The CIO Challenge to the AFL: A History of the American Labor Movement, 1935-1941

By Walter Galenson | Go to book overview
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6
The Rubber Industry

Rubber manufacturing was the first of the mass production industries into which the CIO moved following upon its formation. This was not the result of any plan, but was due to the activities of the rubber workers themselves. It was the rubber workers who pioneered the potentialities of the sit-down strike technique which was later used with telling effect by the auto workers, and there is considerable justice to the boast of the United Rubber Workers that the Goodyear strike of February-March 1936, was the "first CIO strike." 1

As in automobiles, steel, electrical manufacturing, and other mass production industries, the enactment of Section 7a of the National Industrial Recovery Act set off a wave of organization in rubber. The workers were first organized in federal labor unions by the American Federation of Labor, and by the end of 1933, membership in these organizations may have been as high as 50,000. Yielding to the demand of the workers, the AFL permitted the federal locals to form the United Rubber Workers' Council in June 1934, "but the craft workers were given separate representation so that although they formed only a small proportion of the total membership they could outvote the production locals." 2 Even in 1955, more than twenty years later, the official organ of the Rubber Workers' Union wrote of these events with some bitterness:

The FLU's were ordered to surrender their skilled tradesmen and maintenance men to the various AFL craft unions and to surrender funds which had been collected from such craftsmen for initiations and dues despite the fact that 35 cents had been paid to the AFL in per capita for each of them.

The little which was left in FLU treasuries from the dues dollars had been used up already in efforts to get recognition from the rubber companies, which had been won in only a few cases. This bloodletting by the Rubber Workers' Council . . . almost obliterated the rubber workers' organizations. 3

A general strike of rubber workers in Akron was narrowly averted in early 1935 through the intermediation of Secretary of Labor Perkins, but

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