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Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

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North American Aviation Strike

  June 6, 1941, North American Aviation Strike  
  Photograph by the Los Angeles Times  

Labor activists picket the North American Aviation plant in a photo published June 6, 1941.

  April 17, 1941, Reds  

June 7, 1941, Industrial Freedom One of the first challenges in studying the 1941 North American Aviation strike is using The Times as source material.

The newspaper had been a vocal opponent of organized labor since the 19th century and became even more strident after the 1910 bombing of The Times Building by union activists. The motto “True Industrial Freedom” appeared on the nameplate for years and “TRVE INDVSTRIAL FREEDOM” is carved into the building.  

April 17, 1941, Reds Given its other pronouncements, I wouldn’t expect The Times editorial page to be impartial, but news stories ought to be a different matter. Here’s what I consider an example of dubious reporting. This April 17, 1941, Times story leads with the statement that a UAW contract proposed for North American Aviation workers would forbid "barring of Communist Party members."

Further down, the story quotes the precise wording of the contract, which is a far broader statement forbidding discrimination on the basis of race, color, creed, political affiliations “or nativity of his parents or ancestors.”  Notice that it doesn’t mention anything about gender. In this era, of course, loyalty oaths were supposed to weed out subversives – but that’s another story. 

Here’s some other details from the proposed contract. It’s vital to adjust the monetary amounts for inflation because they seem so small compared to today; 75 cents an hour might not sound like much, but for 1941, it was pretty good pay.  

Adjusted for inflation in 2010 dollars, North American workers wanted a minimum wage of $10.98 an hour; a $1.46-an-hour raise after 30 days; another $1.46-an-hour raise after 90 days; a 73-cent raise after six months and another 73-cent raise after a year, plus a night differential of $1.46 an hour. In comparison, TWA pilots were paid 80  cents ($11.71) an hour for daytime flights and $1.20 ($17.57) an hour for nighttime flying, according to a July 25, 1941, story.

In other words, under the proposed contract, a North American worker on the night shift with one year on the job would be making $16.82 and hour, or nearly $35,000 a year in 2010 dollars.

  April 17, 1941, Reds  

  June 7, 1941, Reds  

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