Submitted by Juan Conatz on April 24, 2015

In the early part of May, 1943 at the American Stove Co. plant at Cleveland the I.W.W. decided to walk out. During the war this company was making aircraft parts. Wages for the work involved had been set at a rate lower than that for work previously done on stoves. In some cases the rate was also lower than that paid by the other aircraft production plants for comparable work.

The union had been seeking adjustment of the rate from the War Labor Board since January. In the interest of the war effort the workers had declined to take the interest of the strike action. In fact, they had agreed among themselves to continue working until a decision was made by the Board. George Dobrich was the shop committee chairman at the time. 1

When the workers learned of unfavorable decisions by the Board in two specific cases, they walked out immediately. Conscious of the fact that they would be accused of impeding the war effort, they reasoned that not only was it important to fight for democracy and the four freedoms overseas, but also on the home front. They were determined that when the workers in uniform came home, they would find that the workers in overalls had maintained and advanced the rights of labor.

The workers came back a few days later when assured that favorable action would be taken in regard to their claims. In the next pay period some of the workers found as much as forty dollars extra pay in their checks for retroactive wage adjustments. This encouraged them to believe that the War Labor Board would shortly decide favorably upon their other claims. Incidentally, the workers voted to return on Monday rather than immediately, because the Board had been represented as not being in favor of paying time and one half for Saturday nor double time for Sunday.

On June 4, the War Labor Board finally approved the reclassifications sought by the union. The adjustment was retroactive to January. Some workers received back pay of close to five hundred dollars. Under the new classification the lowest paid sweeper in this I.W.W. organized plant received eighty cents an hour and the typical wage was more than one dollar an hour. This union victory came on the ninth anniversary of I.W.W. control in the American Stove Co. plant.

In August, 1943 the employees of the Draper Manufacturing Co. (Jones & Laughlin), Cleveland organized in the I.W. W. rejected an incentive pay plan proposed by the management. It seems that the company had circulated copies of the August Reader's Digest among the workers. It contained an article by William Hard boosting the plan. This trick seems to have backfired upon management. One of the reasons given for the workers having voted against the plan was that Hard's article described how C.I.O. shop stewards, where the plan had been adopted, were busy disciplining the men to promote production. The I.W.W. members couldn't visualize their job delegates performing that function.

Also in August 1943, as a result of joint negotiations by the I.W.W. (I.U. 210) and the International Operating Engineers with the United States Vanadium Corporation, the Non Ferrous Metals Commission sitting in Denver granted a wage boost of 50 cents per day to all workers employed by the company. This pay boost was retroactive to April 10, when negotiations began. The I.W.W. rejected this decision. A letter was written to the Commission by Pat O'Brien and E.A. Hicks pointing out the inadequacy of the raise. Excerpts from this letter are presented as follows: On the date of August 3, 1943, the Metal Mine Workers Industrial Union No. 210, I.W.W. at a meeting held at the Pine Creek operation of U.S. Vanadium Corporation voted unanimously to refuse the proposed 50t per day wage increase for the following reasons:

1.The original demand was for $1.50 per day and was made more than a year ago
2.The Principal Mediation Officer of the Commission made a thorough investigation and recommended $1.00.
3.The proposed $0.50 per day is too insignificant to make any appreciable difference to the men.
4.High altitude of the mine and long and dangerous road to be traveled to reach it should be worth more.
5.Conditions of employment hazardous and unhealthy. 6. I.U. 210, I.W.W. requests the case be reopened.

Shortly thereafter the membership voted to accept the raise in order to clear the way for future action. This was done because as long as the original case before the War Labor Board remained unsettled, there was no way for I.U. 210 to take further steps regarding the wage situation.

Other activities in 1943 were these:

1. A strike of I.W.W. longshoremen for wages and better working conditions in Chile was broken by the Chilean Government's use of Chilean soldiers and sailors to replace the strikers.

2. At American Stove in Cleveland the workers were irritated by the shortage of time clocks delaying their punching out at the end of theĀ· day. Management answered their protests by arguing that there was a shortage of time clocks. One day the workers took matters into their own hands by simply forgetting to clock out. The next day there were enough time clocks.

3. I.W.W. controlled shops in Cleveland were granted increases by the War Labor Board. Specifically, the workers at Jones & Laughlin, American Stove and Republic Brass received increases.

4. I.W.W. organization work was stimulated in Toronto, Canada, particularly in the railroad industry by I.U.
520. After a fair start, however, little progress was made.

  • 1Ibid 6/13/1943, 7/15/1943