Title:
A Community's Crisis: Hillsdale and the Essex Wire Strike

Author:
Michael A. Moore

Date:
1970

Source:
Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 66, Issue 3, pp 238-262

Article Type:
Article

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A Community's Crisis: Hillsdale and the Essex Wire Strike

Michael A. Moore

Violent and bloody strikes have long been a part of industrial relations between companies and labor unions. From the 1870s until World War II the United States was racked by rail, mining, coal, steel, and automobile strikes the violence of which set the stage for large scale confrontations among union men, company guards, partisan crowds, police, and troops. Admittedly, federal, state, and local governments have greatly reduced industrial tension by defining labor and management rights and by interposing public authority as a balance between the two. It is also true that public and private mediation boards, plus a more conciliatory attitude by labor and management toward each other over the past twenty years, have tended to replace conflict with consensus.1

But the United States has continued to experience more frequent and longer strikes than any other nation in the world except Canada and Sweden, and a higher percentage of union members have been involved in those strikes, again excepting Canada and Sweden.2 The reasons offered for this situation have been: (1) unions have traditionally preferred economic weapons—i.e., the strike, boycott, and/or blacklist—to political activity to achieve their goals; (2) labor, management, and the public in general have strongly opposed governmental intervention in labor disputes beyond a bare minimum, lest it set undesirable precedents; (3) the great majority of contracts—over 80 per cent-negotiated between unions and business have been on a plant by plant basis, rather than with the industry as a whole, thus increasing the probability of disagreement; (4) certain industries are more prone to strikes than others; (5) as the old issues separating labor and management in the past have been settled, new and more difficult ones have arisen to take their place.3 The presence of these elements in a labor dispute does not necessarily mean that a strike will be violent, for it is the configuration of these factors, plus the social and economic context in which they occur, that spells the difference. Thus, some important questions emerge. What kind of interaction


  • Michael A. Moore is associate professor of history, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio. He was on the staff of Hillsdale College during the Essex strike and served as secretary for the Hillsdale Ad Hoe Citizens' Committee on Industrial Relations which investigated the dispute's impact on the community.
  • 1 Arthur Ross and Paul T. Hartman, Changing Patterns of Industrial Conflict (New York, 1960), chapter 5.
  • 2Ibid., 162. See also Arthur Ross, "The Prospects for Industrial Conflict," Industrial Relations, I (October, 1961), 58, where the author lists the electrical manufacturers as among those industries most prone to strike. This would include a company such as Essex Wire.
  • 3 Ross and Hartman, Changing Patterns of Industrial Conflict, 162-67.
produces violence? What is the role of the social and economic environment in aggravating that violence? Why is the violence difficult to stop once it starts in a labor dispute?

Most studies of labor violence have tended to concentrate on lengthy, mass strikes in urban areas, but the Essex Wire Strike in Hillsdale, Michigan, occurred in a rural setting that involved only 140 workers and lasted but three months. Before the strike ended, however, the town, the company, the county, and the union, together with outside partisans, became locked in one of the most intense and bitter struggles in recent Michigan labor history. Only when Governor George Romney declared near martial law, sent in 1,200 national guardsmen, closed down the plant, and took personal charge of the negotiations did peace and order return. Until he intervened, Hillsdale, city and county, had become a battleground for two very large, powerful, and determined adversaries, the Essex Wire Corporation of Fort Wayne, Indiana, and the International Union of Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (IUE). Their actions made the strike a throwback to the industrial conflicts of the 1930s in terms of the property damage, personal assaults, use of armed guards, racism, appearance of union supporters from outside the town, and impassioned community involvement that it spawned. As the director of Region 7 for the National Labor Relations Board subsequently observed:

Within the framework of the experiences we have had in this office with strikes and other types of labor disputes, there is no doubt that the Essex Wire 1964 strike was very unusual in respect to its intensity and the hostilities engendered. We would have to go back to the 30's when organizational strikes among major companies were taking place readily to find situations similar in respect to their intensity and bitterness.4

On February 28, 1964, the 140 members of Local 810, IUE, walked off their jobs at the Hillsdale plant of the Essex Wire Corporation demanding higher wages, more convenient scheduling of work shifts, longer lunch hours, more precise job descriptions, and a system whereby the higher paying jobs in the plant would be awarded on the basis of seniority rather than merit (job bidding procedure).5 The strikers wanted their wages, which averaged $2.43 an hour, to be raised to the same average level of $3.00 that their counterparts at


  • 4 Jerome H. Brooks, regional director, National Labor Relations Board, Region 7, to the author, October 2, 1969.
  • 5 Hillsdale Daily News. February 29, April 4, 1964. Both Essex and the IUE were highly critical of what they believed to be biased reporting of the strike by the Daily News. However, there appeared to be no overt bias; if anything, the paper seemed to bend over backward to preserve its neutrality and to keep its style of reporting from contributing to the violence. The only two editorials written on the strikes, March 5 and May 13, 1964, both called for an end to violence and stricter law enforcement. All newspapers, unless otherwise indicated, are located in Michigan.
[Figure]

IUE PICKETS AND ONLOOKERS IN FRONT OF ESSEX PLANT (LEFT)

Courtesy Hillsdale Daily News

the Fort Wayne plant, seventy miles away, were making.6 The laborers also demanded more voice in the scheduling of overtime because, they said, the company was expecting workers to be on call at a moment's notice and would fire them if they did not come in.7

While these demands had immediate importance to the strikers, they were even more significant as symbols of deep seated frustrations which workers had harbored ever since Essex had opened the Hillsdale operation in 1957. The core of this frustration was the laborers' conviction that they had no job security,8 because they believed that the company was pursuing a policy of deliberate exploitation and that the two international unions which had represented them prior to the IUE-the International Association of Machinists (1957-1960) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (1960-1963)—had betrayed them.

Company officials freely admitted that Essex opened its new plant in Hillsdale because the generally low wage pattern allowed the corporation to pay lower wages than at nearby Fort Wayne.9 The Hillsdale plant also experimented with different production techniques, seeking more efficient ways to make wire. This meant that there was constant shifting of men and jobs as the management attempted different combinations of responsibilities and techniques.10 Under such circumstances detailed and permanent job descriptions were difficult, requiring that employees trust management to deal fairly with them. The employees claimed, however, that the company took unfair advantage by refusing even to designate which jobs were skilled, semiskilled, or unskilled in order to maneuver employee assignments at will. Furthermore, they said, the company under the guise of promoting men for reasons of merit and job qualifications,


  • 6Ibid., April 4, 1964; Albion Recorder, June 10, 1964.
  • 7 Hillsdale Daily News, April 4, 1964.
  • 8 Sanford Cohen, Labor in the United States (2nd ed., Columbus, 1966). 289, points out that job security was one of the leading causes—23 per cent—of strikes in 1963. Unlike the traditional issues of wages, hours, and working conditions, job security reflected qualitative concerns by employees who felt isolated and alienated by the growing bureaucracy of the impersonal corporation. In an attempt to regain some control of what was happening to them unions began demanding a voice in such matters as setting work rules, discipline, discharges, job description, and job bidding. Many of these matters had traditionally been the prerogatives of plant managers and administrators and therein lies the conflict.
  • 9 Paul Albrechta, Essex Wire Corporation counsel, and James A. O'Connor, Essex vice president for manufacturing, in a statement to the Hillsdale Inter-Church Council, March 4, 1964. Also Italo Bragalone, plant manager of the Hills dale plant, in an interview with the author; the Reverend Gardiner Winn, First Presbyterian Church; and the Reverend O. L. Merritt, First Methodist Church, representing the Ad Hoc Citizens' Committee on Industrial Relations, May 7, 1964. (Hereafter referred to as Ad Hoc Citizens' Committee.) The interviews with Bragalone and other strike principals were handled by the author's taking notes during the conversation, typing them up, and submitting them for correction. In the case of Bragalone's interview, he correeted errors of fact and detail but made no substantive alterations.
  • 10 Bragalone interview, May 7, 1964.
actually rewarded men whose primary qualifications were loyalty to management. Essex also hired new employees with no qualifications and "jumped" them over long time workers. The reason, said the union, was that the company could thus get away with paying even lower wages.11

The local employees were equally bitter toward the two earlier international unions because they had not improved working conditions. Both the IAM and the Teamsters, according to one local union executive, had negotiated "sweetheart" contracts with Essex whereby the international representatives accepted unfavorable terms for the local in return for favors to the international by the company. The employees could not protest because the international representatives "completely controlled" the local, by virtue of the union constitutions, allowing them to so completely dominate the union meetings that they simply would not recognize dissident members. During the tenure of the Teamsters the local had voted unanimously to strike six different times, but the representatives refused to sanction it." When the Teamsters began a new round of talks with Essex in June, 1963, and appeared to be heading toward another sweetheart contract, the local had become so angry that the members rebelled and broke off negotiations in July,13 petitioned the National Labor Relations Board to hold a certification election, and when the vote was taken in November, replaced the Teamsters with the IUE."

The decision favoring IUE was not unanimous, for several local members had held out for the more powerful United Auto Workers which they believed to be more militant. Thus, when negotiations began again in January, 1964, the new IUE international representative, George Gould, not only had to pick up the pieces of the original contract talks between Essex and the Teamsters, which had been dormant


  • 11 George Gould, IUE international representative, in an interview with the author, Winn, and Merritt, representing the Ad Hoc Citizens' Committee, May 12, 1964.
  • 12 Neil Carsner, a member of IUE Local 810 executive committee, in a statement to the Hillsdale Ad Hoc Citizens' Committee, June 11, 1964. The Ad Hoe Com mittee, composed of between ten and thirty business, labor, educational, civic, and governmental leaders, clergymen, and one college professor, met informally be tween May and August, 1964, to seek to (1) reduce the tension and violence of the Essex strike; (2) bring community understanding to the issues; (3) forestall future debacles. The chairman was the Reverend Ralph W. Reynolds who was at the time pastor of the College Baptist Church. Reynolds and the author handled various data and prepared a report, written by the author and critiqued by Reynold, for the committee. This article is based on that report. The Ad Hoc Citizens' Committee minutes are in the author's possession.
  • 13 The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 provided that employees might petition the NLRB to hold elections to choose or replace collective bargaining agents. In 1959 Congress enacted the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act which loosened the controls of international unions over their locals. For a clear summary of this law see Cohen, Labor in the United States, 176-78.
  • 14 Hillsdale Daily News, November 14, 1964.
since July; but he had to win the support of a demoralized, bitter, and suspicious local.15

The union's militance was equalled by that of the company which over the years since its founding in 1937 had gained for itself a reputation for being a tough bargainer in labor negotiations.16 Prior to the 1964 strike Essex had been before the NLRB five times on charges of unfair labor practices but was acquitted in four of them.17 Even so, it was the impression of NLRB regional director Jerome H. Brooks, that, "Essex Wire management in this [Hillsdale strike] as well as other instances takes a very hard and inflexible position concerning its obligation to bargain with its employees through their collective-bargaining agent concerning subject matters which in the historical past were considered to be strictly for management to resolve."18

This attitude stemmed in large part from the size and nature of the corporation. One of the giants of American industry, Essex in 1963 ranked three hundredth in size among corporations and earned gross receipts of $166 million, placing it among the fifty top money makers that year.19 The following year it took in $248.6 million.20 In 1964 it was a holding company for some fifty to one hundred sub sidiary corporations such as Wagner Industries and Consolidated Brass in Michigan, Bryan Manufacturing in Ohio, and Paranite in Marion and Jonesville, Indiana. Essex, however, was generally un known to the consumer public, mainly because its products were sold to other industries (chiefly the automobile manufacturers), because it did not issue stock on the open market, because its management was closely controlled by a few, and because it did not make public the names of those who did own shares in the company.21 Consequently, Essex gave insufficient attention to public relations, which, as Frank Gallucci, vice president and general counsel, was to admit later, con tributed a great deal to the company's difficulties during the dis pute.22 A more far reaching result was its relative freedom from having to account to others outside management for its policies. Robert G. Howlett, a member (later chairman) of the Michigan Labor


  • 15 A member of Local 810 in an interview with the author, April 20, 1965.
  • 16 This was a general impression which the author gained from conversations with various mediators from the NLRB and the Michigan Labor Relations Board.
  • 17 The NLRB cases are: 7-CA-4934; 7-CA-4572; 130 NLRB 450; and 19 NLRB 1384 which cleared Essex of unfair labor practice charges. 113 NLRB 344 found Essex guilty of unfair labor practices at a California plant in 1955. See Labor Relations Reference Manual, for assistance in locating cases mentioned.
  • 18 Jerome H. Brooks to the author, October 2, 1969.
  • 19 Gene Roberts and Carter Van Lopik, "Behind Essex—A Hidden Empire," Detroit Free Press, June 7, 1964.
  • 20 New York Times, April 6, 1963, p. 50.
  • 21 Roberts and Van Lopik, "Behind Essex—A Hidden Empire."
  • 22 Detroit Free Press, September 11, 1964.
Mediation Board, observed: "As a private corporation Essex is in a position to adopt labor relations policies different from those of a publicly owned corporation, which must be attuned to reaction of many shareholders."23

Although Essex did not publicly spell out its labor relations policy until after the strike, the Hillsdale plant manager, Italo Bragalone, made clear two basic points about it. The first was that management intended "to retain its right to manage,'' which included the right to determine the requirement of a job and who should fill it, "rather than turn that responsibility over to the union who would like to have it." This did not preclude negotiations about job requirements between management and labor, for, as Bragalone pointed out, there were procedures for assigning jobs, for making sure that work loads were not too heavy on any one person, and for settling arguments either through discussion with him or by taking them to a grievance board. But the company was not about to give up its prerogative of establishing the criteria for filling a job. It would be willing to modify its original decisions later through negotiations with the union, but it would not permit the union to be involved in the original or basic policy making where the ground rules were set.24

The second point in Essex' labor relations, efficient production of wire, depended upon the first. It was in the interest of efficiency that Essex moved to Hillsdale where it could pay lower wages. It was in the interest of efficiency that there was constant shifting of men and work loads. And it was in the context of efficiency that Bragalone criticized certain employee attitudes about their wages and responsibility. "In more than 25 years in Fort Wayne I know of only two grievances that have gone to arbitration," Bragalone observed; but at Hillsdale he experienced seven or eight cases per week prior to the strike, at a cost of $1,000 per case. The reason, to him, was that many employees were reluctant to give eight hours' work for eight hours' pay. This attitude, he added, might have been shaped by memories of the high wages and waste that characterized defense plant work during World War 11. But when the war ended and the waste was eliminated, Hillsdale labor generally did not adjust and continued to "expect more than what they were entitled to." When Essex came to Hillsdale, Bragalone continued, it had to train its work force from the ground up, which cost the company money and efficient production. As the work force improved, production quotas were


  • 23 Robert G. Howlett, "The Battle of Hillsdale—The Essex Wire Strike Emergency," Labor Law Journal, XV (December, 1964), 771. This article is a personal narrative by a member, later chairman, of the Michigan Labor Mediation Board of the board's role in settling the strike. Howlett stressed and supported Governor George Romney's actions in resolving the dispute.
  • 24 Bragalone interview, May 7, 1964.
raised but salaries were not, because, Bragalone seemed to imply, the men were overpaid during their training period and now were expected to compensate until the company recouped its investment outlay. However, Bragalone concluded, wages at Hillsdale recently had been increasing at a faster rate than at Fort Wayne and in a twenty year period "they would probably be equal to Ft. Wayne's."25

Given such inflexible positions on job security versus management rights, it was scarcely surprising that when contract talks resumed on January 15, 1964, they showed no progress. State mediators reported to Howlett that neither Essex nor the IUE appeared eager to come to grips with the substantive issues.26 Instead, both the union and the company accused each other of using the time to prepare for the strike. A company publication issued after the strike said that the IUE used the bargaining period to foment "strike fever" within the local,27 and the international union representative said during the strike that Essex was contracting to import strikebreakers from West Virginia.28 After thirteen fruitless sessions union leaders set a strike deadline for February 29.29 On February 28, however, unknown people sabotaged tanks of insulating material inside the plant, causing $8,000 damage according to company estimates.30 That night at a union rally allegations that Essex vice president Paul Albrechta had signed a secret contract with strikebreakers in West Virginia so angered the men that they decided not to return to work.31

The next day revealed that both sides had dug in for a long battle. Gallucci, Essex vice president and general counsel, indirectly charged that Local 810 had bargained in bad faith because members had walked out even though the union had agreed to attend a bargaining session scheduled for February 29. Gallucci also vowed that the plant would continue to operate "indefinitely and on a permanent basis with out them [the strikers]"; at the same time the first group of non-striking employees, these from Essex' Fort Wayne factory, came to


  • 25Ibid. Three fourths of the notes from the Bragalone interview deal with efficiency.
  • 26 Howlett, "The Battle of Hillsdale," 770-71. The negotiators included: Bragalone, Gallucci, and Albrechta for Essex; Charles Roselle, president of Local 810: Gould; William Jack, shop steward; Rick Kelly and Jack Smith, committee-men for IUE; Robert Pisarski representing the Michigan Labor Mediation Board; and Frank Denner of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.
  • 27102 Crucial DaysBiography of the Strike that Challenged the Free Enterpvise System (Fort Wayne, 1964), 7-8. See also Bragalone to Essex employees, mimeographed letter, March 30, 1964, in which Bragalone accused the IUE of having "a reputation for clever slogans, and convincing propaganda, that goes back to its early communistic environment when it was called the United Electrical Workers." Copy of letter on file at Essex Wire Corporation, Hillsdale.
  • 28 Gould interview, May 12, 1964.
  • 29 Howlett, "The Battle of Hillsdale," 772.
  • 30102 Crucial Days, 8.
  • 31 Ted Nolan, IUE field representative, to the Hillsdale Daily News, February 29, 1964.
work at Hillsdale.32 The company also advertised for more non-strikers in newspapers of nearby cities.33 About thirty-five of the nonstrikers who came were Negroes.

On February 29 union pickets piled logs in the company driveways and set them afire to block traffic. The presence of Ted Nolan, an IUE field representative, was the beginning of appearances by groups of union men from outside Hillsdale to demonstrate their support of Local 810. The IUE opened a "field headquarters unit" in a mobile trailer acrass the street from the plant and set up shanties on the sidewalk in front.34

Violence attended the first full day of the strike when pickets unsuccessfully tried to prevent the Fort Wayne employees from entering the plant, and a picket was struck by a car that he and others tried to keep from leaving.35 Three days later on March 2 a truck driver tried to enter the driveway and was beaten while his passenger had ammonia thrown in his face. Gould denied that the pickets were responsible, but there was no denial when, on the following day, pickets lit the logs again and roughed up Albrechta when he tried to enter the plant.36 This pattern was to be repeated continuously throughout the strike: a fight would occur involving numbers of pickets, sympathetic onlookers, and company personnel; Essex would claim that the IUE assaulted their men while the union charged that management, particularly Albrechta, would deliberately provoke them with taunts and curses. Police took names but did not make arrests since they were under orders only to keep the situation "under surveillance."37

The initial display of violence set in motion a series of moves and countermoves by Essex and the IUE as each side tried to gain a tactical advantage over the other. On March 3 company lawyers obtained a court injunction limiting the number of pickets to three at each entrance to the plant and forbidding the use of weapons, violence, threats, and intimidations by strikers. But union counsels pointed out that the judge, Robert McIntyre, was a member of a law firm that had done business with Essex less than three years before the strike and, therefore, under Michigan law had been ineligible to hear the case.38 The same was true of the local prosecuting attorney, James


  • 32 Hillsdale Daily News, February 29. 1964. According to the company's seniority list, on file at the personnel office, Essex hired a total of 161 people during the strike. There was extremely rapid turnover, however; some twenty-nine stayed a week or less and thirty-eight others quit before the end of the dispute.
  • 33 While Essex spokesmen claimed they advertised only in Detroit and Jackson newspapers, advertisements were found elsewhere as well. See Coldwater Daily Reporter, April 18, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 1964.
  • 34 Hillsdale Daily News, February 29, 1964.
  • 35Ibid.
  • 36Ibid., March 3, 1964.
  • 37Ibid., March 20, 1964. Police made no arrests until May 27.
  • 38Michigan General Court Rules (St. Paul, 1963), section 104.
Parker. McIntyre and Parker disqualified themselves, the injunction was vacated, and the new judge, John Dalton, urged everyone to return to the bargaining table and refused to issue the injunction until both sides could present full arguments.39 There was no gain for either side.

Essex and the IUE then sought to increase their power by getting outside help. On March 5 Essex published an advertisement in the local newspaper entitled "The Shame of Hillsdale," wherein the company blamed the town for permitting the violence and lawlessness at the plant. "You may ask, ‘where are the police’? … They have tried but they admit they can't handle it." Thus, "The Shame of Hillsdale lies in the fact that, apparently if one is strong enough, one can break every law in the books, with impunity." In conclusion the advertisement asked, "Can't it be corrected? It's your problem as well as ours."40

Five days later the company answered its part of the problem by importing the first of twenty-eight armed guards to protect the plant from property damage. The company with which Essex was insured had demanded the armed guards and urged the company to "comply at once."41 Although the union tried to get the guards removed, first through court action and then by a visit to the mayor's office by one hundred wives of the strikers, both Judge Dalton and Mayor C. Audrey Paul replied that the hiring was legal and that there were enough state police to support the local law enforcement agencies in protecting lives.42 The armed guards not only provided a defense against property damage but also protected the nonstrikers by escorting them from their homes outside Hillsdale to work and back. This gave the company an offensive weapon against the strikers.

The union's appeal to outside support was in the form of the Inter-Union Council of Essex Wire Workers.43 This council, composed of Essex employees in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana, cut across union organizational lines to include representatives from the International Association of Machinists, the United Auto Workers, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and the Allied Industrial Workers. The council's goals were to exchange information on contracts and labor policies at Essex plants and to assist all plants in the event of a strike such as Hillsdale's. Although it was not stated,


  • 39 Hillsdale Daily News, March 11, 1964.
  • 40Ibid., March 5, 1964.
  • 41 Robert J. Grow of Grow, Kellar, Englebert, and Freese, Inc., Detroit, Michigan, to T. P. Sharples, Essex Wire Corporation, Fort Wayne, Indiana, March 3, 1964. Letter on file at the Hillsdale County Courthouse, Office of the County Clerk, Civil Case 1-216.
  • 42 Hillsdale Daily News, March 20, 1964.
  • 43Ibid., April 4, 1964. Gloria Johnson, IUE Economics and Research Department, to Ted Nolan, May 7, 1964. This letter listed nineteen Essex plants organized by the IUE. The letter is in the possession of the author.
such an organization could have the effect of guaranteeing uniform patterns of wages, hours, and working conditions throughout Essex and prevent any divide and conquer tactics by the company.

Moves and countermoves characterized the bargaining sessions. Although state mediators had started up the talks again in late March, nothing happened until April 22, when the union suddenly offered to return to work unconditionally, provided the company attached no conditions to the men's return.44 This proposal of a status quo ante was a shrewd bargaining tactic, for it forced Essex to choose between two unpleasant alternatives. If the company accepted the offer at face value, it would have to accept employees as they chose to come back, rather than laying down the criteria by which to rehire. This in effect would signify a union inroad into management right to manage. Furthermore, Essex had by this time hired some thirty non-strikers whom it was publicly committed to retain. If all the union men returned to work, these men would not be needed. But Essex could not reject the IUE's offer without appearing to the public as a selfish employer, more interested in the company's welfare than the community's.

Essex did accept the proposal but reserved the right to call men back "upon individual application … as the company determines … necessary for the orderly resumption of operations without regard to seniority."45 Bragalone also stated that the company would not rehire several strikers because of alleged misconduct on the picket line.46 The union, which was in a position to decide what constituted "conditions of return," claimed that the company was imposing conditions, withdrew its offer, and continued the strike.47

The result of these flanking maneuvers gave the company a temporary advantage over the union but at considerable damage to its relations with the community. As long as it continued to produce and ship wire, Essex was winning the strike. The use of armed guards to escort nonstrikers into the plant and to their homes—some as far away as Jackson, Michigan, thirty miles distant—guaranteed that there were enough workers to man the machines. Occasionally the state police escorted company trucks to the Michigan state line as a precaution against violence;48 this had the added effect of helping Essex meet its delivery schedules. The hiring of nonstrikers and


  • 44 Hillsdale Daily News, April 23, 1964.
  • 45 Bragalone to Essex employees, mimeographed letter, April 22, 1964. A copy of the letter is in the possession of the author. Howlett notes that Bragalone deleted the phrase "upon individual application" when Gould objected to it in an early draft of the letter. No reason was given, however, for its appearance in the final copy. Howlett, "The Battle of Hillsdale," 775.
  • 46 Hillsdale Daily News, April 25. 1964.
  • 47Ibid., April 26: 1964.
  • 48 A photograph of police escorting Essex trucks, ibid., March 10, 1964.
armed guards—particularly the latter—produced extremely adverse effects on community residents. Not only did many object to what they considered the naked exercise of power by the company which threatened to upset an already uneasy peace, but the presence of black men among the nonstrikers and guards—in an all white rural community—fanned racial hatreds. Bragalone claimed that the company hired nonstrikers on a first come basis without regard to race, but he admitted that no black had ever been hired before at Hillsdale. Gould's explanation for the hiring of black workers was that Essex was "getting even" with Hillsdale for anticompany attitudes and the refusal by police to protect its property.49

Throughout the strike workers, company personnel, and anxious residents demanded that the local police enforce the law against violence more vigorously. Both Essex and the IUE had earlier condemned the city administration for timidity, and the company had pointed to the lack of arrests as partial justification for hiring the armed guards.30 The control over the local police was in the hands of Mayor Paul and Acting Prosecutor Emil Fry. The mayor believed that police "surveillance" could keep the situation in hand, and he held to that position even after the company brought in armed guards. When the wives of the pickets appealed to Mayor Paul to break up suspected stockpiling of weapons in the plant and to protect their husbands from the guards, he replied that the presence of the Michigan State Police would preserve order.51 His position was supported by Circuit Court Judge Dalton;? and Lieutenant Governor T. John Lesinski53 who gave assurances that the state would stand behind the police and the sheriff.

Surveillance, however, could be effective only if it contained an ultimate implication of force, i.e., arrests and indictments, and neither Mayor Paul nor Prosecutor Fry was willing to make that commitment. Mayor Paul had said of Essex and the strikers that "if they break the law they will be arrested," and Fry added that he would "back up the law enforcement agencies 100 per cent."54 Yet Paul compromised his position when he said that the strike was not a local matter and that his administration was caught between "large outside forces" seeking to make the dispute a test case for the entire magnet wire industry.55 Indeed, his comparing the conflict to a "great game of chess" perhaps suggests that he saw the city agencies as mere


  • 49 Gould interview, May 12, 1964.
  • 50 Hillsdale Daily News. March 14, 1964.
  • 51Ibid., March 20, 1964.
  • 52Ibid., March 11, 1964.
  • 53 Cadillac Evening News, March 13, 1964.
  • 54 Hillsdale Daily News, April 16, 1964.
  • 55Ibid., March 20, 1964.
pawns. The mayor's statement of impotence was magnified into grave consequences by the prosecutor's actions; for, as a state labor mediation board member was surprised to learn, "arrests had not been made by either state or local police on instructions from the substitute Prosecuting Attorney. This was an amazing revelation, which for some unknown reason had not been communicated to the authorities in Lansing."56

The city's decision to rely upon police surveillance without arrests indicated that the community did not fully grasp the realities of the Essex dispute. When big business and big unions clash, the effect reaches well beyond immediate economic issues into political and social realms. This demands the intervention of a disinterested third force, hopefully in a persuasive function, but, if necessary, in a coercive role. By underestimating the full impact of the Essex-IUE strike and by preventing arrests and prosecutions the city seriously weakened the effectiveness of the public "third force." There was, then, no effective law enforcement at a time when the atmosphere was increasingly poisoned by constant fights at and away from the picket lines, by the economic and racial prejudice against the armed guards and nonstriking workers, and by the large crowds of increasingly partisan spectators.

If the city's role in preventing violence was so crucial, why did not Paul and Fry face up to that responsibility? The immediate answer from them was that they believed arrests would provoke more violence.57 Even though the judge and the lieutenant governor had assured them of adequate police support, this apparently did not counteract the feeling of helplessness expressed by the mayor at the struggle of these two giants. There was also the practical problem of getting witnesses to corroborate the arresting officer's testimony in court. Several officials told the Ad Hoc Citizens' Committee that the prosecutor would probably not have been able to build a case against a striker accused of breaking the law, thus exposing the police to charges of false arrest.58

If, however, the mayor and the prosecutor hesitated to crack down on the strikers for their violence, they risked alienating Essex to the point that it might leave the town. On the first day of the strike a reporter asked Gallucci if the plant would shut down and leave. The vice president replied that it would "if we can't operate economically."59 On May 3 Bragalone added: "Hillsdale has let a lot of industry leave. I can name Monroe Auto, Paramount Manufacturing, and


  • 56 Howlett, "The Battle of Hillsdale," 775. Italics added.
  • 57 Hillsdale Daily News, March 14, April 15, 1964; Albion Recorder, June 2, 1964.
  • 58 Ad Hoc Citizens' Committee minutes, June 11, 1964.
  • 59 Hillsdale Daily News, February 29, 1964.
Allied Products plant, and the Dana Corporation which had this plant before we moved in. Most of them left because of labor trouble. It's a shame. Hillsdale needs us and several more like us. It isn't growing."60

Although the mayor denied that the companies left solely because of labor trouble, they nevertheless had left, and their departure had created some serious employment problems.61 Of particular anguish was the departure of Allied Products which left in 1961 in the midst of a strike with the United Auto Workers, claiming that the UAW's wage demands would have priced it out of the competitive market. Mayor Paul as well as others saw parallels between that strike and the Essex dispute and feared that it might have the same result.62 Thus, the mayor urged both Essex and the IUE to consider the economy of Hillsdale and reminded them of the town's attempts to attract new industry to replace Allied.63

Bringing industry to Hillsdale was an urgent matter. The county in the early 1960s found itself in the midst of a painful transition from an agricultural to an industrial economy with a large number of people not able to make a decent living at either. Of the 2,532 working farms in the county nearly one half (1,025) earned less than $2,500 in 1962, while another 625 grossed between $2,500 and $5,000.64 Furthermore, farm indebtedness was increasing, taxes were taking a larger bite of farm income, and farm investments were earning a lower rate of interest.64 The basic problem was that there were too many small farms, and officials such as Albert T. Hall, county extension agent, urged that farms be consolidated and that 110 new jobs in industry be created each year to take up the slack created by the decline of agriculture.66

But industry could not fill the gap. In 1962 over one fifth of the working force of Hillsdale County went outside the county to work.67 The median income per family was the lowest in southern Michigan,68 and the income distribution per family was so bad that slightly less than 10 per cent of the top income families received one third of the


  • 60 Gene Roberts, "Hillsdale: Town with Big Trouble," Detroit Free Press, May 3, 1964.
  • 61 Hillsdale Daily News, February 29, 1964.
  • 62Ad Hoc Citizens' Committee minutes, June 11, 1964.
  • 63 Hillsdale Daily News, February 29, 1964.
  • 64 Hillsdale County Planning Commission, "Hillsdale County, Michigan: Its Resources and Their Development" (mimeographed report to the Hillsdale County Board of Supervisors, 1962), 26. This report, hereafter cited as Planning Commission Report, was authorized in October, 1961, by the Hillsdale County Board of Su. pervisors. It investigated developments in industry, water resources and recreation, education, population, and health and welfare.
  • 65Ibid., 29.
  • 66 Ad Hoc Citizens' Committee minutes, June 25, 1964.
  • 67 Planning Commission Report, 19.
  • 68Ibid., 1.
county's total income while the bottom one third of the county's families earned less than 10 per cent.69 Unemployment was above the average for the state, and the limited amount of property subject to taxation restricted the level of public services that the county and city agencies could provide. Nor could the county anticipate any rapid growth in population which could stimulate industry. Since the population of the city of Hillsdale had grown by only 4.6 per cent (to 7,629) between 1950 and 1960, and since the county as a whole had increased by 8.9 per cent (to 34,742) during the same decade, the Industrial Planning Commission could foresee an increase of only 3,000 persons by 1970.70

Accompanying such grim data were equally somber attitudes which were uncovered by the planning commission in its report to the County Board of Supervisors. Several area merchants voiced their feelings to the commission that the ambitious and capable workers were moving away from Hillsdale, city and county, leaving behind "the less enterprising ad ambitious workers who … [were] not interested in improving themselves~."71 While that remark perhaps said as much about the merchants as their employees, the mood of pessimism was plain enough. In one of the principal conclusions of its report, the commission stated, "As a whole, the area wants industrial growth, and the prosperity that goes with it; but many citizens don't want changes. They like life the way it is, tucked away in the hills of southern Michigan."72

Fry and Paul, then, not only had to operate within a community that found itself in an industrial backwater but also had to contend with a general attitude of defeat and suspicion. Essex' labor policies definitely did not have the community's welfare in mind, but neither did the IUE's pressure tactics. Thus, city leaders responsible for enforcing the law were paralyzed by a number of fears and seemingly irresistible forces: the fear of antagonizing either the IUE or Essex, the history of industry moving out, a generally depressed economy, a prevalent mood of pessimism—all of which were fanned into violence by a company and union each bent on victory regardless of the cost to the city and county. These elements, then, helped produce the circumstances which made the community unable to contain and isolate the strike. The bitter fruit of this crisis was the increase of violence not only on the picket line but in the community.

Picket line incidents were the most numerous when the shifts changed, particularly when the evening workers came on at 7 P.M. The


  • 69Ibid., 22.
  • 70Ibid., 15, 24.
  • 71Ibid., 71.
  • 72Ibid., 64.
scene at Essex included a number of nonstrikers escorted by guards trying to force their way into or out of the plant and scuffling with over one hundred pickets plus union sympathizers from out of town. Curious onlookers together with reporters, five or six local police, and about twenty Michigan State Police usually swelled the crowd to perhaps two or three hundred people. Many spectators would hurry over to the plant after a hasty supper to see "what was doing"; others whose close friends or relatives were on the picket line had more partisan motives.

Company and union negotiators, at the urging of state and federal mediators, continued to meet sporadically, but they got nowhere; the real bargaining had shifted to the picket line where power had replaced persuasion as a means of settling the strike. In the second week of April a bomb blew a hole in the company's roof and broke numerous windows. Several days later pickets tipped over a car containing four Indiana men who came to work, they said, in response to an Essex advertisement in a Fort Wayne newspaper. One of the men said, "I didn't know what I was getting into. I have never seen this plant before. I am sorry that I came up here"; but police found clubs in his car. That same night, April 15, as the evening shift came on, pickets again blocked the driveway. A car with armed guards "swept through the crowd" followed by a truck containing nonstrikers. The truck was stopped and rolled, and the three men inside fled into the plant. Later that night one of the pickets was shot by a pellet gun. The union claimed that it was fired from the plant, but Bragalone denied this.73

Prior to the IUE's "unconditional offer," April 17-26, the violence had been confined to the plant site. But as the possibilities of a negotiated settlement waned, incidents began to occur throughout the county. On May 7 in the village of Pulaski, approximately fifteen miles from Hillsdale, unknown assailants attacked a convoy of non-strikers and armed guard escorts on their way home to Jackson. During the melee windows were smashed, a car was overturned, and fights occurred in several parts of the village. Again the note of racism was sounded when a resident told reporters that a Negro took a swing at him for "siding with whites" when he ordered a mob out of his front yard. Four nights later fifteen masked men broke into the city power plant and tried to force the three employees there to shut off electricity to the Essex factory. Although the invaders harmed no one and left peaceably when shown that it was impossible to turn off Essex' power without blacking out almost the entire city, townspeople were in an uproar. The newspaper carried a front page editorial


  • 73 Hillsdale Daily News, April 8, 16, 1964.
which condemned the violence and demanded stricter law enforcement.74 Concerned business, professional, union, and political persons formed the Ad Hoc Citizens' Committee on Industrial Relations to gather and disseminate information about the strike in the hopes of improving communications and reducing tensions. Governor Romney increased the number of state police at the plant, and the city council purchased a steel gate—with a lock—for the power plant.75

The climax to the violence began May 26 when the evening shift came to work at 7 P.M. escorted by armed guards. As usual, there was a large crowd, but the conflict of the previous two weeks had keyed up many of them. As the nonstrikers' cars approached the plant, people started to pelt them with eggs; and one car, trying to avoid being hit, bumped the car of Jack Bowditch, vice president of Local 810. When Bowditch got out and "approached" the non-strikers' car he was slashed on the face.76 The car containing three men raced into the plant, discharged one passenger, and then tried to get away, but local police stopped it and cited the driver for careless operation. The crowd ran up to the car, yelling to policemen that the driver had "thrown something" into the trunk and demanded that they search it. The driver refused permission, the police took him to the station, and the angry crowd followed. Surrounding the police station the crowd of anywhere between 250 and 500 continually demanded that the car be searched, but Gould calmed them down and with the sheriff persuaded them to disperse." About midnight the two men were released, and they started home to Jackson with an armed guard escort. They were followed by a number of strikers and sympathizers who forced the guards' car off the road in Jonesville, five miles away. The two armed guards, both black, were attacked, and in the fighting one was shot.77 This time assailants were arrested and were identified as two brothers, Angelo and Joseph Lo Presto, who had no official connection with the strike.78

The next night, May 27, there was an even greater outburst, starting when guards escorted the day shift out of the plant. Pickets


  • 74Ibid., May 8, 12, 13, 1964.
  • 75 Hillsdale Daily News, May 27, 1964.
  • 76 The use of verbs in the passive voice illustrates the difficulty of determining the facts of picket line violence. The newspapers were generally restrained and cautious in reporting the incidents of May 27-28, and while one might reasonably know what Bowditch was thinking when he "approached" the nonstrikers' car, one cannot be sure who slashed him or if the assailant was in the car. The account states that Bowditch accused Ollie Prater of doing it with a "sharp instrument." Hillsdale Daily News, May 27, 1964.
  • 77Ibid. There was disagreement among the newspapers on the number of people in the crowd.
  • 78 When the wounded guard was taken to Hillsdale's hospital, frightened administrators "hid" him in the children's ward lest a mob storm the doors and "bring him out." The entire hospital held ninety beds.
  • 79 Hillsdale Daily News, May 27, 1964.
threw rocks at the cars and smashed windshields. When a guard got out of his car, the crowd surged toward him. He drew his gun, someone clubbed him, and the gun fired. Miraculously, no one was hit, but the state police hustled the guard back into the car and allowed it to speed away in order, they said, "to save them [the men inside] from the crowd." Three stonethrowers were arrested and taken to jail where they joined the Jonesville assailants. Again, a crowd estimated at five hundred gathered, breaking windows and cursing the police for allowing the guard to go free. The seven man police force and sheriff's deputies appealed for reinforcements from adjacent counties its well as the state police, and sixty men responded. A thoroughly frightened mayor and city council, deciding that law enforcement had completely broken down, asked Governor Romney to declare martial law and send in the national guard.80

The governor dispatched one thousand troops to Hillsdale that night, but instead of declaring martial law he proclaimed a "state of public emergency" under a 1945 statutex' enacted in the wake of the Detroit race riots. This law gave him greater latitude in deciding the nature and extent of interposing state authority; yet it allowed city government to remain in local hands. Accordingly, Romney banned all firearms from the city, evicted the armed guards from the plant, forbade any public gathering of more than five persons, told the strikers to remove their shanties from in front of the plant and—most significantly—ordered Essex to shut down operations. He also summoned company and union negotiators to meet with the state Labor Mediation Board and himself in Lansing to resume the bargaining.82

The IUE and other international unions, as well as the city council and townspeople in general, applauded Romney's actions, particularly the closing of the plant and the removal of the guards. One minister offered the use of his churchyard as a bivouac area for guardsmen, and the president of Local 810, Charles Roselle, said: the intervention "is the best thing that could have happened as far as we're concerned." The company, naturally, was highly displeased, and President Walter Probst threatened to sue Romney for depriving Essex of its property rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.83

Romney's intervention into the dispute required him to juggle two major problems. He had to make sure his legal grounds for closing the plant remained firm.84 Also, he did not want to be placed in


  • 80Ibid., May 28, 1964.
  • 81 Governor's Emergency Power, Act 302 (1945) in Michigan Statutes Annotated (rev. ed., Mundelin, Ill., 1969), 11.
  • 82 Hillsdale Daily News, May 29, 1964. The law had been invoked only twice before in natural disasters at Anchor Bay and Holland.
  • 83 Toledo (Ohio) Blade, May 28, 29, 1964.
  • 84 Ann Arbor News, May 30, 1964.
a position of appearing to take sides in the dispute;85 yet he had the responsibility for keeping a peace that could not be assured until a contract was signed. The governor was in constant touch with his attorney general, Frank Kelley, who assured him that as long as the closing of the plant was necessary to maintain public order, he was on solid ground. But this demanded a continual reassessment of the situation, and on June 1 Romney flew to Hillsdale to confer with city officials, community residents, and several clergymen. They all urged Romney to keep the plant closed, and after touring the plant area, he admitted that "the threats to life and property are more serious than had been realized. I didn't realize the extent to which community residents were organized for armed combat down there."86

Yet, after returning to Lansing, he rescinded the order closing the plant, increased the number of guardsmen to 1,200, placed the entire county under the terms of his May 29 edict, sealed off the area around the plant to everyone except authorized company personnel and employees, and ordered a 10 P.M. to 6 A.M. curfew for the county.87 Two members of the state Labor Mediation Board, chairman Malcolm Lovell and Howlett, pointed out to the governor that his reopening the plant would have adverse effects on their attempts to get an agreement between Essex and the IUE, but Romney replied that he could not allow his maintenance of law and order to be affected by the course of bargaining. Now that the weapons and armed guards had been removed he could no longer justify closing the plant.88 While the plant was closed, May 28-June 2, negotiations appeared to be making progress.89 With the reopening of the factory, however, the talks foundered on the issues of wages and rehiring. The company wanted to keep its nonstrikers and refuse reemployment to fifteen union men because of alleged misconduct on the picket line.90

While the governor carefully and publicly stated that his only legitimate authority was the preservation of order, his subsequent actions showed a willingness to use his office to pressure the combatants into a settlement. It appeared that his method was to call public attention to the misconduct of all parties to the dispute. The day after the plant reopened, the governor asked Attorney General Kelley whether he could reclose the plant. Kelley replied that this would be legal so long as the governor was convinced it was in the interests of protecting lives and property. That same day the National Labor Relations Board charged both Essex and the IUE with violations of the


  • 85 Robert G. Howlett to the author, July 13, 1966.
  • 86 Albion Evening Recorder, June 2, 1964.
  • 87 Hillsdale Daily News, June 2, 1964.
  • 88 Howlett to the author, July 13, 1966.
  • 89 Hillsdale Daily News, June 1, 1964.
  • 90 Detroit Free Press, June 3, 1964.
Taft-Hartley Act.91 While Brooks, who was acting director of Region 7, criticized the union for allowing the picket line violence, he appeared to be more pointed in his assessment of the company's actions. "The company," he wrote, "has not bargained in good faith and has not made a genuine attempt to reach a settlement … and as a result the strike has become an unfair labor practice."92 The governor exerted still more pressure when he criticized the company, the union, and the community for failing to contain the violence. While he said that Essex and the IUE were at least thirty years behind the times in their concepts of labor-management relations, he added, with apparent emphasis, that the company refused to accept any responsibility for what had happened.93 "I have no doubt," he said, "that the company is guilty of unfair labor practices … and worse. It has ignored the community and the public interest and in fact has been completely indifferent to it."94 Finally, on June 5, he brought Probst and IUE International president, James Carey, together in his office for direct negotiations.95

After an all night session the two presidents, the governor, and the state Labor Mediation Board reached a settlement.96 The new contract called for: (1) general wage increases of ten cents per hour immediately, a 234 per cent increase the following year, and a 3 per cent raise for each of the third and fourth years of the contract; (2) premium pay increases, beyond the ten cent increase, of five and ten cents an hour for the afternoon and evening shift workers respectively; (3) an extra holiday with pay in addition to the seven already established; (4) a work week for those on rotating shifts of five days on and two off rather than the former six and two schedule; (5) three weeks' vacation after fifteen years' service instead of two; (6) plant wide seniority; (7) "a vastly improved bidding procedure"; (8) "a streamlined grievance procedure"; (9) a completely union shop; (10) time and a half pay for working on one's day off and double time for working a seventh consecutive day.97

As might be expected the contract contained several compromises. The wage agreements represented an advance for the union beyond the company's original offer of a flat eighteen cents an hour increase; however, they were less than the $3.00 per hour total that the union demanded. The company had wanted the contract to run for five


  • 91Ibid., June 3, 4, 1964.
  • 92 Albion Evening Recorder, June 4, 1964.
  • 93 Detroit Free Press, June 4, 1964.
  • 94 Grand Rapids Press, June 4, 1964.
  • 95 Howlett, "The Battle of Hillsdale," 780.
  • 96Ibid., 780-81. Howlett gives an interesting sketch of the personalities Of Probst and Carey as well as their style of negotiating.
  • 97 Muskegon Western Michigan CZO, June 10, 1964; Detroit Free Press, June 7, 1964.
years and the union wanted three; they settled on four. Although the company said it would take back all the IUE strikers, including the fifteen men it fired for alleged misconduct on the picket line, the IUE agreed that they could be hired last.98

Gould and the IUE negotiators were satisfied with the new contract, but they ran into stiff opposition from members of Local 810 when they took it back for ratification. The memory of alleged sellouts by former internationals, the bitterness of the strike, and the placing of the fifteen strikers at the bottom of the hiring list made it difficult for many to accept anything short of all out victory. On June 7 the union voted to send it back for further negotiations,99 and Gould admitted that he had not anticipated the "strong feelings" of the men on the issues.100 He spent the next two days trying to convince the local that this was the best contract obtainable under the circumstances. "The question," he said, "is how much more can you get than you've got now. If this is rejected, we're going to lose community support, state support, and we're going to weaken our case before the National Labor Relations Board."101 On June 9 the local reconsidered the contract and ratified it.102 The strike was over.

It required only one day for the state police and national guardsmen to leave Hillsdale. By then almost all the strikers had returned to work,103 and the IUE field representatives, outside unions, and non-strikers had gone home. Although residents were able to breathe easier at the removal of tension and violence, several questions remained to vex those who looked back over the three months in bewilderment. Why did not the local police make arrests early in the strike and patrol the plant site more vigorously? Why did local residents involve themselves? Should not the company and the union have conducted themselves more responsibly when the results of their actions became apparent?

The day after the strike ended Essex published a booklet entitled 102 Crucial Days, which gave the company's version of the strike. The booklet's professional format, its pictorial layout, and a release date coinciding with the strike's end demonstrated extensive preparation and planning over a period of time. In blaming everyone but itself for the strike and the violence, the company assured readers that the IUE had not taken away any of its fundamental management rights including:


  • 98 Detroit Free Press, June 7, 1964.
  • 99 Toledo (Ohio) Blade, June 8, 1964.
  • 100 Jackson Citizen-Patriot, June 8, 1964.
  • 101 Albion Evening Recorder, June 8, 1964.
  • 102 Toledo (Ohio) Blade, June 10, 1964.
  • 103 About twenty-five strikers had obtained other jobs. Ad Hoc Citizens' Committee minutes, June 11, 1964.
[Figure]

COVER OF ESSEX PUBLICATION WHICH APPEARED THE DAY AFTER THE STRIKE ENDED

Reproduced from 102 Crucial Days; Biography of a Strike that Challenged the Free Enterprise System (Fort Wayne, 1964).

The right to freely manage the plant.

The right to establish speeds of operations and work loads.

The right to determine manning of equipment.

The right to transfer employees freely from job to job when necessary.

The right to require employees to work overtime when necessary.

The right to give seniority a secondary role when qualifications and work experience were essential.

The right to align departments and individuals in the interests of efficiency.104

Although Essex may have regarded these rights as "a necessary ingredient of free enterprise," its application of those rights showed little regard for the consequences. Rather the booklet, whose subtitle was Biography of the Strike that Challenged the Free Enterprise System, summarized the mood of intransigence and insensitivity that had characterized much of Essex' attitude and conduct throughout the strike. The advertisement for nonstrikers, the importation of black workers for the first time in the seven years Essex operated its Hillsdale plant, the publication of "The Shame of Hillsdale" in the local newspaper, and particularly the bringing in of the armed guards attested more to a do or die attitude than a desire to negotiate the end of the strike. Furthermore, Essex' announced reason for coming to Hillsdale in 1957—the opportunity to pay lower wages—may have been good business from the company's point of view, but it was bad community relations. Hillsdale was economically depressed, and the effect of the company's action was to create a condition of frustration, instability, and crisis.105

It took two to make a quarrel, however; and the IUE did little to stabilize the situation. The continuous bickering between the local union and the two internationals that had represented it prior to the IUE had led to a six month delay in negotiating a new contract in 1963, making it that much more difficult for the IUE to settle things peacefully. The union also had to bear much of the responsibility for violence on the picket line, for it was too easy to rationalize the fights, overturned cars, beatings, and property damage simply as a struggle against company injustice. By such reasoning anything was permissible. This is not to minimize or derogate the depth of passion on a picket line. The late United Auto Workers president, Walter Reuther, who had considerable experience with violence in labor disputes, observed once that "picket lines are formed in the real world where real people have real problems," and the fact of the strike at Hillsdale was that nonstrikers were crossing the lines to take union members' jobs under company assurances that they would be retained. Still Reuther


  • 104 102 Crucial Days, 25.
  • 105 Michael Harrington, The Other America (New York, 1962), 32.
admitted that within his own union there had not been enough "affirmative leadership" to control either the group violence or the action of an individual union member who tried to redress grievances with a club.106 Such was the case at Hillsdale as well.

The strike might not have been violent had the city been able to function effectively. But a combination of paralyzing factors had removed it from the scene and created an imbalance of power in the company's favor. There was a surplus labor pool from which Essex could hire nonstriking workers, and the state law forbade any interference with them. The economic recession of the area made the city hesitant to exercise any pressure on the company until community residents like the Lo Presto brothers began to take matters into their own hands. The company, in the name of protecting property rights, was able to hire armed guards legally, but they were as much of an economic weapon against the union as they were a protection of real estate. The union, unable to utilize the law as an economic weapon, fell back on illegal methods of coercion which only compounded the matter.

There may have been another factor to the configuration of violence at Hillsdale; perhaps the strike was a focus of despair and frustration for a significant portion of the people who found themselves on the short end of the socio-economic scale. The large numbers of onlookers at the plant, the mobs at the jail, the involvement of the townspeople, when combined with the expressions of pessimism to the industrial commission and the statistics of economic deprivation in the county, at least raise the question whether the strike symbolized a social upheaval. There was no empirical data to support such a thought, yet the Ad Hoc Citizens' Committee on Industrial Relations which looked into the strike kept hearing this from different quarters.

What of the future? There were indications of efforts to create a better climate in Hillsdale amongst the company, the IUE, and the community. Several groups expressed hope that an industrial or human relations committee might arise which could provide a hospitable atmosphere for the discussion of problems affecting the community. The home office of Essex, in an apparent gesture of good will, donated $10,000 to the local hospital. Various local union and management leaders with the cooperation of Hillsdale College and some public officials helped to set up an industrial relations seminar at the college, the intent of which was to provide information on the development of company-labor relations over the years and on the role of public and private mediation agencies in promoting those relations.

These may have been small steps, but they were first ones. When


  • 106 U.S., Senate, Hearings Before the Select Committee in the Labor or Management Field, 85 Cong., 2 Sess. (1958), part 25, p. 10006.
Governor Romney ordered the National Guard into Hillsdale, he wrote: "I plead with the people of Hillsdale County, the people of Michigan, and especially the principals involved on both sides of the Essex-IUE dispute to work in good faith to restore the confidence of the public in the collective bargaining process which has helped our nation progress, and to restore peace and harmony to a troubled community."107 Between the governor's hopes and their fulfillment, much remained to be done.


  • 107 Quoted in Howlett, "The Battle of Hillsdale," 786.


Published by the Indiana University Department of History.