Political · Wisconsin

Man throws tear gas grenade at police during the Allis-Chalmers strike of 1941

April 2, 1941
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
A photograph is published of the strike at the Allis-Chalmers Plant

The strike lasted 75 days, with workers demanding a wage increase and a “maintenance of membership” clause added to employment contacts which essentially ensured all workers were part of a union.

The strike was the first to feature police attempting to break the strike by using armored vehicles to push through the line of picketers and using tear gas on the crowd. Though many of the 3,000 workers were injured or became sick, they continued to picket. The strike ended on April 7 when the company agreed to the maintenance of membership clause.

However, when open negotiations for a wage increase began on April 16 — the current hourly wages the aircraft factory workers received was $0.40, far below what the government had calculated as a living wage — the company’s president J.H. Kindleberger objected, stating “I don’t have to pay any more to my workers because most of them are young kids who spend their money on a flivver and a gal.” (A flivver was slang for a cheap car.)

Again, there was a strike. Starting May 23 until June 9 when the workers were forced to return to work by President Franklin Roosevelt due to a “national emergency” (the company supplied machinery used for the war effort). The wages remained.

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