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American Rubber Workers & Organized Labor, 1900-1941

American Rubber Workers & Organized Labor, 1900-1941

Daniel Nelson
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    American Rubber Workers & Organized Labor, 1900-1941
    Book Description:

    In 1900 the manufacture of rubber products in the United States was concentrated in several hundred small plants around New York and Boston that employed low-paid immigrant workers with no intervention from unions. By the mid-1930s, thanks to the automobile and the Depression, production was concentrated in Ohio, the labor force was largely native born and highly paid, and labor organizations had a decisive influence on the industry. Daniel Nelson tells the story of these changes as a case study of union growth against a background of critical developments in twentieth-century economic life.

    The author emphasizes the years after 1910, when a crucial distinction arose between big, mass-production rubber producers and those that were smaller and more labor intensive. In the 1930s mass-production workers took the lead in organizing the labor movement, and they dominated the international union, the United Rubber Workers, until the end of the decade. Professor Nelson discusses not only labor's triumph over adversity but also the problems that occurred with union victories: the flight of the industry to low-wage communities in the South and Midwest, internal tensions in the union, and rivalry with the American Federation of Labor. The experiences of the URW in the late 1930s foreshadowed the longer-term challenges that the labor movement has faced in recent decades.

    Originally published in 1988.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5945-0
    Subjects: Economics, History

Table of Contents

  1. CHAPTER ONE Introduction: The Rubber Workers and Organized Labor
    (pp. 3-7)

    The relationship between American rubber workers and organized labor properly dates from the 1880s, when manufacturers responded to the growth of the market with a series of new technologies—“mass production”—and the labor movement embraced an approach to organization based on the craft and, later, the strategic occupation rather than on the wage earner.¹ For many years these developments were only indirectly related. Mass production created armies of “semiskilled” machine operators who were highly paid and reasonably powerful compared with most factory laborers but who lacked a craft or identifiable occupation. To organize strategic workers in such a setting...

  2. CHAPTER TWO New Industry, New Workers, 1900–1913
    (pp. 8-43)

    She looks out from faded drawings and photographs with the fierce determination that was her hallmark. A Canadian who had migrated to Boston as a teenager, Marguerite T. Prevey (1869– ?) became a seamstress and later an optician. In 1901 she and her husband Frank, a jeweler, moved to the fast-growing industrial city of Akron, Ohio, and opened a jewelry and optometry shop on bustling Main Street. Business was good and they bought a large house on High Street, a block from the shop. As they became more prosperous, Marguerite devoted more of her energies to another of her interests,...

  3. CHAPTER THREE Innovations, 1913–1920
    (pp. 44-76)

    In late March 1913, as the Green committee concluded its work and the Wobblies pondered their future, a devastating flood struck the Midwest. The destruction in Akron was most severe on the city’s east side, where the swollen Little Cuyahoga River inundated factories, commercial buildings, and houses. The toll at Goodyear would have been even higher except for the vigorous actions of a young employee, Clifton Slusser (1889–1949). Donning old clothes and hip boots, Slusser worked day and night to unclog drains, remove debris, and repair machinery. Four days after the disaster, the plant resumed operations. Seiberling and Litchfield...

  4. CHAPTER FOUR Maturity, 1920–1929
    (pp. 77-110)

    Although he never made a tire, a boot, a balloon, or a surgeon’s glove, Wilmer Tate (1885–1944) had much in common with the midwestern rubber workers of the 1910s. Born in rural Illinois and raised in northern Iowa, he farmed alongside his father until he was thirty, when he followed thousands of other rural workers to the war-boom towns. He arrived in Akron with a wife and four children in 1915 and found a job at International Harvester and later at the Imperial Electric Company. By 1919 he had become a machinist and the owner of a large, unattractive...

  5. CHAPTER FIVE Depression and Revival, 1929–1934
    (pp. 111-142)

    A tall man with wavy, thinning hair and a quick smile, he looked more like an insurance agent than a rubber worker, and even less like the stereotypic labor organizer. Yet Rex D. Murray (1908–1985) was representative of the men and women who created the United Rubber Workers of America, the most formidable of the pre-World War II rubber workers’ unions. Born in Ripley, West Virginia, Murray began work at the Wheeling Steel Company at fourteen. Four years later he visited his brother and sister, who had migrated to Akron during the boom years. They urged him to stay.’...

  6. CHAPTER SIX Labor in Transition, 1934–1935
    (pp. 143-169)

    He was “so plodding and earnest and determined that everyone had confidence in him,” recalled one acquaintance.¹ He was “honest” and “very, very likeable,” observed a second.² “I don’t know of anyone more honest than Dal,” conceded a third.³ Sherman H. Dalrymple (1889–1962) was homely, inarticulate, and reassuring. His enemies pointed to his fourth-grade education; he admitted that it was less than that. He came to Akron in 1903 to help pay off debts on his family’s West Virginia farm. Like other ragged young men, he stayed and prospered. An experienced tire builder by 1917, he joined the Marine...

  7. CHAPTER SEVEN Union Revival, 1936
    (pp. 170-203)

    The 1929 issue ofThe Coagulator,the yearbook of the Goodyear Flying Squadron, featured the fifty-five most recent graduates of the elite training program. Their earnest looks and confident smiles betray no doubt about their future or the workers’ role in the company. Within a year the Depression would dash most of their hopes and expectations. Yet one of the 1929 graduates did leave an important mark on the company during the 1930s. John D. House (1904–), a Georgia farm youth who had been one-half of his high school class, followed his brother to Akron in 1922 and worked...

  8. CHAPTER EIGHT Labor on the March, 1936–1937
    (pp. 204-233)

    Tall, heavyset, and loud, he impressed most of his contemporaries as a bully rather than a union zealot. In other ways C. D. “Chuck” Lesley (1909–1942) seemed even less suited for his role in the mid-1930s. Born in southern Ohio, he had come to Akron in the mid-1920s, gotten a job in the Goodyear tire room, and joined the notoriously anti-union Ohio National Guard. During the strike scare of 1935, he instructed supervisors, Flying Squadron members, and other employees in the use of tear gas and antiriot techniques.¹ A few months later he changed sides and began a new...

  9. CHAPTER NINE Labor on the March: Outlying Cities, 1936–1937
    (pp. 234-262)

    He was burly, good-natured, and personable. He was also an ex-convict with “a bad reputation for veracity.”¹ The two sides of Lucius Grady Cleere (1910–1938) account for his role in the Rubber Workers most challenging organizing campaign, his rise to prominence, and his ambiguous legacy. Like Lesley, Cleere was at first a member of the anti-union contingent at Goodyear, but in Gadsden, which made a critical difference. Whereas Lesley instructed workers in paramilitary techniques, Cleere became involved in a violent struggle that had many earmarks of the small-firm, small-town battles of 1933–1935. Disillusioned by mid-1936, Cleere switched sides...

  10. CHAPTER TEN Setbacks, 1937–1938
    (pp. 263-288)

    A former Indiana college student and public school teacher, Leland S. Buckmaster (1894–1967) was probably the best prepared of all URW leaders for the more threatening environment of 1938.¹ Together with a successful career as a tire builder, Buckmaster’s education won him the respect and envy of Firestone workers. So, too, did a candor that often bordered on bluntness. As union president, he could point to other achievements: a disciplined local, the industry’s most important contract, and a solid turnout for Patterson in 1937. But would his background and experience make a difference as Firestone and the other integrated...

  11. CHAPTER ELEVEN Stagnation and Rebirth, 1938–1941
    (pp. 289-321)

    Of the urw leaders who emerged in the aftermath of the catalytic events of 1933–1935, none was more intriguing or influential than George Bass (1903–1970), a Tennessean who came to Akron in the late 1910s and spent his career in the Goodrich mechanical goods department. Though his public persona in the 1940s would be of a large, loud, and patently ambitious labor boss, he played no significant role in the FLU until 1935.¹ In the following years he became increasingly prominent as a negotiator and a factional leader in Local 5. By 1939 he dominated the union; by...

  12. EPILOGUE The Rubber Workers in Retrospect
    (pp. 322-325)

    The activities of Dalrymple, House, Buckmaster, and others featured in these essays will stand as examples of the human drama that figures so prominently in the history of organized labor, but they also help to explain what is arguably the most important development in twentieth-century American labor history: the rise of mass production unionism. The tire workers’ experiences were not interchangeable with those of auto workers or steel workers, but their environment was sufficiently similar to distinguish them from the majority of employees in manufacturing (including mechanical goods and rubber boot and shoe workers before the 1930s) and to make...