- Uphoff, Walter H. Kohler on Strike: Thirty Years of Conflict. Boston, Mass.: Beacon Press; 1966. 449 p.Notes: The Kohler Company, the well-known maker of plumbing fixtures, and its company town of Kohler, Wisconsin (located in Sheboygan County) were the focus of two long and bitter strikes from 1934 to 1941 and from 1954 to 1960. This history takes a carefully-documented look at the issues involved in prompting the strikes and why the dispute dragged on for such lengthy periods. Eventually, the labor conflict, perhaps the longest in U.S. history, was only resolved in 1965 when the Kohler company, after losing its appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court, agreed to a $3,000,000 back-pay settlement to the Kohler workers involved in the second strike, in return for their union dropping the unfair labor practice charges before the National Labor Relations Board which had been brought against the company.The Kohler labor conflict began soon after the passage in 1933 of the federal National Industrial Relations Act (N.I.R.A.), which was designed to make it easier for employees to win union representation; the N.I.R.A. was part of the “New Deal” legislation passed during the first one hundred days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first administration. Although the paternalistic Kohler Company was determined to continue to maintain their workplace as an open shop, the Kohler employees soon organized and affiliated with the American Federation of Labor, receiving a charter in August 1933 as Federal Labor Union No. 18545 (F.L.U. No. 18545). The Kohler company responded by assisting in the start-up on September 7, 1933 of a company union, the Kohler Workers Association (K.W.A.), and used delaying tactics over several months of talks with F.L.U. No. 18545 to prevent the union from achieving a contract with the company. On July 16, 1934, after much fruitless bargaining, F.L.U. No. 18545 went on strike. After eleven days on strike, there was a violent confrontation on the night of July 27, 1934 between the strikers and the many ‘Kohler Special Police’ deputies, who were armed with clubs and guns. Forty-seven strikers were injured in the incident from either buckshot or bullets and two strikers were fatally shot; five women were among the injured. The strike carried on until 1941 when the Kohler company suddenly “settled” because the company wanted to participate in the government war contracts during the Second World War; the company knew that, if they wanted to put up the new facilitlies required to handle the expanded war work, they had to have labor peace at their workplace, since construction workers would not cross a union picket line to work on a construction project. Although the strike settlement included a provision to re-hire all of the striking employees, through the strategem of a secret proviso, three of the strike leaders were kept from any further company employment; the settlement agreement also explicitly withheld recognition of any union to represent the Kohler workers and F.L.U. No. 18545 became inoperative.
Between the two strikes the Kohler Workers Association (the company union), continued as an organization and did win some improvements in the workplace for the employees, but Kohler company officials were deciding most matters for the K.W.A. By the early 1950s the leadership of the K.W.A. began looking to affiliate with an independent union organization. The K.W.A. membership voted in late April 1952 to affiliate with the United Auto Workers-Congress of Industrial Organization (U.A.W.-C.I.O.) and received their charter as U.A.W.-C.I.O. Kohler Workers Association Local 833 on May 5, 1952; the legitimacy of the local was confirmed with an election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board on June 10 and 11, 1952. Shortly thereafter, some members of the K.W.A. company union, who had opposed the U.A.W.-C.I.O. affiliation, formed a new company union, the Independent Union of Kohler Workers’ Association (I.U.K.W.A.), and filed a legal challenge to Local 833 having been given the treasury funds of the now defunct K.W.A., the original company union. After the I.U.K.W.A. lost its case about the membership funds before the Wisconsin Supreme Court, the members of Local 833 voted on October 10, 1953 to modify its name to simply Kohler Local 833, U.A.W.-C.I.O., to reduce confusion with the I.U.K.W.A.
By the end of February 1953, Local 833 had been able to get a first contract in place for the period covering March 1, 1953 to March 1, 1954. Negotiations for the second contract began in early February 1954, but fell apart a few weeks later over the issue of extending the old contract during the contract talks. On April 5, 1954, after working for five weeks without a contract, Local 833 went out on strike. No further summary here can possibly capture the riveting drama of the lengthy strike which ensued–find and read this book for the entire compelling story!
Another edition: Uphoff, Walter Henry. Kohler on Strike: Thirty Years of Conflict. Boston, Mass.: Beacon Press, 1967. 450 p. (Beacon Paperback ; BP 274)