Labor and Working-Class History

UE: A Remarkable Example

January 29, 2024

We are republishing this article written by retired UE Political Action Director Chris Townsend about our union’s history, principles and importance to the broader labor movement.

In late March of 1936, a stalwart group of unionists in the electrical and radio manufacturing industries gathered in snowy Buffalo, New York, to found what quickly became the third largest union in the CIO upsurge. The various streams of unionism that converged in Buffalo represented the grizzled union diehards in the manufacturing shops of some of the biggest corporations in the country; General Electric, General Motors, Westinghouse, and RCA among them. It also included new faces, young militants, workers energized by the overall left-wing growth in response to the catastrophe of the Great Depression.

“Building Strike Power” Convention Held in City of Steel ... and Strikes

October 7, 2023

UE’s 78th Convention was held in Pittsburgh, a city that is not only home to the union’s national office but also to a rich history of worker organizing and strikes. From the 1840s to today, the women and men whose labor built this city struggled — and often struck — to reclaim a share of the wealth their labor produced.

Seventy Five Years Later, Toll of Taft-Hartley Weighs Heavily on Labor

June 23, 2022

Seventy-five years ago, the labor movement suffered its greatest setback of the 20th Century: the Taft-Hartley Act.

Despite a valiant effort by millions of rank-and-file workers to prevent its passage, Taft-Hartley became law on June 23, 1947 when the Senate overrode President Truman’s veto. Taft-Hartley halted what had been a remarkable decade of progress for working people, tamed union militancy, and set the stage for the long decline of the U.S. labor movement. We are still feeling its effects today.

“Them and Us” Unionism in the Deep South

February 1, 2022

In the 1930s, as rank-and-file workers in the electrical manufacturing industry were establishing UE in workplaces like the giant General Electric plant in Erie, PA (Local 506) and Sargent Lock in New Haven, CT (Local 243), a union with a similar “Them and Us” philosophy of unionism was building militant, interracial unions in iron ore mines in an area known as “Red Mountain” near Birmingham, Alabama.

75 Years Ago, NC Tobacco Workers Challenged Jim Crow with “Civil Rights Unionism”

September 3, 2021

September 5 marks the 75th anniversary of a National Labor Relations Board election that took place at the China American Tobacco Company in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. It was the first NLRB victory in eastern North Carolina for the Food, Tobacco, Agricultural & Allied Workers of America (FTA-CIO), part of a campaign that would bring nearly 10,000 tobacco “leaf house” workers, most of them African-American women, into unions.

Working-Class Pride in the Marine Cooks and Stewards Union

June 18, 2021

Decades before the modern LGBTQ+ movement, a small but militant union of maritime workers on the West Coast with openly gay members and leaders coined a slogan linking discrimination against gay men, racial discrimination, and red-baiting. For the better part of two decades, the Marine Cooks and Stewards Union fought discrimination on the ships where its members worked and in society, until it was crushed by the same corporate and government forces that tried to destroy UE during the Cold War.

UE Fought for Child Care as “Infrastructure” as Far Back as WWII

May 9, 2021

In their attacks on President Biden’s much-needed proposals to invest in physical and human infrastructure, the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan, many Republican politicians have derided applying the term “infrastructure” to programs that support working families. They dismiss child care, elder care and paid family leave as “liberal social programs” as opposed to the “real infrastructure” of buildings, roads, and bridges.

The experience of UE members during World War II, when millions of women took jobs in manufacturing, tells a different story.

“Working-Class Heroes” Finds Striking Relevance in Songs of Past Struggles

July 26, 2019

Working-Class Heroes: A History of Struggle in Song, by Mat Callahan and Yvonne Moore is a collection of pre-WWII labor songs. The lively, contemporary arrangements are a reminder that these songs were written to bring the union message to other workers in the popular styles of the day. They were part of the organizing process — many of the songwriters featured on this album, like textile worker Ella May Wiggins and tenant farmer John Handcox, were active leaders in their union, and numerous choruses simply urge the listener to join the union or a picket line.

Two New Books Examine How Working People Have Changed (and Can Still Change) the World

December 14, 2018

In Can the Working Class Change the World? economist and labor educator Michael Yates makes the case that the working class — and only the working class — can indeed overcome economic inequality, eliminate racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination, and meet the challenge of environmental degradation and climate change. Historian Erik Loomis’s A History of America in Ten Strikes is an original and engaging way to re-learn U.S. history through the lens of working-class struggle.

Pages