The Birth of UAW Local 9 : A Classic Example of the Struggle to Organize the Automobile Industry
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The body of historical work on the American Labor movement of the 1930's, though voluminous and growing every year, still contains many gaps. The field abounds with well known studies of the broader labor movement of this period, but a scarcity of works on specific local unions remains. This omission from the annals of American labor history is an unfortunate one, for without a good idea of what took place at the local level of the labor movement, its history cannot be fully understood. \ The gaps in the literature exist partly because of the scarcity of good research material and partly because of an oversight by historians preoccupied with the seemingly more dramatic events and personalities of the larger labor movement I have been fortunate enough to find a beautifully preserved and complete set of union records, from which I have been able to construct a short history. It was among the many collections of the Walter P. Reuther Archives of Labor History and Urban Affairs at Wayne State University that I came across the records of the United Automobile Workers Local 9, originally chartered by the American Federation of Labor as Federal Labor Union 18347, which represented the production workers of the Bendix Products Corporation plant in South Bend, Indiana. In addition to the documents found in the Reuther Archives, I was able to obtain pertinent information from the Strikes and Agreements Piles of the AFL Papers, housed at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, in Madison, from the General Archives Division of the National Archives and Records Service, in Suitland, Maryland, and from interview transcripts from the Indiana Labor History Project at Indiana University at South Bend. From these sources emerged the dramatic story of the Bendix Local's birth and early struggle to establish itself. The importance of the Bendix story and the contribution of the Bendix unionists has been recognized by many scholars. During its first three-and-one half years the local faced its more serious challenges, some of which threatened its very existence. The struggle to meet these challenges culminated in a triumphant, non-violent sit-down strike which preceded by more than a month the much more famous sit-down strike against General Motors in Flint, Michigan. The Bendix strike resulted in an agreement which greatly enhanced the prestige of the union among the workers, and caused an upsurge in membership which eventually forced the company to grant the union full recognition. The successful negotiation of this agreement was a watershed in the history of the local, for it set the union on firm ground and assured its future as a partner in the collective bargaining process. Thus, the local's first three-and-one-half years can be set apart from its later history and can be recounted as the story of the union's struggle to establish itself.