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Inventory of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America Collection, 1938-1986 (bulk late 1940s-early 1970s)
1988/086  
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Collection Details
 
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Introduction
  • History
  • Scope and Content
  • Additional Information

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America Collection,
    Date (inclusive): 1938-1986
    Date (bulk): (bulk late 1940s-early 1970s)
    Accession number: 1988/086
    Creator: United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America
    Extent: 20.0 cubic feet
    Repository: San Francisco State University. Labor Archives & Research Center
    San Francisco, California 94132
    Shelf location: For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Center's online catalog.
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information

    Access

    Collection is open for research.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright has not been assigned to the Labor Archives & Research Center. All requests for permission to publish or quote from materials must be submitted in writing to the Director of the Archives. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the Labor Archives & Research Center 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 Collection, 1988/086, Labor Archives & Research Center, San Francisco State University.

    Introduction

    This collection was donated by the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE), Local 1412 in two segments in 1988. The first portion (15 cu. ft.) was picked up at the UE 1412's Oakland office from Lloyd Vanderver. The second portion (5 cu. ft.) was picked up at Paul Chown's home. Now retired, Mr. Chown, was a long time member of UE, and he acted as a shop and field organizer for UE 1412. The collection was processed by Edie Butler, January 1989, and Justin J. Gorman, May 1990.

    History

    Between 1931 and 1936 UE formed independently of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and other established craft unions. The primary figures in UE's leadership were General-President Albert J. Fitzgerald, Secretary-General Julis Emspak and the Director of Organization James J. Matles. UE functioned under the new formed Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). UE was the first union chartered in a mass production industry outside the AFL. In 1937 UE changed it's name from United Electrical and Radio Workers of America to United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America. By an act of the UE International convention, Local 1412 was chartered on June 3, 1938 to "organize the unorganized" 1 in the Bay Area. Local 1412 adopted its Constitution and By-laws on October 28, 1949. Headquartered in Oakland, California, Local 1412 "collectively persued an aggressive struggle" 2 to protect its members and shops from the organized forces of the employers.
    By 1943 UE had become the third largest of all CIO unions ranking behind the auto and steel worker unions. In 1946 these three unions collectively fought for a $2.00 a day increase in wages based on the fact that from 1940 to 1945 the cost of living increased 45% and the wages only rose 15% while corporations posted a net profit of 117 billion dollars for this period. UE waged a national strike against General Electric and Westinghouse. Eventually the strike was settled with UE obtaining an 18% increase in wages for all its members, men and women.
    The major industrial corporations were threatened by what they perceived to be the militant unity of the CIO. These corporations collectively pressured the Federal Government to act. The Taft-Hartley bill was legislation aimed at halting union organization of unskilled workers in mass production industries. Passed in 1947, its purpose was to fragment the industrial union movement. It attempted to weaken the active shop steward system through encouraging workers to bypass the shop steward and take up their own individual grievances with management. It also encouraged the breakaway of craftsmen and professional workers from industrial unions. Most importantly the bill made union members sign "noncommunist affidavits." If a union refused to sign an affidavit it could not use the facilities of the National Labor Relations' Board (NLRB) or cast ballots in labor board elections, and its individuals would be expelled from the union.
    Most of the unions in the CIO decided to comply with the Taft-Hartley bill. However, UE, the West Coast Longshoremen and a hand full of other unions refused to sign the noncommunist affidavits. This led to UE's subsequent break with the CIO in 1948. UE's refusal to expell any member for a political belief led to a barrage of attacks from the CIO, General Electric, Westinghouse and the Federal Government. Their assaults took the form of slanderous redbaiting campaigns in local shop elections, the refusal from General Electric and Westinghouse to recognize UE as a union, and an endless series of Congressional-sponsored investigations. During the 1950s and early 1960s UE was investigated by a host of Senate committees on "un-American activities," starting with the McCarthy committee, then progressing through the Eastland, Butler and Kerstein committees and ending with an investigation by the Subversive Activities Control Board. Throughout this period UE suffered great losses in credibility and membership. In 1955 UE had 140,000 members and this number had increased steadily until 1986 when UE boasted over 160,000 members.
    In 1969 UE and the International Union of Electrical and Radio Workers, AFL-CIO combined forces in a national strike and negotiation effort against General Electric and Westinghouse. They effectively fought for improved working conditions and protected workers against layoffs due to automation or plant closings. They countered GE's post-war practice of shifting plants overseas or to low-wage areas of this country. Also UE ended General Electric's tradition of avoiding the equal-pay-for-equal-work standard by classifying certain jobs, mostly performed by women, at rates which might be lower than unskilled rates for cleanup or sweeper jobs.
    1UE Local 1412 CONSTITUTION AND BY-LAWS. October 28, 1949. Preamble, p.2.
    2UE Local 1412 CONSTITUTION AND BY-LAWS. October 28, 1949. Object and Jurisdiction, p.3.

    Scope and Content

    This collection consists of the office files of UE Local 1412. The bulk of the records date from the late 1940s to the early 1970s. The earliest material is UE Local 1412's charter dated June 3, 1938. The files show the daily functioning of Local 1412. Their interests and activities are reflected through the minutes, grievances, printed material, contracts, correspondance, strike files, NLRB activities and elections. The early part of the material reflects Local 1412's involvement with individual shops. The later material concentrates more on the national levels of the organization. Overall, the collection is a clear picture of the wants, needs and interests of the men and women who built and repaired the heavy electrical machinery that powered post war American industry.
    The goals of UE were to defend the interests and improve the conditions of the wage earner through bringing about a higher standard of living. UE's ultimate goal was to unite all workers in the electrical industry on an industrial basis regardless of craft, age, sex, nationality, race, creed, color or political beliefs.
    This collection clearly demonstrates UE's active persuit of the union's goals. The series on printed material chronicles UE's support of workers rights, minorities and women. This series also contains materials which document UE's traditional strong anti-war stance and support for the civil rights movement. Booklets and pamphlets reflect these issues as well. This material may be found grouped with UE international convention proceedings this was where these issues were brought forth and adopted into UE's working policy. Evidence of UE's defense of workers' rights regardless of race, creed or sex is seen in the Dura-Vent subseries (1980-1982). UE 1412 interceded into a three year old strike to defend workers of Latin-American descent. A good portion of the material in this subseries is in Spanish as well as English. The correspondence series highlights UE's tireless defense from the barrage of Communist allegations and investigations throught the 1950s and early 1960s. UE's democratic foundations are revealed by the shop level election and grievance processes which functioned at all levels of the organization.

    Additional Information

    Secondary Sources Consulted

    • Higgins, James and James Matles. Them and Us: Struggles of a Rank and File Union. Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs: 1974.
    • United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, Local 1412. Constitution and By-laws. Pamphlet; October 28, 1949.

    Material Cataloged Separately

    • The pictures from this collection have been transferred to Photographic Collection #4, entitled UE 1412. Buttons from the UE collection have been transfered to the Button Collection.