“I came from the Georges Creek coal-mining region of western Maryland. Every male member of my family began his working life as a miner. I remember my father being on a number of bitter strikes because the fight over wages and safe working conditions was an every-day struggle.
“I graduated from high school in 1930 at the height of the Great Depression. After three years of looking I finally got hired as a spinner in the Celanese Corporation’s huge rayon plant near Cumberland, Maryland.
“Working conditions were brutal. A 56-hour week with even more forced overtime – all for a straight-time wage of twenty-two-and-a-half cents an hour. The workload was a killer, the heat intense and the air badly polluted.
“A substantial minority of Celanese workers came from union families, mainly coal miners and railroad workers. So it wasn’t very long before we began talking union. By 1936, after three year’s of intense struggle that included several plant-wide strikes and a number of sit-downs, we forced the company to grudgingly recognize the union and we became Local 1874 of the Textile Workers affiliated with the Committee of Industrial Organizations led by John L. Lewis.
“In our first contract, won after a lengthy strike, we got a raise in wages, a cut in the workload and a procedure for settling grievances.
“Most all of the 10,000 production workers were elated. “Hooray! Now with a union we are on an equal footing with the company.” Sure, we knew every contract would be a battle and there were endless grievances to settle.
“But soon I began to notice that while things were a lot better than before the union, what we won didn’t “stay won.” The company would find new ways of piling on the work and wage increases were quickly swallowed up by an endless rise in the cost of living.
“It was the same on the political front. Early in the New Deal we won some real victories: the Wagner Act, the forty- hour week, Social Security. But it wasn’t long before the politicians and judges friendly to the corporations began chipping away.”
George A. Meyers was a founding organizer of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). He worked closely with John L. Lewis, President of the United Mine Workers, Phillip Murray of the United Steelworkers and other CIO leaders during the organizing drives that brought millions of workers into the labor movement during the 1930s.