July 2019 marks the 75th anniversary of UE's first contract in Vermont, with the Jones and Lamson Machine Company in Springfield. Chartered in October 1943 to organize Springfield's machine tool industry, Local 218 won its first NLRB elections, at Vermont Foundries and Jones and Lamson, early in 1944, concluding first contracts with both companies in July.
The legendary Ernest Thompson was a rank and file UE leader in New Jersey, the first African-American on UE’s national staff, and the national secretary of UE’s Fair Practices Committee (FPC). A new edition of Thompson’s autobiography Homeboy Came to Orange: A Story of People’s Power, co-written with his daughter Mindy Thompson Fullilove, was published this year by New Village Press.
Homeboy Came to Orange tells the story of time in UE, but also his organizing for “people’s power” in the segregated northern city of Orange, NJ, where Thompson became active in community organizing after leaving UE. Beginning with a fight to desegregate the schools his daughter attended, Thompson built organizations which increased the political power of working-class African Americans in their city, based on a program called “A New Day for Orange” that addressed urban redevelopment, unemployment, improving the school system, civil rights, recreation and representative government.
UE's history of fighting for equality for women workers is featured in a question on this year's Advanced Placement (AP) United States History Exam from The College Board. High school students across the country who score well on the AP exam can earn college course credit before they start college.
March 21 is UE’s birthday, and this year we turn 80. It was on that date in 1936 that 43 delegates from 17 local unions gathered in Buffalo for a two-day convention, and by the time they left they had created a brand new national union, the United Electrical and Radio Workers of America.
In December 1952, under a front page banner headline, the UE NEWS reported that Harold Ward had been freed. Who was Harold Ward? A previous issue of the UE NEWS carried a photo of Ward and noted that he was financial secretary of UE-FE (Farm Equipment) Local 108 at International Harvester in Chicago. In October, in the seventh week of a strike at the company, he was arrested and charged with the murder of a non-striker. But as Local 108 President Matt Halas explained: “The reason Ward was accused is clear.
“I am certain that all men of goodwill are eternally grateful to that section of the labor movement which is working so courageously to end discrimination on the job for all people.” Martin Luther King Jr. letter to UE Director of Organization James J. Matles, November 25, 1957
In the 1970s, salaried women workers at Erie GE fought important battles for workplace equality, including two strikes in 1974 and ’75 in which they demanded equal pay for equal work. The participants in these struggles were predominantly young women, and they were influenced by the ideas of the feminist movement as well as by UE’s long-established principles of equality and rank-and-file unionism.
During his years as a local union officer and as a UE organizer, union members nicknamed Ernest Thompson “The Train” because of his ability “to deliver” in negotiations. In 1943 Thompson came out of his shop, American Radiator in New Jersey, to become the first African American organizer on the UE staff. In March of 1947 he took a leave from the national staff to become business agent for UE Local 427, and he was elected vice president and later executive secretary of the Hudson County CIO Industrial Union Council.
At a November 1968 class for stewards and local officers in Latrobe, PA, James Matles, one of UE’s founding officers and then secretary-treasurer, talked about how the youth rebellion of the 1960s was beginning to affect industry and unions. “The young people in the shops are involved in a revolt of their own, which is growing day by day… The young worker doesn’t give a damn for the company’s shop rules and he drives the foremen crazy.
Members of Local 243 gathered on Saturday evening, November 1 at a banquet hall to celebrate their local's 75th anniversary. You can see a photo album of that event on UE's Facebook page. The Spring 2014 issue of the UE NEWS included the following piece on Local 243's distinguished history.