|He Doesn’t Know How To Answer A Gentleman”: Deference and Defiance in the 1937 Lewiston Auburn Shoeworkers’ Strike|
|This study examines the 1937 Lewiston-Auburn, Maine, shoeworkers strike in order to study the workers’ defiance which launched and sustained the strike and the workers’ deference which ultimately doomed the heroic struggle. The strike took place in Lewiston and Auburn Maine, in areas long known for the successful employers’ hostility to workers’ efforts to unionize. The strike also occurred on the heels of the Flint autoworkers victory which certainly inspired the Maine shoeworkers to engage in mass struggle. Approximately 4,500 workers out of a workforce of about 6,000 zestfully responded to the call for a general strike of the nineteen shoe factories. This was a workforce overwhelmingly Franco-American who utilized their particular traditions to maintain the strike even in the face of Church opposition. Production was initially curtailed in all the shoe shops, some of which were forced to shut down. The initial anti-strike strategy of police repression and threatened legal sanction did not deter the militant workers. But it was the double assault of a severe legal challenge plus the creation of a pro-employer company union which eventually defeated the workers. The legal challenge came in the form of a blanket anti-strike injunction issued by a local judge even after the Jones & Laughlin decision had upheld the Wagner Act. When strikers defied the blatantly illegal injunction the Governor called out the National Guard which effectively ended all picketing. Side by side with the injunction was the formation by pro-employer Anglophone anti-strike workers of a pro-employer loyalist company union. The ability of the pro-employer group, aided by the employers, to channel pre-existing deference into a formal labor organization, which stood up to initial scrutiny by the NLRB, allowed the employers to pose as simply working with one group of workers rather than another. The ability of the employers to utilize the company union as a bulwark against acceptance of any further NLRB intervention over the next three years doomed the insurgent workers, many of whom never labored again in the shoe shops.
Studying this strike allows us to investigate the ability of employers to utilize deference as an important tool in labor relations and contrast that deference with the more studied, but possibly less present, defiance.