Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Moody, J. Carroll, 1934-

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of History


Strikes and lockouts--Automobile industry--United States


Liberal historians have always emphasized the leadership o£ the labor movement, rather than the rank-and-file workers. This is especially unfortunate when studying the labor movement during the Second World War. In the automobile industry, the leaders of the United Automobile Workers (UAW) took seriously its pledge not to strike during the war, but the rank-and-file workers nevertheless participated in hundreds of wildcat strikes. In a single year, 1944, a majority of auto workers participated in such unauthorized strikes. Most of the wildcat strikes were short, generally not over three or four days, and most took the form of a simple walkout and picket line. Worker's grievances ranged from harsh company discipline to poor working conditions. Most strikes were spontaneous with little formal organization. The strike leaders generally emerged from among the strikers themselves. The corporate leaders of the automobile industry and the International leadership of the UAW responded quickly to the threat posed to their authority and control. Corporate responses ranged from overt hostility and repression to conciliation. The Ford Motor Company, despite its repressive labor policy, soon learned that the union could control the wildcat strikes more effectively than the company itself. This understanding played an important part in Ford's (and the other auto maker's) gradual acceptance of independent industrial unionism. The union's response to the strikes became more repressive as the number of strikes grew. At first, the union simply deplored the strikes, but it eventually came to support the auto companies when they disciplined or fired strikers. The union also increasingly came to understand its primary responsibility for controlling wildcat strikes. Some rank-and-file auto workers carried the struggle into the union itself. At meetings, conferences, and conventions they introduced resolutions to rescind the no-strike pledge. Their greatest success came at the 1944 DAW Convention when the delegates rejected all of the resolutions concerning the no-strike pledge. They, then, voted to re-affirm the pledge until a referendum of all DAW members could make a final decision. In the referendum, two-thirds of the voters chose to re-affirm the pledge, while one-third voted to rescind. The meaning of this vote is somewhat obscured by the small turnout of voters (less than 25 per cent of the DAW members), and by the fact that more workers participated in wildcat strikes than voted in the referendum.


Includes bibliographical references (pages [81]-84)


84 pages




Northern Illinois University

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