Martin Harvey

Strike Still Continues at Kelsey Co.

(1 October 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. 9 No. 40, 1 October 1945, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

DETROIT, Sept. 22 – The strike at the Kelsey-Hayes Wheel Co. has entered its fifth week with the workers solidly determined to stay out until the three union officers who were discharged by the company are reinstated.

Chester (“Moon”) Mullins, one of the discharged unionists and a former chairman of the Kelsey-Hayes unit of Local 174, gave this correspondent some of the background to the strike at the union hall across the street from the plant. The dispute began with an attempt by the company to fill a vacancy in violation of its agreement with the union. A job leaders’ position at the McGraw Avenue plant was filled by transferring a worker from the Plymouth plant despite the fact that the company was required to upgrade a man from the McGraw plant first.

To avoid posting the job in the McGraw plant as the agreement provided, they simply changed the name of the job to “foreman” and thus took it out of the union’s jurisdiction. The duties, however, remained the same. The newly appointed “foreman” had no workers under him and was not a part of’ supervision. The union protested this action and when the company took no action appealed to the worker. Realizing that he was being used to violate the union agreement and that no one would work with him while he did, the worker left the plant voluntarily. The company charged that he was violently ejected.

A foreman was ejected from the plant a short time later but the committeemen with whom the foreman had had an argument resigned. Using these events as a pretext, the company thereupon fired thirteen stewards and committeemen, most of them not even in the departments involved in the disputes. The War Labor Board, after reaching conflicting decisions (which the company ignored) ordered nine men reinstated and four fired. One of the four had quit at the beginning of the dispute.

The issue was clearly one of protecting the grievance procedure and the elected representatives of the workers. As Mullins put it: “We haven’t lost a steward or committeeman all through the war and we don’t intend to start losing them now.”

That the men were solidly behind the strike was also clear. Mullins pointed to the fact that a picket line wasn’t even necessary to keep the plant closed down. “No one is going to walk back in until this grievance is settled,” Mullins said. This was evident from the deserted street in front of the plant. About twenty people were talking in front of the union hall but no one had any concern about the solidarity of the workers in the strike.

An interesting feature in the strike was the part played by the International. When the local union had first voted to strike in a membership meeting, it appealed to R.J. Thomas, International president, for the support of the International. Thomas replied that the International would back them but first they must hold a constitutional strike vote by secret ballot. This the local did and the strike was upheld by five to one.

Ignoring his earlier promise, however, Thomas, with the unanimous support of the Executive Board, declared the strike “unauthorized” and demanded that the men return to work.

The Ford Motor Co. has tried to crush the militancy and aggressiveness being displayed by the auto workers, of which the Kelsey-Hayes strike is the outstanding example, by locking out 40,000 workers in the Rouge and Highland Park plants. In an open and vicious attempt to split the ranks of the UAW, Ford charged that the shutdown was made necessary because of unauthorized strikes in plants that supply parts for Ford cars.

Last updated on 29 January 2018