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Susan Green

20,000 Organized Electricians
Behind Leviton Strikers

Confident of Victory, Strikers Say They Can Take
All Boss Has to “Give” – And Then Some

(30 September 1940)

From Labor Action, Vol. 4 No. 25, 30 September 1940, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

BROOKLYN, Sept. 23 – In the fourth week of their strike there has not been one defection from the ranks of the 1,700 workers of the Leviton Mfg. Co. in Greenpoint, strikers assured me this afternoon. Production in the plant is still at a complete standstill.

There wasn’t much doing inside the strikers’ cafeteria between two and three this afternoon, but the cheerful spirit of the strikers was much in evidence. The radio was playing, the women around were humming the tune, and one of them began to swing it, to the delight of all present.

Everything now waits upon the outcome of the hearing before the Labor Relations Board, ,which has been set for September 30.

Leviton Dodge Fails

In the meantime, Leviton has invited the strikers back to work on the same conditions for a thirty-day period. After that time, he will generously allow them to vote on whether they want the AFL, the CIO or a company union to represent them.

“What is there to vote on?” one striker said. “We’re organized in Local 3, AFL and that’s our union.”

“Leviton wants us to give up Local 3 and then he’ll have us where he wants us,” a woman commented.

The story is circulated among the strikers that Leviton has threatened to spend $12,000,000 to break the strike, and if that doesn’t do it, he will give up the plant altogether.

To this a young striker retorted: “We’ve got 20,000 organized electrical workers behind us. They are contributing to our strike fund from their wages. We can take whatever Leviton has to give.”

Wages and Conditions

Wednesday is the big day on Greenpoint Ave. The workers come for their strike benefit of $7 a week. On that day the cafeteria does a rushing business. As a woman at the counter put it today, “Two thousand out of the 1,700 strikers all want to eat at once.”

I was treated to a cup of coffee and a cheese sandwich. As I stood at the counter enjoying them, a man working in the bakelite department of the plant talked to me about, wages and conditions in his department.

Only men work here. Winter and summer they wear nothing but light trousers, the heat is so great. This. worker stands between two steam presses operating at from 125 to 150 pounds of pressure. He fills the moulds in one press, then turns around and fills them in the other. By that time the gadgets in the first press are finished and ready to be removed.

Many different kinds of electrical appliances are made in the presses in the bakelite department. The tiny sockets for lights on Christmas trees are made 130 at a time. The pay is as low as 14¢ for a thousand, so a worker has to be pretty spry. The plates for wall outlets are moulded only 14 at one time. The rate of pay is $1.80 per thousand. That means about seventy press operations before a worker earns his $1.80.

I was told that the wages on this piece work basis fluctuate from week to week, depending upon what work the men are put on. One week, a man may bring home $23 and the next week only $16. Workers often are compelled to waste time because of the condition of the presses.

Hate Piece Work

Last week’s story in Labor Action explained how in the women’s departments many serious accidents happen because the company does not allow the guards to be used on the machines and because the machines themselves often operate defectively. The men also complain about the condition of the presses.

They say that with presses going at top speed in mass production there are constant break-downs. But the company does not employ enough mechanics to take care of repairs quickly. The result is that the men have to stop work until a mechanic can get around to fixing their machines, and thus they lose time.

The workers hate the piece work system. Leviton has mastered the art of getting the most out of them. No sooner does a worker begin to earn around $23 a week, than his rate of pay is cut. He has to speed up or bring home less money.

Leviton’s mastery of the piece work method of exploitation is illustrated by a woman employed there for eighteen years. She has been given such a run around on piece work that after all these years she earns only $13 a week.

What the strikers want is a scale of wages with time and a half for overtime, and the end of this vicious piece work system. The workers get into such nervous tension the way Leviton drives them that they even hesitate to leave their machines to go to the washroom.

Old Goods Moved

One of the developments since last week is that the police department has comfortably installed itself in the Chevrolet service station across the street from the Leviton plant. Last Monday the sergeants were on the street. Today they were sprawling in the office of the Chevrolet station which commands an excellent view of the Leviton plant.

So far a man and two women on the picket line have been hurt when trucks were moved out of the factory. But the strikers no longer offer any resistance to the movement of trucks, The trucks come through with motorcycle cops in blitzkrieg formation, and the men and women can do nothing about it.

While the company continues to move out several truckloads a week, the goods is not new but surpluses that had accumulated in the plant. The trucks are not Leviton’s and the truckmen are not Leviton employees.

Scabs in Plant

For the assembling and loading of the goods moved Leviton has smuggled into the plant about a score of scabs. They are fed and housed in the plant, according to a strike sympathizer living across the street from the plant.

A bunch of workers invited me to a fumigating party. They say the first thing they will have to do when they get back to work is to cleanse the place of all traces of these scabs. They are not afraid of this handful of rats, they say. They understand that Leviton is moving trucks simply to break the strikers’ morale. He has failed. The strikers know that not a nickel’s worth of goods is being produced.

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Last updated: 16 July 2014