Rough manhood: the aggressive and confrontational shop culture of U.S. auto workers during World War II.
As I have suggested elsewhere (2), Montgomery's formulation is incomplete since it neglected the rough culture of manhood which is arguably as important as the respectable for understanding of gender relations of the American working class. Working-class manhood engendered both respectable and rough dimensions, derived respectively from the social, economic, and cultural traditions of skilled craftsmen and unskilled laborers. Seen as two ideal types, Montgomery's craft workers best typified the respectable masculine working-class culture, whereas Peter Way's canal workers best exemplified the rough tradition. For mass production workers, the respectable and the rough forms of male culture were in constant tension. They often coexisted, wherein the respectable worker might exhibit a vice of the rough culture such as drinking or the rough worker might express a virtue of the respectable worker such a responsibility to family. Indeed, many mass production workers possessed this complex mix of respectability and roughness, often respectable in their union behavior and rough in their interpersonal and social relations. To be sure, individually and collectively, American workers possessed and expressed many different masculine identities that emerged or vanished according to their varying social and cultural situations. For this reason, both the rough and respectable dimensions of male behavior require a more detailed and nuanced examination, especially since the tendency to heroicize working-class struggles has limited a thorough examination of the more savage, violent, and sexist forms of gendered behavior at the workplace. (3)
Through most of the twentieth century, the automobile industry furnishes an ideal locus for the study of the rough and respectable manhood of American workers. Once labeled "capitalism's favorite child," (4) it was an important site in the development of scientific management, the system of industrial mechanization known as mass production, and the transformation of work processes. It furnished the pattern for modem industry and for much of the social history of workers and work in industrial America. Although the majority of male auto workers manifested a collective respectability and responsibility in their shop-floor relations, this essay emphasizes the unrefined underside of male working-class culture. In his discussion of the "vigorous subculture" that existed among "working-class youth," Peter N. Steams cited an anonymous worker who recalled the broad outlines of his regressive manhood: "When I was eighteen I knew it took four things to be a man: fight, work, screw, and booze." (5) This statement sugges ts three important elements of the rough working--class male culture--fighting, womanizing, and drinking. This essay focuses on one of those elements-fighting-the individualized aggressive and swaggering postures that men exhibited toward each other and towards their shop-floor supervisors. This was the not-so-noble and not-so heroic manliness where men individually or collectively cursed, threatened, and fought with each other and with their shop foremen and supervisors. (6)
Three crucial factors shaped the rough manhood of automobile workers and made a volatile social mixture--the overwhelmingly male character of the workplace, the incredible ethnic and social diversity of the workforce, and the brutally inhuman industrial regime of the shop floor. First, American automobile plants and factories were a social and cultural world of men, metals, and machines. (7) Though some women worked in the automobile industry, they often were concentrated in sex-segregated shops and departments. (8) In their all-male work environments, some automobile workers created and nurtured their elaborate sets of rough traditions that often revolved around aggressive confrontations and fights among themselves and with their supervisors.
Second, the automobile industry gathered together an industrial work-force of incredible social and cultural diversity in the first half of the 20th century. In 1942, Joe Brown, a journalist for the Federated Press, a union press service, captured the enormous social and cultural patchwork of Detroit's industrial population. "Auto workers," he observed:
are not merely auto workers. They are natives, foreigners, hill-billies, and city-born persons, Catholics and Protestants, Germans and Britishers, whites and Negroes, skilled and unskilled, educated and ignorant, Communists and 100 per centers, those with no seniority-little seniority-longtime seniority, efficient and inefficient--the list could be continued indefinitely." (9)
This varied mixture of auto workers often encompassed sometimes incompatible and intractable differences of race and ethnicity, religion, age, skill and educational levels, and political beliefs. As these different workers confronted each other on the factory floor, they occasionally met with each other and traded personal and social affronts and insults. In the resulting humiliation, a flash of ethnic anger or male pride often produced aggressive and confrontational behavior, ending in violent shop-floor altercations and fights. (10)
Third, the spread of industrial mechanization in the 1920s and the social and economic privations of the Great Depression in the 1930s produced a degrading and humiliating work environment and generated a deep anger among American automobile workers. If work, as Steams' anonymous worker suggested, was an important component to "being a man," then the reconfiguration of work and the loss of work surely reshaped the content of manhood. In their union and shop newspapers and in their oral histories through the 1920s and early 1930s, auto workers condemned and denounced the brutal speed-up caused by mechanization, the incomprehensible group piecework systems, the driving and abusive foremen, and the filthy and inhospitable work settings. During this time, automobile manufacturers gradually began to hire women on to machine work, feminizing a central working-class notion that machine work was "white men's work." (12) Moreover, if mass production reshaped the manly content of work, the social and economic disaster of the Great Depression robbed automobile workers of meaningful work and also removed the prospect of a secure and respectable existence. (13)
From the automobile industry's origins through the 1950s, the nature of manhood of automobile workers underwent several phases in response to the broader social and economic climate. From the 1900s through the 1910s, many auto workers aspired to a respectable manhood with meaningful work, decent wages, and the American standard of living. Whether skilled workers who wanted to ply their crafts in the metal, wood-working, or painting trades or unskilled American and European migrants who hoped to "steal a trade" in the dynamic new industry, they desired a secure and honorable manhood, a small slice of their American dream. But--new social and economic changes forestalled their hopes and dreams for a responsible and respectable lifestyle. From the mid-1910s through the mid 1930s, line production, mechanization and work reorganization spread through automobile shops, plants, and factories. The new work routines meant a disappearance of meaningful work and a loss of worker autonomy and control. Moreover, the gradu al appearance of women at machines and small presses challenged a fundamental element of auto worker masculine identity. The massive unemployment of the Great Depression even robbed male automobile workers of their work and their identities. For automobile workers, the loss of autonomy and control, the end of male dominion over machines, and the appearance of women in formerly all-male shops connoted the feminization of work--a loss of their manhood. (14)
From early 1930s through the early 1940s, American automobile workers felt angry, degraded, and emasculated. They employed a militant and heroic manhood in resistance to the challenges to masculinity that resulted from the eras of mechanization and unemployment. From the violent outbursts at Briggs and Murray Body plants in 1933, through the Toledo Auto-Lite strike in 1934, the truly revolutionary General Motors sit-down strikes at the Flint and other plants and the many, many other Detroit sit-down strikes in 1936-37, the General Motors skilled workers' Tool and Die strike in 1939, and finally the contentious Ford organizational strike in 1941, automobile workers went to the streets and battled strikebreakers, police, and state militias. In these aggressive and heroic struggles to unionize, male automobile workers strove for the manly respectability as well-paid union providers of the family wage and the American dream. Though personal residues of earlier humiliation, degradation, and emasculation remained i n the background, the swift rise and the gradual consolidation of the United Automobile Workers Union reversed the social and economic decline of automobile workers' lives, permitted a venting of deep-seated anger and hostility, and sanctioned a reassertion of dignified masculine aggressiveness. (15)
In the next phase, World War II posed a serious threat to auto worker gains in union creation and consolidation. In order to achieve the security of maintenance of membership and the dues check-off, the UAW consented to the no-strike pledge to avoid workplace disruptions and to maximize production for foreign battlefields. This removed labor's most powerful weapon to assert and to readjust its shop-floor power. Temporarily, the reconversion to wartime production rekindled auto worker fears of unemployment and revived their dread of emasculation. Furthermore, the severe wartime labor shortages brought throngs of new workers into automobile shops. In Detroit automobile factories, the proportion of African American workers increased from 5.5 percent of the workforce in 1942 to 15 per cent in 1945. (16) Similarly, women, who constituted only 5.4 per cent of the total automotive workforce in 1941, dramatically increased to 25.7 per cent in 1943. (17) Given their shop-floor attitudes towards African Americans and w omen, the new racial and gender mix once again menaced the mainly' white and male auto workers' notions about manhood. Both workers and managers recognized that white women were a temporary wartime necessity. But the upgrading of African Americans, especially black women, to machine work produced a massive wave of wildcat hate strikes to defend white and male space on the shop floor. (18)
The immediate post-war years saw the reconversion to civilian production and to a respectable manhood of American automobile workers. Though some women automobile workers relied on their wartime seniority to remain in automobile factories, the massive purge of women effectively resulted in the "defeminization" of the automotive shop floor. (19) And while managers and workers tolerated the presence of African American men, they reimposed the industrial color line by relegating black men mainly to the most demeaning and dirtiest work as janitors, foundry workers, wet sanders, and spray painters. The respectable manhood of the postwar era rested on the gradual consolidation of the civilized relationship between corporations and unions and the patriarchal exclusion of women from auto work and the racial separation of black men on the factory floor. (20)
Within this general framework, my focus narrows to one element of rough masculine culture, namely the aggressive and confrontational acts among auto workers and between auto workers and managers, in the World War II era. These belligerent incidents followed three broad patterns--the endemic fighting among workers, the constant clashes of workers with supervisors, and the union mobilization of rough behavior in both symbolic and strategic confrontations with factory management. The most direct form of confrontational masculine behavior was fighting, either among auto workers or between workers and supervisors. In both instances, workers attempted to define their personal and social space on the shop floor. The worker/worker confrontations often reflected the volatile social and ethnic composition of the automotive workplace. The worker/supervisor encounters sometimes originated in the deep-seated anger of the pre-union days or simply constituted individual efforts to contest overbearing authority. The most com plex were hostile skirmishes with shops supervision and were often symbolic in their challenge to workplace authority systems. For example, in the cutting off of foremen's neckties and the "shirttail parade," individuals or groups of workers contested managerial authority. And in the "bloody riot," Ford workers, still aching from the recent humiliating abuses of the Harry Bennett regime, both savagely fought factory authorities and symbolically vented their anger in the assembly-line mutilation of a coat.
Fights among workers were common occurrences in American automobile factories. In this deeply masculine world, these shop-floor fights often revolved around the defense of manly pride and honor in the public presence of one's workmates. In a Pontiac plant, W.F. could not stomach a shop bully's needling and harassing of another worker. S., the bully, had left his work station and "provoked a fight" and "jumped upon" A. Subsequently, W.F. went to his foreman and told him "that S. had better be taken out of the side gear line or he would be in trouble and 'someone would get hurt.'" In this instance, the rough aggression played out within the context of respectable manhood--the stronger man should come to the aid of and defend the weaker one. When W. F. returned to his machine, he became involved in an altercation with the workplace bully. S. evidently attempted to hit W.F. and missed. W.F. hit S. and "clinched, holding him until the foreman came upon the scene." Both W.F. and S. received a two-week disciplinary layoff for fighting. Since union and management officials could not agree on who initiated the fight, the General Motors grievance umpire denied W.F.'s appeal and upheld his layoff. In his grievance ruling, the umpire acknowledged the aggressive and combative nature of the shop floor: "Although it would unquestionably be inequitable to penalize a 'participant' who was defending himself," an "unprovoked attack" was "a rarity" among factory workers. In the absence of "obvious evidence" that one worker was the aggressor, the GM umpire reverted to "the old saying that 'it takes two to make a fight.'" (21)
In the Flint Chevrolet plant, a normally obedient and dutiful worker also encountered a shop bully and allowed his swelling anger to overflow into a physical confrontation. According to the GM umpire, P. was a thirteen-year employee who "has shown no other evidences of temper, and on the whole appears to be a steady and up-right man." P. and B. got into an argument about how B. pushed a piece of work onto the table where P was working. Chevrolet officials reported "that a general exchange of profanity occurred," that the heated argument ceased for half an hour, and that it resumed a few minutes before the lunch break. At this time, B. threatened "that he would 'beat up' P., if P. again accused him of pushing cab tops down on P." In their defense, union officials maintained the size and the demeanor of the two men. They noted that the bully "weighs at least sixty pounds more than P., has experienced many arguments with other men with whom he worked, and has 'bullied' many of the men in his immediate vicinity." When P. asked him "not to push cab tops on the table quite so hard," B. left his workplace, and stepped rapidly toward P. shouting 'You are a G-- D-- liar.'" B. appeared to have an object in his hand and "P. then struck out at B. with a dinging hammer in self defense." B. "suffered a fractured skull accompanied by a concussion." The Flint police arrested P. charging him with "felonious assault." He later faced a civil suit for striking his belligerent workmate. Although Chevrolet officials had no alternative but to discharge P. for causing "severe injury" to another worker, the GM umpire concluded that P.'s "excellent" record had been ruined by "his single thoughtless act." Moreover, his "punishments which pyramided so rapidly" revealed to him "the severity of his act." Consequently, he felt that P. would be "a model workman in the future" and should be re-employed when a suitable job became available. (22)
Practical jokes and horseplay (23) frequently resulted in angry altercations between men on the factory floor. These boylike pranks often helped to alleviate the tedium and monotony of assembly-line work, but occasionally they got out of hand and turned uncontrollably violent. In a California General Motors plant, R.J.I. supposedly initiated the "horseplay in throwing some small cotton wadding at B." This worker evidently had the "disgusting habit of spitting at other employes in retaliation for any of their actions he resented." After B., who had previously been warned about his crude habit, spat in his face, the GM worker waited for the foreman who saw the spitting to discipline B. But when nothing happened, male pride required that R.J.I. "had to do something about the matter so he jumped over the conveyor and the two men engaged in a fight." According to union officials, R.J.I. "had to take action to preserve his self-respect." The issue, they maintained, was simple: "It is asking too much for a man to st and and let another man spit in his face." Nonetheless, since the GM worker initiated the horseplay and started the fight, the umpire upheld his discipline. (24)
In the early UAW years, disputes between union and non-union workers and between UAW-CIO and UAW-AFL members resulted in physical encounters between and among auto workers. (25) In the early phases of UAW organization, union members frequently pestered and hounded non-union workers into signing membership cards. Sometimes, serious altercations resulted. In the Chevrolet Baltimore plant, H.F.K. protested his disciplinary layoff for a fight with a nonunion worker. Initially, the General Foreman discussed the matter with the two fighters and advised them that they would each receive a two week layoff. After further consideration, Chevrolet officials gave H.F.K., the union member, a fiveday layoff and B., the non-union worker, a two-day layoff. They felt that H.F.K.'s "part in the trouble was greater because he coerced B.... and because he struck the first blow." They reasoned that "while both employes engaged in a fight, one was the aggressor and the other only a participant." Union officials felt quite differen tly: "the 'key' to the case is that B. is a non-union man whereas K. is an active Union member and committeeman." The GM umpire agreed with union officials: the "results [of an investigation] ... do not provide convincing evidence for designating K. as the aggressor." He believed that the "inequality of treatment" was indeed a consequence of H.F.K.'s union activism and urged that Chevrolet officials somehow equalize the two penalties. (26)
The manly aggression of auto workers also went against the UAW's notions of brotherly male solidarity and moved onto the nastier terrain of ethnic or racial hostility. In a Chevrolet plant, two workers got in an workplace altercation over "the surrender of Italy" near the end of World War II. According to the General Motors umpire, "Employe C. (of Scotch descent) admitted to participating in the altercation after having made a joking remark to Employe R. (an Italian) which had been heard by Employe Y. (also of Italian descent)." The second Italian worker clearly took deep offense at C.'s comment. "When Y. overheard the remark," the umpire noted, "he called C. several profane names." The skilled Scottish worker admitted that he struck Y three times with his fist and twice butted him with his head, but "contended extreme provocation." Both received a two-day disciplinary layoff. Y appealed his layoff: "I never lifted my hand as my back was turned." However, since he provoked C with "extremely profane language," his grievance appeal was unsuccessful. Within the rough male culture, such profane language entailed "fighting words" which often served as justification for a belligerent assault. (27)
In the Ford Pressed Steel plant, a racial insult resulted in a black worker attacking a white worker. The foreman had assigned X, an African-American worker, to replace an absent worker and work across from Y, a white worker, on a flanging operation. The two men, who did nor know each other, performed similar work tasks and shared tools. The Ford umpire offered the black workers's account:
On the bench were two [T-]squares used in the operation. One was in good shape; the other was not. X used the good one. After about twenty minutes, Y told him not the use that square but to use the poor one because the first was Y's.
The black worker responded that it was impossible to do a proper job with the poor T-square and "that they both should use the good one alternately." The white worker refused even to share the tool with X. He walked over to him and said: "'You black son-of-a-bitch, I don't like you anyway,' poked him with a file, and reached for an iron bar on the bench." The black worker then struck the white worker on the head with a hammer. Though the white worker denied the provocation, other witnesses confirmed some details of the black worker's account. Since "the physical make-up of the two men" differed (the black worker was "older and more portly" and the white one was "younger and tougher"), the Ford arbiter reckoned that the black worker had to strike "a surprise blow" and hence bore responsibility for starting the altercation. Moreover, the arbiter thoughtlessly observed: "No verbal provocation justifies such an assault under the law of the land or the law of the shop." And, he upheld the African-American worker's discharge. (28)
Angry male assaults oftentimes spilled beyond the bounds of paternalistic propriety and even targeted women workers. In the Chevrolet Gear and Axle plant, G. assaulted F., a female tractor driver. The ill-tempered and unpleasant G. had received "numerous reprimands, warnings, and lost-time penalties because of his temper and his belligerent attitude toward members of the Supervision and toward his fellow employees." Apparently, when the woman drove into the plant, she turned on two large over-head heaters. The man, the General Motors umpire observed, "was inconvenienced by the heat which thus blew down on him and attempted to turn off one of the heaters." A foreman heard the subsequent fracas and "found the two facing each other ready to exchange blows." On the rough shop floor, women too displayed their defensive "womanly" bearing against such masculine aggression. She, the umpire reported, "said to G. 'If you hit me again, I will hit you.'" At the grievance investigation, the man claimed that the woman stru ck him in the face and denied that he hit the woman. She "admitted striking G. but stated that this had only been done he had struck her a blow on the breast." An examination by the plant doctor revealed "a bruise on her left breast." Since management officials diligently policed anything that even had the appearance of sexual assault during the war years, they discharged G. and the umpire upheld the discharge. (29)
For management officials and industrial arbitrators, male aggression towards foremen and supervisors was far more serious than such behavior toward fellow workers. Fights among workers simply created workplace disruptions and threatened the general safety and good order of the shop or department. Confrontations with foremen and supervisors, whether playful, verbal, or physical, directly challenged managerial authority over workers. Unlike clashes between workers which often resulted in disciplinary lay-offs, these cases frequently merited the ultimate sanction of discharge. Moreover, the residual memories of past indignities and humiliations spawned less impulsive and more deep-seated angers and resentments toward these low-level managers. In the recently unionized automobile factories which in wartime lacked labor's powerful weapon of the strike, production workers oftentimes tested and probed the boundaries of shop-floor authority with a vigorous and renewed assertiveness.
When auto workers questioned the sometimes vague margins of managerial authority, they acted much the like mischievous boys who challenged a teacher's authority in the school room. A shop-floor wise guy might see how far he could go and how outrageously he could behave. One such General Motors worker was a probationary employee who the union claimed was "sick" and who needed a rest room break for the second time. According to union officials, he "[w]aited until he started to -- in his pants and was forced to use a barrel." Although only a probationary worker, he was a union member. "Management," they contended, "fired this man to challenge the right of men to join the Union with under six months in the plant." The umpire, however, ruled that his shop-floor behavior was "highly objectionable and irresponsible" and "tended to create unsanitary conditions in the plant." The auto worker's foul conduct, he concluded, "was essentially a 'smart Alec' exposition that was apparently undertaken at the suggestion of oth er employes who simply should have had better sense." (30)
More often, workers and union committeemen verbally abused or threatened their foremen and supervisors. In the Ford aluminum foundry, X, a building committeeman chastised the Assistant Superintendent, Y, for having another worker perform work with an air hammer on an unstable grate over the conveyor belt. The supervisor "scolded him for interfering and had said 'You're just a saboteur!'" The union committeeman's interference, the foreman hinted, was a hindrance to the war production effort. Also, X evidently "drew back his arm with clenched fist threatening to strike Y but was stopped." At the end of the argument, the UAW committeeman told to the Assistant Superintendent: "I am not afraid of you, you big -- --!" Evidently, he called the supervisor a cock sucker for the umpire facetiously noted that word meant "literally an oscular caresser of the male organ of copulation." It was, he added, a term of "contempt and opprobrium." To be sure, the Ford referee, recognized "that the language of the shop is not the language of the parlor." But-- he explained that "a certain degree of respectable communication" was necessary for "harmonious relations" between labor and management. The union committeeman's remark to the assistant superintendent "connoted low contempt," "was made in the hearing of fifteen to twenty persons," and "was made in the shop, not in a private office. It "was hardly a model for a grievance negotiation and which caused some interruption of production." Upholding the worker's discipline, he concluded:, it "was wholly beyond the scope of tolerance even in the rough and tumble of the shop." (31)
Such male "shop talk" was quite common in automobile and other factories. In the Flint Chevrolet plant, one worker appealed his discharge for "[i]mmoral conduct or indecency." After receiving several warnings, Y. was "sent home and disciplined for not turning out the required production." Using "profane and abusive language," he immediately got into an robust argument with his shop foreman. As the foreman left, the angry worker followed him down the aisle "shouting further indecent and abusive remarks ... accompanied by motions too indecent to be described herein, to emphasize the remarks." The Chevrolet officials discharged the incensed worker because his words and actions were "morally offensive, impure, obscene, and unfit to be seen" and did not display "reasonable respect for supervision." This scandalous behavior necessitated "a penalty of firmness" necessary to prevent a recurrence of similar insubordinate behavior. And, that penalty was the worker's discharge. The shop grievance turned on the question of what was immoral or indecent in the masculine culture of the factory floor. The union officials even admitted that Y. made certain statements to his foreman, but denied that they were immoral or indecent. The General Motors umpire agreed but still found the worker guilty of "abusive remarks." So, he rescinded the discharge and ordered instead a one-month layoff. (32)
At the General Motors Linden assembly plant, S., a union committeeman, verbally threatened C. G., the General Foreman. When the foreman grabbed a grievance from his hands, the UAW committeeman recounted: " ... I asked for it back. He gave me dirty looks. As he had been doing when I present[ed] the grievance[.] I told him if he met me outside I would change the expression on his face." For this indiscrete remark, the union representative received a one-week disciplinary layoff. Union officials contended, however, that over time a deep "personal animosity" had developed between the UAW shop committeeman and the GM foreman. Recently S., who had received no reprimands or disciplinary actions, suddenly garnered a rash of formal reprimands from the General Foreman. Moreover, "considerable friction" had developed between the shop supervisor and the department's workers. A "large number of men in his department" had filed a collective grievance against him. S.'s grievance turned on the exact nature of his remarks and on whether or not a union committeeman was "permitted more latitude ... to argue and disagree with Management...." Union officials maintained that a combination of the "strained personal feelings" between the committeeman and foreman and the accepted use of" "men's language" which "has been commonplace in this plant"" should mitigate S.'s punishment. The GM umpire partially agreed and reduced the layoff to only two days. (33)
A Flint Chevrolet worker angrily responded to a shop-floor accident. As M. walked through a department, "he was struck by a table which another employee was moving to the aisle." Evidently, the table hit M. "with great force in the groin." In his extreme pain, the infuriated worker angrily "shoved the table a few feet and then overturned it in the main aisle, close to where several other employees were standing." When two foremen told him to "control himself," he quickly "became abusive and used obscene and profane language to both of them." When they reported him to his foreman, M. "came up to them belligerently and again addressed them in abusive, obscene, and profane language." Although union officials argued that M.'s "great agony made his reaction to the foreman's reproofs only natural" and that his language was "strong, but not personal, shop talk," the General Motors umpire upheld his discharge. (34)
As more and more black workers moved into production jobs, worker confrontations with foremen mirrored the seething racial tensions in wartime automobile factories. C was an African-American worker in the Ford Highland Park plant, who had previously been disciplined for striking a foreman. A year later, he again reacted angrily when Superintendent H "addressed him as 'Lightning.'" (Lightning was the name of a character in the then popular radio show "Amos and Andy." In the show, he was depicted as slow-witted and lazy, a demeaning caricature of a black man.) In response, the black worker informed the superintendent "that he did not like the name and did not wish to be called by it." Moreover, he threatened: "'someone would need first aid' if H called him that again." A while later, S., a foreman, approached the black worker and called him "Lightning." C informed S about the recent incident with H and "warned S nor to call him by that name again." The foreman attempted "to persuade C that he should not take of fense.... "He again addressed him as Lightning and the black worker "struck him twice and knocked him down." After his discharge at his grievance hearing, he said: "He resented it because he deemed it a reflection upon his color." In his mind, the aggressive act was a defense of his black manhood. (35)
The Ford umpire's reaction to the black worker's grievance reflected wartime racial sensibilities and was far more astonishing than the insensitive shop-floor incident. "In no court in the land," he reasoned:
would C's assault be altogether excused by the alleged provocation. The law cf the land does not sanction physical violence to avenge this kind of name-calling.
The Ford umpire simply characterized the incident as "verbal horseplay." Although he believed that "an individual's dignity must be respected in the shop as it is outside," the umpire added, "shop language and relations are not the language and relations of the State Department." The disciplined worker, he indicated, "was entitled to his own pet aversions." If words were to mitigate the penalty for assault, the Ford arbitrator noted, they were "of the kind generally recognized in the community as so insulting or repugnant as to incite violence in a person of normal insensitivity." The callous arbiter reasoned: "The appellation 'Lightning' does not generally carry such connotations of reproach, contumely or insult." Rejecting the grievance appeal, the umpire advised the African-American auto worker: "One's personal or racial sensitivities should not be carried like a chip on the shoulder, asking to be knocked off." (36)
Auto worker assaults on supervisors also occurred in public space away from the shop floor and beyond the plant's boundaries. Some workers even attempted to mitigate their disciplinary punishment by arguing that their fights with or assaults on foremen occurred away from the realm of management authority. When a Pontiac worker received a reprimand for poor work, he then "directed profane language at the foreman." After being sent home, the disciplined worker waited outside the plant for the foreman and "in a belligerent manner insulted the foreman ... and made every effort to provoke a fight." One and one-half hours after the initial confrontation, he again accosted the foreman and an assistant superintendent "on the public sidewalk outside the plant." The GM umpire reported: "After again displaying a belligerent attitude and refusing the advise [sic] of the assistant superintendent to calm down, L. struck the foreman several blows." He lost his grievance appeal. (37)
A similar assault took place at the Ford Hamilton Plant. After his transfer to another department, the Ford worker, X, evidently "waited outside of the plant gate for a foreman and beat up the foreman because of 'an incident that occurred in the shop.'" Apparently, he had a strong "personal dislike" for the foreman that dated back to the pre-union years. He even refused to speak with the Ford foreman for four or five years. After the union came, he then decided to try to make amends with his shop supervisor. "He asked the foreman at that time," the umpire related, "to 'forget that old trouble' and try to get along in a friendly way." Then, the foreman "started riding" him in ways that posed direct threats to his manhood. Once, "in the presence of several girls," the foreman mentioned "his advancing baldness." Another time, he snidely remarked about "the fit" of his clothes. Finally, when the foreman heard that X's wife was to have a child, he commented that he "did not think that X was man enough to get one." At the time of his transfer, the Ford worker believed that the foreman was no longer his "boss." So, the umpire noted, he "waited until the day he was transferred and resorted to his fists." He too lost his grievance appeal. (38)
In this grievance decision, the Ford umpire generally discussed shop-floor fist fights and management's authority to discipline workers. "Unfortunately or otherwise," he observed:
some men still believe in fisticuffs as a method of settling grudges. A grudge fight after working hours outside of the plant having no purpose other than that of satisfying the mutual instinct for a fight can hardly be outlawed by shop rules.
However, if "mutual instinct for a fight" were allowed to settle shop-floor differences, both management and labor would face the "fear of reprisal through violence outside the plant." Alluding to Ford's recent tumultuous labor relations, the Ford umpire added: "Such a degradation of labor relations would be a reversion to what has been called 'jungle warfare.'" (39) The workplace rule of law, (40) under the authority of the umpire and embedded in the contract and the grievance process, was meant to tame and civilize the savage auto workers.
In 1944, the Ford Umpire decided a grievance appeal that involved a shop worker's "discipline for assault on [a] foreman." A Kansas City Ford worker, X, quarreled with his foreman. In the course of the argument, he "hit the foreman, knocked him down, and was restrained from hitting him further by other employees who grabbed his arms." Ford officials discharged him. Although X admitted that he struck the foreman, he claimed "that he was provoked into this action and deserves no punishment." (41) According to the umpire, the Ford worker claimed provocation because the foreman had "constantly nagged" him. In the course of their "verbal quarrel," the foreman" ... poked X in the chest with his fingers, and called him a 'son-of-a-bitch.'" The union defense did not consider the nagging, quarreling, and poking as "sufficient acts of provocation," but rather as the "surrounding circumstances emphasizing the seriousness and hostility ... of the offensive words." The words "son-of-a-bitch" were "claimed to be the provoc ation." (42)
In effect, X's defense rested on deep cultural notions of masculine pride when confronted with "fighting" words. In his testimony before the umpire, the Ford worker claimed that "he was brought up from childhood to regard that name, when uttered without a smile, as an extreme insult constituting an invitation to fight to which no he-man could decline." With such provocation, a real man, a proud man, a he-man could only respond with his fists. The discharged worker added that: "he was bringing up his son in the same belief, and ... he would be ashamed to face his Father if he did not respond to the insult." He justified his belligerent behavior in the patriarchal defense of an unconscionable affront to a woman--his mother. (43)
The middle-class arbitrator who operated in the world of words and ideas, seemed a bit troubled that so many others in the Kansas City region shared the Ford worker's "adherence to the rugged manners of the frontier." In the presence of fighting words, the manly form of behavior was not turning the other cheek, but rather an immediate and aggressive physical response. Even the Ford worker's foreman "testified that anyone indulging in such language in this area should be prepared to run or fight." (44)
Despite the rough "community customs and beliefs," the Ford umpire believed that "civilized law and order can hardly accept the principle that an individual in society may undertake by physical force to avenge insulting word." He concluded that "X was justly subject to discipline; and the only question is whether the penalty of discharge was too severe." Since Ford officials did not normally discharge workers for "an ordinary fight," since the assault was not especially "vicious," and since X had "no prior record of misconduct," he "deserve[d] the opportunity of corrective discipline." The Ford arbitrator ordered reinstatement without loss of seniority and with loss of back pay, "his lost time ... regarded as a disciplinary lay-off." In this instance, despite the loss of pay, the "he-man" defense worked. Rarely did a worker avoid discharge when he assaulted a foreman. (45)
Workers resisted managerial authority symbolically as well. They cut the neckties of their supervisors and even audaciously pulled out their shirt-tails to defy plant rules. In one instance, when they mobilized both the fighting tradition and symbolic action, the result was a "bloody riot." Without the strike weapon, auto workers used playful, unruly, or even vicious conduct to assert their manly and aggressive presence and to reshape the contours of workplace power.
The cutting off of foremen's neckties was an antic challenge to a new and meaningful symbol of shop-floor authority. Often referred to as "the man in the middle," the foreman frequently stood with one foot in the blue-collar and one in the white-collar world. He knew the dirty world of men, metal, and machines, but he lived in relative affluence and security compared to the blue-collar workers he supervised. (46) With the rise of militant auto worker unionism and the related threat of foremen unionism, some automobile firms attempted distinguish and separate foreman from the men and women on the shop floor by requiring them to dress in white shirts and ties. An aggressive UAW class identity conflicted with the new management vison of the foreman's neckwear as an important sign of managerial authority, power, and control. Hence, neckties became daring emblems of shop-floor social relations.
In 1941, a Fisher Body worker directly and aggressively challenged the new symbol of managerial authority in the Fleetwood plant. According to the GM grievance umpire, G. B., who apparently resented the new icon of shop-floor domination, walked up to his foreman and "cut off" his "necktie without any provocation." Although the grievance does not indicate where this bold act occurred, given its symbolic nature, it must have been a public one in front of other workers. We have no account of the possible laughing, raucous hilarity, or goading and cheering of other workers on the shop floor. We only have the indignant reactions of the GM officials and the GM umpire.
For this audacious act, the shop supervisor sent the Fleetwood worker home with a one and one-half day layoff. When he returned to work, management decided that the "highly improper act" merited harsher punishment. The angry GM official irately proclaimed:
It is not a question of a cut necktie. The act itself was a deliberate attempt to cast reflection on the supervision, so instead of giving you a suspension, lam discharging you this morning.
Even the appalled GM umpire commented that under "any standard of decency," the worker's conduct was "repulsive." He was further dismayed at the Fleetwood worker's refusal to "be man enough to admit responsibility for his act." (47)
Still, the necktie grievance case turned on the issue of double jeopardy--management first imposed the layoff and then subsequently added another penalty--the discharge. The GM umpire rescinded the auto worker's discharge, but emphasized "the present decision cannot be construed as any vindication of him." Despite the Fisher Body worker's reinstatement, his actions were "repulsive and irresponsible." (48)
Four years later, a foreman's necktie again became the despised target of three Flint Fisher Body workers. This time a bit of New Year's eve "horseplay" and high inks slid into a violent confrontation between several workers and their foreman on the shop floor. The insolent episode began, the GM umpire observed, when three workers "attempted to cut off Foreman C.'s necktie." However, he added, "the Foreman resisted [and] ... in the ensuing struggle ... [he] was struck and beaten so severely that he required medical treatment for his cuts and bruises." In their defense of the three workers, the UAW local officials contended "that the tie-cutting started merely as a bit of New Year's 'horse play'" and that the foreman "brought his beating on himself by growing angry and striking Employee 0." Clearly, the shop supervisor vigorously struggled to retain his necktie and to avoid public and demeaning humiliation from the three workmen. Though the necktie incident began "in a spirit of fun," the umpire ruled that it was "no excuse for the violent attack that followed the Foreman's resistance." He emphatically stated that he did not "expect Management to tolerate physical assaults upon members of Supervision." The maintenance of the shop-floor status and authority of management certainly required the GM umpire's strengthening and reinforcement. He upheld the three workers' discharges. (49)
Apparently, such incidents were not isolated events and were a common practice among war production workers. For Business Week, the cutting of foremen's neckties were part of a "general breakdown" of industrial discipline in America's war production plants. In late 1944 on Christmas and New Year's eves, auto workers recognized that the "disciplinary reins on them were becoming slack." The business news magazine reported: "It is now freely admitted that numbers of big Detroit plants were scenes of disorder ... [and] liquor was brought openly into some shops by workers." As telling testimony to the new worker indiscipline, the magazine described the inflammatory situation in one Detroit aircraft plant. It:
was the scene of a free-for-all necktie cutting party. Gangs of men armed with shears roamed the plant snipping off ties of fellow workers, supervisors, and management. Several workers were treated for cuts caused by the scissors wielding; one man was seriously hurt. (50)
Sometimes male workers collectively mocked and challenged managerial and supervisory claims for respect and authority from their shop-floor subordinates. In the Dodge Main plant, a majority of a group of 300 men supposedly booed their supervisor. According to the union president, the shop supervisor "was unable to handle the situation that arose when the booing started, and deliberately set out to make employee Kanisto the 'goat' for the whole affair...." (51) When he singled out the disobedient worker, the supervisor asked: "'Why are you booing me?' He answered, 'It makes me feel good!'" The supervisor "warned him to cut out that horse play if he were caught again he will get three days off." When Kanisto returned returned with his shop steward, the union representative said that the supervisor could not "send him home for booing." The supervisor reiterated that Kanisto had been warned. (52)
Later when the supervisor returned to the insurgent department, "Kanisto did the same thing." After calling him over, "I said, 'You just won't behave. Your are still booing!' He replied, 'Yes, and I will keep on booing.'" He then gave the Dodge worker a three-day layoff. Ten minutes later, after he returned to his office, Kanisto, the steward, and about 12 other workers marched in and insisted that they all go home with Kanisto. Eventually, the plant committeemen got the others to return to work. Although the union initially supported Kanisto, it eventually withdrew the grievance. (53)
In an incident labeled the "Shirt-Tail Parade," the General Motor umpire combined three grievances which involved 145 Chevrolet Transmission Division workers. The worker protest began after the safety supervisor reproached a Chevrolet worker "who had his sport shirt hanging outside of his trousers and discussed with him the safety hazard of this form of dress." Though the nightshift worker complied with the supervisor's request to put his shirt inside his trousers, he "filed a grievance protesting being singled out for violating safety practices." The next day, Friday, two union committeemen and another worker wore their shirts outside their trousers. When they refused to obey an order to dress properly, management sent them home and they filed a grievance. On Saturday morning, the local union President, the Chairman of the Shop Committee, committeeman, and another worker "were sent home for the remainder of the day for refusing to obey orders of supervision to conform with Safety Rule No. 13, while wearing t heir shirts outside of their trousers." They too filed a grievance. (54)
Three days later, Chevrolet managers noticed that "all employes were wearing their shirts inside of their trousers during the first hour of their shift." But--later they reported:
At approximately 8:20 A.M., a large number of employes began to pull their shirts out of their trousers and continued to wear them in that manner. When these employes were approached by supervision and instructed to place their shirts inside of their trousers many of them complied. However, 138 employes refused to do so and Management assessed a two-day disciplinary layoff against each of them for refusing to obey an order of Management that was designed to prevent a safety hazard.
After these 138 workers filed their grievance, a total of 145 workers protested the management policy against them wearing their shirts outside of their trousers. (55)
According to the dismayed umpire, both union and management officials lightheartedly referred to the series of disciplinary layoffs as the "Shirt-Tail Parade." Management officials complained "that the entire situation 'was deliberately executed with the full support and knowledge of the local [Plant] Committee.'" For the disciplined workers, their lay-off took on the air of a "holiday." Union officials reported: "... a majority of them held a party at the local union hall for most of the time that they were not in the plant." (56)
The workers' mischievous behavior deeply offended the General Motors umpire's middle-class sense of propriety. It was "unfortunate," he observed, that the shirt-tail episode "should be dignified with so much as a single-line decision." He castigated the local union President, the Shop Chairman, and the Shop Committee members who "aided in directing the entirely improper mass demonstration...." The protesting Chevrolet workers, he added, followed an "irresponsible leadership." He even censured the union leaders for their "thoughtless action." And he asked: "Is their any credit to those who activated a mass demonstration to gain the insignificant right of employes to wear their shirt tails outside of their trousers at the cost of a real impairment to the war effort?" (57)
At the Ford River Rouge plant, auto workers collectively staged a more direct and vigorous physical challenge to managerial authority. In 1943, Ford officials discharged four union committeemen, identified as A, B, C, and D, for "forcibly ejecting from the building X, a job foreman in D's district" in the Aircraft building. According to Ford officials, these shop-floor leaders "with the aid of some twenty others, forcibly removed X from his job and from the building, punching and elbowing him in the process." Union officials claimed that the committeemen "at no time touched or laid hands on X" and "did try to persuade him to leave voluntarily." When the foreman did not choose to leave, "fifteen or more workers ... standing behind the committeemen" hectored him. They voiced threats such as: "You Nazi stooge. Get out of here or we will throw you out of the window." The UAW committeemen admitted that "X was at least intimidated into leaving" and that they "accompanied him down the aisles, down the stairs, to the street floor, and to the outside door." The claimed that they followed him "to make sure that no further trouble would develop.... (58)
According to union officials, the Ford foreman "was quite cordially disliked by the employees under his supervision." Earlier, the committeemen complained to the shift superintendent that his "uncooperative attitude" caused shop-floor "dissention [sic]," which impaired production and lowered efficiency. Although union officials managed to have the objectionable foreman transferred to another department, he subsequently returned to the same department. "On each of those days," the umpire noted, "he created some disturbance." According to the UAW committeemen, "each time the employees in his section stopped work and were persuaded to resume only by the committeemen's promise that they would immediately take the matter with higher supervision." Once again, the shift supervisor decided to remove the despised foreman. However, on the evening that the workers ejected the foreman from the plant, a new shift superintendent could not be convinced to remove him. The union committeemen then returned to the department an d "engaged in the action ... which resulted in X's eviction from the building." Due to management's "vacillating manner" in the initial grievance's handling, the Ford umpire overturned the discharges of the union representatives and reinstated them "without loss of seniority, but without back pay." (59)
The militant Ford workers of the Aircraft Building also engaged a far more dramatic confrontation between management and workers. The Ford umpire even characterized the violent incident as "assault and mass disturbance," even labeling it "a bloody riot." Rooted in the tumultuous and violent labor relations of the Harry Bennett era, the unruly incident mirrored deep worker resentment and anger toward members of the Ford Plant Protection Department, formerly the notorious Service Department. This appealed grievance comprised the consolidated cases of thirteen Ford workers, all but one a local union official or shop representative. Management officials disciplined all of them with punishments ranging from a one-week layoff to discharge. (60)
The bloody riot began when X, the union Financial Secretary for the Aircraft Building, attempted to enter the Ford plant around 11 p.m. Y and Z, two members of the Plant Protection Department, "noted that X was intoxicated to such a degree that he could not be admitted to the plant--quite apart from the fact that he did not belong to this shift and did not have his badge on." Y advised the union officer to return in the morning. Stimulated and emboldened by liquor, X's visceral anger at the despised Service Department escalated and he immediately confronted the two plant security men. He asserted that he was a union officer, planned to attend a meeting, and threatened to "call out the 12,000 Aircraft Building employees to beat hell out of Y." Only two years after the UAW organization, the deep hostilities between union members and plant protection men still festered in the Ford plant. The union officer, the Ford umpire noted, "... continued his abusive language, poked his fingers in Y's back and chest and fin ally slapped Y's face." The plant protection man struck back and the union official fell to the ground. "An unidentified worker," the arbiter continued, "called upon employees entering the gate not to let Y get away with what he was doing to a good union member and take Y into the building." A crowd rapidly formed and responded, defending the union official. They grabbed X and Y and subjected them "to some pushing and shoving." The plant protection men struggled, "freed their arms and exchanged blows with some members of the crowd." They were taken to the union committee room. When Y attempted to explain his version of the event, he "was howled down by the crowd which was shouting that he be hung, beaten up, and so on." (61)
One of the union committeemen called for the plant protection supervisor who arrived with more plant security men. Advised to send them away "lest the crowd be further incited," he agreed and "suggested that Y be taken to the plant protection office where the matter could be straightened out quietly." On the way to the office, "Y was tripped and pushed." And while in the office, he received "many blows one or two of which pushed his head through the glass panel of a door...." At this time, two or three plant security men "were seen in the back office pointing their guns at the crowd." Eventually, at the union's suggestion the guns were put away. Intimidated by the crowd, the plant protection supervisor wrote Y a quit slip, noting that his actions were "wrong." Although promised "safe conduct" from the plant, the crowd shoved and pushed Y out of the plant, intermittently beating and kicking him. (62)
After the pummeled plant security man managed to get out of the plant, the Ford workers' harassment and abuse continued. At one point, the enraged workers:
formed a semi-circle around him and there were cries of a fight between him and members of the crowd. One of the men, a professional boxer, was particularly called upon to fight Y and was pushed into the center of the semi-circle. Y fought him in self-defense and knocked him down. Y then also threw himself to the ground to avoid further punishment. While he was down he was kicked again and called upon to fight others.
Finally, an automobile arrived and drove him off to the hospital. His injuries included "lacerations and contusions about the face, neck, and hands, a fractured jaw, and torn cartilage of the ribs." (63)
After the savage incident, the Rouge aircraft plant workers carried out a symbolic attack on an emblem of Ford authority relations. So deep and so bitter was the Ford workers anger that they later mutilated and destroyed the plant security man's uniform jacket. According to the umpire, "it was torn and cut up into shreds. It is said that the coat was hung on a conveyor an mutilated as it passed along." The dreaded conveyor line, a symbol of the inhuman Ford work regimen, became the mechanism for a wild ritual of shop-floor revenge against the Service Department's past abuses. (64)
In this complex grievance, the Ford umpire had the proverbial wolf by the ears and found its release difficult. Twelve of the thirteen disciplined workers were important union officials or representatives. Only two years into union organization, the umpire noted: "Hostilities engendered before unionization should not be permitted to mar relations after a strong union and a good grievance procedure have been established." Rather than sternly uphold management discipline for what was genuinely outrageous and violent male behavior, the delicate restoration of industrial order was his prime objective. After careful consideration of the thirteen cases, he reduced the Ford sanctions on nine workers by cutting the layoff time for five workers and reinstating four discharged workers. But he maintained the disciplinary layoffs of four workers. In the "bloody riot," the rough male culture of violence for a short while completely broke down authority relations and the participants almost completely got away with it. (65 )
During the war years, absent the ultimate form of worker power and control, that is, the right to strike, American automobile workers discovered that they could resort to aggressive, confrontational, and violent acts. With these elements of the rough masculine culture, they could express and assert their perceived individual and collective identities and rights on the shop floor. This rough culture was an exceedingly complex social and cultural construct that manifested itself in a variety of forms and on a variety of levels. Sometimes, it embodied the simple and personal defense of autonomy and dignity among the diverse social mixture of co-workers on the shop floor. At other times, the rough manhood represented direct challenges to managerial dominance of the workplace, ranging from playful mischief on through individual and collective fights and battles with foremen, supervisors, or other authority figures. Oftentimes, these defiant protests playfully or furiously targeted workplace icons of managerial aut hority--a necktie, an imposed standard of dress, or a plant security man's jacket.
These aggressive and sometimes violent incidents were fairly common in American automobile factories. To be sure, not every worker possessed or displayed the aggressive and confrontational attributes of rough manhood. The degree of rough and volatile behavior varied from plant to plant, from one era to another, and from one situation to the rest. Nonetheless, workers frequently encountered some form of rough manhood in their everyday working lives. Numerous specific shop-floor situations generated anger and easily drifted into aggressive or belligerent acts, either verbal or physical. These situations might include the defense of personal space on the shop floor, the interactions with others from different ethnic or racial groups, the confrontation with a shop bully, the encounter with an overbearing foreman, the shop steward or committeeman's defense of a union brother, the initial organization of the union local, the factional battles within union locals, the mutual belligerence of a difficult collective ba rgaining session, and the numerous engagements with non-strikers, strike-breakers, and government authorities in the midst of a bitter strike. Indeed, while many remained on the sidelines and avoided confrontational and violent conduct, many also viewed these aggressive actions and had to consider whether or not to participate.
Furthermore, the use and abuse of the rough masculine culture reverberated differently for the various participants or observers--the auto workers, the union officials, the shop supervisors, the plant officials, or the industrial arbitrators. Although automobile workers strove towards respectability and responsibility, they were occasionally willing to use rough and illegitimate means for the assertion of power and control in the absence of sanctioned means of personal and collective expression. Though union officials as "the new men of power" desired responsible representation in the industrial order, they were not opposed to the occasional use of the aggressive and violent rough male culture to achieve their long-range goals. Even in the more harmonious postwar years, they effectively used the turbulent rough behavior of rank-and-file workers to enforce strike discipline. Shop supervisors, situated between workers and upper-level managers, often suffered physical bruises and personal indignities from the ro wdy and impulsive behavior of their subordinates. As many of the grievances demonstrate, management officials and industrial arbiters perceived themselves as the civilizing agents of rowdy and truculent automobile workers. For both, the rough/respectable dichotomy was a potent symbol of the social divide between upper and lower class men. Historians, in other words, need to apprehend and to understand the rough as well as the respectable manhood of American workers.
Department of History
Milwaukee, WI 53201
(1.) David Montgomery, "'Workers' Control of Production in the Nineteenth Century," in Workers' Control in America: Studies in the History of Work, Technology, and Labor Struggles (New York, 1979), 13-14.
(2.) On the rough and respectable working class cultures, see Stephen Meyer, "Work, Play, and Power: Masculine Culture on the Automotive Shop Floor, 1930-1960," Men and Masculinities, v. 2 (October 1999), 115-34.
(3.) Though they do not all emphasize working-class masculinity, the important works on manhood include: Peter Way, Common Labor: Workers and the Digging of North American Canals, 1780-1860 (Baltimore, 1993), Peter N. Stearns, Be A Man!: Males in Modern Society (New York, 1990), Michael S. Kimmel, Manhood in America (New York, 1995), Elliott J Gorn, The Manly Art,: Bare-Knuckle Fighting in America (Ithaca, 1986), Ted Ownby, Subduing Saran: Religion, Recreation and Manhood in die Rural South (Chapel Hill, 1990), and George Chauncey, Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940 (New York, 1994). Two important compilations forcing us to rethink the nature of working-class manhood within the context of gender are Ava Baron' edited collection Work Engendered: Toward a New History of American Labor (Ithaca, 1991) and Elizabeth Faue's edited issue of Labor History, V. 34 (Spring-Summer 1993). From my perspective, two important works emphasizing the distinction between rough an d respectable working-class culture are Joshua B. Freeman, "Hardhats: Construction Workers, Manliness, and the 1970 Pro-war Demonstrations," Journal of Social History, V. 26 (Summer 1993), 725-44 and Steven Maynard, "Rough Work and Rugged Men: The Social Construction of Masculinity in Working Class History," Labour/Le Travail, 23 (Spring 1989), 159-69.
(4.) Edward D. Kennedy, The Automobile Industry: The Coming of Age of Capitalism's Favorite Child (New York, 1941).
(5.) Peter N. Stearns, Be A Man!, 86.
(6.) For this essay, my sources are worker grievances, those rare windows into the workplace, that permit us to view some of the day-to-day occurrences in that hidden and contested terrain of the shop or factory floor. After unionization, the establishment of steward structures and multi-step grievance processes transformed shop-floor relations in CIO unions such as the UAW. From the mid-1930s, automobile workers filed tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of grievances, most commonly touching on the issues of job content, job classification, or production standards. Still, many grievances afford insights into the innumerable concerns and details of everyday automobile worker life on the factory floor.
Over the course of the past decade, I have read through thousands of grievances, sampling those of various types of automobile plants--some of the plants of the "big three," Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler, some of the smaller firms such as REO, and some of the small parts plants such as Bendix and AC Spark Plug. For the 1930s through 1950s, I have also read all available compilations of umpire or referee decisions for the Ford and General Motors plants.
For this paper, the worker grievances are mainly umpire decisions which often union officials considered important enough to move into the costly arbitration process. Often, management punished a worker for some violation of factory rules and the disciplined worker filed a complaint which went through several stages of the grievance process. An important consideration is the multiple perspectives contained in these grievance cases--the worker who suffered some disciplinary action, another person who might have been a victim of the worker's behavior or action, the union officials who had an obligation to represent fairly the disciplined worker, the management officials who imposed the discipline, and the umpire who ruled on the case and who attempted to bring order to a sometimes chaotic workplace. Frequently, the various actors made references to various notions of shop-floor manhood and working-class masculinity in their statements and comments about incidents. A careful "reading" of these multiple perspecti ves reveals much about worker and management or working-class and middle class notions of manliness. In the following instances, the emphasis is on the aggressive and competitive behavior that workers exhibited with each other or with their foremen and supervisors. On industrial grievance processes, see Carl Gersuny, Punishment and Redress in a Modem Factory (Lexington, MA, 1973), Stephen Meyer, "Stalin Over Wisconsin": The Making and Unmaking of Militant Unionism, 1900-1950 (New Brunswick, 1992), 105-46, and David Brody, "Workplace Contractualism: A Historical/Comparative Analysis" in In Labor's Cause: Main Themes on the History of the American Worker (Oxford, 1993), 221-50.
(7.) On the history of auto workers, see Stephen Meyer, The Five Dollar Day (Albany, 1981), Joyce Shaw Peterson, American Automobile Workers, 1900-1933 (Albany, 1987), Henry Kraus, Heroes of Unwritten Story: The UAW 1934-1939 (Urbana, 1993), Nancy F. Gabin, Feminism in the Labor Movement: Women and the United Auto Workers, 1935-1975 (Ithaca, 1990), Peter Friedlander, The Emergence of a UAW Local, 1936-1939: A Study in Class and Culture (Pittsburgh, 1975), Steve Babson, Building the Union: Skilled Workers and Anglo-Gaelic Immigrants in the Rise of the UAW (New Brunswick, 1991), Ruth Milkman, Gender at Work: The Dynamics of Job Segregation by Sex during World War 11 (Urbana, 1987), Steve Jeffreys, Management and Managed: Fifty Years of Crisis at Chrysler (London, 1986), August Meier and Elliott Rudwick, Black Detroit and the Rise of the UAW (Oxford, 1979), Nelson Lichtenstein and Stephen Meyer, eds., On the Line: Essays in the History of Auto Work (Urbana, 1989), Robert Asher and Ronald Edsforth, eds., Auto wor k (Albany, 1995), David Gartman, Auto Slavery: The Labor Process in the American Automobile Industry, 1897-1950 (New Brunswick, 1986), and Nelson Lichtenstein, The Most Dangerous Man in Detroit: Walter Reuther and the Fate of American Labor (New York, 1995).
(8.) Ruth Milkman, Gender at Work, 49-50.
(9.) Joe Brown to Ed[ward Wieck], August 20, 1942, F. Brown, Joe--Correspondence, 1935-44, B. 10, Edward A. Wieck Papers, Archives of Labor History and Urban Affairs, Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University (herafter cited as ALHUA).
(10.) On the social and cultural diversity of the automobile workforce, see Peterson, Automobile Workers, 9-29. For the diverse origins of skilled workers, see Babson, Building the Union, 63-94. On workplace anger, see Peter N. Stearns, "Anger at Work" in Carol Zisowitz Stearns and Peter N. Stearns, Anger: The Struggle for Emotional Control in America's History (Chicago, 1986), 110-56.
(11.) See especially The Auto Worker, The Auto Workers News, the early years of United Automobile Worker, and the various Communist shop papers, such as The Ford Worker, The Fisher Body Worker, The Dodge Worker, The Hudson Worker, etc., and the automobile worker oral histories at the Walter P. Reuther at Wayne State University, the Genessee County Historical Archives at the University of Michigan--Flint, or the Oral History Research Center at Indiana University.
(12.) Roger Townsend, a Buick worker in Flint, remembered that after unionization in the mid-1930s several black men attempted to upgrade into machine work. In his recollection, he described the white workers' perception of the work: "It ran by motor. They assumed that since it ran by a motor it was clean, it was a white man's job." See "Oral History Interview of Roger Townsend," May 1979, Michael Marve, Interviewer, UM-Flint Labor History Project, Genessee Historical Collections Center, University of Michigan-Flint.
(13.) On the transformation of auto work, see Meyer, The Five Dollar Day, 9-65 and Peterson, Automobile Workers, 30-70.
(14.) See Babson, Building the Union, 16-37, Meyer, The Five Dollar Day, 9-36, Peterson, Automobile Workers, 30-45.
(15.) Milkman, Gender at Work, 26-48, Gabin, Feminism in the Labor Movement, 8-46, Peterson, Automobile Workers, 130-48, Jeffreys, Management and Managed, 49-67 and 67-87, Ronald Edsforth, Class Conflict and Cultural Consensus: The Making of a Mass Consumer Society in Flint, Michigan (New Brunswick, 1987), 127-89, Meier and Rudwick, Black Detroit, 35-107, Henry Kraus, Heroes of Unwritten History: The UAW, 1934-1939 (Urbana, 1993), and Sidney Fine, Sit-Down: The General Motors Strike of 1936-1937 (Ann Arbor, 1969).
(16.) Ruth Milkman, "Rosie the Riveter Revisited: Management's Postwar Purge of Women Automobile Workers" in Meyer and Lichtenstein, On the Line, 143.
(17.) "Table 4. Female and Total Employment in the Auto and Electrical Industries, 1940 to 1944-Production Workers Only" in Milkman, Gender at Work, 51.
(18.) Milkman, Gender at Work, 49-64, Gabin, Feminism in the Labor Movement, 47-100, Meier and Rudwick, Black Detroit, 108-206, Thomas J. Sugrue, The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit (Princeton, 1996) 17-31, Alan Clive, State of War: Michigan in World War II (Ann Arbor, 1979), 55-89,131-69, 170-84, and 183-203, Alan Clive, "Women Workers in World War II: Michigan as a Test Case," Labor History, V. 20 (Winter 1979), 44-72, and Andrew E. Kersten, Race Jobs, and the War: The FEPC in the Midwest, 1941-46 (Urbana, 2000), 94-111.
(19.) Milkmen, "Rosie the Riveter Revisited," 129.
(20.) Edsforth, Class Conflict and Cultural Consensus, 191-219, William Serrin, The Company and the Union: The 'Civilized Relationship' of the General Motors Corporation and the United Automobile Workers (New York, 1974), Sugrue, Urban Crisis, 91-123, and Lichtenstein, Most Dangerous Man, 271-326.
(21.) George W. Taylor, "Umpire Decision A-151: Disciplinary Layoff," September 2, 1941, F. 13, B 72, General Motors Department Collection, ALHUA.
(22.) G. Allan Dash, "Umpire Decision B-141: Appeal of Discharge," April 16. 1942, F. 13, B. 72, General Motors Department Collection, ALHUA.
(23.) David L. Collinson, "'Engineering Humour': Masculinity, Joking and Conflict in Shop-floor Relations," Organization Studies, V. 9 (1988), 181-99.
(24.) George W. Taylor, "Umpire Decision B-26: Disciplinary Layoff," November 16, 1941, F. 13, B. 72, General Motors Department Collection, ALHUA.
(25.) For a detailed examples of these shop-floor struggles, see Meyer, "Stalin Over Wisconsin", 82-97.
(26.) George W. Taylor, "Umpire Decision A-169: Disciplinary Layoff," September 17, 1941, F. 13, B. 72, General Motors Department Collection, ALHUA.
(27.) G. Allan Dash, "Umpire Decision C-161: Disciplinary Layoff," January 11, 1944, F. 11, B. 72, General Motors Department Collection, ALHUA.
(28.) Harry Shulman, "Opinion A-122: Assault on Fellow Employee," July 5, 1944, Box 137, UAW Region 1 Collection, ALHUA.
(29.) Ralph T. Seward, "Umpire Decision C-242: Discharge for Fighting," September 5, 1944, F. 7, B. 72, General Motors Department Collection, ALHUA.
(30.) George W. Taylor, "Umpire Decision No. A-74: Discharge of Employe," June 2, 1941, F. 13, B. 72, General Motors Department Collection, ALHUA.
(31.) Harry Shulman, "Opinion A-2: Discipline of Employee for Abusive Language," June 17, 1943, Box 137, UAW Region 1 Collection, ALHUA.
(32.) G. Allan Dash, "Umpire Decision No. C-228: Appeal of a Discharge," June 19, 1944, F. B. 72, General Motors Department Collection, ALHUA.
(33.) G. Allan Dash, "Umpire Decision No. B-124: Disciplinary Layoff of a Committeeman," March 18, 1942, F. 13, B. 72, General Motors Department Collection, ALHUA.
(34.) Ralph T. Seward, "Umpire Decision No. C-238: Discharge for Using Abusive Language to Supervisors," September 5, 1944, F. 7, B. 72, General Motors Department Collection, ALHUA.
(35.) Harry Shulman, "Opinion A-174: Discharge for Striking a Foreman," January 27, 1945, B. 137, UAW Region 1 Collection, ALHUA.
(36.) Shulman, "Opinion A-174."
(37.) George W. Taylor, "Umpire Decision No. B-41: Protest of Employe Discharge," December 2, 1941, F. 13, B. 72, General Motors Department Collection, ALHUA.
(38.) Harry Shulman, "Opinion A-132: Assault on Foreman Outside the Plant," July 31, 1944, Box 131, UAW Region 1 Collection, ALHUA.
(39.) Shulman, "Opinion A-132."
(40.) On the workplace rule of law, see Brody, "Workplace Contractualism," 221-50.
(41.) Harry Shulman, "Opinion A-49: Discipline for Assault on Foreman: Case No. 121 (Local No. 249)," January 11, 1944, Box 137, UAW Region 1 Collection, ALHUA.
(42.) Shulman, "Opinion A-49," January 11, 1944.
(43.) Shulman, "Opinion A-49," January 11, 1944. Emphasis added.
(44.) Shulman, "Opinion A-49," January 11,1944.
(45.) Shulman, "Opinion A-49," January 11, 1944.
(46.) Nelson Lichtenstein, "'The Man in the Middle': A Social History of Automobile Industry Foremen" in Lichtenstein and Meyer, On the Line, 153-89.
(47.) George W. Taylor, "Umpire Decision No. A-77: Disciplinary Layoff Followed By Discharge," June 3,1941, F. 13, B. 72, UAW General Motors Department, ALHUA. Emphasis added.
(48.) Taylor, "Umpire Decision No. A-77."
(49.) Ralph T. Steward, "Umpire Decision C-329: Discharge for Assaulting a Supervisor," March 6, 1945, F. 7, B. 72, General Motors Department Collection, ALHUA.
(50.) 'Strikers Fired," Business Week, March 18, 1944, 90.
(51.) Early Reynolds to R. W. Conder, March 16, 1944, F. 6, Box 101, Chrysler Department Collection, ALHUA.
(52.) "Grievance #279: Management Statement," 1-2, F.6, B. 101, Chrysler Department Collection, ALHUA.
(53.) "Grievance #279," 2.
(54.) G. Allan Dash, "Umpire Decision No. C-150: Disciplinary Layoff of 145 Employes," December 14, 1943, 501-2, Box 3, UAW Local 174 Collection, ALHUA.
(55.) G. Allan Dash, "Umpire Decision No. C-150: Disciplinary Layoff of 145 Employes," December 14, 1943, 501-2, Box 3, UAW Local 174 Collection, ALHUA.
(56.) Dash, "Umpire Decision No. C-150."
(57.) Dash, "Umpire Decision No. C-150."
(58.) Harry Shulman, "Opinion A-16: Discipline for Eviction of a Foreman," September 23, 1943, B. 137, UAW Region 1 Collection, ALHUA.
(59.) Shulman, "Opinion A-16," 1-2.
(60.) Harry Shulman, "Opinion A-1: "Discipline of Employees for Assault and Mass Disturbance," June 3, 1943, Box 137, UAW Region 1 Collection, ALHUA.
(61.) Shulman, "Opinion A-1."
(62.) Shulman, "Opinion A-1."
(63.) Shulman, "Opinion A-1."
(64.) Shulman, "Opinion A-1."
(65.) Shulman, "Opinion A-1."
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|Publication:||Journal of Social History|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2002|
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