Academic journal article Historical Journal of Massachusetts

At Sword's Point: The United Electrical Workers Union and the Greenfield Tap & Die Company

Academic journal article Historical Journal of Massachusetts

At Sword's Point: The United Electrical Workers Union and the Greenfield Tap & Die Company

Article excerpt

Editor's Introduction: Greenfield, Massachusetts has a remarkable industrial history. This small manufacturing center located in a rural corner of the state made the precision steel tools that drove the industrial process around the world. Less well known is that the men and women who crafted those tools have an equally remarkable story to tell.

The small city was made exceptional by the unique value of what it produced. This was reflected in labor relations at Greenfield Tap and Die, its largest employer. Labor and management coexisted peacefully for many years until a series of changes moved workers to unionize in 1941. The United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America was a good fit for Greenfield workers until out-of-towners tried to persuade them otherwise. What followed surprised everyone except the workers themselves. Tom Goldscheider earned his B.A. at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 2009 in the University Without Walls program. He completed his M.A. in History at the University of Massachusetts in 2012 with a concentration in U.S. History. This research was funded in part by a grant from Mass Humanities.

On April 10, 1952, a large crowd gathered in the early morning chill underneath the marquee for Greenfield's Garden Theater. They were not there to see "At Sword's Point," the movie advertised overhead. Nor was this a governmental or religious event. Over a thousand men and women had been summoned on short notice to attend a mass meeting where differing viewpoints were argued, followed by a carefully monitored secret ballot. The outcome of this vote surprised most observers, just as other results had in recent memory, with far-reaching effects throughout Franklin County.

All of the people packed into the movie theater that morning had two things in common: they worked for Greenfield Tap and Die (GTD), the area's largest employer; and they belonged to the United Electrical Workers (UE) union, who called the meeting. They were convened to vote on what would be the first organized work stoppage in that storied company's history -the most important decision union members have to make under normal circumstances.

But the circumstances that confronted GTD workers in the early 1950s were anything but normal. Greenfield found itself at the center of a national political maelstrom-wholly out of keeping with the town's character- and its workers found themselves operating under the proverbial Sword of Damocles.

In order to unravel the startling set of events in and around the plants at that time, we need to reconstruct the development of manufacturing in Greenfield and create a study over time of the evolving relationship between workers and the business owners who employed them. The study of one union, in one company, in one town sheds light in two directions: we see characteristics of Greenfield, and we gain insight into a struggle that has played out across countless cities and towns in America. The story of work in Franklin County is at one time quite unique and emblematic of a much bigger story.

What follows is a labor history of Greenfield and surrounding towns with a focus on organized labor in the 1940s-50s. Traditionally over a third of the population worked in manufacturing in this rural county. This is an industrial history without the usual emphasis on inventors, their inventions, or the entrepreneurs who brought them to market. It is rather the story of the men and women who made the valued products that brought fame to Greenfield and of the changing relationship over time between these employees and the company that employed them.

To study these changes, we begin with a survey of working life before and during industrialization. Greenfield was made exceptional by the special place it occupied in the industrial process, and this was reflected in labor relations for much of its history. Labor did not organize until well into the twentieth century, but when it finally did, it did so in a surprising - or perhaps not so surprising - way. …

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