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United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America Records, 1936-1981
MSS 071  
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Collection Details
 
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Organizational History
  • Scope and Content
  • Related Material at the Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research
  • Bibliography

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America Records,
    Date (inclusive): 1936-1981
    Collection number: MSS 071
    Creator: United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America
    Extent: 14 legal document boxes, one legal half document box; 5 linear feet
    Repository: Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research
    Los Angeles, CA 90044
    Abstract: The collection consists of partial records of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE). There is material from selected years of the national Executive Board and from early chapters of UE history (1940s-1960s). There is a large amount of material on the 1969 strike against General Electric and the events leading up to it. The bulk of the collection related to specific locals is material on California locals in District 10--specifically Local 1010 (Ontario), Local 1012 (Ontario) and Local 1421 (Los Angeles)--but additionally there is a small amount of material from locals in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin.
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information

    Access

    The collection is available for research only at the Library's facility in Los Angeles. The Library is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Researchers are encouraged to call or email the Library indicating the nature of their research query prior to making a visit.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright has not been assigned to the Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research. Researchers may make single copies of any portion of the collection, but publication from the collection will be allowed only with the express written permission of the Library's director. It is not necessary to obtain written permission to quote from a collection. When the Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research gives permission for publication, it is as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America Records, Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research, Los Angeles, California.

    Provenance

    Donated to the Library by James L. Daugherty

    Organizational History

    Early History
    The United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) was formed in 1936 from separate organized segments in the electrical industry--1) local unions with "federal charters" in the American Federation of Labor (AFL), 2) independent unions and 3) machinists whose locals held charters with the Machinists union of the AFL-all aligned under the UE. The AFL, made up of craft unions, was reticent to organize across industry and refused to give the UE a charter. Shortly after, at the opening convention of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), formed to organize along industry lines, the UE received a CIO charter, although it had already been operating as an industrial union. The UE grew steadily to a union of more than 600,000 men and women within a decade. The UE's industry-wide union effected change on a scale that the AFL craft unions and independent unions could not. For example, whereas in the fifteen years before the UE was formed, from 1920-1935, wages had only been increased an average of five cents an hour; in the 15 years after the UE was formed, wages increased by an average of 95 cents an hour.
    1946 Watershed Year
    Though in 1938, a little less than 50% of the General Electric (GE) plants were organized, by 1940 GE was almost completely organized under the UE, with large numbers of members at Westinghouse and General Motors (GM) Electrical Division plants. By 1941, the UE had secured a renewal of the first national agreement ever signed by a giant of industry-GE - and also signed national agreements with Westinghouse and GM Electrical Division--without a strike. Rapidly the UE became the third largest industrial union within the CIO, after the United Auto Workers (UAW) and the United Steel Workers of America. The war years and calls for strike freezes led to huge losses in wages for workers. Wage increases were held at 15% although cost of living increased by 45% during that time. Furthermore, corporate profits were quadrupling.
    After the war ended, the UE joined with the two largest industrial unions in the CIO to launch a unified effort for economic justice across three major industries. All three unions demanded a two dollar a day raise (about a 25% increase) for workers to make up for the loss of earning power and wage depreciation. GE offered the UE a 10% increase, or ten cents an hour and told them to "take it or leave it". Almost immediately the UE rank and file voted to strike. In January workers at GE, Westinghouse and GM Electrical Division plants across the country went on strike. Two hundred thousand UE workers joined the picket lines with support from many more Americans living in industry towns. A week after the UE workers went on strike, 800,000 steel workers shut down the steel industry. By May 1946 the CIO unions had secured major settlements across the board, winning between 18 cent and 19 cent raises per hour for electrical, steel and auto workers. It was a watershed year for labor. The 1946 strikes involved nearly five million American workers who gained a sense of potency and solidarity that they could go up against powerful corporate entities and win.
    The "Dirty Decade"
    The Cold War provided a climate conducive for industry to mobilize against labor's increasing militancy and strength. The experience of the UE during this time represents a most extreme example of the targeting of labor by powerful political and industry interests. Using anti-communist rhetoric as a back drop, the National Association of Manufacturers lobbied for and won passage of the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947 which, among other things, 1) allowed court injunctions against labor unions, 2) required that all union officials sign affidavits swearing no affiliation with the Communist Party and 3) allowed management (and not just workers) to call for a union election in their shop.
    At first the CIO took the position that they would all stand together in refusing to sign the affidavits, but within a few years all but the UE had signed. Not signing enabled the Taft-Hartley Board to bar the UE from appearing on the ballot for union elections in a plant. The solidarity among the CIO industrial unions proved tenuous even as early as during the strike wave of 1946. Although Walter Reuther of the UAW publicly stated satisfaction with the 18 1/2 cent wage increase won during the strike waves, he privately felt that settlements by the UE with the GM Electrical Division prevented him from winning the full 19 1/2 cents recommended by the presidential panel for auto workers at GM plants. Reuther was the first to sign the affidavit and shortly thereafter the UAW began raiding UE shops. What followed was what many members of the UE referred to as the "dirty decade". The UAW raids were facilitated by the Taft-Hartley Board, who would refuse to allow the UE to appear on the ballot after the UAW called for an election in a UE shop. Finally, the UE signed the non-communist affiliation affidavits to save their membership but raids continued by the UAW who had been joined in this practice by the Steel Workers, select AFL unions and others.
    Just before the 1949 CIO convention, the UE petitioned the CIO for protection from the raids asking that CIO members who supported them be fired and that unions who participated be sanctioned. When neither occurred, the UE stopped paying dues and refused to send delegates to the convention. The stand-off resulted in the UE's expulsion from the CIO and the establishment of the International Union of Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (IUE-CIO), an alternate electrical union with jurisdiction over all UE shops. The remarkable struggle of the UE for its very survival began in full force. They faced formidable opponents. Having been singled out early on by the House Un-American Activities Committee, the UE faced a powerful political and business alliance without the support of the CIO, which had splintered under Cold War pressure. Armed with the new provisions of Taft-Hartley, GE and Westinghouse called for union elections in every UE shop. As UE officials prepared for these forced elections, UE members and officials were simultaneously being called in front of HUAC, the Subversive Activities Control Board and other congressional investigating committees on charges of "Red ties". These were tough years for the UE and resulted in many gains for GE and Westinghouse as the industrial labor movement splintered.
    1966 and Beyond

    "Guys, we want to talk about how best we can pull ourselves together to handle the bastards this time around."

    --UE officials in presentation to IUE and AFL-CIO reps

    By 1966, the UE was working hard to reverse twenty years of setbacks brought on by GE's new labor relations strategy, a package of "take it or leave it" techniques known by the term Boulwarism after Lemuel R. Boulware, the vice president of GE's "Labor Relations Services" during the 1950s and early 1960s. The strategy consisted of holding months of stalling meetings with the union negotiating committees where corporate negotiators merely listened to the union arguments, followed by a company "take it or leave it" offer--largely undercutting workers demands. Boulware, who climbed the corporate ladder through marketing positions, put his advertising skills to work. GE would engage a full media blitz about the offer to workers and the community surrounding the plants. Due to fragmented organization of the workers in the electrical industry into UE and IUE shops, as well as into many other smaller unions, most often the union negotiating committees had no choice but to "take it". The gains electrical workers had made in the 1940s were rapidly slipping away.
    Despite the contentious history between the UE and the IUE-AFL/CIO, the UE continued attempts to join forces with the IUE during negotiations with GE for national contracts. In 1966, the UE held a strike vote in the weeks leading up to the contract negotiations with General Electric. The IUE also indicated its willingness to strike. For the first time in 20 years, GE was faced with a possible walk out. Under pressure from President Johnson, the IUE agreed to postpone a strike. By 1968, the UE amplified its rallying call for all the big unions representing electrical workers (the IUE, the UAW and the UE) to unite in negotiating with GE and Westinghouse. This time, the UAW and the IUE responded to the call.
    In the six months leading up to the 1969 negotiations, the UE and IUE negotiating committees met repeatedly to iron out a coordinated agenda centered around two big issues (1) protection for workers against layoffs due to automation and plant closings and (2) equal pay for equal work. GE proceeded with Boulwarism as usual, hearing out the union arguments and showing little indication of their own position. On the morning the company prepared to present their "take it or leave it offer"--an offer which barely acknowledged the union demands and actually attempted to do away with national contracts in favor of individually negotiated local ones and to repeal the workers right to organize work stoppages-the UE and IUE solidarity gave them the power to "leave it."
    The great strike of 1969, which shut down GE plants across the country for 101 days received an outpouring of support. Students joined the picket lines, professors raised money for the strikers, other unions donated money, Thanksgiving turkeys and Christmas gifts, mayors from 85 cities held a caucus on the issues, IUE and UE workers joined each others' lines and morale remained high. The strike ended with a successful defeat of GE's proposal to eradicate national contracts and outlaw work stoppages. Further, while not receiving all their demands, the UE and the IUE won wage increases with cost of living adjustments as well as better vacation and pension benefits. The larger victory, though, was in the defeat of Boulwarism-a strategy whose success relied on a fractured labor presence in the industry.
    The UE Today
    Despite the targeted attacks against the UE throughout its history, the UE has never ceased diligently agitating for social and economic justice. The UE's reputation as a rank-and-file union remains intact. In stark contrast to the so-called "business unionism" that arose in the 1950s and continues today, the democratic principles upon which the UE was founded are still regularly exercised with integrity. As was true in their early years, the entire rank-and-file still votes on whether or not to strike, on who will represent them on the negotiating committee, on which issues are on the table and finally, on whether or not to accept the brokered agreement. The UE has a proud history of fighting for the rights of marginalized groups in the workplace, dedicating union funds to publishing educational materials on the contributions of Blacks in American society and fighting against skewed classifications of skilled jobs in positions predominantly held by women from the1940s. In the 1990s, the UE became active in organizing immigrant workers in California and played a lead role in forming a new Labor Party in the United States.

    Scope and Content

    The collection is roughly divided three ways among materials related to (1) the General Executive Board, (2) more general national history and (3) UE District 10, specifically Local 1010 (Ontario), Local 1012 (Ontario) and Local 1421 (Los Angeles). Materials include: UE constitutions, agreements, pamphlets and publications, fliers, leaflets, steward guides, newsletters, reports, organizing manuals, strike guides, other printed materials dating from the 1940s through the 1970s, minutes, conference proceedings, convention summaries, newspaper clippings, bulletins, legislative fact sheets, brochures, arbitration materials, contract summaries, printed information published by industry, negotiating agendas and strategies, certificates, picket schedules, informal notes, strike reports, newspaper article reprints, voting records, resolutions, council calls, rosters, organizing materials, legislative programs, unemployment insurance board arbitration materials, job classification lists, ballots, salary schedules, piece work formula data, CIO union contact lists, transcribed speeches, convention proceedings, and other printed informational materials (English and Spanish). None of the materials provides complete documentation for the respective locals. The bulk of the materials date from the 1940s through the 1960s.

    Arrangement

    The collection is divided into five series: 1. UE--General;, 2. UE--General Executive Board; 3. UE Assorted Administrative Files; 4. UE-GE 1969 Strike and its Antecedents; 5. UE Locals--District Ten.

    Arrangement

    The materials within each series are arranged chronologically but also substantively within the larger chronology. In addition, in some cases (e.g. Series 5) materials also are further arranged substantively from general to more specific. For example, materials relating to general organizing efforts of the Local come earlier in the series than folders on specific strikes or company--specific organizing efforts.

    Removed or Separated Material

    Related Material at the Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research

    Title: Union Files,
    Physical Description: 10 linear feet
    Title: Twentieth Century Organizational Files,
    Physical Description: 19 linear feet
    Title: James Daugherty Collection,
    Date (inclusive): 1937-1980,
    Physical Description: 2 linear feet
    Title: Periodicals Collection

    Bibliography

    James J. Matles and James Higgins. Them and Us: Struggles of a Rank-and-File Union. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc, 1974.
    Ronald L. Filippelli and Mark D. McColloch. Cold War in the Working Class: The Rise and Decline of the United Electrical Workers. New York: State of New York Press, 1995.