Aero Mechanic

(Seattle: 1939-present)

  Report by Julian Laserna

Abstract: 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.

Circulation: Weekly.

Publishing organization: Aeronautical Industrial District Lodge 751, International Association of Machinists.

Research collections: 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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The 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 of unionism.

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.

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 decisions.

Education

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.

Women

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

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.

Defense Bonds

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


(September 3, 1942, p.1)

The Aero Mechanic ran many articles showing just how critical organized labor and workers were to America's interests overseas.


(July 31, 1940, p.1)


(March 13, 1941, p.1)


(January 24, 1940, p.1)



World War II

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.


(June 12, 1941, p.1)


(July 2, 1942, p.1)


Protecting Labor

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.


(June 12, 1941, p.2)


(July 31, 1940, p.7)


(March 23, 1940, p.4)


The Clipperettes

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.


(January 30, 1941, p.2)


(May 7, 1942, p.16)

 

Copyright © 2001 by Julian Laserna