I’m tired of simply copying and pasting long passages from the History.com website – fascinating as most of the tidbits I choose may be. What’s needed here is a dose of Bulldog commentary, the kind that makes the historical tidbit in question that much more interesting to read. Henceforth, when you plotz in front of your computer with your favorite morning beverage (and I hope it isn’t bourbon) you’ll get a dose of canine sense only The Bulldog can dispense.
After a long and bitter struggle on the part of Henry Ford against cooperation with organized labor unions, Ford Motor Company signs its first contract with the United Automobile Workers of America and Congress of Industrial Organizations (UAW-CIO) on this day in 1941.
And a sad day it was for the free market, for on this day in 1941 the automobile industry began its own version of the Bataan Death March – one that would culminate in a federal takeover of General Motors in 2009.
In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s allies in Congress passed the landmark National Labor Relations Act–also known as the Wagner Act, after one of its authors, Senator Robert Wagner of New York–which established workers’ rights to collective bargaining and attempted to regulate unfair practices by employers, employees and unions. By 1937, after successful sit-down strikes (during which the workers remained inside the factory so that strikebreakers were unable to enter) both General Motors and Chrysler had made deals with the fledgling UAW, and Ford was the lone holdout against the unionization of the auto industry.
These days even conservatives grudgingly admit that “well…the organized labor movement had a necessary role to play in those days, but…” Ugh. But nothing. It had no role to play at all, except to completely screw up free enterprise and lay the groundwork for what is essentially a titanic campaign funding scheme for the Democrat Party.
Edsel Ford, president of Ford Motor, recognized that the Wagner Act had made unionization inevitable, and tried to reason with his father. The elder Ford, who despised labor unions, instead put his trust in Harry Bennett, head of Ford’s Service Department, who promised to keep the unions at bay. In the much-publicized “Battle of the Overpass” on May 26, 1937, Ford henchmen brutally beat several UAW organizers (including Walter Reuther and Richard Frankensteen) attempting to hand out leaflets at Ford’s River Rouge plant. In the aftermath of this incident, Ford Motor Company was found guilty of violating the Wagner Act, and in early 1941 the National Labor Relations Board ordered the company to stop interfering with the union’s attempts to organize.
Conveniently left out of this narrative are myriad acts of violence committed against company representatives and workers who were willing to work rather than strike. Henry Ford rightly despised labor unions because he was able to extrapolate from present circumstances what would happen in the future.
On April 1, 1941, a walkout by Ford workers protesting the firing of several union members closed down the River Rouge plant. The strike inflamed racial tensions, as many African-American Ford employees returned to work before their white colleagues, breaking the strike. Though Henry Ford had initially threatened to shut down his plants rather than sign with the UAW-CIO, he changed his position and signed a contract with the union that June 20. Ford’s change of heart was reportedly due to the urging of his wife, Clara, who feared that more riots and bloodshed would result from her husband’s refusal to work with the unions and threatened to leave him if he did not sign the contract.
He should have offered to help Clara pack her bags.
Paradoxically, Ford gave its workers more generous terms than had either GM or Chrysler: In addition to paying back wages to more than 4,000 workers who had been wrongfully discharged, the company agreed to match the highest wage rates in the industry and to deduct union dues from workers’ pay.
By prohibiting employers from firing striking union workers, the Wagner Act essentially handed the labor movement a loaded pistol that it could use to extort wages, benefits and pension packages that transcended anything the normal course of an unimpeded free market would have facilitated.
No wonder private sector union membership is in decline: the age of trade unions has long since fallen from its glory days in the 40s and 50s. The time has come for this dinosaur to become extinct.