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Jack Wilson

Rubber Baron Grants Union Demands

“Sit-Down” Protest over Discharge Forces Reinstatement

(31 January/1 February 1936)

From New Militant, Vol. II No. 6, 8 February 1936, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

AKRON, Ohio, Jan. 31. – Fear that a virtual strike of 2,500 workers since Tuesday noon would spread throughout its plants caused the Firestone tire company here to accede suddenly to union demands today and brought complete victory to rubber workers in their first major open clash with the company.

The immediate issue which incensed workers and led to the refusal to operate their machines Tuesday was the lay-off for a week of a unionist, Clay Dick, because he had a scrap with a “pace” maker of his department one night outside the plant.

It was the spark that flamed into open defiance the smouldering resentment of workers which has increased in bitterness during the past two mouths as speed-up attempts and wage cuts made inroads into the plant.

Tire-builders in Dept. 16-b and17-b who are the heart of the production system, spontaneously without any leadership sat down at their machines, stopping all production of tires until the unionist was reinstated.

Workers Sit Tight

The mass protest caught both tire company and the union leaders unawares. When shift changing time came at 6 p.m. and the workers refused to leave the factory, word was passed around of the seriousness of the situation.

Night workers coming to the plant joined in the movement and likewise sat down at the tire-building machines. Meanwhile, the milling rooms, and other departments whose work leads up to the actual building of the tires were forced to shutdown.

The effect of the action is comparable to the effect of the closing of the Toledo Chevrolet transmission plant last spring which bottled up all motor production by that company.

The 2,500 workers sat down at the machines in two twelve-hour shifts, keeping anyone else from touching them. Women in nearby departments joined the movement.

Company Tries Obstinacy

Of course, the company scorned even talking to a union committee at first. They also gave Sherman Dalrymple, United Rubber Workers president, a runaround.

But as the workers stood firm, united 100 percent, with non-unionists and unionists in solid agreement, and as workers in plant 2 began talking of a “sitdown” the company shifted its position.

It met with the workers committee but flatly refused to consider reinstatement of the unionist. The union was just as tough in its refusal to tell the men to return to work until the issue was settled.

So the union prepared to keep the workers in the factory during the weekend, meanwhile calling a general meeting Sunday afternoon to consider what action to take.

Naturally, considerable agitation for closing the entire plant and pulling a bona-fide strike began to develop ... and the company doesn’t have its spring replacement tires produced yet.

Force Wages for “Strike”

Thus the company was forced to agree to reinstate the unionist, although it made its proposition to the union secretary rather than the union committee as a whole in an effort to save its face.

Not only that, but the company agreed to pay every worker who sat down at his machine half of his wages during the entire cessation of work! Obviously this was to placate the hard feelings of the workers towards this autocratically-run company.

The victory brought additional results within a day. Over 100 workers rejoined the union.

The “pace” maker who precipitated the struggle was a company pet sent into the department to build a higher number of tires than the average so that the company could introduce another wage cut by demanding higher average production. This is the typical form of company anti-labor activities in departments.

* * *

by Jack Wilson

AKRON, Ohio, Feb. 1 – Quickly adopting the successful strategy of Firestone workers, pitmen and tire-builders at Goodyear sat down at their jobs last night in protest against a 10 percent wage cut

Over 250 pitmen started the shutdown that paralyzed all tire production and brought 2,000 workers to their banner within a few hours. Again the movement was spontaneous!

A “rank and file” committee elected by the workers met with Fred Climer, personnel manager, and H.T. Gillan, production superintendent, but refused to go back to work pending settlement.

The company retaliated by closing the gates to workers coming in at the midnight shift throwing the main parts of the huge factory into darkness.

The Goodyear local shop committee was to meet today to decide the course of the United Rubber Workers. Strong demand that the union lead a Goodyear-wide strike which would involve 15,000 workers is expected to be made.

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Last updated: 22 March 2018