The Electrical and Radio Manufacturing Industries
The history of labor relations in electrical machinery and equipment manufacturing from 1935 to 1941 offers some sharp contrasts with that in steel and automobiles. Although there were some serious strikes, there was no counterpart either of the spectacular sit downs that forced General Motors and Chrysler to capitulate to the United Automobile Workers, or of the bloody Little Steel riots. The leading manufacturers accepted collective bargaining as the law of the land, and attempted in the main to live within the Wagner Act. The union which came into existence with the formation of the CIO, the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, had achieved a commanding status in the industry by the end of 1941, but it had also attained the dubious distinction of complete domination by the Communist Party. How this came to be is an important part of our story.
The origin of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (or UE, as it was known colloquially) may be traced back to the organization of the radio workers at the Philadelphia Storage Battery Company (Philco Radio) in July 1933. Philco had been the leading storage battery manufacturer, and by 1930 had also attained a position of leadership in radio production. When the NRA gave rise to talk of unionism in the plant, an employee representation plan was established. A company order requiring employees to work ten hours a day temporarily to make up for the July 4th holiday occasioned a spontaneous strike by some 350 assemblers, testers and repairmen, which tied up the work of over 2000 additional workers. Three days later, on July 15, 1933, the company signed an agreement with the newly formed American Federation of Radio Workers, which was headed by a twenty-one-year-old employee of the company, James Carey.