Fragments of Labor History 1935-1956

From an AFL-CIO leaflet of 1988:

The Roosevelt Administration passed Social Security, Republicans attacked it

The Republican Party has battled against Social Security every step of the way, starting w1th its oppos1t1on to the Social Security Act in 1935. The program Pres1dent Franklin Roosevelt said would help average Americans deal w1th the "hazards and vicissitudes of life, " has been savaged and rejected by the GOP since it began.

Despite the GOP assault, Social Security has become one of the great success stor1es in American social history. Millions of Americans lead secure and independent lives as a direct result of FDR's vision. Left to the Republicans, however, there never would have been a Social Security Act, and there certainly would be no Social Security system today.

The GOP Record of Attack on Seniors

1935: 99 percent of Republicans in House and 63 percent in Senate try to kill Social Security by voting to send the bill back to committee.

1939: 75 percent of Republicans in Senate try to kill legislation providing Social Security benefits to dependents and survivors as well as retired workers.

1950: 79 percent of House and 89 percent vote against disability insurance to defeat it.

1956: 86 percent of Republicans in Senate oppose disability insurance; program approved nonetheless

1964: Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan both suggest that Social Security be made voluntary.

1965: 93 percent of Republicans in House and 62 percent in Senate vote to kill Medicare

1977: 58 percent of Senate vote against amendment to provide semiannual increases

1977: 88 percent of Republicans in House and 63 percent in Senate vote against increase in Social Security payroll tax needed to keep system solvent

1981: White House proposes $35 billion in Social Security cuts over the next 5 years. The cuts include the elimination of student benefits, lump-sum death benefits,and a retroactive elimination of the $122 minimum benefit for three million recipients. (Congress ultimately enacted $24 billion of the proposed


1981: Administration begins a wholesale review of the Social Security Disability rolls, resulting in over 560,000 eligibility investigations in 1982- 360,000 more than the year before. Ultimately, at least 106,000 families were removed from the rol1s

1981: 99 percent of Republicans in House and 98 percent in Senate vote for legislation containing $22 billion in Social Security and Medicare cuts

1981: Administration proposes three-­month delay in 1982 cost-of-1iving increases

1981: White House proposes $200 billion in Social Security cuts between 1982 and 1990. The cuts include: reduction in early retirement benefit; tightened disability eligibility standards; delay in the 1982 cost-of-living adjustment and a 10 percent eventual reduction in benefits for all new retirees. (The

U.S. Senate repudiated the President's proposals by a vote of 96 to 0.)

1982: The President and Senate Republicans propose $40 billion in benefit cuts over three fiscal years

1985: Administration backs attempts by Republican Senate leadership to eliminate the 1986 Social Security COLA. Vice President Bush casts the tie-breaking vote to eliminate COLA. (House defeats it – never enacted).

1990’s: Efforts to end Social Security took the form of appealing to younger workers to put “their” Social Security insurance payments into the stock market.


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Spain Trailblazes for Facism

On July 17, 1936, General Franco gathered troops from Algeria to invide Spain and overthrow the democratic Spanish Republic. He was soon joined by major military assistance from fascist Italy and Germany. Other major capitalist countries, including the United States, adopted policies of neutrality that extended to not allowing anyone to ship assistance to the Republic. Even though the Spanish government was not socialist, capitalist nations felt that they were too close to helping the worldwide socialist movement; consequently, they stood aside while Spain joined Italy and Germany in killing all oppositionists. World War II and the deaths of 60 million thus became inevitable. See F. Jay Taylor, "The United States and the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939. Bookman Associates, New York, 1956.

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Pecan Shellers' Strike Paved Way for CIO

1938: Pecan Shellers Strike in San Antonio. Hispanic migrant agricultural workers would often go north with the crops from South Texas all the way to Canada following the ripening crops. They would often spend the winter in San Antonio, making a little money by picking pecan meats out of the shells.

Julis Seligman hired 12,000 low-wage Mexican Americans who labored 60 or more hours a week for an average of $2.50/week, or about 4 cents an hour. On February 1, 1938, Seligman ordered a 20% wage cut. The workers organized and went on strike. Fiery leader Emma Tennayuca of the Texas Communist Party made a reputation that endured until her death in 1999.

Police tear gassed and clubbed peaceful picketers. They invaded homes and threatened to jail people if they did not return to work. After 37 days of strike, both sides decided to allow an arbitration board to decide the issues. Small pay raises and union recognition followed. The CIO gained a mighty reputation in the state. But in October 1938, the federal minimum wage law took effect, establishing the minimum wage at 25 cents/hour. The owners mechanized and replaced almost all of the workers.

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CIO Comes to North Texas

The coming of the CIO to North Texas is a story that needs a lot more telling. Patricia Evridge Hill tells part of it in her excellent book (next section). Apparently, the ILGWU was the first CIO union to storm the palisades of Dallas. The Citizens Council used the police and their control over the media to defeat the first effort. However, I have interviewed participants in the Haggars' plant strike of around 1939. They indicated that the ILGWU was successful in some places.

Dallas' first labor day parade, 1947 Dr. George Green of University of Texas at Arlington has a good pamphlet that documents the forming of UAW Local 870 at the Dallas Ford plant. I have interviewed participants who told me about the beatings and harassment, but none of them could tell me definitively that the CIO succeeded in Dallas. The more likely version is that they never actually succeeded organizing there, but that they won an NLRB settlement at the same time that Ford gave in to federal pressure nationwide. Most of the news clippings and relevant documents are locked in the archives in UAW Local 848 in Grand Prairie.

Apparently, the CIO was strong by 1947! I found this photo on the wall of the old UAW Hall on Grand Avenue. Title was "First Labor Day Parade in Dallas--1947."

Ford Members Organized more UAW Locals

I can document very well the forming of UAW Local 645 at the North American aircraft plant in 1943 because I interviewed the main organizer and first President, Jack Anderson. He told me that the drive was failing until African-American trash haulers were convinced to take over the main effort. The head of the Negro Chamber of Commerce, A. Maceo Smith of Dallas, helped convince them that the union was best for them.


I can also document the later development of that union. In 1999, it is UAW 848 with units at Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and Lockheed. I am the archivist. Pancho Medrano came to work at North American in 1943 and became an international rep for the UAW. He remained active in the civil rights movement until his death in 2002. For a lot more on Pancho, click here

For more on Local 848, click here

Pancho Medrano  

 In the reading section of this page, I'm putting in a short description of an unusual book named Big Wheels Rolled in Texas. 1940 Through Pearl Harbor. By Walter and Elizabeth Rogers. They talk about the Texas CIO leaders and the Communist Party leaders. A great deal of what they have to say is negative. It is nevertheless inspiring to read about what people were discussing in the labor movement of 1940. It also generates a fabulous reading list of books I've never heard of. Click here

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Dallas History Not So Rotten As Generally Believed!

Patricia Evridge Hill, Dallas. The Making of a Modern City. University of Texas Press, Austin, 1996

This is the book that progressive Dallasites have been raving about, and well they should. In fact, it may be the very first serious history of the city ever written. The others I've read are myths about aggressive and far-sighted businessmen who created a magnificent city out of virtually nothing in a place where no city should have ever been.

Hill puts the myths away in the first chapter. She says that Dallas was already a major point on a vital trade route before the first real estate developer sold his first lot. The aggressive and far-sighted businessmen who sponsored the other "history" books weren't even in firm control of the city until the 1930s. Before that, Dallas progressives played an important historical role.

The history of progressives began long before the civil war. The European Utopian Socialists who founded La Reunion (see the first history section of this page) community brought artists and artisans of a much higher caliber than most urban areas enjoyed. Most of them stayed on after the commune disappeared.

Anti-slavery progressives of the Reconstruction Era were in Dallas as well as every where else in the South after the Civil War. When the Democratic Party ended their hegemony after federal troops left, the progressives became part of the People's Party, a liberal version of the populist movement of the period. Dallas was the center of the Texas People's Party!

The Knights of Labor had a center in Dallas and practiced the same kind of solidarity and anti-racist fight that they were famous for. Hill documents a large number of successful solidarity activities of the Knights and of the AFL that replaced them. It is true that the CIO lost every battle when they tried to come into the Dallas textile and automobile industries; but it is also true that they won the war.

The progressives who stay in Dallas today take the view that the city is like virtually any other. It is made up of ordinary working people with about the same percentages of progressives that other cities have. The difference is in the organizational position of the ruling elite. Patricia Evridge Hill devotes most of her book to explaining the development and operations of the Citizens' Council and its antecedents. She has therefore properly and correctly explained the history of Dallas. It's a must-read!

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Dallas' Secret Power Agency Was and Is Working

This is a good time to read Jim Schutze's piece, "Peep Hole Power" in the Dallas Observer 11/5/98. He gives a background and viewpoint on the Dallas Citizens Council. "If Dallas really is Oz, then, for better or for worse, the Citizens Council is its wizard."

Schutze discusses the ethics of a secret group that controls local elections: "The unique thing is the notion, their notion, that it is perfectly legitimate for them to be secretive and at the same time aggressively involve themselves in local public politics."

Schutze says that the Citizens' Council was started by former Mayor RL Thornton after he left the Ku Klux Klan (early 1930s). The present head of it is also head of Belo Corporation, which prints the Dallas Morning News.

Since 1937, the Council has run Dallas. Schutze whimsically points out the times that they ended up with gravy on their faces. But he leaves out some important points. For one thing, it is unlikely that any American City can say that it has been as tightly controlled as Dallas. The CIO barely squeezed in here. Dr. Martin Luther King was practically shunned here. Even the Vietnam Anti-War movement can claim no major Dallas activities.

The Council established itself as the main force in behind-the-scenes politics by running the centennial in 1936, which drew national attention (partly thanks to Gene Autry). But immediately after that they turned their attention to bludgeoning the CIO with police power and media control, according to Patricia Everidge Hill's fine history of the city.

The players in the unprinted program are the major local businesses and some of the corporations from elsewhere that do business here. Since the Citizen's Council's inception, they have controlled the police and the media. The Dallas Morning News has always been a central, if not the central, force. Among the people who work for them in one way or another, Schutze points out Councilman Al Lipscomb, Councilwoman Charlotte Mayes, Councilwoman Barbara Mallory Caraway, Councilman Steve Salazar, and Mayor Kirk. That is almost all of the "minority" representation in City Government. When the people beat the Citizens Council and established independent council districts, there were a couple of pretty good people's representatives -- but they were generally beaten down in subsequent elections by the Citizens Council's checkbooks and strong help from the police and the Dallas Morning News.

I think you can still download Schutze's article from I recommend it.

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Aerospace Union Erupted in North Texas Before WWII

General Motors' aerospace division, North American Aviation, began building a plant in a corn field in Grand Prairie in 1939. In 1941, when WA Harrod remembers getting a job there, the concrete floors had still not been poured. The main building was freezing cold because there was no door!

WA Harrod displays NorthAmericanAviationshirthewore  That same year, the United Auto Workers, the International Association of Machinists, and the International Brotherhood of Electricians began trying to organize a local there. By mid-1943, the UAW had succeeded in getting a contract for 20,000 workers in Local 645. The IBEW was awarded a small group of electricians.

North American closed in 1945. Harrod, like many others, came back to work when the plant re-opened under Temco management. In 1962, Temco became part of Ling-Temco-Vought. Later, it was LTV until the megamergers of the 1980's began. Today, the plant is Northrop Grumman.

It's a long story with many romantic aspects. The story is told in chronological scrapbooks in the union hall of today's UAW 848, 2218 E Main Street in Grand Prairie, 75050. Part of the story is also here on this web site; click here for UAW 848 history.

Finally, the AFL and the CIO were joined together in Texas, even though the UAW Locals stayed out for many more years.


Mexican “Braceros” Cheated in Texas

On August 24, 1942, the United States and Mexico agreed to bring Mexican farm workers into the United States as “guest” workers.  The U.S. promised to change the shabby way that Mexican workers had been treated in the past. Workers poured across the border for jobs on farms. They expected good wages, good treatment, and that 10% of their good wages would be held for them as a savings program. The program almost immediately expanded into other areas as employers enjoyed the hard working and extremely cheap laborers.

Just days after reporting to work in Stockton, California, the Mexicans went on strike because the pay was less than promised. In February, 1943, Mexico suspended recruitment because of the way Mexican workers were treated. The U.S. promised to do better and another treaty was signed. By 1943, Mexicans work on Texas railroads as well as on farms. In December, 1943, the Mexican Labor Ministry reported that 76,184 men worked in the united States as braceros that year.

Japan surrendered on September 2, 1945. The U.S. count showed that 300,000 Mexican men had worked as braceros. But in March, 1946, U.S. farmers pressured the federal government to continue using Mexican farm laborers. The program continued until 1964.

But what happened to the 10% savings program? The braceros never got the money! In 2002, they are trying to recover their lost wages in U.S. and Mexican courts. Both countries are saying it’s not their problem. All this comes from an excellent Dallas Morning News article by Alfredo Corchado and Ricardo Sandoval. It was published January 27, 2002.

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Mansfield was Seat of Racist Shame in 1956

Kenneth E Hendrickson Jr in East Texas Historical Association review: Robyn Duff Ladino, Desegregating Texas Schools: Eisenhower, Shivers, and the Crisis at Mansfield High. Univ of Texas Press, Austin, 1997.

"From August to October 1956, a tragedy unfolded in Mansfield, Texas, that marked the lives of many people. In their effort to achieve their constitutional right to a decent education, the black citizens of Mansfield, along with their lawyers and supporters, met obstruction at every turn."

"Fearing for their safety, the plaintiffs did not attempt to register at the appointed time on August 31, 1956."

"...Mansfield High was not integrated for nine years because threats, intimidation, and malfeasance by governmental officials at all levels triumphed over the law."

I saved a lot of notes when I read the Ladino book.


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