders but seeing little actual or potential conflict between the needs of the newly organized rank and file and the New Deal ideology of their leadership.


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Joel Seidman, who wrote the only full-fledged study of the labor movement during the war, explicitly advanced this perspective, favorably comparing the seemingly permanent gains of the union movement during World War II with the transitory success the American Federation of Labor AFL enjoyed during World War I. One group, which might be labeled the "corporate liberal" theorists, emphasized the extent to which the rise of the new industrial unions actually made the old order more secure.

Disenchanted with the conservatism of the postwar labor movement and with the domestic political consensus forged by Democratic presidents, scholars such as James Weinstein and Ronald Radosh argued that twentieth-century liberalism represented not the ideology of antibusiness, democratic forces but the movement of the more enlightened capitalists to rationalize and restructure the corporate order. In this context, such seminal New Deal reforms as the Wagner Act and Social Security seemed but clever ruling-class stratagems to defuse social conflict and revitalize the economy.

Emphasizing the antiradical ideology of the major CIO leaders, corporate liberal theorists argued that the net effect, if not the purpose, of the massive organizing drives of the decade was to integrate the industrial working class into a midcentury liberal capitalist system, strengthened immensely by the program of military Keynesianism the government adopted during the world war and Cold War eras. Theorists of this school had postulated an essentially instrumentalist conception of the state, whereby a relatively unified and far-seeing capitalist class exerts its influence directly through a government apparatus it controls.

In fact, such an arrangement hardly described political reality during the New Deal years. Although some well-known industrialists such as Gerard Swope and Henry Dennison encouraged the new industrial unions and supported the Wagner Act, the overwhelming majority of American businessmen fiercely resisted most New Deal reforms and fought the new CIO unions with virtually every political and economic weapon at their command.

A far more fruitful approach has been offered by nco-Marxists such as Nicos Poulantzas and Claus Offe, who have argued that the broad, system-sustaining interests of the capitalist class are advanced through a "relatively autonomous" state apparatus. The state organizes an often divided capitalist class because the bureaucracy alone is capable of transcending the parochial, individual interests of specific capitalists and capitalist class fractions. At the same time, the state itself is not a unified entity; its policy is the product of class conflict in the larger society, mediated through a complex network of state agencies that are themselves the loci of class and interest group conflict.

Although often pitched at a level of abstraction historians find difficult to use, the perspective of Poulantzas and other nco-Marxists is helpful because it enables one to understand the way in which the broker-state policies of the Roosevelt administration were designed to maintain social cohesion and at the same time to provide a battleground for divergent forces within the body politic.

Although their insight into the way the state regulates and channels social conflict has proved extremely important, neo-Marxists have been less helpful in advancing the study of working-class history itself. In their structuralist analysis, the state serves to atomize the working class, Introduction 5 destroying its political and social unity through the transformation of workers into individualized citizens.

But there is little discussion of the social mechanisms by which the state accomplishes this task, and the structuralist perspective often reduces working-class consciousness to an abstract cipher, virtually dependent on the manipulation of elite state managers. Social reality in the S and S was a good deal more complex, and in this period some state activity designed to contain or weaken and divide the long-range threat from below nevertheless stimulated a working-class mobilization that had far-reaching consequences at the point of production and in the realm of politics.

Admittedly, both the National Recovery Administration's famous Section 7a and the Wagner Act were designed to moderate class conflict, but their actual deployment engendered a widespread self-organization of the working class that quickly overflowed the narrow legal channels that had been constructed to contain it. Despite the limitations of their ideology, scholars of the New Left generation did leave a permanent mark on the study of American labor history by shifting its focus from institutional developments within the legal system and the trade unions to the activity and attitudes of the rank and file.

In the early S, both Jeremy Brecher and Staughton Lynd emphasized the dimension of depression-era insurgency that sought a fundamental transformation of power relationships in the factory, mill, and office. A few years later, Peter Friedlander and Robert Zieger demonstrated, in two careful local union studies, that unionization functioned as but one step among many that altered the relationship of ordinary workers to their job, family, workmates, and boss.

Like any social movement, the new CIO unions were not merely the product of the ideology of their leadership or the momentary consciousness of the rank and file, but represented a dialectical combination subject to the often violently changing economic and political crosscurrents of the era. This text demonstrates how the home-front pressures for social order and political orthodoxy during World War II did much to weaken the 6 Labor's war at home independence and shop-floor power that the industrial union movement had won in the late S.

When the question of American intervention arose after the fall of France, most CIO unionists -like American liberals generally - came to the conclusion that a military defense had to be built against German fascism.


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Although many in labor recognized the dangers that a militarized economy might bring to their still incomplete and unstable organizations, the key leadership group in the CIO nevertheless hoped that the collectivist tendencies inherent in the mobilization of the society for total war could be used to forge a quasicorporativist program of social planning and structural reform.

This hope had clearly failed by the time of Pearl Harbor, or shortly thereafter. Given the political conditions of the late New Deal era, the wartime mobilization program was necessarily built on the basis of a thoroughgoing structural accommodation and interpenetration between the resurgent forces of corporate America and a vastly expanded state apparatus. Indeed, planning of an unprecedented sort took place within the War Production Board WPB and other wartime agencies, but the economic controls put into effect largely favored those social forces that stood in historic opposition to the industrial union movement.

However, the CIa leaders' dependent relationship with the Roosevelt administration was hardly shaken by the new configuration of power in the wartime era. On the contrary, union leaders continued to offer the administration political support, first because they had not rejected those tenets of CIa social unionism that sought to turn the great power of the warfare state toward a program of social democratic reform, and second because they thought a close alliance with the Roosevelt wing of the Democratic party now essential to shield the union movement from the new power of big business and the aggressive anti-union politics of the congressional and entrepreneurial right wing.

Under these conditions, the mobilization effort provided the economic and ideological context required to routinize and channel union activity in such a way as to diminish the legitimacy of rank and file activity while institutionalizing leadership authority and increasing government influence in union affairs. In the first half of the war, a demographic upheaval dramatically expanded the workforce, but reduced the relative weight of the militant union cadre. As a consequence, the direct shop-floor power of many workers increased at the same time that their sense of union consciousness became radically uneven.

With wages held in check by government fiat and the right to strike suspended for the Introduction 7 duration of the war, the resultant instability generated an internal union crisis that neither the trade union leadership nor the government could long tolerate. In the summer of , the administration resolved much of this dilemma by providing the principal industrial unions with a government-sponsored union security guarantee designed to increase their internal bureaucratic nature.

This organizational support reinforced the ideological commitment that most CIO leaders already had to the mobilization policies of the president, but it also trapped them in a Rooseveltian political consensus that soon put them at odds with the immediate interests of their rank and file. Of course, this process did not take place overnight, nor did it occur without struggle and resistance.

The union movement was neither politically nor structurally monolithic, and both the government and the business community contained powerful fragments that dissented from what C. Wright Mills once called the "main drift" of national politics. By , internal opposition to the cross-class burgfrieden proclaimed by the national CIO began to bubble up in key unions in the rubber, shipbuilding, auto, and coal mining industries. As a result of dissatisfaction with the NWLB's rigid wage controls and with a renewed managerial offensive on the shop floor, wildcat strikes and other unauthorized job actions increased dramatically in the second half of the war.

Lewis coopted rankand-file insurgency in his campaign to break the authority of the NWLB and return collective bargaining to those voluntarist principles the pre-New Deal union movement had once championed. In the UAW and several other industrial unions, a powerful wildcat strike movement exerted significant leftward pressure upon the politicized stratum of secondary union leaders who were the vital cadre of the CIO. The subsequent tension between the control mechanisms of the state, the social pressure from below, and the political requirements of the union leadership became the pivot of labor politics for the remainder of the war.

By the late s, the adjustment or suppression of this multifaceted conflict had reshaped the internal character of the industrial unions and done much to set their course in the increasingly hostile environment of the immediate postwar era. The unfinished struggle The history of the American working class contains a major paradox. Over the last century, working men and women in this country have repeatedly demonstrated a degree of solidarity that has rivaled or surpassed even that exhibited by the proletariat of Western Europe. The self-conscious collective activity of American workers has normally been hidden, submerged in the day-to-day life of factory, mine, and office, obscured either by an overlay of ethnic culture or by identification with the local community and its social and political values.

Still, a latent combativeness has never been far beneath the surface. From the railway upheaval of to the strike wave of the mid- s, almost every decade witnessed a protest movement of remarkable proportions. In an era when the industrial working class was more than half foreign born, when trade unions represented less than a tenth of the nonfarm workforce, when capital exercised its power in direct and unfettered fashion, these national strikes successfully galvanized huge numbers in collective resistance to the harsh, alien work regime fostered by the new industrial system.

Yet, these great movements of the foreign born and the unskilled rarely left an institutional legacy. Most major strikes in the sixty years after were unsuccessful, and even where workers won substantial concessions from their employers, as in the smaller industrial cities of the Gilded Age or in the coalfields and garment shops early in this century, permanent trade unionism remained insecure and tenuous. Thus, the milestones that mark the course of American labor history are those of heroic failure or great tragedy: the Haymarket riot of , the Homestead and Pullman strikes in the s, the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in I, the epochal and climactic mobilization of 19 I 9.

American workers forged strong bonds of solidarity with one another, but their sense of loyalty and organization rarely extended beyond their own place of work, or their own community or ethnic subgroup. Workers frequently stopped production and won the backing of the majority of their fellow citizens in the small towns and cities that were the home of so much industry in the North and West. But the efficacy of their local protest was increasingly undercut by the ability of corporate America to withstand such scattered and episodic resistance and by the willingness of the state legal apparatus to declare such activity illegitimate.

Under such conditions, most unions survived only by finding an ecological niche outside of or on the margins of the emerging corporate system. As the Interchurch World Commission reported in the wake of the steel strike: The United States Steel Corporation was too big to be beaten by , working men. It had too large a cash surplus, too many allies among other businesses, too much support from government officers, local and national, too strong influence with social institutions such as the press and pulpit, it spread over too much of the earth - still retaining absolutely centralized control - to be defeated by widely scattered workers of many minds, many fears, varying states of pocketbook and under a comparatively improvised leadership.

Despite the more favorable legal and political environment, the juxtaposition of locally focused militancy on the one hand and organizational instability on the other did much to shape the character of the industrial unions that finally emerged late in the decade. During the depression era, the greatest surge of purely rank-and-file militancy and political radicalism probably came when unionism had its least influence, in the years and Encouraged by what most workers considered a government friendly to their interests, many broke from the apathy and demoralization of the first years of the depression in a remarkably powerful movement of protest and self-organization.

Hundreds of thousands of newly hopeful workers breathed life into established unions in coal and clothing, filled hastily 10 Labor's war at home chartered AFL federal locals in the auto, rubber, and electrical industries, created an independent rank-and-file movement in the steel industry, rebelled within and transformed many company-sponsored unions, and joined Socialist and Communist-led councils of the unemployed that marched to demand relief funds and prevent evictions.

The most spectacular manifestations of this new spirit came in Minneapolis, Toledo, and San Francisco, where ideologically committed radicals led thousands of workers in quasimilitary, largely successful confrontations with employers and local government authorities. For the most part, this remarkable burst of rank-and-file militancy did not survive long into the year The upheaval probably did much to frighten the left wing of the New Deal into fighting for passage of the Wagner Act, but the movement itself left few permanent organizations in its wake.

Six hundred AFL federal locals were discontinued or suspended in and as hundreds of thousands of workers in basic industry abandoned the new unions. Many of these organizations, especially those in auto and rubber, were greatly weakened after their demands for recognition were taken up and then unrecognizably diluted by National Recovery Administration NRA labor boards.

The steelworkers' insurgency collapsed when their strike threat was postponed and then canceled at the behest of President Roosevelt and NRA officials. Meanwhile, the textile union fell under a barrage of public and private assaults in the South, where the police and local officials firmly backed open-shop conditions. In the NRA era, rank-and-file activists organized well on the local level. But without a larger organizational context and effective national leadership, they were unable to mobilize the widespread discontent of the time and focus it with sufficient power upon the government bureaucracy and corporate headquarters, where the crucial political and economic decisions were made.

In an era of centralized authority, only such large-scale worker organizations could provide an efficacious vehicle for collective action, a defense against individual victimization, and a basis for lasting victory. In these years, as in others before and since, militancy and organization were not mutually exclusive. Rather, they were dialectically dependent, building confidence and hope in a powerful new synthesis.

In steel, the popular, broadly based worker insurgency faltered, concluded sympathetic chronicler Staugh- The unfinished struggle 11 ton Lynd, because "The crucial, critical weakness of the rank and file was its inability to organize on a national level. In the first instance, a radical alternative leadership might emerge on a national scale to unite, as in Minneapolis or San Francisco, the working-class discontent evident in so many localities.

The second alternative, and in the eyes of John L. Lewis and Sidney Hillman the more likely, was that the unparalleled organizational opportunity of the mids would be simply frittered away while those who could lead such a movement squabbled among themselves. The essential difference between Lewis and the rest of the old-line AFL leadership did not center on the question of industrial versus craft unionism.

Rather, it arose over the issue of whether or not a real effort would be made to seize the oncein-a-lifetime organizing opportunities so evident in the mids. Craft-oriented leaders of the AFL, such as Daniel Tobin, who called the mass-production workers "rubbish," saw in their alternating militancy and resignation an unpredictable quality upon which they thought it foolish to attempt to build solid trade unions. Future leaders of the CIO also recognized the ephemeral union consciousness of these workers, but they hoped that with the friendly neutrality of the federal government, strong trade unions could be built given a sufficient commitment of energy, money, and disciplined leadership.

In the pivotal steel industry, John L. Most were probably not as actively involved in and as they had been three years earlier. In steel, where the CIO placed the bulk of its manpower, money, and hope, the total SWOC membership at the end of stood at only 82, out of some , in the basic steel industry.

Although the CIO had won over the leadership of many of the key company unions by early , SWOC still feared that in a labor board election at a major corporation, the union might well face defeat. There, the process of union building rested in the hands of a relatively atypical nucleus of militants who waged shop-floor warfare with management for the allegiance of the large majority of still timid, deferential workers. Much tactical finesse - even outright bluff - was needed in this battle, for the union rarely enrolled more than a committed minority when it came to a showdown with the auto corporations.

To many workers, the formal recognition the U A W finally won at General Motors GM and other corporations early in provided a protective shield that gave them some sense of liberation from older factory hierarchies and a visible link to their more forceful shopmates.

It was a powerful symbol of the fact that the supervisor and the foreman were not omnipotent and that the union cadre represented an alternative nexus of legitimate authority in the plant. Given this social context, it is not surprising that the spectacular growth of the new CIO unions came only after collective bargaining contracts were signed.

Goodrich and Firestone, the rubber workers increased their membership from 4, to 30, in one year. In steel, the top-level agreement negotiated by Lewis and U. Steel President Myron Taylor early in March sparked the enrollment of more than , new unionists by June. Most spectacular of all were the auto workers.

Triggered by the stirring sit-down victories at GM and Chrysler, over additional strikes affecting almost half a million workers rocked Detroit within the first four months of UAW leaders proclaimed that the total membership had risen from 30, the year before to , by August Few workers accepted the modern distinction between contract negotiation and contract administration, so shop-floor assemblies, confrontations, slowdowns, and stoppages The unfinished struggle 13 were endemic in the spring of These demonstrations of collective strength legitimated the union's presence for thousands of heretofore hesitant workers, at the same time offering many their first sense of participation and control.

Such job actions extended the meaning of collective bargaining left unresolved in the early, sketchily written, signed contracts. At Chrysler's Dodge Main factory, for example, it was common practice for a grievance to be handled directly by the steward, backed physically by an entire department of workers who might walk off the job to await satisfaction outside the supervisor's office while their representatives argued inside. Through such tactics, the union secured de facto recognition of the shop steward system and a partial veto over production line speeds. Given the autonomous, noninstitutional character of the movement, trade union loyalty could dissipate almost as easily as it had blossomed.

Pragmatic and often opportunistic in their relation to the unions, American workers often expected an immediate payoff from their union commitment: a resolution of old grievances, a rapid increase in wages, a liberalization of work rules and production standards. As long as the CIO demonstrated its potency on these issues, workers flocked to its ranks, but when the unions stood on the defensive, as most did during the slump that began in late , many new union recruits stepped to the sidelines again to await the outcome of the latest battle between management and the union cadre.

I I Not surprisingly, membership in the new unions plunged almost as rapidly as it had risen. Thirteen months later, after the recession of had checked union influence, only 1, continued to pay any dues. On the West Side of Detroit, the Reuther brothers and their Socialist allies provided some of the ablest local leadership, and there some 14, workers paid initiation fees to Amalgamated Local By July , only 4, were still fully paid up, out of a potential membership of more than 36, At Goodyear in Akron, Ohio, the story was much the same.

Enthusiasm for the large United Rubber Workers URW local peaked early in ; thereafter the recession and a tough managerial bargaining posture combined to sap union loyalty. By , the Goodyear local's membership had declined to less than a third of the 11, enrolled three years earlier.

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Labor's War at Home: The CIO In World War II (Labor In Crisis)

The failure of the Little Steel strike in June and July graphically demonstrated the limits of union power, and the recession of ', which cut steel production by 70 percent, enahled managers to regain much of the initiative in their dayto-day contact with the union. Relying on a steward system considerably weaker than the one that existed in auto and rubber, SWOC leaders encountered chronic difficulty in maintaining the everyday structure of their union. Before ', the largest dues collection made in anyone month indicated a membership of slightly less than one-half the number of men who had signed application cards.

A contemporary observer put the union's dilemma this way: "Steel workers will go out and die for the union in the excitement of the picket line, but they'll be damned if they'll pay another dollar to that 'lousy shop steward. Often steelworkers balked, and absenteeism ran as high as 25 percent on the days dues pickets patrolled mill gates. This phenomenon was most apparent in the V AW, where the dynamic forces that combined to shape the new unions were most graphically displayed. Created out of an alliance of rebellious AFL federal locals, a former Chrysler corporation company union, and a Communist-led skilled-trades group, the VA W functioned as a coalition of virtually autonomous locals before the war.

Even after it won recognition from major auto corporations, its federated character remained intact. Management resisted company-wide bargaining, so each local played a large part in the annual negotiations. The VAW's first contract with GM was a weak document that recognized the union as the exclusive bargaining agent in several key factories but remained vague or silent when it came to seniority, grievance procedures, and wage standards. These issues were fought out on an individual plant basis that, in turn, kept local officers and stewards at the fulcrum of union power and politics.

Kersten, Harvey J. No cover image. Read preview. Synopsis One of the oldest, strongest, and largest labor organizations in the U. Excerpt Nearly nine months after the vicious, surprise attack on the military installations near Pearl Harbor, on September 5, , President Franklin D. Minchin University of North Carolina Press, Read preview Overview. Dark Cornell University Press, Zieger University of North Carolina Press, By Levitan, Sar A. By Anderson, Shannon K. Pepperdine Policy Review, Vol. Online, Vol. We use cookies to deliver a better user experience and to show you ads based on your interests.

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