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Our History

The pattern for solidarity was established right from the beginning – the success of the Union depended on the solidarity of production workers and skilled trades. The strengths of each were necessary for both groups to win their demands.
Prior to the 1939 strike, a Skilled Trades Council was established, and skilled trades delegates drew up demands for a “skilled trades supplement” to the GM contract.
In 1939, the Union had not yet succeeded in organizing Ford. Growth of the Union had stalled after the early successes of 1936 and 1937. To make matters worse, President of the UAW, Homer Martin, quit to form a rival union with the sponsorship of the AFL that he called the UAW-AFL. Naturally, the corporations seized the opportunity. They refused to recognize or bargain with the UAW, saying they didn’t know which union to deal with.

In this crisis, the early UAW leaders relied on their strong base of support amongst the Skilled Trades. They called a strike of only the trades who were preparing the dies for the 1940 model year. The strike was solid, and put enormous pressure on GM, who didn’t want their competitors to put new models on the market while they couldn’t.The strike was a tremendous success. The Union won several improvements for the Skilled Trades, but most importantly they gained exclusive bargaining rights at over 40 GM plants.

As UAW Vice-President Woodcock later said, “The UAW was re-established by the Skilled Trades strike of 1939. Never forget that.”

In 1957, the need for the trades to have control over their own bargaining demands was formerly written into the UAW constitution as “separate ratification rights.”

Walter Reuther pointed out to the Convention that the policy would not only benefit the trades, it would make the entire Union stronger: “These tools granted to us will increase our bargaining strength… it will give us maneuverability, it will give us flexibility, and precisely because in given situations we will be forced to seek the satisfaction of all groups, it is the insurance that it will not take away from one group to give to another.”

In 1966, separate ratification was strengthened and clarified to ensure that if either group (Skilled Trades or Production) rejected, there was no agreement.

It was at the 1966 Convention that Leonard Woodcock, then Vice-President, argued: “An industrial union is one that utilizes the strength of all to solve the problems of anybody, any minority… as well as solving the problems of all…”