Autolite Strike 1934 Essay, Research Paper
Strikes were common place in the early 1930 s in all industrial and
manufacturing corporations. They were used to win power away from the
corporate giants, and put it in the hands of the working class. Labor used
strikes for a variety of reasons, some for higher wages, some for working
conditions, some for safety on the job, and still others for recognition.
In a book entitled, I Remember Like Today: The Auto-Lite Strike of
1934 Philip A. Korth and Margaret R. Beegle compile an oral history
account of this fight for the rights of the working class. To gain the
knowledge acquired for this book, the authors searched high and low to
find the living survivors of this turning point for organized labor in
Toledo. After discovering the individuals who could help, the investigators
interviewed and then recorded the men and women s accounts of the
strike. Then they transcribed the interviews verbatim. This method
provides for a more personal approach to learning what had happened in
the strike. It allows the reader to see what actually happen through the
eyes of the ones involved.
The book is a collection statements, stories, and feelings of the men
and women involved in the strike. Each individual tells their story based on
headings, and that is what complied the chapters. In this method, the
reader gets to hear all sides of the story because Korth and Beegle get
some who were union supports, union organizers, some who were strike
breakers, management. Certainly no critic can say, this book only tells one
side of the story.
All of the forth-coming events, activities, and problems took place in
Toledo, Ohio at the Electric Auto-Lite Company. The Electric Auto-Lite
Company was a part of the automotive assembly industry. It used mainly
unskilled workers to operate the machinery, and the machinery was that
which possessed the skill.
There were two separate strikes at Auto-Lite. The first was used to
force the company into recognizing the union; that was the first step
towards collective bargaining recognition. It stared on February 23,
lasted only four days, and resulted in the reinstatement of the 15 workers
who walked out, and an agreement. The workers won the battle but that
was a long way from winning the war. Auto-Lite gave the union a 30-day
contract, which basically stated the company would recognize the union for
thirty days, but even in that thirty days the company refused to recognize
the union as a bargaining representative of the workers. When this thirty
days reached its conclusion, the union was no better off then when it
started. In fact in those thirty days the company was preparing itself for a
strike. They started mass hiring new workers, so they could keep running
the company if the labor walked out.
The second strike began on April 13, and consisted of some 400
Auto-Lite workers. The strike seemingly divided the work force equally, as
many went in as picketed. Then on May 3, a court injunction restricted the
number of picketers at one time to a minuscule twenty-five. This rallied the
surrounding men and women in the area to unite and break this injunction
that limited all of their freedom. On May 21, 22, and 23 more then 6,000
men and women united in front of Auto-Lite to hear speakers and to
protest the company, along with protesting the court injunction.
This is when the real trouble started for the company and the
picketers. On May 23, A young women by the name of Alma Hand was
stuck by a steel bracket which caused a riot among the crowd, and which
initiated a raid on the building. The deputies fired tear gas at the would be
invaders to stop them from storming the facility. That night a raging crowd
refused to allow the scabs off the premises. After this episode, the Ohio
National Guard was called in to restore the peace. These guardsmen only
worsened the situation. On the next day, May 24, they charged the crowd
wounding 12, then firing their rifles and killing one, then later that same
day, they fired once again wounding two more picketers. By the 26th of
May, with demands that the plant be closed and the Guard withdraw,
another tragic confrontation occurred. The crowd attacked the Guard, 200
were injured and 50 were arrested.
The plant remained closed for the following week and did not reopen
until June 5. At this point, the strikers had emerged victorious. After all the
hardships, injuries, and deaths, the union had been established and
recognized. This was a shallow victory at first due to a number of
circumstances. First of all, the old workers who remained at work
throughout the strike had preference during the rehiring process.
Secondly, betrayers who associated themselves with management formed
their own bargaining organization called the Auto-Lite Council. This
organization acquired for them preference in rehiring.
The Auto-Lite Council soon diminished in numbers, while Local
18384 was increasing dramatically. This was due to the realization that
the strikers were the ones who had won them collective bargaining, not the
Auto-Lite Council. Therefore, their loyalties lied with the organization that
had created the situation in which they had more power, respect, and
better working conditions.
The Auto-Lite strike is a perfect example of how the labor movement
has advanced. The first strike only involved a mediocre 15 men. The
second strike reached out to about 50% of the work force. The men and
women of Auto-Lite had embraced their union and made it their own.
This represents the labor movement because at the start only about
3 million workers were unionized. At the pinnacle of the movement nearly
50% of the work force was organized, the number was in excess of 10
million individuals. Workers saw how the union could help them. They
saw solidarity and unity, which when combined produced a force to be
reckoned with. The union provided for higher wages, more benefits, and
better working conditions. This idea is what attracted more members and
this belief is what united the men and women at Auto-Lite.
The strike also represents the risks and hardships accepted by the
organizers who take on the challenge of forming a union. The 15 who
went out in the first Auto-Lite strike took the chance of losing their jobs and
hampering their families welfare to form a union just to help every worker
in the plant. The men also accepted that they were going to lose their jobs
and would have to fight for reinstatement. But all the risks taken, and all
the brief hardships felt were well worth it considering the ends. Their union
was recognized. Not to the extent they wished, but nonetheless they won
recognition, which catapulted them to eventual complete victory.
This result was not always the case. In some strikes the union failed
and the workers lost big. To the credit of the workers, their supporters,
and their organizers the men and women of Auto-Lite were triumphant and
won the fight of all fights; to gain respect, power, and recognition.
This event was the turning point in labor relations in the city of
Toledo. It gave confindence and self worth to the working class, and
stripped the company management of their unimpeded omnipotence. The
Auto-Lite Strike of 1934 changed the entire way that company operations
were run, and for that, those who work in Toledo should be applauded, and
recognized for the achievements they accomplished.
Korth, Philip A. and Margaret R. Beegle. I Remember Like Today: The Auto-Lite Strike of 1934. East Lansing Michigan: Michigan State University Press. 1988