75 years at Local 201


Local 201 History
75th Birthday
Jeff Francis (former AEG Executive Board, retired)
Our union local was founded in 1933. The following year, a membership
vote made Lynn the first location in the GE chain to win bargaining rights.
You and I benefit every day from the wages and working conditions produced
by seventy-five years of industrial unionism.
It took great skill and courage to start a union in 1933, as it does today.
By remembering the choices made by the leaders and members who founded
our union, we can learn some lessons that will help us with the choices we
make in the future.
Long before 1933, GE workers expressed their strong desire to belong
to unions of their own choosing. In 1918 at the end of WWI, several key GE
plants were hit by a strike wave of workers demanding union recognition. In
Lynn, the Plant manager declared that Riverworks employees didn’t need a
union, because his door was always open to the individual worker who had a
grievance. Apparently that approach didn’t cut the mustard, because 10,000
Lynn workers struck in July for 18 days.
In response, the Company established the Plan of Representation. Workers
were granted the right to elect their representatives. The representatives
could present complaints, but they had no right to negotiate, because
there was no written contract, and no right to strike. Often the foreman was
your representative. This was the Company Union.
Throughout the 1920’s, union minded workers at the Riverworks and
West Lynn experienced the limitations of the Company Union. They also
tried organizing through the old AFL craft unions. The craft unions insisted
on splitting Riverworks employees into many separate unions, such as electricians,
carpenters, machinists, pattern makers, die sinkers and plumbers.
These separate unions didn’t get along with each other, had no bargaining
power with the Company, and they considered most production workers too
stupid to organize.
By 1933 Lynn workers were ready to form an industrial union that included
all workers, elect representatives of their own choosing, and fund
their organization so it would act independently from the Company.
Also during the 1920s, corporations like GE, US Steel, and Standard
Oil consolidated their power and gained the upper hand on labor. Profits
expanded, government took a back seat, stock market speculators ran amok,
and banks overextended credit. GE’s President Gerald Swope boasted of
GE’s liberal and progressive labor policies. Along with the Company Union,
GE sponsored dances and concerts in the Plant, and many traveling sports
teams. The Company claimed it knew best how to take care of workers.
All that came crashing down in 1929 during the Great Depression. Half
the Riverworks workforce was laid off. Wages were cut 10%. Vacations and
NSB were eliminated, and all GE’s promises went up in smoke. A decade of
profit excesses and credit sprees by corporate tycoons ended in years of deprivation
and starvation for working families. As workers trickled back to
work in 1932 and 1933, many decided that winning a union and securing a
written contract were the best ways to protect their families from economic
When you vote for your representatives in the Union election on October
28th, you are participating in some very important history.
Happy Birthday Local 201.