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Sam Adams

Fighting Spirit Marks Brewster Union Mass Meeting

(12 June 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 24, 12 June1944, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

I went down to the mass meeting called by the Brewster UAW Local 365 to see at first hand the temper of the workers who held the unique sit-in sit-down strike in protest against the sudden Navy Department cancellation of contracts which resulted in the closing down of the plant. The hall was packed to standing room, the crowd being variously estimated at from 3,500 to 5,000.

The thing which struck any visitor was the militant spirit of the workers. They came into the meeting feeling that they had done an excellent job, not only for themselves, but for the entire labor movement, because they understood that the cancellation of their contract and the closing of the Brewster plant was not an isolated event. More of the same was coming all over the country. That is why their fight was so important; it was a fight for every worker in war industry, because every one of them faces the same prospect.

These workers stayed in the plant and refused to budge until something tangible was done for them in the was of securing their present jobs, obtaining other jobs, or the kind of assistance which would not throw the burden of their unwanted unemployment on their own shoulders.

You could tell from their remarks and see from their faces that they came to this meeting to hear from their international and local leaders just what was accomplished for them. The gathering was a mass meeting with invited speakers, including Joseph Curran, Senator Murray of Montana, and Richard Frankensteen, head of the aircraft division of the UAW and in charge of the Brewster case. This fact alone precluded any possibility of a regular union meeting with participation from the rank and file. And so, they came and listened very attentively for the word that their fight was won and their jobs secured.

But they didn’t hear that word. They heard a lot of other things instead.

There was the mutual back-slapping by De Lorenzo and Frankensteen, by both of them of Senator Murray and finally some praise of the Brewster workers themselves for the fight they made, and for the leadership they had!

The most important part of the meeting was the report made by Frankensteen on his negotiations in Washington with the Navy Department, War Mobilization Director Byrnes and other assorted administrators at the Capital. There were many interesting things contained in Frankensteen’s report. For example, he related the absolute callousness of the Navy Department with regard to the problems of the workers and the effect of sudden unemployment upon them and their families. The Navy Department, Frankensteen said, not only misrepresented the state of production at Brewster and lied about production costs in New York as compared to other plants producing the same Corsair plane, but bluntly told him they were interested only in the “small stockholders” and had no concern whatever with the fate of the 12,500 Brewster workers.

What Washington Did

Well, what happened in Washington? Frankensteen found that the governmental leaders were upset by the Brewster affair. First of all, they were upset by the strategy of the unionists, who refused to leave the plant. Then they were galvanized into action by the union!

What did they do? Senator Murray’s committee met, on Memorial Day of all days, to consider what action could be taken to help the workers and the company to continue war production or reconvert to civilian production. But to date, nothing concrete has been accomplished. The Navy Department refused to budge; they would not even agree to produce another 250 planes to keep the plant going for another period and thus permit, perhaps, some time to reorganize affairs. The War Department likewise could in no way utilize the plant for anything.

What about production of consumer goods? Nothing much there either. Well, then, what remained?

Here is the point where the meeting suffered its real let-down. Here is the point where the Brewster workers suffered the real blow. Nothing could be promised them now. Frankensteen had to tell them, these courageous, militant, well-organized unionists, that it would be some time before they could get their jobs back! They should go and get their pay checks and seek jobs elsewhere; their seniority rights would be protected for another thirty days and then ...

Then, they might be rehired at lower wages! And what kind of work will they do? Nobody knows. Where will they get other jobs in New York, which is not a vital war production center? Nobody knows that either. Shall they move their families to other cities? Well, even here Frankensteen had already pointed out how practically impossible it was for 12,500 workers to take their belongings and families and hunt jobs in other cities.

They Got Promises

Frankensteen’s closing remarks, calling for discipline and unity, practically ended the meeting. The workers listened courteously enough to Senator Murray, who went on to blame the bunglers in Washington for their failure to plan for such things as the Brewster contract cancellation. But you could sense a new mood among the rank and file unionists. They passed the few resolutions introduced condemning the Navy’s action, calling for security of the worker in job cancellations, and so on. And then the announcement was made that since this was a mass meeting at which visitors and the press were present, no regular union meeting could be held. Here and there were voices asking for the floor, but they were told to wait for a regular union meeting the following week. The meeting then adjourned. How did the workers feel? It was impossible to speak to everyone present. But you could catch remarks here and there. They knew they really didn’t get anything except a few promises. They were proud of their fight; they knew they carried the ball for the whole labor movement. But it was clear that, having agreed to leave the plant and look toward the Administration for assistance, they had given up their front-line trenches. In exchange for what? So far as could be made out from everything that was said at the mass meeting, and everything that was written on the Brewster situation, for a handful of promises that have not yet materialized, and the likelihood is that they won’t.

The workers did not like it and their dissatisfaction was obvious. For the questions still remain: What are they to do? How are they to live?

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