In last week’s little pastiche I discussed Black Friday and its effect on the Yuletide season. Retreating back to 1948, there was just cause for Kokomo and coast-to-coast Santa Clauses to reevaluate their financial stability.
Throughout the Second World War, blue-collar wage earners experienced no shortage of work. Things were booming. Uncle Sam required tanks, airplanes, boats, trucks, radios, tanks, and all types of military hardware to defeat, Hitler, Tojo, Mussolini, and associated henchmen.
To keep the U.S. assembly lines up and running 24/7/365 required cooperation between labor and management at manufacturing centers. Disagreements, including wages and working conditions, required biting of the tongue for the sake of our sons and daughters serving in the armed services and expenditure of national treasure. Strikes, for the most part, were held in abeyance.
Holy Moses, after the post-war celebrations subsided, that all changed. Labor disputes which had been on the back burner for four or five years were placed up front, on high. Strikes and the threat thereof popped up from sea to shining sea.
A sampling of those affected included the Chicago daily newspapers where 1,200 pressmen walked out for over six months 1947 to ’48. CIO meat packer strikes idled 225,000 workers. West coast oil workers struck as did Longshoremen on both coasts.
United Mine Workers brought most coal production to a halt with UMW President John L. Lewis and his electric eyebrows keeping watch. Network radio celebs Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Fred Allen, and Edgar Bergen felt the pinch when Radio Writer’s Guild members brought their grievances to a strike vote. The airwave funny men quickly agreed to honor new contracts.
At home, 1,200 Chrysler workers felt the financial pinch when the UAW struck the company in May ‘48. Delco Radio employees were anxious prior to a proposed UAW work stoppage against parent company General Motors. To their relief, an agreement was reached and job action avoided.
Local 103 of the Operating Engineers, American Federation of Labor & Associated Building Contractors of Ft. Wayne brought construction of the new Kokomo Memorial Gym to a standstill for 21 days in ‘48.
General Electric operated a manufacturing plant here in the City of Firsts since April 1942 when the company took possession of the dormant Pittsburgh Plate Glass property at Vaile and Diamond. War production of electric motor driven generators for U.S. Navy submarines were produced at the east side, brick behemoth. I know, my dad and grandfather were employed there.
At the war’s closure, GE switched production to fractional horsepower electric motors for use in the domestic market.
General Electric experienced labor issues in ‘48 as well. A one-day sit-down strike at their plant in Philadelphia quickly brought a new contract. 520 members of Kokomo Local 936 of the United Electrical and Machine Worker’s Union received an eight-percent wage boost. The next day a five- to 12-percent price increase on all products was announced by GE. Inflation was a major concern for President Truman.
So Kokomo GE workers avoided a job action, only to be surprised by closure of the Kokomo facility due to it not being “suited” for their manufacturing purposes. On the final day of December ‘48, the doors closed on another local history segment. Ebenezer Scrooge was alive and well.
But on the up side, another dandy opened up in March ‘49 when Cuneo Press announced plans to open the facility where GE pulled out 12 weeks earlier.
Things looked a bit bleak for Ol’ Saint Nick and the kiddies toward the later half of ‘48. But a late gift improved the outlook for rank and file, get ‘er done folks who produced things.