From Ohio History Central
Akron police clash with strikers from the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, Akron, Summit County, 1938.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, factory workers faced poor working conditions, low wages, and almost no benefits. This was true for the workers employed by rubber manufacturers in Akron, Ohio, such the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, B.F. Goodrich, and Firestone. In an attempt to alleviate their conditions, workers established a union named the United Rubber Workers in 1935. The following year, this union organized its first major strike within Akron's rubber industry.
The strike began as a protest against a plan created by Goodyear to reduce wages and increase the pace of production. The workers utilized the concept of the "sit-down" strike. In the past, when workers went on strike they would leave the factory to join picket lines. Company owners often hired "scab" laborers to cross the picket lines and continue production. The practice of using scab labor made it difficult for striking workers to obtain their demands. In contrast, in a sit-down strike, workers quit working but still occupied their places within the factory. This process meant that the factory owners could not send in additional workers to continue the job. In addition, factory management was more reluctant to use private security forces or other strikebreakers to intimidate the striking workers, as that approach threatened destruction to plant property.
In addition to the sit-down strike, the rubber workers also organized long picket lines in protest. Akron's mayor, Lee D. Schroy, attempted to send in the police to put down the strike, but the police officers refused to do so when they faced the thousands of organized workers. In the long term, Goodyear was forced to recognize the United Rubber Workers and negotiate better contracts with workers.
Several reasons existed for the workers' success in this strike. First, sit-in strikes made it much more difficult for employers to replace their striking workers. Equally as important in this strike was the federal government's recent passage of the Wagner Act. This legislation made unions legal for the first time in United States history. Finally, the United Rubber Workers belonged to a larger organization, the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). The CIO consisted of an umbrella organization for multiple unions. These unions worked together by providing both moral and material support to CIO-member unions, especially when these member unions went on strike.
- Bernstein, Irving. Turbulent Years: A History of the American Worker, 1933-1941. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1970.
- Galenson, Walter. The CIO Challenge to the AFL: A History of the American Labor Movement, 1935-1941. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1960.