Building District 8: Defining Movement Unionism
 
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Lloyd Austin's dues book, cover and inside. Click here for larger versions
 
 

The extension of workers' rights was something that was central to the District's agenda.

Sentner articulated the stance of "human rights above property rights," initially expressed during the Emerson sit-down and negotiations, as a guiding philosophy of the movement.

This philosophy was framed by the sit-down itself, which expressed spatially the idea that workers had ownership in their jobs, and that management was violating these rights by unilateral implementation of rules and wages.

The occupation of the plant was simply a visual representation of that ownership.

Their decision to elect a mayor of Emerson was both theater and philosophical assertion of the ties between citizenship rights and union rights. Sentner stressed that the contracts that had been won were the product of workers' current power. While they had signed contracts that included no-strike and (weak) management rights' clauses, the union should not be permanently reconciled to such clauses, and the agreement was simply a way to trade one sort of power for another.

 
Wm. Reidel, "Mayor of Emerson"

 

A children's picket line, 1946

The signs indicate that the children's future and health are tied to the goals of the union. "I am no cry baby, but my daddy got to have a raise."

One picture with milk reads "I want to drink lots of it, but mommy needs a raise to afford it."

Such scenes were common in strike struggles, building on the 1930s definition of the union as a civic organization

photo is from the UE Archives. This is a xerox copy. A better photo version will be posted in the future.

The shop steward system established by District 8 workers was the heart of the democratic shop floor and community power. This one took place in 1945, in Local 810, the local of small shops in St. Louis. Maude Mackle (standing) of Mines Equipment Company. discusses the proper listing fo the job classifications while Fin Sec W. Rap, Pres Clarence Bingaman and Financial Officer Vic Pasche (backs to camera) take notes. Others shown are T. Berend, V. Cole, N. Cole, I Scheidel, Ray Hutchinson, E. Hoollowell, L. Philips, R. Strawbrdige, Mary Jones, E. Watson, O. Kellar, Ludie Watson, Jas Watson, M. Scherer, Thomas Roberst., E. Monia , F. Glickert, O. Lillge.

Local 810 made progress on access to jobs for African-Americans in the 10 year period 1937-1947, though it took years of education and agitation to make that full union policy.

James payne, March 1939 photo, courtesy John Logsdon.

Payne, born in Oklahoma and raised in Arkansas and Missouri, was drawn to the Left at the same time as he was drawn to the union and to an expansive conception of unionism.

Otto Maschoff defined his activism in the UE on race and gender issues. These positions were the product of a long process of education and experience. Maschoff had grown up on a hog farm near Breese, Illinois . Coming to St. Louis in search of a job during the Depression, he became an assembler at Century Electric and went on strike in 1934. Fired in March 1937 for union activity, Maschoff devoted himself to districtwide organizing. He became vice president of the local and then, in 1939, president. Maschoff's commitment to racial and gender equality grew as he became influenced by the Left. When Logsdon recommended Maschoff to James Matles for an organizer position for which he was hired in 1941, he described Maschoff as "not a member of any political organization. His outlook on politics and economics corresponds pretty well to mine."
Henry Fiering and Otto Maschoff, 1939  
Eugene Paul and Virginia Jenneman at a UE picnic
   
The Left coalition was defined by its challenges to racist practices. They argued for the right of African-Americans to all jobs in the plant and sought to break down racist cultural practices. Black activists such as Lee Henry, born in 1909 in Fairhope, Alabama, who had started to work on the railroad at age 13 and had been hired at Wagner Electricin 1935 was part of the Left coalition that started to challenge that company's racist hiring policies as well as those of the local union. Hershel Walker, who joined the UE in 1942, noted that Henry was one of the many black worker who had a shrewd eye for the “opportunity the CIO might afford” to advance the cause of equality. Henry understood that with the Left's support, “now companies couldn't fire you for agitating for racial justice” as they would have in the past. The involvement of workers such as Henry in the union influenced the views of white workers as well. Marian Barry, a white 41 line production worker, met black workers through union activities, and identified with their view of the union as their opportunity for advancement after years of being held to certain jobs.
Lee Henry, 1941 photo  
Barry soon came defined her view of "progressive unionism" through issues of race despite the fact that few black workers were employed at Emerson. Asked where she derived her progressive stance on race issues, Marian Barry responded, "You know where I got them? I got them from Bill Sentner. He was a good guy! He used to get us the Communist Party paper. My neighbors would ask me, 'Are you a Communist?' I'd say, hell no, I ain't no Communist. But would you look at some of the things they're saying here--we need to know." Barry never joined the Party, but rejected the racist practices she associated with some of the anticommunists, and so defended the CP's right to involvement on these grounds alone. Sentner tried to get her husband Tom to join the CP, but according to Marion “he said, no, he couldn't see that. He agreed with him (Sentner) on a lot of the things he did and what he stood for,” and Tom would read the Daily Worker “from cover to cover.” But “we were both Catholic” and on those grounds, refused to join the Party. “A lot of things that Bill Sentner said was not Communist,” she insisted, meaning that she felt this was not a “foreign” influence or “atheistic.”
Tom Barry  
 
Zollie Carpenter, 1941 photo. Wagner workers Orville Leach and Zollie Carpenter, both from Arkansas rural backgrounds, joined the CP after the Wagner drive and helped organize the local. For Leach the decision to join the CP was connected to antiracist feelings that had surfaced during his formative years in Arkansas.

 

 
Queen of the UE contest, 1941

The Queen of the UE contest and ball, which lasted until World War II, was a popularity and beauty contest that mocked the Veiled Prophet Ball, the leading elite social event in St. Louis.

District 8 education director Raymond Koch vouched that "these locals did organize black and white, but it doesn't mean they got rid of racism, any more than it meant they got rid of male sexism by organizing women.

 

 

 

   
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