William A. Roberts Papers, 1942-1956

Contents List

ContainerTitle
Tape/Side   1/1
Time   00:00
INTRODUCTION
Tape/Side   1/1
Time   01:10
BIOGRAPHICAL BACKGROUND
Scope and Content Note: Born in 1912 in Brooklyn, the oldest of five children; both brothers killed in World War II. Working-class family; father left home when Prosten was young. Mother worked in a laundry. Held many different jobs. Got a Public Works Administration job and was discharged for union activity. Active in unemployed councils. Grade school education; quit school in order to supplement mother's income.
Tape/Side   1/1
Time   05:00
ORGANIZATION OF THE SAUSAGE PLANT PROSTEN WORKED IN
Scope and Content Note: Got a job in a sausage plant in Boston in 1937. Very soon thereafter, there was a movement to organize the plant. The plant had had a disastrous strike in 1936, under the auspices of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen of North America (AMC&BW), which called off the strike after only two weeks. That strike resulted in the discharge of hundreds of workers. The workers in the plant were about 75 percent Italian and 25 percent Irish. The Italians were out of the Sacco and Vanzetti anarchist tradition. Because he had organizing experience, the workers hired Prosten as their organizer, paying him eighteen dolllars a week out of their own pockets. They won a strike and got all the jobs back of those who had been fired during the previous strike. Got a direct charter from the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) as Local 202, United Meat and Allied Market Workers; rejected AMC&BW overtures to affiliate. The local then went on to organize the rest of the area.
Tape/Side   1/1
Time   08:35
THE UNION PHILOSOPHY OF PROSTEN AND THE UNITED PACKINGHOUSE WORKERS OF AMERICA (UPWA)
Scope and Content Note: Packinghouse workers had had a tradition of disastrous strikes. The packers had always bought off the leaders and employed the Church, ethnic rivalries and other devices to keep the workers divided. Prosten was convinced from an early age “that an employer made compromises with you only when you had the power. And any time he wanted to have a meeting with you, it was because he wanted something.” “In 43 years, with the unions...I have never yet had an employer - and I've negotiated thousands of times - say 'I made a buck this year; I want to give you two cents.' “In order to protect the union from the blandishments and other tactics of the packers, the UPWA early on decided “that the only protection was to have so many stewards, so many officers, such large bargaining committees that the company couldn't buy us all off.” This was done consciously, and it was explained to the workers. “If there is no democracy in a union, there is no life, and there is no progress.” Prosten opposed becoming friends with an employer and never called an employer by his first name.
Tape/Side   1/1
Time   15:50
PROSTEN'S PHILOSOPHY REGARDING NEGOTIATIONS
Scope and Content Note: Tactics, the art of negotiating, experience and strategy are all very important, “but there is no substitute for having the people.” Prosten warned International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union President Harry Bridges that the five year agreement he signed would come back to haunt him because the workers would lose their militancy. The Labor-Management committee currently in the retail sector of the food industry “is a nightmare.” When employer members refused to support the union's request for assistance on labor law reform, “the employers took a straight class position.” And the labor movement has no right “to be less class conscious than the employers are.”
Tape/Side   1/1
Time   19:05
UPWA LEADERS TRIED VERY HARD TO MAINTAIN THE PACKING DIVISION AS A SEPARATE ENTITY AFTER MERGER WITH THE AMC&BW IN 1968
Scope and Content Note: Refused to allow national bargaining committees paid by the International. Bargaining committee members were paid by the local unions. UPWA refused to get involved in employer/union pension and welfare funds. “We said, 'We'll bargain for the benefits; you pay the bill.'”
Tape/Side   1/1
Time   23:55
ANECDOTE ABOUT BEING OFFERED A FIVE THOUSAND DOLLAR BRIBE TO PREVENT A STRIKE
Scope and Content Note: This was in the late 1930s. Prosten called in the negotiating committee and told them the boss has just given you a donation for your strike.” The boss went “berserk.”
Tape/Side   1/1
Time   26:05
UPWA'S ADVANCED STAND ON CIVIL RIGHTS
Scope and Content Note: “We liberated ourselves” from the whole period of craft unionism and its attitudes.
END OF TAPE 1, SIDE 1
Tape/Side   1/2
Time   00:00
INTRODUCTION
Tape/Side   1/2
Time   00:30
MORE ON UPWA AND CIVIL RIGHTS
Scope and Content Note: UPWA's position was a revolt from the mainstream of the labor movement. It was not really altruistic; it was simple economic fact that the UPWA was an industrial union committed to organizing packinghouse workers, and many of those workers were black. Anything that helped blacks also helped whites.
Tape/Side   1/2
Time   02:15
IN THE LATE 1940S, UPWA FORCED ARMOUR AND COMPANY IN BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA, TO INTEGRATE THE ENTIRE PLANT, INCLUDING DRESSING ROOMS
Scope and Content Note: The UPWA leadership, including Prosten, had to do a real selling job amongst the members. Bull Conner tried to prevent it.
Tape/Side   1/2
Time   03:35
UPWA PUT ON A BIG INTEGRATION DRIVE AFTER THE 1948 STRIKE
Scope and Content Note: During the strike, many southern locals maintained segregated picket lines. “We knew we could not maintain a union that meant anything, that could fight, if we couldn't break up that situation.” The union conducted civil rights education amongst the members throughout the South. Two locals seceded over the issue. The whites had faith in their union. One thing that helped was having northern blacks on the national negotiating team. When a northern black bargained hard to end the southern wage differential, southern whites could see integration and segregation in economic terms. “We were able to do it only because we produced as a union.”
Tape/Side   1/2
Time   08:20
WHITE WORKERS DID NOT NECESSARILY CARRY PLANT INTEGRATION AND EQUALITY HOME WITH THEM
Scope and Content Note: Prosten, marching with Martin Luther King, Jr. in Chicago, saw a white chief steward throw a brick at the marchers. Prosten called the steward on it, and he learned a lot from it.
Tape/Side   1/2
Time   09:25
ANECDOTE ABOUT PERSONALLY EDUCATING THE PRESIDENT OF THE BIRMINGHAM LOCAL
Scope and Content Note: The local president had cooperated during the dressing room integration period. Prosten came back down to Birmingham to arbitrate a discharge case, and the local president kept referring to the grievant as the “nigger boy.” Prosten made him stop and took him to dinner for an education session. Prosten made inroads with the president at dinner on the race issue; but, after dinner, the guy made a slur against Jews, not knowing that Prosten and UPWA President Ralph Helstein were Jewish.
Tape/Side   1/2
Time   12:30
UPWA COULD NOT HAVE HAD THE TYPE OF UNION IT WANTED IF IT HAD NOT WORKED ON CIVIL RIGHTS AND INTEGRATION
Scope and Content Note: “We could have had a union of collaboration, but couldn't have a union that was meaningful” and a union that has created the highest common labor rates in the country.
Tape/Side   1/2
Time   13:25
THE PROGRESSIVISM OF UPWA COMPARED TO OTHER CIO UNIONS
Scope and Content Note: The Auto Workers, with their various political caucuses, are still quite progressive and democratic. The Steelworkers “were always a little different.”
Tape/Side   1/2
Time   16:40
BIRTH OF THE UPWA
Scope and Content Note: John L. Lewis and Philip Murray selected Packinghouse Workers Organizing Committee (PWOC) leaders that fit their politics. Packinghouse workers had to picket Lewis and Murray in Pittsburgh to force the CIO leadership to give them their own international union.
Tape/Side   1/2
Time   17:35
IT TOOK A HARD LEADERSHIP TO MAINTAIN UPWA'S PROGRESSIVISM
Scope and Content Note: The progressivism was a natural by-product of the split from the craft unions, but it was a constant battle to maintain this thrust in the face of some who would have opted for a degree of collaboration, who thought strikes were destructive. “My feeling is no strike is ever really lost.”
Tape/Side   1/2
Time   18:15
UPWA'S 1948 STRIKE
Scope and Content Note: “The toughest deal that the packers ever put on.” One Armour executive said to Prosten, “You son of a bitch...you cost us twenty-five million bucks, and this ain't gonna happen again.” There has been no general strike in the industry since then.
Tape/Side   1/2
Time   19:00
PACKINGHOUSE UNIONISM IS NOT AS STRONG AS IT USED TO BE, BUT “WE'VE HELD ON”
Scope and Content Note: Technological changes have been great. The union, however, has insisted on maintaining starting rates. The packers have not lost anything. Productivity over the past 25 years has gone from 60 pounds per man-hour to 150 or 160 pounds per man-hour. Plants that closed did so because they were outmoded, and the packers had “bled them dry.” Maximization of profits today demands that each plant, each department, must show a profit, not just the country as a whole.
Tape/Side   1/2
Time   21:20
MAINTENANCE OF A SEPARATE IDENTITY FOR PACKING WITHIN AMC&BW PREVENTED CONCESSIONS UNDER THREAT OF PLANT CLOSINGS
Scope and Content Note: This issue was the source of constant conflict within the union, especially after the merger with the AMC&BW. When there was a conflict like this over policy or procedure between the Packing Division and the AMC&BW leadership, Prosten would bring in a committee of 20 or 25 rank and file members. “They (AMC&BW leadership) could tell me to kiss their ass, but they couldn't say it to these guys.” The rank and file “basically understand.”
Tape/Side   1/2
Time   24:35
PROSTEN GREW UP WITH A BASIC POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY - “A CLASS PHILOSOPHY”
Scope and Content Note: “I lived a very disciplined life in terms of my thinking.” “I have a very strong wife who understands too.”
Tape/Side   1/2
Time   25:45
MORE ON PLANT CLOSINGS
Scope and Content Note: Many staffers and directors feel, strongly, that UPWA's hard-nosed stance against making concessions to prevent plant closings has only served to drive the industry out. The fact of the matter is, however, that there are no new packers in the industry. Ninety percent of the pork produced is still produced by the ten top companies. In beef, it has been different, with the appearance of Iowa Beef Processors. Prosten expects that, within a decade, 20 basic cattle-killing plants will produce all the country's beef. Beef-kill productivity has tripled. Even if one old firm does go out, it is just replaced by one new one.
END OF TAPE 1, SIDE 2
Tape/Side   2/1
Time   00:00
INTRODUCTION
Tape/Side   2/1
Time   00:25
PROSTEN'S POSITIONS WITH UPWA AND AMC&BW
Scope and Content Note: Organizer and business agent in Boston. Organizer for UPWA right after discharge from World War II. Worked for UPWA Grievance Department. Director of Grievance and Contract Department for many years. Never held an official, elective office in UPWA. Served on UPWA/AMC&BW merger committee. Became a vice-president of AMC&BW because the situation had changed. “Either you carry the title, or they won't let you carry the water.” Co-director and then Director of the Packing Division of AMC&BW.
Tape/Side   2/1
Time   03:05
THE PACKERS CONTINUED TO FIGHT UPWA EVEN AFTER THE INDUSTRY WAS FAIRLY WELL ORGANIZED
Scope and Content Note: “I guess they never believed we would do it.” Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins witnessed the separate signing of the first master agreement with Armour and Company because the company would not sign jointly with the union. The International Brotherhood of Swift Employees, a company union, still has a couple plants. At one point, the government had to take over the industry.
Tape/Side   2/1
Time   06:00
NEGOTIATIONS
Scope and Content Note: UPWA leadership was “puritanical,” about keeping its word. The rank and file never rejected a negotiated agreement. When Prosten told company negotiators they had a deal, he did so only after checking with 50 or 60 people.
Tape/Side   2/1
Time   07:40
DIFFERENT PACKERS AT DIFFERENT TIMES WOULD BE THE ROUGHEST TO DEAL WITH
Scope and Content Note: Often it depended upon each company's economic situation at a particular time. During World War II, Armour refused to grant the union an arbitration clause, except on discharges. Strikes were the last step in the grievance procedure. After many such strikes, Billy Wood Prince, head of Armour, hired an industrial relations consultant, Fred Livingston. The companies always had a constant to work with - the UPWA leadership.
Tape/Side   2/1
Time   11:25
ARMOUR AUTOMATION COMMITTEE
Scope and Content Note: This was not an important demand of the union. It has served as a safety valve.
Tape/Side   2/1
Time   12:05
CHANGES IN RELATIONS WITH ARMOUR
Scope and Content Note: For a while the company and the union had worked out a procedure in order to avoid so many arbitrations. Today, however, relations have reverted to the previous, more troublesome period.
Tape/Side   2/1
Time   13:35
SWIFT AND COMPANY
Scope and Content Note: Swift has gone “straight big time; became a money operation.” Its current management takes “maximization of profits” seriously and is closing many plants.
Tape/Side   2/1
Time   14:15
WILSON AND COMPANY
Scope and Content Note: It used to be a very rough company. Then new ownership ran the business into the ground. Another change in ownership brought in a management that wanted to get along with the union, and relations have been relatively smooth since then. Because this current management also owns steel mills, it was using packing plants to prop up its sick steel enterprises, and thus could not afford to fight with the union and take the chance of strikes.
Tape/Side   2/1
Time   15:00
THE BASIC DRIVE OF EMPLOYERS WAS NOT TO HAVE UNIONS, BUT THEY USUALLY CAME TO RECOGNIZE THE UNION COULD PROVIDE A DEGREE OF STABILITY
Scope and Content Note: Each packing company would take a shot at dumping the union, fail and then give up.
Tape/Side   2/1
Time   16:15
UPWA'S GRIEVANCE DEPARTMENT
Scope and Content Note: A Grievance Department at International headquarters was necessary in order to service the Master agreements and to make sure local managements did not take advantage of local situations. The UPWA did not spend all its time on servicing.
Tape/Side   2/1
Time   18:10
MASTER AGREEMENTS
Scope and Content Note: They provide the members with a cohesiveness. They are very important for maintaining standards. “The employers will do anything to get rid of the master agreements.” Employers have promised more money and many other concessions to locals if they would withdraw from the master agreement. The local people, however, know better; they know any such concessions would be short-lived.
Tape/Side   2/1
Time   20:10
MORE ON UPWA GRIEVANCE DEPARTMENT AND THE GRIEVANCE PROCEDURE
Scope and Content Note: The International gets involved at the third step. The fourth step is arbitration. The Landrum-Griffin Act has caused the union problems because aggrieved individuals will occasionally get lawyers and sue the union for non-representation when they are not satisfied with the handling of their grievances. The union usually wins such cases, but it uses up a lot of time. A problem developed especially on discipline problems, where local officers and field people would pass unwarranted grievances on to arbitration rather than tell the grievant themselves that he had no case. The leadership talked it out with local people and changed the procedure so that in certain types of grievances, the local people have total responsibility through the arbitration step, or else have a year's delay. This has worked pretty well because local people will think twice before committing their locals to the high cost of arbitration.
END OF TAPE 2, SIDE 1
Tape/Side   2/2
Time   00:00
INTRODUCTION
Tape/Side   2/2
Time   00:60
DESPITE POLITICS IN THE UNION, PROSTEN GENERALLY WAS ABLE TO CONVINCE DISTRICT DIRECTORS OR LOCAL LEADERS TO WITHDRAW GRIEVANCES THAT COULD SET DANGEROUS PRECEDENTS OR WERE SIMPLY WEAK CASES
Scope and Content Note: In only two cases did Prosten have to go above the heads of local leaders or district directors and appeal to national conferences of a company in order to force withdrawal of a case.
Tape/Side   2/2
Time   03:15
THE GRIEVANCE DEPARTMENT WAS NOT PART OF THE GRIEVANCE PROCEDURE IN NON-MASTER AGREEMENT CONTRACTS, BUT ITS STAFF WAS AVAILABLE FOR ASSISTANCE
Tape/Side   2/2
Time   04:20
UPWA'S REPUTATION AS A SERVICING RATHER THAN AN ORGANIZING UNION
Scope and Content Note: “UPWA's peak staff was about 80, or 90. International representatives did both organizing and servicing, and they worked long hours. The members have a right to be serviced. Many locals had their own staff; always elective.
Tape/Side   2/2
Time   08:45
UPWA DUES STRUCTURE
Scope and Content Note: Per capita was at least as high as AMC&BW. Dues were on a percentage basis, which the AMC&BW was afraid to institute.
Tape/Side   2/2
Time   09:30
IF UPWA WAS NOT ADDING MANY NEW MEMBERS IN THE 1950S AND 1960S, NEITHER WAS ANY OTHER UNION
Tape/Side   2/2
Time   09:55
MERGER WITH AMC&BW
Scope and Content Note: Prosten fought merger bitterly until he realized the big companies were being split between the two unions. The crucial event for Prosten was the AMC&BW's victory in the Cherokee Wilson plant in the mid-1960s. Many UPWA members were former AMC&BW members and strongly resisted the merger. Raids had been a waste of money.
Tape/Side   2/2
Time   16:05
FAILURE OF THE 1956 MERGER ATTEMPT
Scope and Content Note: “They were always afraid of us.” The communist issue was “for the birds,” but it was a heavy weapon. The 1956 merger was an attempt to call an end to the raiding and to make joint bargaining more effective. “If (AMC&BW Secretary-Treasurer Patrick) Gorman wanted a merger, there would have been a merger.” The UPWA people were dumbfounded when AMC&BW withdrew from the merger at the last minute. “It was trauma,” though “a lot of our guys breathed a sigh of relief.
Tape/Side   2/2
Time   20:30
EVENTS LEADING UP TO THE NEAR MERGER IN 1956
Scope and Content Note: A key factor was interest expressed by Joseph Zabritski, President of Wilson Local 25 in Chicago, in a unity editorial written by Gorman. The UPWA leaders gave Zabritski permission to pursue the matter with Gorman, and events progressed from there. (Prosten here reads a list of key meetings and decisions made on the road to the 1956 merger attempt.)
Tape/Side   2/2
Time   23:35
AMC&BW REASONS FOR DESTROYING MERGER IN 1956 HAD NO BASIS IN FACT
Tape/Side   2/2
Time   26:05
UPWA MEMBERSHIP DID NOT REALLY WANT THE MERGER
Scope and Content Note: When it was finally pulled off in 1968, Prosten and others had to travel the country explaining how the situation demanded merger.
END OF TAPE 2, SIDE 2
Tape/Side   3/1
Time   00:00
INTRODUCTION
Tape/Side   3/1
Time   00:30
RELATIVE STRENGTH OF UPWA AND AMC&BW IN 1956
Scope and Content Note: UPWA had about four members to every one AMC&BW had in basic packing, and this ratio remained into the 1960s.
Tape/Side   3/1
Time   03:55
FEELINGS OF UPWA MEMBERSHIP ABOUT MERGER IN 1956
Scope and Content Note: Some district directors held out against merger for a long time, but they presented a united front by the time of the convention. There were some very strong pockets of local opposition, mostly in basic packing. Much of this opposition was because of prior connections with AMC&BW, attempted raids by AMC&BW and dislike for local AMC&BW staff people. Mason City, Iowa, was a strong pocket of opposition.
Tape/Side   3/1
Time   06:40
RAIDING CAME IN FLURRIES AND RARELY WAS THE RAIDER SUCCESSFUL
Tape/Side   3/1
Time   07:35
UPWA LOSS OF THE CHEROKEE WILSON NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD (NLRB) ELECTION
Scope and Content Note: AMC&BW ran an opportunistic election campaign, misrepresenting the UPWA's plant closing transfer clause. During this campaign, there was a formal debate between the two sides. “I saw a horrible picture....” The AMC&BW lied during the debate. The UPWA clause actually exempted from bumping all those people who were voting in the election, but the AMC&BW claimed this was not so.
Tape/Side   3/1
Time   12:55
UPWA REACTION TO AMC&BW MERGER WITH THE FUR AND LEATHER WORKERS
Scope and Content Note: UPWA had had some merger talks with Fur and Leather. The AMC&BW merger with Fur and Leather did not serve as a pathmaker which made it easier for UPWA merger with AMC&BW.
Tape/Side   3/1
Time   14:10
1956 MERGER AGREEMENT - THE PROPOSED EXECUTIVE BOARD; BLACK REPRESENTATION
Scope and Content Note: Three UPWA vice-presidents were not scheduled to be part of the merged Executive Board, but Don Smith, who was not a vice-president, was scheduled. This was part of UPWA's drive to elevate more blacks to leadership positions. In fact, about that same time, Chicago area District Director Harold Nielson had voluntarily stepped aside to permit Charles Hayes, a black, to become Director because the district's membership was over 50 percent black.
Tape/Side   3/1
Time   16:15
AMC&BW RESEARCH DIRECTDR DAVID DOLNICK AND UPWA DIRECTOR OF PUBLICITY NORMAN DOLNICK WERE BROTHERS
Scope and Content Note: David quit his job with AMC&BW shortly after the merger failed, but this was due to his health, not the failed merger.
Tape/Side   3/1
Time   17:50
THE KEY AMC&BW PEOPLE WHO PUSHED FOR MERGER IN 1956
Scope and Content Note: Henry Freise, Clifton Caldwell, John Jurkanin. These were rank and file people from packing who were tired of the differences and saw advantages in merger.
Tape/Side   3/1
Time   18:40
ANTHONY (TONY) STEPHENS WAS A KEY UPWA PERSON IN THE 1956 MERGER
Scope and Content Note: He was probably as important as anyone in bringing the merger as close as it came. He was ambitious and would have held an important position in the merged union. He may have pushed it too hard and scared Gorman.
Tape/Side   3/1
Time   20:45
STEPHENS WAS EASED OUT OF UPWA IN 1958
Scope and Content Note: He chose not to run for re-election as vice-president because he could not have won. He had been pushing President Ralph Helstein pretty hard. The leadership decided he was creating too many problems and should be dumped. He was bright and aggressive, but he could be moved off tactical positions too easily. He ended up with the Teamsters.
Tape/Side   3/1
Time   24:45
RELATIONS BETWEEN UPWA AND AMC&BW AFTER 1956
Scope and Content Note: There was name-calling, but these two unions cooperated pretty well during negotiations. Prosten spent a lot of time with the directors of AMC&BW's Packing Division and had a good relationship with them, though they were subject to higher ups.
END OF TAPE 3, SIDE 1
Note: Tape 3, Side 2 is blank.
Tape/Side   4/1
Time   00:00
INTRODUCTION
Tape/Side   4/1
Time   00:40
UPWA'S FINANCIAL CONDITION
Scope and Content Note: Low dues structure and no initiation fee. Money was not that important. “We're not a bank; we're a collective operation....” When the International was low on money, the locals would chip in. During the 1959 Wilson strike, some locals sent in their whole treasuries. Staff always went off the payroll during major strikes. There were only a couple staff layoffs. Laid off staff often just returned to the plant.
Tape/Side   4/1
Time   03:55
UPWA'S FIRST PRESIDENT, LEWIS J. CLARK
Scope and Content Note: “Clark was the (CIO) playing it safe.”
Tape/Side   4/1
Time   05:55
PROGRESS OF PWOC
Scope and Content Note: Early, CIO-assigned PWOC leaders Van Bittner, Don Harris and Hank Johnson were hard-driving men, and they made tremendous progress. They strove to organize workers, without a concern for the employers' feelings. Sacrifices were made by the staff for the cause. Prosten once hitchhiked from Boston to St. Paul to help out with a big problem in a Swift plant.
Tape/Side   4/1
Time   06:30
MORE ON LEWIS J. CLARK
Scope and Content Note: He was not a leader. After he lost his office, the union never heard from him again. “He was not a very bright guy.”
Tape/Side   4/1
Time   07:25
EDWARD ROCHE, UPWA'S FIRST SECRETARY-TREASURER
Scope and Content Note: Well-meaning, but a nothing guy. In his acceptance speech at the first convention, he said, “With the help of God, I'll keep the books.” “We” wanted Meyer Stern, but that was not politically feasible at the time.
Tape/Side   4/1
Time   08:20
ELECTION OF RALPH HELSTEIN AS PRESIDENT, 1946
Scope and Content Note: “We” put a lot of pressure on him to run because he was honest and capable. The CIO opposed his election and “sent in a pretty heavy crew” to the convention. The Catholic Church and other factors were involved. The CIO's objections to Helstein were mainly based simply on the fact that “he wasn't their boy.” Clark was elected Secretary-Treasurer as a sop to the CIO.
Tape/Side   4/1
Time   11:40
UPWA SALARIES
Scope and Content Note: “We just didn't want to be another union.” “...(A) bunch of pretty well dedicated guys, who weren't interested in what their salaries were....” At the time of merger with AMC&BW in 1968, Helstein was paid fifteen thousand dollars; vice-presidents, nine thousand five hundred dollars; and Prosten, nine thousand dollars.
Tape/Side   4/1
Time   12:30
THE ATTEMPT TO DUMP THE HELSTEIN SLATE IN 1948
Scope and Content Note: The opposition was working with the CIO. A very rough convention. Philip Weightman, UPWA vice-president in opposition to Helstein, claimed Canada lost it for his slate. The Association of Catholic Trade Unionists, the Catholic Church in Chicago and the CIO were all involved with the opposition. “But right after the convention, that thing got pulled together, very fast. Again...the workers felt that this was a diversion that they didn't need.” It was basically a power struggle with the CIO seeking “a safer gang.” The opposition overplayed its hand on the red-baiting issue. They tried to make an issue of Prosten's attendance at the Progressive Party convention, but he had done this on his own time and at his own expense. “It was a real red-baiting orgy.”
Tape/Side   4/1
Time   18:10
PHILIP WEIGHTMAN
Scope and Content Note: It was hard for him and his slate to disassociate themselves from the strike. Weightman was from the Swift local in Chicago. That local's leadership was under the influence of Father Purcell. Weightman was not a dedicated anti-communist. He was Prosten's boss, and he could not claim Prosten had not done his job well. In later years, when Weightman was working for the CIO, he saw the 1948 situation as nightmarish.
Tape/Side   4/1
Time   20:20
THE OPPOSITION SLATE
Scope and Content Note: Svend Godfredsen was selected as the opposition's presidential candidate probably because he was the only one who would accept it. A.J. Pittman, the candidate for secretary-treasurer, remained a district director until he later made a slur against his constituency, Texas.
Tape/Side   4/1
Time   22:30
CRITICISM OF HELSTEIN FOR BEING A LAWYER; FOR NOT HAVING WORKED IN A PLANT
Scope and Content Note: This issue did not work because many of the people who were pushing it were the same ones who had worked for his election originally.
Tape/Side   4/1
Time   23:35
THEIR OPPOSITION COULD NOT HAVE WON IN 1948 UNLESS THE HELSTEIN PEOPLE HAD MADE BIG MISTAKES
Scope and Content Note: “The base of the union was one of the guys working in a hitch, working very closely together.” The opposition had a collection of unpopular people attached to them. The workers at the convention were not pro-communist; they just had a feeling the fight was not healthy for the union. Helstein's supporters were recognized as hard-working people who produced.
Tape/Side   4/1
Time   26:20
TONY STEPHENS' CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT IN 1948 TO GIVE DISTRICT DIRECTORS OF LARGE DISTRICTS A GREATER VOTE ON THE EXECUTIVE BOARD
Scope and Content Note: “This was really part of Stephens' whole make up.”
END OF TAPE 4, SIDE 1
Tape/Side   4/2
Time   00:00
INTRODUCTION
Tape/Side   4/2
Time   00:30
MORE ON STEPHENS' AMENDMENT AT THE 1948 CONVENTION
Scope and Content Note: It was part of Stephens' drive for power. It was understood it would be withdrawn before a vote was taken.
Tape/Side   4/2
Time   00:55
RESTRUCTURING UPWA'S ORGANIZING DEPARTMENT AFTER THE 1948 CONVENTION
Scope and Content Note: Director of Organization Frank Ellis “was a tired guy.” A concession was made to Tony Stephens by putting him in charge of organizing, though Ellis was the titular head. They became bitter enemies during that period because of Stephens' impatience. The understanding was Allis would not stand for re-election two years hence.
Tape/Side   4/2
Time   02:55
PER CAPITA WITHHOLDING AFTER 1948 CONVENTION
Scope and Content Note: The situation did not last long because of the basic good sense of the workers.
Tape/Side   4/2
Time   04:15
DISSIDENCE WITHIN THE UNION DID NOT LAST VERY LONG
Scope and Content Note: It lingered the longest at the Swift plant in St. Paul. UPWA had taken that plant from the Swift Brotherhood, and many old Brotherhood people hung on to cause trouble. Grover Hathaway, who had opposed Helstein at the convention, travelled the country afterwards trying to convince dissident locals to stop withholding per capita. Hathaway was an “economist,” always worried about the treasury. He was a preacher, a hard-working guy, a pedestrian guy, and fairly humorless.
Tape/Side   4/2
Time   09:00
ELECTION OF HATHAWAY AS SECRETARY-TREASURER
Scope and Content Note: Norman Riches of Canada had been groomed for the job, but his politics were radical and there was fear the United States government might “shut him off at the border,” since it was the McCarthy era.
Tape/Side   4/2
Time   12:20
WOMEN'S CAUCUS AT THE 1954 CONVENTION
Scope and Content Note: They ran a woman, Stella Gressaman, for vice-president. She withdrew before the roll call was completed, but she did draw considerable support from the 1948 opposition areas, like Milwaukee, where the Association of Catholic Trade Unionists was strong.
Tape/Side   4/2
Time   13:45
UPWA AND WOMEN'S RIGHTS
Scope and Content Note: “We were premature 'libbers,' really.” Early on, the UPWA broke the women's wage rate differential by taking one cent from the men and giving it to the women. The UPWA had women on the staff in order to organize women. “We didn't carry it through to its logical conclusion and get a woman on the Board.”
Tape/Side   4/2
Time   15:10
UPWA AND FOREIGN POLICY
Scope and Content Note: “The Road Ahead,” an anti-Korean War piece which angered the CIO.
Tape/Side   4/2
Time   15:55
UPWA PROGRESSIVE SPIRIT AND RALPH HELSTEIN
Scope and Content Note: Helstein could not be pushed into a position, and he received pressure from both the right and the left. He tried very hard to balance things. In later years, he became more of a politician and drifted more toward the center of the political spectrum. Helstein was very good friends with Walter Reuther of the Auto Workers. “We had the kind of a union where our guys weren't afraid to take a shot, even if it wasn't politically wise; but we always brought our membership with us, always . We never passed a resolution and then let it die.” Conferences on the Viet Nam War situation before the 1965 convention, in order to prepare the membership. Prosten toured the country explaining the union's opposition to the members. [1]
Tape/Side   4/2
Time   18:30
RALPH HELSTEIN'S SPEECH-MAKING
Scope and Content Note: A very good speaker. He wrote his own speeches, working collectively with others to sharpen his speeches. He tried to stay ahead of the membership and did so successfully.
Tape/Side   4/2
Time   20:15
UPWA AND COMMUNISM
Scope and Content Note: Constitutionally, the UPWA was set up to guaranty personal freedom in matters of politics. As long as one's politics did not hurt the union, one's politics were never questioned. There was no problem until the Cold War, and then it was beat back. The Taft-Hartley Act “started the separations.”
Tape/Side   4/2
Time   23:30
TAFT-HARTLEY NON-COMMUNIST AFFIDAVITS
Scope and Content Note: Chicago District Director Herb March took a strong principled position, refused to sign the Affidavit and went back to work for his local. A brilliant guy, he became a lawyer after leaving the union. Stern signed; he was never an acknowledged Communist. The red-baiting never really caught on. There were too many competent leaders on the left.
END OF TAPE 4, SIDE 2
Tape/Side   5/1
Time   00:00
INTRODUCTION
Tape/Side   5/1
Time   00:30
PROSTEN HAD NO ORGANIZATIONAL CONNECTIONS WITH THE COMMUNIST PARTY, BUT SYMPATHIZED
Tape/Side   5/1
Time   01:20
NO ONE WANTED TO PUSH THE COMMUNIST ISSUE TOO FAR BECAUSE IT MIGHT DISRUPT THE UNION
Scope and Content Note: Thus, the left complied with both legal requirements and the AFL-CIO requirements, and the non-left did not attempt a purge.
Tape/Side   5/1
Time   01:55
COMMUNIST PROBLEMS IN THE LATE 1950S
Scope and Content Note: Stephens was angry because he had been eased out of the union and sought revenge by submitting an affidavit to the House Un-american Activities Committee which made various allegations. Somehow the affidavit wound up in the AMC&BW vault. Much of what Stephens said in the statement was public knowledge. He made a big mistake by alleging certain things were said by Prosten at the 1947 convention in Cleveland. That, however, was the only convention Prosten missed. Prosten personally thinks the AMC&BW was deeply involved, and that AMC&BW Attorney Joe Jacobs actually drew up the Stephens document. A couple of the witnesses were on AMC&BW's payroll. This whole thing failed to create much concern within the union. When the thing broke, Prosten was in Florida, and the press reported he was in hiding. He left as soon as possible in order to appear before the committee, where he took the Fifth Amendment. Packing town newspapers tried to make it a big case, but the members were broadminded. It did not create much of a stir amongst the membership, and not a member was lost because of it.
Tape/Side   5/1
Time   07:10
UPWA DID NOT PERMIT THE AMC&BW NON-COMMUNIST AFFIDAVIT AND OATH TO ENTER THE 1956 MERGER AGREEMENT
Tape/Side   5/1
Time   08:55
UPWA COMPROMISED ON THE COMMUNIST ISSUE JUST ENOUGH TO KEEP ITSELF WITHIN THE MAIN SECTOR OF THE AMERICAN LABOR MOVEMENT
Scope and Content Note: In a union where the leaders were most concerned with getting a job done, communism was not much of an issue. In unions where there was something to cover up, often red-baiting was used for this purpose. People like Prosten were judged by their union accomplishments, not their politics.
Tape/Side   5/1
Time   13:00
PROGRESSIVE CHANGES IN THE AMC&BW IN 1972
Scope and Content Note: The times were ripe for creating a Civil Rights Department, a Women's Department, etc., but without former UPWA people there to push for these things, they would not have occurred.
Tape/Side   5/1
Time   14:25
FORMER UPWA VICE-PRESIDENTS FORCED THE PEACE ISSUE WITH THE AMC&BW EXECUTIVE BOARD
Scope and Content Note: Gorman had spoken and editorialized against the Viet Nam War, but it was only his personal opinion until the former UPWA vice-presidents introduced a resolution to make Gorman's position the official union position. The hawks were caught off guard, and it passed.
Tape/Side   5/1
Time   15:10
SELECTION OF HARRY POOLE AS AMC&BW PRESIDENT
Scope and Content Note: He was selected for no other reason than his seniority. He had been groomed by Gorman. Poole was a nice guy, but he was very limited. Prosten did not favor Poole's election.
Tape/Side   5/1
Time   17:00
SELECTION OF SAM TALARICO TO SUCCEED GORMAN AS SECRETARY-TREASURER
Scope and Content Note: Gorman sprang this on the Executive Board without warning. Prosten wondered what was going on. He hardly knew Talarico and did not think much of his contracts. Gorman said he picked Talarico because of a commitment to Vice-President R. Emmett Kelly. No one would oppose Gorman's decision.
Tape/Side   5/1
Time   18:55
GORMAN'S RETIREMENT AS SECRETARY-TREASURER
Scope and Content Note: He had suggested his retirement many times previously, and he later regretted his decision to go ahead and retire.
Tape/Side   5/1
Time   19:45
TALARICO'S RESIGNATION
Scope and Content Note: There was a contest for his position. This was a new union, and old commitments were no longer there.
Tape/Side   5/1
Time   21:05
AMC&BW MERGER WITH THE RETAIL CLERKS INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION (RCIA)
Scope and Content Note: Jurisdictional problems were becoming impossible. The AMC&BW had no leadership. Talarico was never around, and Poole, who had a drinking problem, could not handle the situation. Neither man, however, would let go. Something had to be done. RCIA President Bill Wynn was smart, saw the situation and made the most of it. Gorman's statement that the AMC&BW was lacking in good young leaders was false. There were plenty of good young people in the field; there just were not any good young people Gorman could control like he did Poole and Talarico. Prosten feels Poole and Talarico were glad themselves to get “under some kind of a blanket.” Poole knew he could not really run the operation.
Tape/Side   5/1
Time   15:10
PROSTEN DISCUSSES RECENT POLITICAL EVENTS AND PERSONALITIES IN THE AMC&BW
END OF TAPE 5, SIDE 1
Tape/Side   5/2
Time   00:00
INTRODUCTION
Tape/Side   5/2
Time   00:30
UPWA ORGANIZING OUTSIDE THE MEAT INDUSTRY
Scope and Content Note: There was not too much serious disagreement on this. If something was unorganized and UPWA could get it, the go-ahead was given. UPWA organized a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Baltimore, for instance. There were attempts to organize fishermen.
Tape/Side   5/2
Time   03:50
CHANGE IN THE PACKING INDUSTRY WORK FORCE DURING WORLD WAR II
Scope and Content Note: More blacks came into the industry during the war as many whites left for better jobs. Also, many women entered the industry. There appears to be fewer women in the industry today than there once was. Although these new people were not in the industry during the PWOC years, their presence did not diminish UPWA militancy. There were still many wildcat strikes, because arbitration was too slow or looked like a loser.
Tape/Side   5/2
Time   06:45
UPWA AND AMC&BW DURING WORLD WAR II
Scope and Content Note: There were not many joint approaches to the War Labor Board. AMC&BW pretty much just picked up on what the UPWA did with the War Labor Board.
Tape/Side   5/2
Time   07:20
UNIQUE UPWA PRACTICE OF DISCUSSING AND PLANNING CONTRACT STRATEGY AT CONVENTIONS
Scope and Content Note: It was a good screening process and it worked quite well.
Tape/Side   5/2
Time   08:40
NATIONAL PACKING COMMITTEE
Scope and Content Note: This developed after the merger with AMC&BW “because we wanted to have some kind of a house operation, too.” It was used to impress the top leadership with rank and file concerns in the Packing Division.
Tape/Side   5/2
Time   09:30
THE PREDICAMENT OF TWO UNIONS BARGAINING WITH THE SAME EMPLOYERS
Tape/Side   5/2
Time   11:10
MORE ON THE 1948 STRIKE
Scope and Content Note: There may have been disagreements over whether to strike or not, but once the decision was made, there was unity. All but about six of the 700 discharged employees were returned to work. Anecdote about striker Inez Fletcher, who was charged with hitting a forelady over the head with a pipe. It was a long battle, but the union finally wore down the superintendent and got her reinstated. The union came back in 1949 and got very good contracts. A couple superintendents died of heart attacks trying to work loading docks during the strike. Armour complained it lost twenty-five million dollars. The strike was called off, but it was not lost because it showed the employers the union's determination and made future contracts a little easier. The strike did cause some demoralization, but the union got over it.
Tape/Side   5/2
Time   16:15
AMC&BW WAS UNABLE TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF UPWA'S SITUATION AFTER THE STRIKE
Scope and Content Note: The workers would not buy AMC&BW's arguments. The UPWA was a democratic union, and it serviced its membership.
Tape/Side   5/2
Time   17:55
WILSON AND COMPANY AND THE 1948 STRIKE
Scope and Content Note: Wilson's top man, Judge James Cooney, was very hard-nosed and refused to recognize the union after the strike. The company finally gave in because the workers “raised so much hell.”
Tape/Side   5/2
Time   20:05
THE STOCKYARDS DURING THE 1948 STRIKE
Scope and Content Note: Stockyard workers used to be quite militant. Then the local fell into the hands of Frank Monaghan. They used to consider themselves the aristocrats of the industry because they rode horses. Many quit when tractors were introduced. The stockyard people were amongst the leaders of the opposition at the 1948 convention. Prosten suspects they purposely settled for less, knowing the effect it would have on the strike. They had very few blacks.
Tape/Side   5/2
Time   22:55
AFTER THE 1948 STRIKE, THE UNION SOUGHT TO AVOID INDUSTRY-WIDE STRIKES
END OF TAPE 5, SIDE 2
Tape/Side   6/1
Time   00:00
INTRODUCTION
Tape/Side   6/1
Time   00:30
1959 STRIKE
Scope and Content Note: Swift and Wilson had to be struck because they would not follow the Armour pattern. They said “that Armour's not going to negotiate their agreements.” Their intelligence was wrong; they thought they could pull it off, but they were mistaken. They might have been thinking they should not give in too easily because that would encourage the union to be bolder in future negotiations.
Tape/Side   6/1
Time   03:25
THE DECLINE IN UPWA MEMBERSHIP WAS MAINLY A REFLECTION OF DECREASING EMPLOYMENT IN THE INDUSTRY
Scope and Content Note: The big old plants were closed and replaced with more efficient plants. The old plants were multi-storied plants and required 15 percent to 20 percent common laborers just to move the meat from one floor to another. Productivity in general more than doubled. Technological improvements in bacon slicing, for example, means now two women do three times the work 17 women used to do. Technological improvements and new methods led to general employment decline. Processing and curing has been tremendously expedited with chemicals, etc. Although the new plants were organized, they had fewer workers producing more.
Tape/Side   6/1
Time   07:45
IN THE EARLY 1960S, UPWA WAS ORGANIZING QUITE A BIT OUTSIDE BASIC MEAT
Scope and Content Note: A good organizer can organize in any industry. The food processing sector of the industry is not well organized. It is a very low-wage industry. Prosten was looking into fast food hamburger processing at the time of his retirement. These sectors are very hard to organize, and there is a certain lack of will to do the job. Some unions look at the economics of a situation before attempting an organizing drive rather than just recognizing a group of workers who need organizing, and going ahead and doing the job.
Tape/Side   6/1
Time   12:10
CANADA EXPERIENCED THE SAME MEAT INDUSTRY CHANGES AS THE UNITED STATES
Scope and Content Note: Swift in Canada has recently been sold. Many small plants have been bought out.
Tape/Side   6/1
Time   12:40
PLANT CLOSINGS AND OTHER INDUSTRY CHANGES HAVE AFFECTED MEMBERSHIP MORALE
Scope and Content Note: UPWA has probably done a better job of maintaining morale than other unions, but morale has been affected.
Tape/Side   6/1
Time   13:10
BY 1968, UPWA WAS ADVISING AGAINST GOING TO ARBITRATION
Scope and Content Note: If an arbitrator made a decision the employer did not like, the employer would refuse to use that arbitrator again. Over the years, a process of elimination had taken place, and the union was forced more and more to select the lesser of evils when picking an arbitrator. In an attempt to resolve this, they tried the Federal Mediation Service but found it to be heavily weighted with management types. They now have permanent arbitrators.
Tape/Side   6/1
Time   17:40
IOWA BEEF PROCESSORS
Scope and Content Note: Strike in 1969. There was a big fight within the union over whether to try to close other Iowa Beef plants as well. Gorman insisted on closing other plants, even though they were under contract. A big judgment against the union was handed down based on this violation of contract.
Tape/Side   6/1
Time   20:15
THE DIFFICULTIES OF LEGAL RESTRICTIONS ON UNIONS TODAY
Scope and Content Note: Another class situation. Only accidentally will a court give a worker a break. Unions too often fall back on legal proceedings rather than engaging in struggle. Prosten's own local union avoided both the courts and the NLRB. Court delays undermine worker loyalty to the union.
Tape/Side   6/1
Time   24:10
“THE BOSS IS NOT YOUR FRIEND-AND HE AIN'T GOT NOTHING TO GIVE YOU UNLESS YOU'RE BIG ENOUGH TO TAKE IT AWAY FROM HIM”
END OF INTERVIEW

Notes:
[1] : The UPWA held no convention in 1965. The 1966 convention witnessed a lively debate over a resolution calling for a cease fire in Viet Nam and an exploration of all possible avenues for settling the war. The resolution passed with some opposition.