Shopfloor Matters: Labor-Management Relations in Twentieth-Century American Manufacturing

By David Fairris | Go to book overview

4

LABOR-MANAGEMENT DISPUTES IN MEAT PACKING, 1936-41

Workers in the packinghouses had become restive by the late 1930s. They had suffered through the speedups and capricious behavior of foremen of the depression years, and had been enticed into both company unions and the decades’ old Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen (BW) of the AFL following the NIRA. In the fall of 1937, Van Bittner, the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC) midwest director, prevailed on John L. Lewis to let him take on the task of organizing the packinghouse industry. The Packinghouse Workers Organizing Committee (PWOC) was formed, modeled after the SWOC, and the industrial organizing drives of the CIO came to the meat-packing industry.

This chapter utilizes the dispute files of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) to explore the shopfloor discontents, unionorganizing activity, and shopfloor empowerment of workers in meat packing during the late 1930s. 1 The dispute files of the FMCS are attractive for this purpose because they offer insights into labor-management conflict during the period that are unavailable from sources such as published strike data. Less than one-third of the disputes analyzed in this case study appear in recorded Bureau of Labor Statistics strike statistics. Moreover, in many cases the FMCS dispute files contain details of the events leading up to a dispute, the specific nature of the dispute, as well as its formal resolution. All labor-management disputes on file involving plants of the “big four” packinghouses—Wilson, Swift, Cudahy, and Armour—between 1936 and 1941, inclusively, were reviewed.

Figure 4.1 presents a breakdown, based on several criteria, of the seventyfour recorded FMCS disputes at plants of the “big four” packinghouses during this period. Looking first at the causes of the disputes, we see that roughly 10 percent were the result of workers’ discontent with shopfloor conditions. Six out of the seven shopfloor disputes involved work pace or work load issues, and in three of these instances a recent speedup was cited as the specific causal factor. The remaining dispute made reference only to “intolerable working conditions.” 2 The files make it clear that these expressions of shopfloor discontent often led to worker demands for union

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Shopfloor Matters: Labor-Management Relations in Twentieth-Century American Manufacturing
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - From Exit to Voice in Shopfloor Governance 17
  • 2 - The Amoskeag Plan of Representation 47
  • 3 - The Rise of an Empowered Shopfloor Voice 57
  • 4 - Labor-Management Disputes in Meat Packing, 1936-41 89
  • 5 - Institutionalization and Decline in Workers’ Shopfloor Power 99
  • 6 - Postwar Collective-Bargaining Agreements 139
  • 7 - Contemporary Experiments with New Systems of Shopfloor Governance 146
  • 8 - A Visit to Saturn 168
  • 9 - The Future of Us Shopfloor Governance 175
  • Appendix Tables 191
  • Data Appendix 198
  • Notes 204
  • Bibliography 219
  • Index 230
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