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Friday, February 17, 2012

All For The War Effort

Or not.

When you think of World War II and how it impacted the Home Front in the years 1941 to 1945, you think of Rosie the Riveter, maybe.  You think of the scrap drives that took place to help America's industrial machinery obtain the necessary raw materials in order to turn "plowshares into swords." You think of bond drives and Red Cross canteens that sprouted up around the country.  And victory gardens.  And flags.  A whole lot of red, white and blue flags flying proudly over every home in the land.


And quaint.

But not necessarily accurate.

What you don't think about - what you never read about - is this kind of thing: From Time magazine, August 12, 1942, when America was fighting the war on three continents (if you include the Aleutian Islands) and gearing up to take it to a fourth - Fortress Europe:
Pickets For Victory*

The most disgraceful jurisdictional strike in U.S. Labor history closed two Michigan war plants last week and crippled a third. The cause was fantastic: a fight between C.I.O. And A.F.L. For control of Pontiac's grocery clerks.

Because the C.I.O. clerks won a contract, the A.F. of L. threw picket lines around Pontiac's 200 hundred independent groceries. The teamsters, their colleagues, then refused to make deliveries across the line. The stores had to close.

In retaliation, the C.I.O. clerks put pickets around war plants. At Pontiac Motor Co. (guns and tank parts), 7,000 C.I.O. autoworkers refused to cross the line. At Yellow Truck & Coach Co. (Army trucks), 3,000 autoworkers turned back. At Baldwin Rubber Co., 600 C.I.O. rubber workers walked out. There were street fights.

The public wrath got two quick results. After one day, the strike was called off. And at week's end, C.I.O. President Philip Murray, who has put off making peace with the A.F. of L., got off an urgent letter rival William Green, offering to try – really try – for an inter-federation agreement.
Reading the weekly issues of Time in that year gives one an understanding that labor strife, as revealed in the above dispatch, was the norm rather than the exception. While America was fighting a war against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, labor unions here were fighting each other, fighting employers, and fighting the government. The war be damned.

Stopping manufactories from making arms and ammunition desperately needed for combat against a determined enemy because grocery clerks in Pontiac, Michigan signed with the C.I.O. rather than with the A.F. of L. is beyond our 21st century understanding. Yet there it was.

A strange era. One that this country never needs to witness again.

* I think the title was meant to be facetious.