Labor's Time

Labor's Time: Shorter Hours, The Uaw, And The

Jonathan Cutler
Series: Labor in Crisis
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Labor's Time
    Book Description:

    The movement for a shorter workweek that once defined the labor movement in the United States was largely displaced by the new corporatist structure of organized labor in the post-New Deal era.Labor's Timeexamines the changes that occurred within organized labor and traces their influence on the decline of the shorter hours movement. Focusing on the internal union politics of the influential United Automobile Workers and Local 600, its chapter at Henry Ford's massive River Rouge factory, Jonathan Cutler demonstrates how an all-but-forgotten interracial movement for a shorter workweek during the 1950s and 1960s became a casualty of an increasingly top-heavy union bureaucracy that lost touch with the desires, fears, and aspirations of rank and file workers and dug its own grave in the process. Jonathan Cutler examines the political context in which the shorter hours movement emerged within Local 600 in the 1940s, then chronicles the attempts by Walter Reuther, the head of the UAW, to suppress it. Cutler also reviews the role the Communist Party played in the controversy. Finally, he documents the UAW response to rank and file pressure for a shorter workweek, and how the local's own organizational flaws allowed Reuther and the national union to wrest control from the dissidents. Fresh and boldly written,Labor's Timerecreates a moment when unions-as a movement, not as an amalgam of leaders-could have transformed the landscape of work in the United States.

    eISBN: 978-1-59213-785-5
    Subjects: Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    (pp. 1-24)

    On Wednesday, January 8, 1964, only seven weeks after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson stood before a joint session of Congress to deliver his first State of the Union Message since being installed as president. The next morning, aNew York Timesheadline dutifully publicized the now-famous White House call for an “unconditional war on poverty in America.” Little noticed by theTimes, but prominently featured in aWall Street Journalheadline, was a second announcement: “Johnson … Spurns a 35-Hour Work-Week.” “I believe the enactment of a 35-hour week,” said the President, “would sharply increase costs,...

    (pp. 25-66)

    In the earliest years of CIO activity at Ford’s River Rouge factory, the two most powerful political factions within the Rouge, the Association of Catholic Trade Unionists (ACTU) and the Communist Party (CP), competed with each other for the support of the tens of thousands of workers at the giant manufacturing facility.¹ At the Rouge, the anti-Communist ACTU factionalists—commonly called “ACTists”—were clearly on the defensive until the summer of 1941. Percy Llewellyn, an ally of the CP, was president of the local and controlled thirteen of the executive board seats, compared with six seats for Paul Ste. Marie,...

    (pp. 67-92)

    Walter Reuther had a problem. He was celebrated within liberal circles as the leading labor statesman of the postwar era, but the compromises expected of a statesman made for rough relations within the ranks of his own union. Reuther had not yet secured the authority upon which a statesman depends. Many of the pieces were in place, but he had not yet managed to build a united, single-party union bureaucracy. Until unity was established, Reuther remained vulnerable to factionalist forces that criticized Reuther’s brand of responsible unionism.

    Reuther’s right-wing allies within the Association of Catholic Trade Unionists acknowledged the predicament...

    (pp. 93-114)

    The 1952 Local 600 election turned out to be a terrible loss for Reuther and a triumph for the coalition of Local 600 leadership who had rallied around the demand for union democracy and the 30 for 40 program. With or without Communist support, the shorter workweek demand remained popular at the Rouge. Moreover, the right wing offered no alternative, positive program, apart from anti-Communism. As the initial unit election returns piled in, ACTU’sWage Earnerheadline acknowledged not only the sad news, but also the lack of a viable right-wing program: “Admitting Poor Early Strategy Ford Right-Wingers Race Time...

    (pp. 115-136)

    After the 1953 convention, all eyes turned to the Rouge in anticipation of Local 600 elections. The HUAC legislators had challenged Reuther’s claim that Local 600 was no longer Communist dominated. Reuther responded with renewed anti-Communist vigor at the convention and had put himself on a collision course with Local 600 president, Carl Stellato. This time, there would be no deals or compromises with Stellato. The election would be Reuther’s best chance to win control of the local. The Reutherites could compete on a level playing field without the disadvantage of being tainted as administratorship dictators and power-hungry bureaucrats.


    (pp. 137-158)

    In the spring of 1957, there were signs that Reuther did not intend to make the shorter workweek fight in 1958. On April 7–12, 1957, ten years after Reuther had consolidated his presidential power, the UAW convention returned to Atlantic City. In his opening remarks to the convention, Reuther asked that the delegates delay a full discussion of collective bargaining demands until January 1958 when the International would convene a “Special Convention” for the development of the 1958 demands.¹ It was yet another delay. Nevertheless, Reuther did promise the delegates,

    When we go to the bargaining table in 1958...

    (pp. 159-174)

    The 1958 collective bargaining round prefigured, in some respects, the concession bargaining that would become common during the demise of the American labor movement in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Having abandoned any pretense of making the fight for shorter hours, Walter Reuther entered the 1958 negotiations empty-handed in the middle of a recession. It was the beginning of the end for organized labor.

    In early March, UAW Ford Department director Ken Bannon formally announced the UAW agenda in negotiations with Ford. Although Bannon tried to emphasize the demands that the UAW would make, including Reuther’s profit-sharing plan, the...

    (pp. 175-184)

    The decline of Local 600 as a venue for dissent within the UAW had significance far beyond the walls of the Rouge. Long after Reuther was able to use the power of his bureaucratic machine to overwhelm the political culture within smaller locals, Local 600 had been able to maintain its independence. The establishment of political stability within the UAW was incomplete until Reuther was able to win control of Local 600, if only because the local was large enough to function like an entirely independent union.

    For years, headquarters of Local 600 functioned at the precarious intersection of an...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 185-224)
    (pp. 225-230)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 231-236)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 237-237)