Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Today in Labor History

May 20 - Union Communications Services, Inc.
The Railway Labor Act takes effect today. It is the first federal legislation protecting workers’ rights to form unions - 1926

Some 9,000 rubber workers strike in Akron, Ohio - 1933

By the time of the Depression, Akron was the rubber center of America, home of the great Goodyear, Firestone, and Goodrich plants and more than twenty factories of lesser companies. At peak production the Akron rubber industry employed nearly 40,000 workers, but by 1933 one-third to one-half of Akron's workers were unemployed, Firestone and half a dozen smaller companies were closed down, and Goodyear was on a two-day week. "

Disillusioned with trade unionism and tormented by the speedup, workers in Akron developed a new tactic - the sitdown - which they themselves could directly control without need for any outside leaders. When Louis Adamic later visited Akron to find out how the sitdowns had begun, he was told that the first had occurred not in a rubber factory but at a baseball game. Players from two factories refused to play a scheduled game because the umpire, whom they disliked, was not a union man. They simply sat down on the diamond, while the crowd for a lark cheered the NRA and yelled for an umpire who was a union man, until the non-union umpire was replaced.

Not long after, a dispute developed between a dozen workers and a supervisor in a rubber factory. The workers were on the verge of giving in when the supervisor insulted them and one of them said, "Aw, to hell with 'im, let's sit down." The dozen workers turned off their machines and sat down. Within a few minutes the carefully organized flow of production through the plant began to jam up as department after department ground to a halt. Thousands of workers sat down, some because they wanted to, more because everything was stopping anyway. What had happened, workers wanted to know? "There was a sitdown at such-and-such a department. A sitdown? Yeah, a sitdown; don't you know what a sitdown is, you dope? Like what happened at the ball game the other Sunday."
Adamic describes the response:
Sitting by their machines, cauldrons, boilers, and work benches, they talked. Some realized for the first time how important they were in the process of rubber production. Twelve men had practically stopped the works! Almost any dozen or score of them could do it! In some departments six could do it! The active rank-and-filers, scattered through the various sections of the plant, took the initiative in saying, "We've got to stick with 'em!" And they stuck with them, union and non-union men alike. Most of them were non-union. Some probably were vaguely afraid not to stick. Some were bewildered. Others amused. There was much laughter through the works. Oh boy, oh boy! Just like at the ball game, no kiddin'. There the crowd had stuck with the players and they got an umpire who was a member of a labor union. Here everybody stuck with the twelve guys who first sat down, and the factory management was beside itself. Superintendents, foremen, and straw bosses were dashing about. . . . This sudden suspension of production was costing the company many hundreds of dollars every minute. . . . In less than an hour the dispute was settled-full victory for the men!

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