UAW Local 848 Keeps Its History
A great deal of the history of United Aerospace Workers Local 848 is contained in the 27 loose leaf scrapbooks, the 10 older scrapbooks, and miscellaneous materials that make up the archives in the union hall. Many other materials are in the "UAW Local 848" collection at the University of Texas at Arlington, and others are in the Walter P. Reuther labor history library at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan.
A great deal of this material was originally collected by M.A. Farris, Everrett W. Day, Louise (Weis) Bordua, Tommy Bates, and Dick Bradberry. A number of retirees contributed their own memorabilia, and continue to do so.
But the real history of Local 848 is alive and in the memories of those who met and are still meeting its many challenges: the retirees and active members of the Local. it is to them that this history is dedicated.
Local 848 Grew From Earlier Victories
As the 1930s began, only a tiny fraction of America's workforce was organized into unions. Most of those were scattered into tiny locals of craftsmen. Industrial unionism, which united all crafts at a worksite into the same union, had been discussed and argued over since the turn of the century, but had not taken effect in most of the workforce.
In a way, industrial organizing in America was launched with a fist! Legendary mineworker leader John L. Lewis punched carpenter leader Bill Hutchinson at the AF of L convention in 1935.
The Committee for Industrial Organization then split from the American Federation of Labor. The United Auto Workers union was its first great accomplishment. Workers in the automobile industry were welcomed into the same great powerful union whatever their craft, race, age or gender.
Mighty General Motors Corporation was organized after a historical "sit-down" strike that changed all rule books about union organizing.
One of the participants in that great labor action was Cornelius "Charley" Moll, who would later become President of the UAW local at Vought in Grand Prairie. Ford Motor Company was organized later. Organizers faced gunmen and hoodlums of all description. Several union organizers were killed; many were beaten; all were intimidated in one way or another.
The Ford plant in East Dallas was no exception to the rule. At least fifty union supporters were beaten or flogged. One man was tarred and feathered.
But the UAW-CIO organizers remained firm to their purpose and prevailed. On June 20, 1941, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that Ford had to accept the union at the Dallas plant.
R.E. Curtis, the main organizer and first president of the Ford local, became the UAW-CIO International Representative responsible for organizing workers at the North American Aviation plant in Grand Prairie. The organizing drive ran from 1941 to February 18, 1943, when the UAW-CIO won the certification election.
North American Aviation Comes to Texas
At Local 848's 50th anniversary celebration in February, 1993, Dr. George Green gave a brief outline of historical conditions. Green is Professor of Labor History at University of Texas at Arlington. He was kind enough to write down his presentation for our archives; part of it is presented here:
While the organizing drive was proceeding at North American Aviation's Grand Prairie plant in the winter of 1940-1941, the California company, of course, continued publishing its newsletter, North American Skyline.
Its October, 1940 issue observed that a cotton patch in Grand Prairie, Texas had been selected as the site of a new North American Aviation plant. Ernest Beech was better known as a GM executive, but he was also chairman of the board at North American--GM owned
North American--and on September 28, 1940, Beech turned the first shovel of dirt for the Texas plant.
The Avion housing project was the first of several to be constructed. Everything was urgent then and two construction teams competed in a contest. One crew completely erected and furnished a Grand Prairie cottage on a waiting foundation in 58 minutes and 50 seconds and defeated its competitor by only 2 minutes.
UAW Was Ahead In California
Meanwhile in Inglewood, California, the UAW met stiff IAM competition for the loyalty of the 11,000 workers at North American. By an uncomfortably thin margin the UAW defeated the Machinists in an NLRB contest and opened contract negotiations with the company in April.
April, 1941, was the same time that North American Aviation dedicated its Grand Prairie plant. The plant was the first blackout factory in America--windowless and air conditioned. The main floor was the largest industrial room in the world. At the dedication on April 7th were 3 new AT-6A advanced trainers, produced here, that dove toward the tremendous crowd that attended the formalities. William Knudsen, then co-chairman of the Office of Production Management, was featured speaker. He had expressed some doubts about the Texas site:
When North American selected the site for its Dallas (sic) factory, it was pioneering. There were no other large industries of its kind in the Southwest. In an area where there was no great reserve of skilled labor, North American was proposing to establish a factory which within a year would be employing thousands of persons.
But Knudsen had learned that Texas youth, equipped with high native intelligence, had poured into the plants. Mechanical aptitude and physical agility acquired from oiling farm tractors, repairing flat tires, splicing barbed wire, fixing windmills, and cutting out dogies could be and were effectively translated into the manufacture of airplanes.
Aircraft workers were not only an integral part of the tremendous growth spurt of the UAW during World War II, but are also considered by some historians the catalyst that triggered the growth. Sometimes it was done relatively quietly. Jack Anderson and Hiram Moon made the rounds, held meetings, and built up local 645 slowly here in 1941 and 1942, hoping to gain enough strength among the Texas country folk in the plant to educate them in unionism, and eventually call for an election. UAW leader Frankensteen occasionally sent men to help out.
In California the local was already organized, but it was evident by May, 1941, that North American, i.e. General Motors, was not going to really negotiate. There the men bolted out in a wildcat strike in June. Since the nation was preparing for war and since there had been a great increase in anti-union sentiment, the Inglewood strike turned out to be a terrible mistake.
The UAW and CIO denounced the strike at North American. Such was the atmosphere of the time that the Congressman from Dallas, Chairman Hatton Sumners of the important House Judiciary Committee, observed in a committee session that he would not hesitate "a split second" to pass a law to send strikers "to the electric chair."
The most open and controversial phase of the administration's anti-strike program was FDR's use of federal troops to smash the picket lines of the peaceful strikers at North American in California with 3,500 American troops. One historian concluded:
Thus the United States government wages its first military engagement of World War II on American soil against American workers resisting North American's minimum wage of 40 cents an hour.
Roosevelt did, however, provide for government mediation and arbitration.
In 1941, this union was created as UAW Local 645 in a tiny office on the second floor of a downtown Grand Prairie building. Here is a description written in 1979 by Local 645's first president, Jack Anderson:
"Mr. R.E. Curtis was the first president of the Ford plant local in Dallas. Then he was appointed as International Representative for our area to organize North American Aviation in 1941.... I was walking down Main Street in Grand Prairie in early 1941 and I saw Mr. Curtis on the street. As I had worked for the Ford Motor Company for several years on the assembly line and Mr. Curtis was an electrician at Ford, I knew him well. He asked me what I was doing and I told him I had just went to work at North American in the maintenance department.
We went up in an old building where he had an office. One room. Old desk and one chair. No Phone.
'He says Jack you are now the president of this local union. I signed his first card joining the Union. He gave me cards and a C.I.O. button and buttons to give to all card signers. It read 'I belong to the C.I.O. -- do you?'
'One week later we had signed up 5 employees and moved the office from Grand Prairie to an old empty service station where Ft. Worth cutoff comes into Davis. I guess this is the first and last time we had a 100% membership meeting.
'At this first membership meeting we elected our executive board. I was elected President, Hiram Moon, Secretary Treasurer, a Vice President, Recording Secretary, Sergeant at Arms and we just had to have a trustee to watch where all this money we had paid into this Local was going: a big total of $12.00! It cost us $1.00 to join and $1.00 per month.
'I was your President for 3 times....
'In my time we was beaten, rotten egged, cussed, threatened, tarred and feathered and blackballed from other jobs. Hurt in so many different ways. But at our meetings our advice to the men and women that was hurt, we would just say to them what the good book says, the Lord will not put more upon you than you can bear, at least none of us lost our lives like some did in the early 30's. Thank God!...
--Grand Daddy W.M. "Jack" Anderson
First Local President Tells His Own Story
Transcript of Tape on "History of Local 645" Made by Jack Anderson in 1994
by Gene Lantz, 10-4-95
I met Jack Anderson at his home in South Fort Worth in fall 1994. I did a 4 hour interview with him at that time and sent transcripts to the UAW archives at Wayne State and at University of Texas at Arlington. Also to the UAW 848 archives in Grand Prairie, Texas.
Anderson gave me the present tape at that time. I tried to get it transcribed by a professional, but she dallied with it for many months, so I eventually retrieved the original tape. I believe she still has it on mini-cassettes. Yesterday, for the first time, I listened to the tape. I found that it confirmed everything in the interview; the only difference being that it fleshed out more of the detail on the subject of how
African Americans took the major responsibility for gathering union signup cards during the drive at North American. Anderson stressed that fact to me, but I had very few direct quotes about it.
Anderson knew he was dying ("I have had cancer since 1979") and made a number of these tapes. He gave me two of them. The first concerned his early childhood and was mostly about his experiences as a peddler. Some of the same material was in the interview. The first tape he gave me describes his early life in East Dallas with a little bit about his jobs at Ford.
The second tape, the one I am about to transcribe, is mainly about his experiences as first President of UAW Local 645, but wanders quite a bit into his business experiences, too.
About a week after I interviewed Anderson, he passed away. Several attempts to reach his widow have failed.
I will attempt to transcribe all his exact words, but will use ellipses (...) for extraneous materials and will use brackets [ ] when I feel I have to insert something.
"Jack's my nickname. W.M. Jack Anderson. I was born in Clarksville, Texas in 1914. Parents were very poor people. We moved to Dallas in 1917. I remember the trip. Horse and wagon. We moved out on Caldwell street near East Grand Avenue. At that time there wasn't a Ford plant out there. But in 1927 they built the new Ford Motor Company plant.
'I attended the O.M. Roberts grade school on East Grand.. 63 months, all the education that I ever received....
'They had just got through building the new high school called Woodrow Wilson... In later years I had the privilege and the pleasure of being in that auditorium addressing people who worked at North American. I was working at North American at the time, which is Chance Vought now.
'Two days before the election. For people to vote either for the union or not I asked the Principal about holding a meeting in the High School. He said yes, he consented. So I immediately contacted by telephone all the big executives within the UAW-CIO to come to Dallas and address these people before they voted. To tell them what the union could do for them. That was a privilege and a pleasure and I've never been in the high school since.
'My mother died in September, 1920. Leaving myself, younger brother and my little baby sister which was a year old. My father had a time raising us and teaching us to be a good citizen all our lives...
'My father married a few years later and I had step mother... this wouldn't make a very god resume for me trying to get a job. We was so poor it wasn't even funny."
[Anderson's first job was delivery boy for Western Union. Then he began peddling. He was married the first time in 1932 before he was 18 years old. His first marriage lasted 7 years and divorce came in 1940. He married again in 1941 and kept that wife for 53 years until he died.]
"I went to work at Ford Motor company, 1934, making $5 a day. That was big money. Nobody else didn't even have a job. If they did have one it was $1 a day or $2.40 a day. That is a lot of money wasn't it?
'The International Union, UAW was trying to organize Ford in Detroit. Finally they won the election in Detroit and they went us notification in Dallas if we didn't join the union, we wouldn't get any parts. So it forced the plant in Dallas to join or be shut down. So they didn't shut her down.
'During that time that they were organizing in Detroit, they sent International Representatives to Dallas to try to organize this Dallas plant. The company hired these goon squads. All these tough wrestlers, some convicts among them, to keep these organizers away from us workers. They would take the organizers. These goon squads would take these organizers and take them to different parks around Dallas, like for instance the Tennyson golf course not too far from the Ford plant on Grand Avenue and tar and feather them. Us workers would hear about that. We didn't know anything about a union, but we knew that wasn't right.
'But there wasn't nothing we could do about it. Those poor fellers, they couldn't contact us because they would be caught and tarred and feathered."
'When the union came in, they give us back pay, money from months back. I got a check for $1,500 back pay money, all the other workers got money. So that sold us boys in the Ford Motor Company that what the union was all about. that was in 1940. Now the war was brewing so the company began to cut out making cars and civilian automobiles because they knew the war was coming on, or thought it was. So they cut us down to 2 days a week. So I asked the company, they began to lay off all these people, but I had seniority so I was safe. But I couldn't make it so I left employment at Ford Motor Company and I went to North American.
'But in the meantime, before the union ever came in, those foremans would come down the line. They would cuss you, say 'look outside there. Man you look outside there. Hundreds of people would be standing outside in 1934 and 1935 and 1936. Cold out there, wanting a job, see wanting to get in to get a job. No way. But anyway we was a bunch of slaves in there. We couldn't open our mouth. We had to really get after it. You talk about working. That's where I really learned how to work. Putting those automobiles together.
'So as I say I got them to lay me off and I go to North American. And the old man who was a general superintendent at North American had previously worked at Ford. One of the big shots there. So he gets a job at North American as general superintendent to put in all these conveyors to move these airplanes on an assembly line, which he did. Did a fine job. He was a good man, knew his business.
'So I knew him well. Jack he says, glad to see you. Give you a job as a maintenance mechanic. I says fine and dandy. So I when I was working at the Ford Motor company there would be downtime. Changeover models, I would rent me an old T-model ford or a horse and wagon, and I would peddle until the Ford Motor Company opened up again. I did that until 1940.
'Not bragging but I could sell anything.
'...I never had worked in an aircraft plant but I went out there. Go to work for them. I saw this man and he give me a job as a mechanic. Well, I didn't know anything about turret lathes or ... I got up that back... I run into an old friend of mine that I worked at Ford Motor Company with, Mr. Curtis. He was an electrical engineer. So after the union came in he was appointed International Representative. He had an office in Grand Prairie and he was trying to organize this aircraft plant where I worked now.
'How you getting along Mr Curtis? Best friend I ever had in my life. Well Jack, he says, I've been here I don't know 4 or 5 months trying to organize this aircraft plant. What are you doing? I says I'm working over at the aircraft plant. Well good. I says, Have you had any luck organizing? He says in the time I've been here, I haven't signed up a single card trying to get the union in North American Aviation.
'I says Curtis give me the card. So I signed the first card to get the union in. He appointed me President of the union, me the first guy to sign a card. So I'm the President, only it's just me.
'After we got the union in, then I was elected president by the membership. For 4 years I was president of this big local union.
'We only had one plant in completion, was called the A plant. They made trainer planes and Mustang planes and what have you. But there was just had started the bomber plant. So you couldn't hire anybody to work in that day and time. Everybody was going in the service. So I ran around with a 24 inch Stillson wrench and a few tools in my pocket. Nothing to do. Just walk and if they had a machine down I'd fix it or look around, oil all the machinery and what have you.
'So I'd go over in the A plant. If they had a machine down I'd fix it or look at it or what have you. So then while repairing or oiling this machine I'd be talking to the operators and employees around me about union. Signing this card. I got a lot of them signed right then. I was telling them all that due to the fact that Englewood California, North American had a plant in Englewood and they had one in Kansas City that got more money that we was making, making the same airplanes but yet paying more money. So I had a selling point there. If the union came in they would get the same wages that they got in California and Kansas City Missouri.
'So it was a chore selling them on unionism especially in Texas where they thought that the e CIO was rattlesnakes. But I done a pretty good job selling. So I would sign them up and give them cards to get their friends to sign up and then get these cards up from them and turn them in to the office, Mr. Curtis.
'Now things got pretty quiet and it begin to move all this machinery into the b plant, the bomber plant. So I was confined more or less over there. But we had so many mechanics, I'd just get me a oil can and go around oiling all this machinery and talking to people like I say.
'So I got to thinking. They began to hire all these colored people as janitors. Pick up the trash and pick up the place and ...
'Well, here's this feller making about, I think, 50 cents an hour. So I began to talk to these Black boys, these Black people. And I sold them on the idea of unionism. Get these cards out because these janitors cleaning the plant up and hauling trash, they could go anywhere over the plant. But if you worked in a particular department you was confined to that special department. You couldn't leave that department. But we could go anywhere, the Blacks and me. I'd give these Blacks these cards and they began to get a few of them to sign up, but not as many as I thought they should.
'But nevertheless I go home one night and I'm laying there thinking, how in the world can I get these Black people really doing a job?
'So it struck me that I'm going to have to find their leader. So I happened to think about the nigra Chamber of Commerce. So I go down and see this man unbeknownst to Mr. Curtis or anybody. So I go down and have a meeting with him. And I explain what was going on. This leader, this Black leader was named Maceo, I don't recall if that was his first or his last name. Anyway I sold him on the idea of calling a meeting for all these workers, and leaders in this plant.
'We had worlds of Black people working in the plant. So he called the meeting and discussed it with them. I wasn't present. But he sold them on the idea of sign them cards. Sign them cards. You got everything to gain and nothing to lose.
'So I had taken a bunch of cards to this Mr. Maceo and he give them a bunch of cards and said now if you need any more cards, you see Mr. Anderson. He works in 241 Department, and he will supply you with them, he's the president of the local.
'So here these cards come. Boom boom boom boom. they really done a job. Had it not been for the colored workers, at that time getting those cards signed to ask for an election, that was the purpose of the card, to ask the National Labor Relations Board to hold an election...
'The General Superintendent, which I knew at Ford's, called me in his office and he found out what I was doing. He said I wouldn't never thought that you would do me the way you're doing, organizing this plant. I says well, you believe one way and I believe another. We have our beliefs. I believe in unionism, naturally I can understand your position that you're the general superintendent.
'So he knew if he fired me I'd file a charge against the company for discrimination ... and cause them a lot of bad publicity. Now we'd gotten 3 or 4,000 signed up. I told Mr. Curtis. He had an office in Grand Prairie, but nobody would dare go up to that office. I says Mr. Curtis let's get another office where people coming to work can drop in and discuss the matter with somebody in there and get these cards signed. So we rented an old service station. An old Texaco station. Cost $50 a month. So we set up an office at Ft Worth cutoff and ... Davis and we began to get people stopping in to sign the cards and being told about the union..
'We stayed there for a few months. Got to going pretty good. Some of the members would take time about after they got off work to stay there till the next shift come by... we had men on duty nearly all the time... but a lot of these workers were out of the Ford Motor Company. I got them to sign up and they were pretty staunch members.
'We had an old boy ... the name was Ben Tyree... I tried to get Ben to sign a card and he said no way. He come to me one day and he says Jack I understand you've been talking about me... he was a great big heavy set feller... pretty mean boy. At that time we had a little boxing ring out at the side of the plant there. At noon every day we'd go out there and put the gloves on and we'd box a couple 3 rounds, for the sports you know. So he ... challenged me to get in that ring. So I said if you're waiting on me you're killing time.
'So sho nuff here come Ben. The deal I had with Ben was if I whipped him he'd sign that union card right there in the ring. If he didn't I'd resign as president of the union and give it up.... So I got in there ad you talk about giving a man a whipping! I worked him over good! He didn't know that I had been boxing for a few years back...
'Later on Ben got to be a good staunch union member, leader. And he was appointed to be an International Representative until he died....
'I told Mr. Curtis we have to advertise ourselves... So I had Mr. Curtis to have some buttons made. It said 'I belong to the CIO, do you?'
'... So we had another little button that said 'committeeman' or 'steward' and we wore those buttons. But we didn't have no authority to file a grievance against the company or anything of the sort because we weren't recognized. So we wore our buttons... as if we were a big labor union already in. But people looked at it and they'd say something about the button. And we'd say would you like one. And we'd have a big pocket full of them...
'People signed a card then we'd give them one. 'I belong to the union, CIO, do you?'
'Another way we organized we'd have hand bills made. Night after night, day after day, as people entered the plant, we'd hand them these leaflets telling them what the union could do for them. If we would join the union we'd get the same pay that they got in Inglewood California and Kansas City Missouri.
'So it had a big effect. A lot of times, though, we'd be standing and workers would throw their apples thy had left out or their lunch, or a banana, or maybe a few rocks that they had in their lunches and rock us. But that didn't mind us. We'd say boys, one of these days you'll see the light and we'll have the union in. Just a matter of time.
'The Superintendent said, Well Jack he's making progress here you see that. So instead of letting me continue as a mechanic and an oiler. He put me running an elevator. Taking people up four stories high. I'd run that elevator on my shift. that didn't stop it.
'These nigras was organizing everybody. They not only organized the Black, they would talk to the
people in these different departments. So they would find out where I was at. They'd come up there with their little pushcart they was hauling trash in and they'd come to that elevator. They would bring me their cards and I'd give them more cards to distribute.
'They found out these black people were bringing these cards to my headquarters in the plant. So they put me [into a more inaccessible spot]. They had a big air compressor back there and made me watch that air compressor. They didn't want to fire me and have a lot of trouble so they made it so rough on me that I'd have to quit. So I stayed back there, the niggers, [Anderson pauses as he pronounces any of
the words meaning African American. Like a lot of polite Southerners, he tries to slur the pronunciation so one can't be sure how he said it, but in this case it was clear] the black people would find out where I was at, here they'd bring them cards back to the air compressor on their lunch time. Or maybe the black people would be going out that door to dump the stuff, they'd bring me the stuff, their cards.
'So that was another way we organized the plant.
'This Maceo, the C of C man, he had been raising sand with the company to hire some Black people, to put them in departments parts down or doing this and that. But they made a special department to satisfy this what they done was pitiful. They took a big wire. Wire mesh wire. oh it was 20 feet high. And people couldn't get in there to see these people. To talk to the. So there these Black people was in this screened-in department, like a bunch of animals.
'I told Maceo what they done. Boy he raised sand, but he didn't get that wire down They kept them in there like a bunch of slaves. Just pitiful. Something very bad. So that was another selling point to get the people to sign the union card, to see how a human being was being treated.
Later on though, after the union came in, we removed that wire, where it was just like a human being should've had a place to work.
'Now we had a parking place on the North side of the plant. There was a railroad track run on the North Side of the plant. A lot of the people parked their cards on the vacant lots there and crawl under the fence instead of having to go nearly a mile around. So they parked their car, crawled under the fence, and several of them got killed by the train.
'So I talked to some of the county Commissioners and asked for them to build an overpass over this railroad track for safety... No they wasn't going to do it... So I told them it's going to get bad now. We;'re not going to strike or anything like that. The union hadn't come in yet, you see. They just won't show up to work. We needed those planes and those fighters you know. So they thought it over just a short while. Then Boom, they built this overpass. That was a work of the union, or myself.
'Now this is in early early 42 and we was having the biggest big union convention in Buffalo, New York. We didn't have enough, we had several thousand members, not enough to have too many delegates. I was a delegate, being the president, and I think we had 4 delegates. All that was allowed. So we attended this union convention in Buffalo, New York. I went by myself. My wife at the time didn't get to go. So the union paid our expense up there.
'Now you talk about a rough convention. The union officials was, all of them, ;playing for power in the union. We had a lot of communists in the union then. So the communists was trying to control the union movement.
'One night I had this friend of mine, one of the delegates in my room. We shard the room. And the next night I come to bed there was a note on my pillow. If you don't vote a certain way for these union officials, we're going to throw you out the window. We were up in a big hotel. I didn't pay it any mind. It didn't bother me at all. But anyway I had one delegate that had worked with me at the Ford Motor company, named Hiram Moon.
'He was following these communist delegates and he didn't vote like I wanted him to, like he should have voted. But the other two did. So Mr. Curtis was up there by the way. Curtis and I and Moon was going down the street there going to the hotel. and Moon got smart with me. so that was when Mr. Moon and I tangled up. A big fight right there in town, in buffalo New York. Well, I just so happened to win out on the deal.
'So the communists didn't have any luck in getting their people elected.
'After we had applied for an election from the National Labor Relations Board. There was the electrical workers, IBEW, they was on the ballot and they had a few. Naturally. They belonged to the IBEW, you couldn't change them. Then you had the IAM, they had the contract with General Dynamics, here in Ft Worth. But they got on the ballot.
"Here we go, we had everything set up, when all the votes were counted. Mr. Curtis and I, and two
company officials and government officials... we met in Ft Worth counting the ballots. In the final analysis, we won with 50.4%. A little over 50%. That was enough to win the election so the union came in.
'So then we needed a big office. We rented the old Baghdad Night Ballroom Club there in Grand Prairie, right on the highway. It was an enormous thing. The most beautiful night club at that time I'd say in Texas or anywhere else. So we were going to give this victory dance. Naturally we were going to use union musicians. that way I could talk to them and they wouldn't charge anything.
'We were going to serve beer, liquor, food... anything you wanted. Mr. Curtis said Jack how are we going to pay for it. I said we're not going to pay for anything.
[Anderson goes to a beer wholesaler named Lynch who provides Schlitz beer. Then he goes to a liquor company. For each of them, he offers free advertising in exchange for free services and materials. He went to Earl Wyatt's, who had been running little carts in the plant that served food. Eventually, Anderson gets everything, including servants, for the mammoth party without paying anything. He has to threaten a boycott of Wyatt's.]
'Man we really had a party. It was hundreds and hundreds and hundreds. It started around 5 o'clock, for the day shift to get off work... it started between 5 and 6 o'clock. so they danced until they got tired. Then the evening tour got off at midnight and they drank and danced until daylight. Then the third shift would get off and they danced until they wanted to go home. About eleven. We had a party. The biggest one I've ever seen or ever will see in my lifetime. [There may be a photo of this party in the union local's archives]
'Hiram Moon was the Secretary Treasurer. He handled all the people that brought in money. He didn't have much authority to spend money but he had his clerks in there, girls writing receipts and this and that. It cost $1 to join and $1 a month. It wasn't too much but it was a lot at that day and time.
'So Moon he come out of the plant on the local union's payroll and he was paid $75 a week, no expense. Then 3 or 4 months later, I had to stay in the plant because we hadn't won the election, so I had to keep the organization campaign going so I stayed in the plant. So then a couple months later I come out of the plant as President of the local and I was until I resigned.
'So then wages was frozen, at least that was the law at that time that you couldn't get a wage increase. So I go to Washington DC and I contacted mr. William H Davis, the President of the War Labor Board and he said I can't do anything for you. I contacted old Conally, Tom Conally, I don't know if he was any relation to the former Governor of Texas or not. no he says I can't do you no good I can't get that wage free rescinded. It will have to go on until after the war. I says Mr Conally we want the same wages they're paying in these other two towns where they are making the same people the same customer, our government, we want a fair shake here, we want it. No way.
'I met with W Lee O'Daniels, the Governor of Texas. He says there's no way I can help you at all so there was no luck there. So I contacted another man, Sam Rayburn, speaker of the House. He was a fine man, the finest man I ever met, but he says Anderson he says, there's nothing I can do to help you. We just can't do nothing about it. So I passed him up.
'So I went on back to Grand prairie where I'm living. So I thought and I thought and I thought. Another month passed. I thought there's just got to be somebody that can get this job done.
'So I didn't know if I could meet with him or not but I went back to Washington and by George I went to see the vice President of the United States, Henry Wallace. I didn't approve of Wallace's beliefs but nevertheless wanted to get this thing passed. This wage increase for us.
'He says well, I just don't hardly know. But he says I'll see what I can do.
'So I waited and I waited and I waited. The workers got discouraged. By that time we had them pretty well signed up. We had 42,000 in the plant. We didn't have all of them signed up but we had the biggest portion of them. We had a special meeting. The union meeting couldn't handle all of these people at one time. So I went o Sunset High School in Oak Cliff, the biggest high school, one of the biggest ones around and tried to get the principal to give us permission to have this meeting that we were going to have to have. In other words, the workers had threatened to strike.
'And I opposed strikes during the war time. I didn't think it was right. But anyway they was going to strike, a certain day. So I didn't let no grass grow under my feet until I headed for Washington again. I went in Mr. Wallace, Vice President, I says I've got to have you help now.
'So he says I might have something worked out but I'm not certain. So I'll be in Dallas at a certain time. So a certain time here he come. In the meantime, though, I went back to the high school principal and he finally says is Wallace going to speak? I says yeah? It was on a Sunday we was going to have this meeting, that's when a lot of the workers was off. So he says it will be open.
'We had amplifiers, speaking systems out on the side of the high school so where people couldn't get in there they could park their cars, get on the lawn and sit outside and hear. Sure enough Mr Wallace comes in. I met him at the air port. He was in United States Airplane Number One, Air Force One, 'Chamber of Commerce wasn't there. So the committee, myself and 2 or 3 boys, we all escorted him to the Adolphus Hotel. Next day, here come Mr. Wallace, 2 o'clock in the evening I believe it was or sometime in the early part of the evening, he spoke to them. Well, that stopped the strike.
'Word come to us that we would be given the same wages that they were receiving in those other airplane plants.
'Our first contract come up to negotiate a contract. There was the union official, myself, and the boys in the plant, high men in Detroit sitting around this conference table. I was ignorant, knowing about a contract. So I listened to them and listened to them. Well I didn't quite like the contract but nevertheless we did have a contract, so we accepted the contract. The membership approved it because nobody knew about a contract. Nothing.
'So we went on for that year and I got to thinking, I don't know anything about these contracts so tell you what I'm going to do. So unbeknownst to anybody else, I had a directory of all the local unions in the U.S., the membership, how big they was, of the UAW now... so I didn't contact the little local unions, I contracted big ones. So I asked them to send me their contracts. ... so they sent me their contracts. I studied them all. I found out which one had the best contract.
'So I was waiting for the company and these top officials that we had out of Detroit because I had a big surprise for them. That first contract wasn't worth the paper it was written on. One of them sweetheart contracts as you've always heard.
'So, I'm sitting there... in the meeting looking right across the table from the President of North American Aviation ... the union officials from Detroit. And they bickered and went on there for 2 weeks, finally they saw that I knew what was in these contracts and it wasn't what we needed to fit our purpose. And by George we got it signed.
'That's when I had a falling out with the International Union in Detroit. I was offered a job then, the President of the Automobile workers, as an organizer. But I was a young man. I wanted to have a family. I didn't want to be away from home all the time, wasn't that type of man. I had all the organizational work I wanted.
'I got along with 3 of them: Mr George Addes, the financial secretary and Mr Frankensteen was Vice President, but I didn't get along with the biggest portion of them. Like Walter Reuther, he was a socialist, the next thing to a communist. And all of his henchmen. So I didn't get along with them. They called me the Texas rebel because I run my local union, and they run the International.
'They couldn't dictate to me. To us, because we were the people. We got a dollar a month dues. We gave the International 60 cents and we got 40 cents to run our local union. I made $75 a week. A lot of these International Representatives would say a word, and I would ask them, what is your point. They would try to tell me and I'd say "sit down, you're out of order." if they didn't sit down, I'd have the Sergeant at Arms throw them out. That's the way/.
'One of these International Representatives named Andy Clinton, he tried to run the local union business. and he just wasn't going to do it. But anyway, we had a hail storm, wind storm or something. It tore his airplane up. He owned this plane. He was a big shot.
'So instead of having his plane repaired, he went to the big shots at North American. Bring it in. He brought the airplane in to put the fabric on it and repair it just like a new one. And that didn't set with me either. So I thought he's not doing us any good.
'Came time to elect delegates for another convention... Old Moon naturally, he got elected as a delegate, but the other 7, there was 8 of us, were with me, got elected. So we got ready and went to the convention We went to the convention in Grand Rapids. Convention... my wife went with me... old Reuther was running for President against Thomas, for president, and all of his henchmen. Thomas had done a job organizing this international union years and years ago, he was, I guess, 60, running , Reuther thought he was going to be President, at least he thought, so he ran against Thomas.
'So old Reuther called me behind the stage there the morning of the voting. He says Jack I know we've had our differences, but he says, what ... [Reuther asked for Jack's delegation's vote]
'I says Walter, let me tell you. You have different beliefs than me about everything in the world. I'm going to tell you right to your face that I wouldn't vote for you at all. Reuther, even if you were running for Dog catcher. So Reuther didn't get elected, Mr. Thomas was re-elected as President. He was President 3 or 4 years after that until he got defeated by Reuther.
'They were having another convention in Atlantic City New Jersey. I still carried a card and paid my dues every month. But I wasn't an active member of any organizations. Walter Reuther and his gang, they was trying for power. Power Power. Reuther wanted to be president of the automobile workers. But Mr. Thomas was the man that I backed. He was the man that started the union off.
'So Reuther was after power. Now Moon, he was planning all the time to get him a big job within the union. He got a job. A small job as international representative. He died later on. He was representative oh a number of years.
'But at the convention in Atlantic City, Mr. Curtis was going to go; and so I was going to go with him. 'I had quite a bit of money. I wasn't no peon then. Business I was in ... but Mr. Curtis was going to pick me up or meet me, in Birmingham, Alabama. So, a few days before, Mr. Curtis was going to pick me up. He had all the delegates going to the convention from this North American Aviation plant.. and I was going to go with them. I swore that If I got to go to that convention, I was going to get Mr. Reuther defeated as President of this union. I wasn't even taking any part in the union.
'So he came by. When he came by, he called from Birmingham, I was 30 miles out in Springfield. When he called, I wasn't there... I'm in the hospital with typhoid fever. I didn't get to go. Of course at the convention, Mr. Reuther was elected president of the automobile workers union.
'So that's a story about the big shots. They caused me trouble later on when I got into business, another business, they had an investigation going to check me out. See if there was anything wrong where they could send me up for a few years or cause me a lot of trouble or break me. But I was going to spend $20,000 - $30,000 or $40,000 to beat Mr. Reuther at this union convention. My mind was made up to that effect.
'The union , the international union had a representative, and he had an airplane. For years. I done moved back to Fort Worth here. And 7-8 years ago, maybe 10 years. The International Union had their big convention again. I called some of the men and asked to attend the convention as an honorary member.... I sat on the front stage with the, and I was introduced as the granddaddy of the labor movement in Texas, of the CIO." It was quite an honor.
'I had a Vice President named Estes. He got connected with the Byron Candy Company there in Dallas and with the Communist Party. And he was my vice president now. And I noticed these dudes coming in during the week... and going into Mr. Estes offices... and it didn't set with me.... I got to checking Brown Candy out and I found out it was all run by communists. So Mr. Estes was only Vice President one year. Out he went. Later on after I left the union and was in business in Alabama, I came into Dallas and I got to thinking about Fred. I wondered what old Fred was doing. He had 4 or 5 kids. I found out where he was at and I went by to see him and By George. He done left the union. He couldn't get a job nowhere. Just down and out. Didn't have no groceries in the house. I give his wife money, I gave them $50 to buy some groceries and that was the last time I ever saw Fred.
'And then later on in life in Alabama, he called me on the phone ad says Jack, I just can't make it. I can't outlive the Communist idea, do you have a job for me? I says Fred, I'm full up, I can't use you.
'Something I didn't mention, we had this big night club, ballroom rented for an office there, in Grand Prairie on the highway. $500 a month. So I decided we need to buy us a place and save all that rent. So I found an old bowling alley that the management was broke and it was for sale. Closed up. I found the owner, named Fishburn, I asked him. He said $30,000. So I got him down to $21,000. So I guy the bowling alley.
'We set up an office. We had big neon signs put up on the front of the building: UAW 645. Moon was still in office as Financial Secretary. We never did get along, like I said.
'So he got his henchmen to get up on the floor to impeach me for buying this building without permission. Well he didn't have enough support so I survived that ordeal.
'I tried to read as much as I had time to all my life. So at that period of time I was pretty well read at local activities, things going on in Washington and what have you. So I got a call. Mr. Philip Murray, he was president of the CIO, not the UAW, but the CIO. He says come to Washington Anderson, he says, you're president of all these 42,000 people. Speak in their behalf. He was trying to get a bill passed in Congress for withholding tax from 20 to 30%. Also subsidies. The farmers wanted to be subsidized for their milk. So they wanted the government to guarantee them a price for milk.
'So I immediately got on a plane and here I am with Mr. Murray. I was the first one to speak. I spoke for an hour and fifteen minutes to the House Ways and Means Committee in opposition to raising this withholding tax from 20 to 30%. When I got through I spoke on how these farmers needed some help and we got the subsidy raised for the farmers.... Quite an honor.
'Coming back to Dallas from Washington, I had never forgot about these old peddling buddies of mine. [Here Anderson tells that his old peddling friends convinced him he could make a lot more of a mark on the world if he went back to peddling and made money as they were doing. He was still only making $75 a week. He indicates that he considered taking a labor relations job with "some big company" as a way of boosting his income up to what his peddler friends were making].
'So I think well, I've accomplishing everything I set out to do. Got this union in. Need to work for myself or get a big job as labor relations rep for some big company... They were getting on top of the world, and here I am just barely making a living, $75 a week... so finally I made my mind up I was going to resign. I tendered my resignation. it took a little over an hour for a man to get up and accept my resignation...
'The first year that I was elected by the membership there was one man run against me and I beat him. The other years, I never had a man run against me. I was always elected by acclamation....
'So I went to Houston. Put me up a couple of produce business... got quite a bit of money. So I sold out down there. Got a partner in Mexico. ... got into the soap business. A Jew friend of mine there in Dallas was buying soap, just lye soap"
[this was dairy magnate Scheppes. Eventually, Anderson takes over all the soap production at the plant outside Longview. Soap was scarce during the war. Anderson bought several soap companies and also got into the wood flooring business. Several of the old union officers came to Anderson for jobs. Mr. Brett had succeeded him as president but had lost his job at the end of the war. Brett took over a plant in Ogatawna Minnesota. Homer Davison had been chairman of the grievance committee. After the war, he went to work in Ogatawna, also. James Combs had been vice President after Anderson left the union. At the end of the war, he asked for work and Anderson sent him to Minnesota to run the plant. Then Mr. R.E. Curtis completed a stint as spokesman for labor on the War Labor Board. He called Anderson and got a job at the flooring plant in Alabama. Curtis eventually bought it from Anderson. Later on, he returned to Dallas and died.
Brent and Combs returned to Dallas. Davidson got Anderson into the flooring business in the Cumberland Mountains. Anderson stayed busy with importing tomatoes and pineapple from extensive plantations in Mexico. Most of Anderson's business ventures were also covered in the earlier interview.
Anderson claims to be the biggest tomato shipper in Mexico for several years. But he didn't pay income taxes on that income for various reasons. He claims that IRS was put on his track by a Mr. Livingston from the UAW. Eventually, Anderson was arrested for evading income taxes. Livingston was "regional director of Local 645 in Dallas. I'm nearly certain that he turned me in to internal revenue and it nearly broke me". But Anderson went on to more success as a lumber broker.]
"What I have told you is facts about the union movement. This is W.M. Jack Anderson speaking and I wish you all the best. I won't be around much longer. I've had cancer since 1979 and I can't work, don't want to work, don't need to, don't have to work. so I've been just kinda taking it easy for the last 10 or 12 years. I wish you all the best of luck in your endeavors.
'I forgot to mention one thing. Having this big soap plant in Springfield, Alabama. I employed 141 people..."
[Here Anderson tells about wages going from .50 for women and .75 for men at his soap factory. He conspired with the employees to fool the two partners into worrying about a strike. "I treated them like white people. But we just wasn't paying them enough." Through the subterfuge, Anderson raised the men's wages to $1.25/hour and the women to .85/hour.]
"So that's the way, I wanted to mention that to you. I called a strike on myself. God bless all of you...."
[Here Anderson returns to descriptions of his adventures in the soap business. Eventually, Tide soap was invented. "Tide soap or breeze, it put us all out of business!"]
[Anderson then explains why he was never selected for the draft. After he opposed the strike at North American during the war time, they told him that "You are more valuable in civilian life than you would be in the army. So I was deferred."
[but after he left the union, he lost his deferment. He was called up and prepared to leave. A week before his induction, though, the government excused men over 30 with families "So that eliminated me from having to serve time in the army. That's my military record"
[then Anderson briefly mentions his days as an organizer around Farmington New Mexico of oil field workers. He blames the OCAW union for not supplying strike pay and saving the strike. "I was President of the union there and had the backing of the Oil workers, Atomic chemical workers of America out of Denver.... We had them all signed. I called the strike... that started them out but the OCAW would not give them no subsistence or nothing so we lost the strike.
'So I quit the oil field and went to work as a lumber broker. I thank the good lord for letting me remember this stuff to make this tape, I know I left some of it out. But I've done the best that I could and I'm proud of it. Thank you."
A Union Local is Organized
Declaring a person "union local president" and setting up a first tiny meeting is a long way from having a real union local with a real contract. Kathryn Thomas, one of the first women hired into North American Aviation, remembers signing the charter for the local and being one of its first members. She remembers that the new members were issued big yellow badges that said "Union Organizer." Thomas reports that she and many others were "scared to death", but they went right to work: "We just got people to fill out cards and sign up."
It was almost two years later, February 16, 1943, before the certification election began. The UAW-CIO organizers had more to put up than with the resistance of the company and the union-busters in the Dallas Open Shop Committee; the International Association of Machinists from the American Federation of Labor (IAM-AFL) were also hoping to organize the workers at North American. The top AFL Texas leader, Wallace Reilley, predicted that the CIO would never catch on in Texas.
The CIO could argue that they had already organized two other North American plants; the AFL claimed that they had organized more total aerospace plants than the CIO. The AFL predicted that they would win an organizing drive at Consolidated Bomber in nearby Fort Worth on February 22nd and they did. But they lost the February 16-18 voting at North American to the UAW-CIO. 87% of the eligible employees voted. Of the voters, 25.3% went for the IAM-AFL, 27.8% voted "no union", and 46.3% preferred the UAW-CIO. A runoff was called for the end of the month.
Using radio and thousands of leaflets, the UAW-CIO organizers publicized their program: A pay raise, elimination of favoritism through a seniority system, equal pay for women doing the same work as men, bonuses for men going into the military, a 48-hour work week with time and a half overtime on Saturdays, paid vacations, and the solution of parking problems.
The headline on the March 1, 1943, Dallas Morning News article said, "CIO Union Wins Election at NAA. 55 Per Cent of Ballots Won By Organizers, But Only 83 Per Cent of Plane Workers Vote". A contract was negotiated soon afterward. It was dated April 22, 1943. The union claimed a great victory. The company smugly announced that they still had no closed shop nor dues checkoff.
Local 848 members continue to benefit from the proud struggles of UAW-CIO organizers. From time to time they may wonder whatever happened to the demand about solving our parking problems ...
Newspaper Articles Reveal 1943 Situation
These are notes I'm typing 8/29/91 from a bunch of photostatic (black) copies of news articles. I believe most are from 1943 and they have to do with the first contract struggle of UAW-CIO local 645 in Grand Prairie.
The first is a large sheet, about 18 X 24. It has a picture of Texas historian and literary man J. Frank Dobie. Most of the page is an article that Dobie had printed in the Dallas Morning News, "Divided We Stand". The article argues against Senator W. Lee O'Daniel because O'Daniel has been talking against labor. Also criticizes Martin Dies committee because they investigate communists but not fascists in America. "The main target of attack just now in the great American internal strive is organized labor...." Also opposes Westbrook Pegler and John Lee Smith for criticizing labor.
"In Texas there has not been a single strike in war industries since the war started...." Criticizes Eddie Rickenbacker, an auto maker and former flying ace, for opposing labor. Criticizes Standard Oil for its agreements with the German oil corporation.
At the end of the article, separated by a line, is a statement from Local 645, UAW-CIO:
"Just as we believe that this article, 'Divided We Stand,' is a fine example of the exercise of Freedom of the Press, so we members of Local No. 645, UAW-CIO, believe that the National Labor Relations Board election which will be held at the North American Aviation plant this Thursday, Friday and Saturday is a fine example of American democracy in action.
'An agency of our government, the National Labor Relations Board, is coming into the NAA plant to find if the workers there desire to be represented in collective bargaining with management by the International Union, United Automobile, Aircraft and Agricultural Implement Workers of America, CIO (UAW-CIO).
'Every worker will have a chance to vote by secret ballot for a union, the UAW-CIO, which has given President Roosevelt its pledge that it will not strike during wartime. The right of every worker to cast a secret ballot will be protected by the full power and dignity of the United States Government.
'We are confident that our fellow workers at North American will vote overwhelmingly for the UAW-CIO. 'We have repeatedly pledged that we will use our union, the UAW-CIO, as an instrument to aid all North American workers in increasing their usefulness as war workers, soldiers on the production line.
'We renew that pledge. 'To every North American worker we say: "Vote Yes for Victory." Local No. 645, UAW-CIO William M. Anderson, President; O.L. Tillinghast, Vice President; H.A. Moon, Secretary-Treasurer, and the 344 shop stewards and shop committee members of Local NO. 645, UAW-CIO.
Union Grows During WWII
The North American Aviation plant at Grand Prairie had begun in 1939 as the U.S. began its military buildup to participate in World War II. The shortage of manpower made them begin hiring women by 1941, and at the end of the war the workforce was largely feminine, according to Dorothy Reid. Several of today's living retirees report that the number of hourly workers at the North American plant exceeded 22,000.
Pancho Medrano, Sr., left a rock quarrying job to begin working at North American in 1941. The workforce had been almost totally Caucasian as he remembers. Racism against the few workers of Mexican descent was so prevalent that Medrano could not find a partner to join him in a two-man riveting operation. He had to invent a method whereby one person could perform the team task.
It was even worse for African Americans. As Medrano recalls, nearly all of them were assigned to cleaning restrooms. They had only one restroom assigned for their use. Everything, even the punch clocks, were segregated. Most of the Mexican Americans were assigned the least desirable jobs. He remembers only one or two Mexican Americans assigned
to run machines. "Throughout the war," he remembers, "I don't think there was ever a Black at any machine at North American Aviation."
Medrano was a renowned boxer. During lunch breaks, he fought in a boxing ring constructed just outside the southwest corner of what is now called "Building One". His prowess with his fists and his devotion to the union recommended him highly. Local 645 elected him Sergeant at Arms. It was the beginning of an illustrious union career.
Kathryn Thomas recalls that she hired in originally at $.65 per hour. By the end of the war, she was making $1.30. "They fired us by radio when the war was over," she recalls. Medrano must not have listened to the radio that morning. He arrived at the plant ready for work; but the gates were chained and locked.
World War II, North American Aviation's Grand Prairie plant, and UAW-CIO 645 expired together. The Local's number "645" was later assigned to the General Motors UAW Local at Van Nuys, California. Our Local 645, although actually extinct, qualifed for a delegation to the historic 1946 UAW convention. The delegation split between those supporting the old leadership, and a minority supporting Walter Reuther. President Anderson, a staunch Republican, liked UAW founder Richard Frankensteen; but he hated Walter Reuther.
As work resumed after the war, three different union locals were formed. They merged to form Local 848.
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