Scope and Content
Related Material at the Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research
Title: United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America Records,
Date (inclusive): 1936-1981
Collection number: MSS 071
United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America
14 legal document boxes, one legal half document box;
5 linear feet
Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research
Abstract: The collection consists of partial records of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE). There is material
from selected years of the national Executive Board and from early chapters of UE history (1940s-1960s). There is a large
amount of material on the 1969 strike against General Electric and the events leading up to it. The bulk of the collection
related to specific locals is material on California locals in District 10--specifically Local 1010 (Ontario), Local 1012
(Ontario) and Local 1421 (Los Angeles)--but additionally there is a small amount of material from locals in Pennsylvania,
Ohio and Wisconsin.
The collection is available for research only at the Library's facility in Los Angeles. The Library is open from 10 a.m. to
4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Researchers are encouraged to call or email the Library indicating the nature of their research
query prior to making a visit.
Copyright has not been assigned to the Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research. Researchers may make single
copies of any portion of the collection, but publication from the collection will be allowed only with the express written
permission of the Library's director. It is not necessary to obtain written permission to quote from a collection. When the
Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research gives permission for publication, it is as the owner of the physical
items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.
[Identification of item], United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America Records, Southern California Library for
Social Studies and Research, Los Angeles, California.
Donated to the Library by James L. Daugherty
The United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) was formed in 1936 from separate organized segments in the
electrical industry--1) local unions with "federal charters" in the American Federation of Labor (AFL), 2) independent unions
and 3) machinists whose locals held charters with the Machinists union of the AFL-all aligned under the UE. The AFL, made
up of craft unions, was reticent to organize across industry and refused to give the UE a charter. Shortly after, at the opening
convention of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), formed to organize along industry lines, the UE received a CIO
charter, although it had already been operating as an industrial union. The UE grew steadily to a union of more than 600,000
men and women within a decade. The UE's industry-wide union effected change on a scale that the AFL craft unions and independent
unions could not. For example, whereas in the fifteen years before the UE was formed, from 1920-1935, wages had only been
increased an average of five cents an hour; in the 15 years after the UE was formed, wages increased by an average of 95 cents
1946 Watershed Year
Though in 1938, a little less than 50% of the General Electric (GE) plants were organized, by 1940 GE was almost completely
organized under the UE, with large numbers of members at Westinghouse and General Motors (GM) Electrical Division plants.
By 1941, the UE had secured a renewal of the first national agreement ever signed by a giant of industry-GE - and also signed
national agreements with Westinghouse and GM Electrical Division--without a strike. Rapidly the UE became the third largest
industrial union within the CIO, after the United Auto Workers (UAW) and the United Steel Workers of America. The war years
and calls for strike freezes led to huge losses in wages for workers. Wage increases were held at 15% although cost of living
increased by 45% during that time. Furthermore, corporate profits were quadrupling.
After the war ended, the UE joined with the two largest industrial unions in the CIO to launch a unified effort for economic
justice across three major industries. All three unions demanded a two dollar a day raise (about a 25% increase) for workers
to make up for the loss of earning power and wage depreciation. GE offered the UE a 10% increase, or ten cents an hour and
told them to "take it or leave it". Almost immediately the UE rank and file voted to strike. In January workers at GE, Westinghouse
and GM Electrical Division plants across the country went on strike. Two hundred thousand UE workers joined the picket lines
with support from many more Americans living in industry towns. A week after the UE workers went on strike, 800,000 steel
workers shut down the steel industry. By May 1946 the CIO unions had secured major settlements across the board, winning between
18 cent and 19 cent raises per hour for electrical, steel and auto workers. It was a watershed year for labor. The 1946 strikes
involved nearly five million American workers who gained a sense of potency and solidarity that they could go up against powerful
corporate entities and win.
The "Dirty Decade"
The Cold War provided a climate conducive for industry to mobilize against labor's increasing militancy and strength. The
experience of the UE during this time represents a most extreme example of the targeting of labor by powerful political and
industry interests. Using anti-communist rhetoric as a back drop, the National Association of Manufacturers lobbied for and
won passage of the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947 which, among other things, 1) allowed court injunctions against labor unions,
2) required that all union officials sign affidavits swearing no affiliation with the Communist Party and 3) allowed management
(and not just workers) to call for a union election in their shop.
At first the CIO took the position that they would all stand together in refusing to sign the affidavits, but within a few
years all but the UE had signed. Not signing enabled the Taft-Hartley Board to bar the UE from appearing on the ballot for
union elections in a plant. The solidarity among the CIO industrial unions proved tenuous even as early as during the strike
wave of 1946. Although Walter Reuther of the UAW publicly stated satisfaction with the 18 1/2 cent wage increase won during
the strike waves, he privately felt that settlements by the UE with the GM Electrical Division prevented him from winning
the full 19 1/2 cents recommended by the presidential panel for auto workers at GM plants. Reuther was the first to sign the
affidavit and shortly thereafter the UAW began raiding UE shops. What followed was what many members of the UE referred to
as the "dirty decade". The UAW raids were facilitated by the Taft-Hartley Board, who would refuse to allow the UE to appear
on the ballot after the UAW called for an election in a UE shop. Finally, the UE signed the non-communist affiliation affidavits
to save their membership but raids continued by the UAW who had been joined in this practice by the Steel Workers, select
AFL unions and others.
Just before the 1949 CIO convention, the UE petitioned the CIO for protection from the raids asking that CIO members who supported
them be fired and that unions who participated be sanctioned. When neither occurred, the UE stopped paying dues and refused
to send delegates to the convention. The stand-off resulted in the UE's expulsion from the CIO and the establishment of the
International Union of Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (IUE-CIO), an alternate electrical union with jurisdiction over
all UE shops. The remarkable struggle of the UE for its very survival began in full force. They faced formidable opponents.
Having been singled out early on by the House Un-American Activities Committee, the UE faced a powerful political and business
alliance without the support of the CIO, which had splintered under Cold War pressure. Armed with the new provisions of Taft-Hartley,
GE and Westinghouse called for union elections in every UE shop. As UE officials prepared for these forced elections, UE members
and officials were simultaneously being called in front of HUAC, the Subversive Activities Control Board and other congressional
investigating committees on charges of "Red ties". These were tough years for the UE and resulted in many gains for GE and
Westinghouse as the industrial labor movement splintered.
1966 and Beyond
"Guys, we want to talk about how best we can pull ourselves together to handle the bastards this time around."
--UE officials in presentation to IUE and AFL-CIO reps
By 1966, the UE was working hard to reverse twenty years of setbacks brought on by GE's new labor relations strategy, a package
of "take it or leave it" techniques known by the term Boulwarism after Lemuel R. Boulware, the vice president of GE's "Labor
Relations Services" during the 1950s and early 1960s. The strategy consisted of holding months of stalling meetings with the
union negotiating committees where corporate negotiators merely listened to the union arguments, followed by a company "take
it or leave it" offer--largely undercutting workers demands. Boulware, who climbed the corporate ladder through marketing
positions, put his advertising skills to work. GE would engage a full media blitz about the offer to workers and the community
surrounding the plants. Due to fragmented organization of the workers in the electrical industry into UE and IUE shops, as
well as into many other smaller unions, most often the union negotiating committees had no choice but to "take it". The gains
electrical workers had made in the 1940s were rapidly slipping away.
Despite the contentious history between the UE and the IUE-AFL/CIO, the UE continued attempts to join forces with the IUE
during negotiations with GE for national contracts. In 1966, the UE held a strike vote in the weeks leading up to the contract
negotiations with General Electric. The IUE also indicated its willingness to strike. For the first time in 20 years, GE was
faced with a possible walk out. Under pressure from President Johnson, the IUE agreed to postpone a strike. By 1968, the UE
amplified its rallying call for all the big unions representing electrical workers (the IUE, the UAW and the UE) to unite
in negotiating with GE and Westinghouse. This time, the UAW and the IUE responded to the call.
In the six months leading up to the 1969 negotiations, the UE and IUE negotiating committees met repeatedly to iron out a
coordinated agenda centered around two big issues (1) protection for workers against layoffs due to automation and plant closings
and (2) equal pay for equal work. GE proceeded with Boulwarism as usual, hearing out the union arguments and showing little
indication of their own position. On the morning the company prepared to present their "take it or leave it offer"--an offer
which barely acknowledged the union demands and actually attempted to do away with national contracts in favor of individually
negotiated local ones and to repeal the workers right to organize work stoppages-the UE and IUE solidarity gave them the power
to "leave it."
The great strike of 1969, which shut down GE plants across the country for 101 days received an outpouring of support. Students
joined the picket lines, professors raised money for the strikers, other unions donated money, Thanksgiving turkeys and Christmas
gifts, mayors from 85 cities held a caucus on the issues, IUE and UE workers joined each others' lines and morale remained
high. The strike ended with a successful defeat of GE's proposal to eradicate national contracts and outlaw work stoppages.
Further, while not receiving all their demands, the UE and the IUE won wage increases with cost of living adjustments as well
as better vacation and pension benefits. The larger victory, though, was in the defeat of Boulwarism-a strategy whose success
relied on a fractured labor presence in the industry.
The UE Today
Despite the targeted attacks against the UE throughout its history, the UE has never ceased diligently agitating for social
and economic justice. The UE's reputation as a rank-and-file union remains intact. In stark contrast to the so-called "business
unionism" that arose in the 1950s and continues today, the democratic principles upon which the UE was founded are still regularly
exercised with integrity. As was true in their early years, the entire rank-and-file still votes on whether or not to strike,
on who will represent them on the negotiating committee, on which issues are on the table and finally, on whether or not to
accept the brokered agreement. The UE has a proud history of fighting for the rights of marginalized groups in the workplace,
dedicating union funds to publishing educational materials on the contributions of Blacks in American society and fighting
against skewed classifications of skilled jobs in positions predominantly held by women from the1940s. In the 1990s, the UE
became active in organizing immigrant workers in California and played a lead role in forming a new Labor Party in the United
Scope and Content
The collection is roughly divided three ways among materials related to (1) the General Executive Board, (2) more general
national history and (3) UE District 10, specifically Local 1010 (Ontario), Local 1012 (Ontario) and Local 1421 (Los Angeles).
Materials include: UE constitutions, agreements, pamphlets and publications, fliers, leaflets, steward guides, newsletters,
reports, organizing manuals, strike guides, other printed materials dating from the 1940s through the 1970s, minutes, conference
proceedings, convention summaries, newspaper clippings, bulletins, legislative fact sheets, brochures, arbitration materials,
contract summaries, printed information published by industry, negotiating agendas and strategies, certificates, picket schedules,
informal notes, strike reports, newspaper article reprints, voting records, resolutions, council calls, rosters, organizing
materials, legislative programs, unemployment insurance board arbitration materials, job classification lists, ballots, salary
schedules, piece work formula data, CIO union contact lists, transcribed speeches, convention proceedings, and other printed
informational materials (English and Spanish). None of the materials provides complete documentation for the respective locals.
The bulk of the materials date from the 1940s through the 1960s.
The collection is divided into five series:
2. UE--General Executive Board;
3. UE Assorted Administrative Files;
4. UE-GE 1969 Strike and its Antecedents;
5. UE Locals--District Ten.
The materials within each series are arranged chronologically but also substantively within the larger chronology. In addition,
in some cases (e.g. Series 5) materials also are further arranged substantively from general to more specific. For example,
materials relating to general organizing efforts of the Local come earlier in the series than folders on specific strikes
or company--specific organizing efforts.
Removed or Separated Material
Related Material at the Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research
Title: Union Files,
10 linear feet
Title: Twentieth Century Organizational Files,
19 linear feet
James Daugherty Collection,
Date (inclusive): 1937-1980,
2 linear feet
Title: Periodicals Collection
James J. Matles and James Higgins.
Them and Us: Struggles of a Rank-and-File Union.
Ronald L. Filippelli and Mark D. McColloch.
Cold War in the Working Class: The Rise and Decline of the United Electrical Workers.
State of New York Press,