May 4 Univis Strike

May 4, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 1948.

That was the day United Electrical workers voted to strike at Univis Lens Company in Dayton, Ohio.

Univis made safety lenses and instrumental optics.

The UE was well established in area manufacturing plants.

Once organized, Univis fought the UE’s presence every chance they could.

When the contract expired at the end of April, Univis refused to negotiate.

First came the injunction limiting picketing.

This was followed by a vigorous decertification campaign 

Foremen made intimidating, personal visits to workers’ homes, offering raises and personal loans to coerce ‘no’ votes.

When the UE lost the election in late July, the company announced wage increases for returning workers and firings for remaining strikers.

Workers stuck together and the strike continued. 

By the 26th, police swarmed the picket lines, beating top UE organizers and arresting hundreds. 

Two days later, the company offered a settlement for all but 11 strikers. 

The members refused. 

Then House Un-American Activities Committee came to town to begin a red baiting inquisition of the UE district.

The city’s unions were outraged at the beatings and arrests.

They walked off their jobs to bolster the picket lines and were met with tear gas.

Governor Herbert called in the National Guard on August 2.

1500 troops rolled into town in Sherman tanks with machine guns trained on the strikers.

Scabs were escorted through plant gates between rows of fixed bayonets.

Area residents, furious at the virtual martial law established, flooded the governor with angry protests until troops were finally withdrawn.

The strike ended in victory, with workers winning most of their demands.

All but five were reinstated and by the following April, the NLRB voided the decertification election.

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