75 Years Ago (June 1939): UAW Factions Battle; May Output Up; Turn Signals, Electric Wipers Seen

The two factions within the UAW, one backed by the CIO, the other by the AFL, continue to spar over representing workers at various auto and supplier plants.

The nearly month-old Briggs Mfg. strike by the UAW-CIO seeks to establish a “union shop” with all workers required to contribute to the union, a move being strongly resisted by Briggs with automaker backing. Because of this, “a lengthy deadlock seems in sight unless the union abandons its stance in this regard,” says Ward’s Automotive Reports.

Meanwhile, the UAW-AFL launches a mid-month strike at General Motors’ Flint operations, hoping to consolidate its hold there, leading WAR to comment, “Such disturbances are forerunners of more widespread and continuous jurisdictional troubles which, unfortunately, give evidence on continuing until the spheres of influence of the two unions are clearly defined.”

Hoping to diffuse the situation, the National Labor Relations Board amends its procedures to allow automakers as well as unions to petition for a representation election. Previously, only unions could seek a vote.

Despite the Briggs strike and other labor woes, May vehicle production in the U.S. and Canada is estimated by Wards at 296,000 units, a 40.9% gain on like-1938’s recession-hit 210,174 completions. Still, that is 10.3% short of the 330,000 assemblies forecast at the start of the month and 16.4% below April’s 354,263 vehicles. Industry-leader Chevrolet in May trails rival Ford (including Mercury) with 68,000 units vs. 73,500, but leads by 13,150 for the year — 408,000 vehicles vs. 394,850.

In other news, reports indicate Buick is preparing to install rear directional signals on its ’40 models, possibly as standard equipment. Other makes, including Ford and Chrysler, also are rumored to be considering making similar equipment optional.

At the same time, Electric Auto-Lite reveals it has an electric windshield wiper system being evaluated by the engineering departments at several automakers. Chrysler, Dodge, De Soto and Studebaker already offered electric wipers on certain ’39 models, while Plymouth may offer them as an option in ’40.

Despite the electric wiper’s inherent advantages over less-costly vacuum-operated wipers that, for instance, tend to slow and/or stop completely under hard acceleration due to lack of manifold vacuum, they do not become the industry standard until the 1960s.