by Robert G. Rodden

Pearl Harbor and Patriotism--Corporate Style

The IAM Executive Council was meeting in Washington when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. They immediately wired President Roosevelt that more than 340,000 Machinists were rolling up their sleeves. Within ten days the President called representatives of industry and unions together to map out lob-management cooperation during the national emergency. Both sides agreed to a tripartite board to mediate disputes threatening war production. Assured that workers would have a voice in their own conditions of employment, unions gave a no-strike pledge for the duration.

While workers and their unions lined up in support of the war effort a special Senate Committee, headed by an obscure Missouri Senator names Harry S. Truman, found evidence of wide-spread profiteering and greed in war production. While the Truman Committee began by searching for waste and inefficiency it soon found that some 
of America's largest corporations were literally engaged in sit-down strikes against the national interest. Many industrialists refused to convert their factories to war production until guaranteed large profits. Even as 
American soldiers marched to their death in Bataan, Navy officials, appearing before the House Ways and 
Means Committee, testified that American industrialists were holding up more the 30,000 contracts. A Congressman from Illinois was quoted as saying these businessmen were determined to force legislations that would "facilitate tax dodging in corporations making fabulous profits."

In Detroit the auto industry dragged its heels to the last possible moment. Companies stockpiled cars (and future profits) until Roosevelt personally ordered a holt to further auto production.

Rosie the Riveter

Defense factories from coast to coast were soon operating around the clock. Few IAM members worked less
than forty-eight hours and many worked even longer. As more and more men and women left for military service, a shortage of civilian labor grew increasingly severe. Recruiters from defense plants fanned out, seeking
workers wherever they could find them. With so many of the men off to training camp, women of all ages poured into the nation's mills and factories. Some infiltrated IAM lodge halls that had always been exclusively male. In Houston, for example, Local Lodge 12, chartered in 1888, had gone fifty-four years without ever having a woman as a member. The lodge president was so delighted and astonished to obligate a "lady member," the he wrote to inform the Journal of this historic first. A few months after the war started, Emmet Davison appealed to local lodge officers to identify new women members by Miss and Mrs. Apparently many of the women coming into the union resented receiving letters from Grand Lodge that started out with the ancient and honorable union salutation "Dear Sir and Brother."

As in the First World War, defense plants began hiring women who had never seen the inside of a factory. They came from every walk of life. Some left their ironing boards, others their typewriters; some were grandmothers, others fresh out of classrooms. From kitchens and colleges they went into shipyards, aircraft factories and other heavy metal working industries. At first they were mostly put into lighter jobs--sewing, storekeeping, inspection, and other semi-clerical operations. Soon they were cutting their hair,* putting on hard hats and creating the
legend of "Rosie the Riveter." Thousands of women started banging rivets into airplane bodies and ship hulls. They learned to operate milling machines, drilling presses, lathes and shears. In January, 1943 Editor Hewitt's long-time assistant, Florence Hoagland, proudly wrote in the section of the Journal reserved monthly for the "Woman's Sphere" that:

Women today do everything. They ferry bombers and build them, too. They perform important work for the Armed Forces. They have replaced men in the scientific laboratories and hospitals. They are oilers and wipers on the railroads, brakemen on the trains . . .

The policy of the War Labor Board and the War Manpower Commission is that women receive the same wages as men when they can do the same work. Wage rates, according to this policy, including the entrance rate, is to be determined for all workers on the basis of work performed, irrespective of sex.

*Because of the danger of working around machinery with long or loose hair, the War department got a then-popular movie star named Veronica Lake to make a well-publicized sacrifice for the war effort. In newsreels shown throughout the country, she cut of the long-flowing "Peekaboo" hair style that had been her trade-mark.
Splitting at the Seams

It is difficult to imagine the sweep of the changes that transformed the country, as well as the IAM, in that first year of the Second World War. Literally overnight, factories sprung up where corn fields had been. Sprawling 
new Army camps turned sleepy villages into bustling boom towns. In Washington the IAM saw a multiplication 
of agencies dealing with labor relations, war production, prices, wages and other matters of critical interest to unions.

IAM membership soared. For almost tow years a dozen or more new lodges were chartered every month. Relatively small aircraft companies became corporate giants almost overnight. Officers and business representatives of IAM lodges servicing aircraft workers scrambled to keep up with sudden surges and leaps in membership. At Lockheed, for example, Lodge 727 went from 491 in April, 1941 to 741 in May, 3,873 in June, 
and 5,493 in September. That was only the beginning. Hal Shean, now a retired GLR, says that when he was a shop steward at Lockheed early in the war, he received a $1.00 defense stamp for each new member signed up. Shean recalls, "In one three-month period I made $700." The lodge also assembled a bevy of beautiful and shapely female shop stewards, calling them "The Unionettes." Clad in short shorts and tight sweaters the "Unionettes" added a decorative touch to union rallies and organizing drives.

The Executive Council authorized many more business representatives and Harvey Brown added new Grand Lodge Representatives in the field and at Grand Lodge to provide essential services and deal with war time agencies. In the fall of 1942 the membership approved a referendum adding two more GVP's to share the 
overload of organizing and contract negotiations weighing down members of the Executive Council. Harvey 
Brown filled the new vacancies by naming Roy Brown, one of the new breed of dynamic young GLR's on the 
west coast and Sam Newman, a veteran GLR in the east.

The massive influx of new members put a severe strain on the ability of many local and district lodges as well as the Grand Lodge to provide an adequate level of service. There was little time to train the new representatives suddenly assigned throughout the United States and Canada. In most cases, they learned by being thrown 
directly into action. In later years some told of being given their credentials, a yellow pad and a pencil and told 
to go to work. Similarly, at scores of huge defense installations and aircraft factories, teams of stewards had to 
be created almost overnight out of a membership whose experience with unionism often ranged from slight to none.

As the work force expanded, so did the ranks of first-line supervision. In many plants few of the foremen had 
ever managed people. With raw foremen on one side and green stewards on the other, the potential for production-delaying conflicts was enormous. Nonetheless, actual man-days lost because of strikes fell from 23 million in 1941 to 4.1 million in 1942. And despite a couple of headlined coal mine walkouts led by John L. Lewis, total time lost because of strikes in defense production during the war averaged about one-tenth of one percent 
of all the time worked. This was the equivalent of each workers striking one day during the entire four years of 
the war.

FDR: "Labor's Cooperation--Splendid"

Considering the strain of long hours, the "stabilization" of wages and the general rationing and scarcity that aggravated daily life the record was amazing. When strikes did occur, they usually were unauthorized quickies that let workers blow off steam while letting management know that frustrations were reaching the danger level.

Much of the credit for uninterrupted war production is clearly attributable to thousands upon thousands of 
unknown IAM and other union stewards who served quietly and effectively throughout the war. Like the 
members they served, many of these stewards were new to industry and learned by doing. In IAM lodges from Long Island, New York, to Long Beach, California, officers designed and taught crash courses on the ABC's of the steward's job. Every steward at Lockheed, for example, was provided with a loose-leaf reference manual prepared by now retired GLR Dale Reed who served as President of Local Lodge 727 (not yet a district) during the war. The manual explained the contract in clear and simple language, discussed the grievance procedure and told how to prepare for the various steps leading to settlement. Citied by the U.S. Department of Labor as a superb tool for training union stewards Reed's manual became the standard text used in training the more than 1,375 stewards needed to handle the grievances of some 37,500 IAM members at Lockheed at the peak of production. Recognizing labor's role in the crusade against Hitlerism Franklin Roosevelt told the 1942 AFL Convention, "Labor's cooperation speaks for itself--it is splendid."

The War Labor Board and the Union Shop

When America was attacked employer groups eagerly accepted organized labor's "no-strike" pledge. The employers also agreed to a tripartite agency to settle disputes that might hold up war production. But when the War Labor Board (WLB) was established corporate America choked at the thought of approving agreements 
that included union shop clauses. In the early months employer organizations cranked out tons of propaganda denouncing the union shop. In the summer of 1942, the Journal reported that the National Association of Manufacturers "bought costly ads in the newspapers, had taken time on the radio and flooded the schools with anti-union booklets in a desperate effort to arouse the public against labor." The Board's four employer 
members lined up solidly against union security in any form. This led the Journal to comment that "the bosses want unions kept as weak as possible during the war so they can more readily be smashed afterwards."

The showdown came in a case involving the Ryan Aeronautical Company of san Diego. The public members accepted the union's offer to forego its demand for a union shop in exchange for Board approval of maintenance 
of membership. The compromise formula did not require workers to join the union, but it required those who 
joined to retain membership for the period of the contract. The employer members grudgingly accepted this compromise but only on condition that all members be given a fifteen-day grace period to resign, assuming an escape clause would trigger a mass exodus from the union. Experience proved that few members dropped out during the grace period while many non-members signed up.

 Rising Prices and the Little Steel Formula,
The IAM and the War Labor Board,
Protest March in Seattle,
Slowdowns and Strikes in San Francisco


Comments or Suggestions? E-mail the Communications Officer
of Siouxland Lodge 1426 IAMAW
Greg Enright