The production workers at Boeing Company have been reading the Aero
Mechanic for over sixty years. The voice of Local 751 of the
International Association of Machinists, the newspaper was founded in
1939 and has been published ever since. In 1973 its name changed to
the 751 Aero Mechanic. This report focuses on its early years.
Aeronautical Industrial District Lodge 751, International Association
Seattle Public Library; status: complete; University of Washington
microfilm [A7066], status: incomplete
Current issues: click on the on-line Aero Mechanic
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Aero Mechanic, published by Local 751 of the
International Association of Machinists supported aircraft workers.
Published weekly, the issues illustrated the struggle to improve
wages, raise the standard of living, as well as teach the principles
Between 1939 and 1942 The Aero
Mechanic documented the expansion of unionism among aerospace
workers. WWII set the tone: inflation, deflation, war, and the
union’s effort to support the economy and advocate for workers’
benefits were crucial facts during this time. An issue dated in March
1940 told the worries among the American workforce over the
economy’s instability due to inflation and deflation. This condition
gave unions a prime opportunity to present themselves as a way to
safety and security among the workers. One of the first unions to
attempt this was Local 751,which represented workers at the Boeing
company in Seattle.
The mission of The Aero
Mechanic was to support aircraft builders and teach the principles
of unionism in order to reduce or eliminate skepticism. During this
time, many uneducated workers saw unions as another expense, something
that they had to pay for in order to belong. Much of the newspaper
content, especially in the May of 1942 publication, intended to
explain why belonging to a union was crucial and to target new union
members. Statements like "If the union did not bargain for you
and protect you, where would you be?" (Page 3)
attempted to win new membership and increase loyalty among existing
members. Unions had to overcome negative propaganda that damaged their
image and created doubt, especially for new members. To counteract
those attacks, The Aero Mechanic created strategies that
promoted discipline and loyalty.
Columns that explained the process
of how self-discipline is implemented are found in the issue dated
July 16, 1942. In this issue, Local 751 defined union discipline as
voluntary self-discipline. Phillip Pearl was a well-known columnist
who explained that the discipline of unions was based on democracy
with the majority of members arriving at their own decisions. He said,
"It differs from the type of discipline of the employer in a
plant or the rigorous discipline of the Army, both which are primarily
based on fear." In other words, union discipline is based on
understanding rather than fear. He contended that in the long run,
this was the only kind of discipline that could endure. Phillip also
mentioned in his column that "the most important part of the
process of how to teach union discipline comes from having all union
members participate in the activities where they learn to act as a
voters, legislators, jurist and judges". In this way union
members would learn how to take responsibility in making and defending
Local 751 through The Aero
Mechanic set up an educational program which would seek to give to
its membership of both newcomers and established members a better
understanding of the current social and economic problems as well as
of the importance of solidarity within the labor movement. A series of
publications in 1940 was specifically designed to do this. In the
beginning, the educational program was held in the form of classes.
The first classes were for new members coming into the union. Advanced
classes were later set up for established members to expand their
knowledge in policy and in the legal system. Classes were continually
developed as the membership demanded them.
The newspaper emphasized the
benefits that the union had won for members. In July 1939, The Aero
Mechanic claimed that Local 751 had the highest pay scale in the
aeronautical industry throughout the States. Also, one of the first
agreements drafted and published on January 4, 1940 dealt with the
implementation of vacations with pay, double time for all overtime, a
plant seniority system, a wage scale, as well as sanitation and health
provisions. These outcomes were possible through a strong, disciplined
trade union movement, driven by education, standing behind local 751.
Reaching women became a special
concern for the periodical as more and more women took jobs at Boeing
during the ar. In 1940 the publication had addressed women not as
potential members but as mothers, sisters, and daughters of aerospace
workers. The July, 1942 issue showed the sift in focus with pictures
and ads urging women to become members themselves. Women had their own
column, "Every woman knows," where women were able to
express their voices.
Inflation became a growing
concern during the war era. Wages were not rising and prices were. The
Aero Mechanic decried the effects of inflation and pointed out
that the harm was unevenly distributed. According to Phillip Pearl,
inflation was definitely more dangerous to a poor worker than to a
millionaire. He said, "A millionaire may have to lose a portion
of his wealth but the worker may lose the bread and butter." This
statement reflects the disparity of the two social brackets and the
almost non-existence of the middle class in the United States. This
disproportion of wealth suggested the divisions between people and the
inequality of distribution of power in America. Most workers were not
included in the decision making process of defining goals and
expectations, decisions that certainly decided their fate both
socially and economically.
On May 7, 1942 The Aero
Mechanic launched a new program , which it called "a knock at
the door". "A knock at the door" was a campaign of
patriotism and had been frequently used in times of a national danger.
Using patriotism to gain the heart of every American in the war effort
was an old American custom, and it was a very effective strategy used
to create and rebuild the economy by recruiting people to invest in US
bonds and stamps. A survey published in a July 1942 edition revealed
that the Seattle area alone had bought more than $1,250,000. In
defense bonds. In this survey, many Seattle locals reported that they
had invested every surplus dollar in war- winning bonds. The total of
bond purchases among union members in Seattle would exceed $10,000.
The extent of organized labor’s contribution to winning the war in
money sacrifice and sweat makes Seattle one of the brightness examples
in the American war record to date.
Despite the union’s efforts to serve as the workers’ advocate, they surprisingly failed to acknowledge the already existing laws regarding unemployment compensation. Many union members who became unemployed remained uncompensated. Once the union discovered this law, effort was made to implement retroactive benefits for those workers who had missed their right to compensation.
The result of this
pioneer effort of organization during a time of national economic
instability helped boost the economy, as well as raised the standard
of living of those responsible for the work done in the name of the
War. The journalism of The Aero Mechanic helped influence and organize
the working people at Boeing. Beyond that Local 751's newspaper
created a precedent for later unions.
Click to enlarge
The Aero Mechanic ran many articles showing just how critical organized labor and workers were to America's interests overseas.
As the union representing the workers at Boeing, the IAM took great interest in the war. The Areo Mechanic ran articles urging members to buy war bonds, as well as praising workers for their work building the planes that helped America in the war.
The IAM was extremely fearful that reactionary forces in business and the government would use the war as an excuse to roll back the union's gains on the shop floor. Accordingly, the paper ran many articles arguing that labors interests had to be defended, and a strong labor movement helped, not hurt, America's war effort.
The Clipperettes were the Women's auxiliary of IAM, local 751. Composed of the wives and daughters of union members, The Clipperettes supported the union through socials and assistance on the picket lines.
© 2001 by Julian Laserna