1. Old issues of labor newspapers are difficult to locate. The author would like to thank the librarians at the Labadie Room at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI and the Flint Public Library, Flint, MI for the service they provide making scarce labor materials like old issues of The Searchlight available to the public. Also, the author would like to thank the librarians and staff of the Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs at Wayne State University, Detroit, MI for their help over the years, despite the fact that research at this Archives has sometimes been difficult. Also, one official of the Archives interestingly wrote a letter to The Searchlight complaining that they had published criticisms of the lack of plans by the International Union for a celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Flint Sit Down Strike. (See "Fair to Encourage Local Unions to Research and Produce their History," by Ronda Hauben, The Searchlight, June 17, 1986; Letter to the Editor by Warner Pflug, The Searchlight, July 25, 1986; and Letter to the Editor by Ronda Hauben, The Searchlight, August, 1986.) Return to text.
  2. For several years the author was unable to locate any issues ofThe Searchlight before 1944. After asking for several years at the Archives at Wayne State and being told they didn't have any, one pioneer let this writer know that he had donated a whole set of newspapers dating from 1943-4. Fortunately he was still alive and so this writer did eventually see some of the issues he referred to, but only after several years of having their existence denied. There are indications that The Searchlight began in 1942. Return to text.
  3. The Searchlight is still the title of the newspaper put out by Local 659 (UAW-Flint), but the masthead title has been changed. "The Voice of the Chevrolet Worker" was the title on the masthead during much of the period referred to in this text. In conversation with one of the original founders of the newspaper, the significance of the masthead title was discussed. "The Voice of the Chevrolet Worker" was chosen to signify that the newspaper was not to become a political mouthpiece or the voice of incumbency, but the product of collaboration at the work level. During a brief period discussed in the text, from September 22, 1949 to January 24, 1952, the newspaper was subtitled The Voice of a Union Worker. Return to text.
  4. When it was started, probably in May, 1942, The Searchlight was part of a trend of local union newspapers. But by 1946, Carl Johnson, a rank and file columnist in The Searchlight, commented that he knew of "not over half a dozen union papers in the U.S." at the time which allowed the free discussion contained in The Searchlight and that he himself "had pesonally seen only one other out of a great many examined." (May 9, 1946, p.8) Return to text.
  5. Some of the columns which appeared over a period of time included: "News from Poverty Flats," "Only More Democracy Can Save Democracy," "A Laborer Looks at Life," "Winning for the Union," "State of the Union." Contributors like Bert Boone wrote frequently but not as part of a column until he retired. Articles from the ranks of the Chevrolet workers were printed either signed, unsigned, or sometimes with pen names. Writers represented a great range of political persuasions. There were Wobblies, Socialist Party leaning Socialists, Communist Party sympathizers, supporters of Trotskyite groups, Christian Socialists, and Democratic party activists who, despite their different leanings, were able to work together and contribute to the struggles of the day. Also the union president often had a column where the policies of the International union leaders were debated and criticized. Return to text.
  6. One such letter to the editor published in the August 2, 1945 issue complained:
    Different people, all members of Local 659 have told me about submitting articles for publication to find that their time had been wasted in writing. Some have said that the editor even promised that he'd publish their articles and then experienced disappointment because his boss ... (the president of the Local - ed) wouldn't allow publication because it didn't meet with his approval.

    What does the Mast Head state on The Searchlight? It says quote -- 'The Voice of the Chevrolet Worker' end quote. Now would you say that any such discriminatory censorship is the real voice of the Chevrolet worker? I don't.

    (August 2, 1945, p.6)

    Also see the article "Constructive Criticism of Searchlight's Policy" June 21, 1945, p.6 Return to text.

  7. At war's end, Flint's automobile union reflected the fundamentally conservative consciousness of its constituents. Still militant over bread and butter issues...Flint's workers accepted an industrial union in which policy was formulated at the top and discipline was deemed more necessary than rank-and-file contol. This kind of automobile unionism...was not simply imposed on workers from above. (from Union Organizing in the Automobile Industries by Ronald Edsforth, printed in The Searchlight, Feb. 6, 1981, p.19)

    A more recent book by Mr. Edsforth, Class Conflict and Cultural Consensus: The Making of a Mass Consumer Society in Flint, Michigan, New Brunswick, 1987, omits the substantial role played in the development of the UAW by The Searchlight. For example, during the 1948-51 period, a period of some ofthe greatest rank and file resistance in The Searchlight to the dictates of the International Leadership of the UAW, Ronald Edsforth claims that there was no resistance. He writes:

    In Flint, the rank-and-file movement collapsed. Although many of the rank and file continued to play an active role in local union affairs, and some of the informal shop steward networks survived, the men who led the resistance to "top down" bureaucratic unionism gradually lost heart. By 1950, when Norman Bully (who was by then a member ofthe General Motors Department national negotiating team) returned to Buick to seek the opinions of active unionists on the advisability of a long-term contract, he found most of them having a big sigh of relief because we were going to have labor peace for five years."...When sentiments like this predominated at what had always been the heart of Flint's rank-and-file movement, a long era of working class militance had come to an end.

    Compare Edsforth's analysis with the bristling criticisms of the 5-Year Plan which filled the pages of The Searchlight during this period. For example, one such headline, "The Five-Year Plan, Russia or America, 250,000 Workers Get Five Years of Hard Labor," was cited by the International Executive Board when it claimed it had to censor The Searchlight. Return to text.

  8. A eulogy published in The Searchlight on June 5, 1958, called Johnson "one of the early founders of our industrial union movement." (p.3) He had worked in the old AFL Auto Workers Federal Union and then in 1933-36 had helped organize The League for Industrial Democracy in Flint. The educational lectures sponsored by the League and attended by 200-500 people helped to lay "the groundwork in Flint for the organization of the CIO." Johnson then went on to take part in "secret moves" to organize industrial unions sponsored by the U.M.W. Carl Johnson's son Kermit Johnson as one of the rank and file leaders of the Flint Sit-Down Strike was one of the most important stategists of the strike. Return to text.
  9. In the December 9, 1948 issue, Johnson explained what he meant by the name of his column. He wrote: "In conclusion, I am convinced...that only the more democracy, which is Socialism, can save democracy." Return to text.
  10. From here on, references to The Searchlight will be indicated by date and page number. In many cases, names of people referred to have been left out as the effort in this article is to present the story of the newspaper, not of various personalities. Also, some of the pioneers claim that they would ghost write each other's articles. Return to text.
  11. Also see "A Program to Answer Inflation," Jan. 15, 1948, p.1. Return to text.
  12. 12. Irving Howe and B.J. Widick, The U.A.W. and Walter Reuther, (Random House, 1949), p.133. Also see Fred J. Cook, Walter Reuther, (Chicago, 1963), p.147, and "How to Raise Wages Without Increasing Prices," Walter Reuther, U.A.W. pamphlet, 1946. Return to text.
  13. See The Searchlight, February 12, 1948 for the International union leadership's criticism of the escalator clause. The radio talk in support of the escalator clause was aired on Tuesday, January 20, 1948 and was printed in The Searchlight, January 29, 1948. Return to text.
  14. See Frank Cormier and William J. Eaton, Reuther, (N. J., 1979), p.292-293. Victor G. Reuther, The Brothers Reuther, (Boston, 1979), p.306, and Howe and Widick, p.177-178. Return to text.
  15. "Hi, Mac," November 6, 1947, p. 2. Return to text.
  16. Not only was this letter critical of war, but also of the way the Allies were handling the war. The writer explained:
    The German army was falling apart. Those guys were surrendering by the hundreds because they had a bellyful of Hitler and all he stands for. Then the Allies started telling them what was going to happen to them when they were victorious, so the poor devils began to figure. Well, Hell, we're going to catch it worse if we give up. It looks like we'll have to keep on fighting. Anything's better than what the Allies are threatening us with. And God knows how many lives have been lost as a result of this policy of the men who told us of the "Four Freedoms." But they tell us about peace on earth!

    The Greek people had the nerve to want to decide what form of government they should have, so Churchill's General Scobie systematically began annihilating them with artillery, tanks and airplanes. (That you and Dad help to build.) "Good will toward men!"

    (January 4, 1945, p.2)

    I include this additional quote to show some of the range and depth of critical analysis that was carried in The Searchlight even during the war.

    Return to text.
  17. The Wobblies called a worker who defended capitalism "a scissorbill," or as Bert Boone put it, "A scissorbill is a worker who is a capitalist from his ears up and a worker from his ears down." (March 23, 1950) Return to text.
  18. The article "Gremlins Vote Elects Grablins 868 Unregistered Votes Prove There Was Something In the Woodpile Besides Wood," describes the irregularities in the election:
    The voting across the river on Chevrolet Ave. had been very light up to 1:00 p.m. on the second day's voting, when the observer judging from previous elections that but few voters would casttheir ballots until after 2:00 p.m. when second shift workers began to dribble in, went to lunch.

    Lo and behold, when he returned about an hour and a quarter later the count had jumped to more than 1600....Remember this, the membership books were examined by a firm of Certified Public Accountants and they found that there was a discrepancy of 868 votes between the number of voters registered and the number of ballots found in the ballot box.

    (March 15, 1945, p.2) Return to text.
  19. When he died, one union brother wrote of Bert Boone:
    The progress of society is always built upon the sacrifices, blood and bones of those progressive militants who proceed us. The contributions by Bert which elevated workers to full stature as humans are like steel bands which bind and reinforce the foundations laid by Parsons and Mooney, by Debs and Haywood, by Lewis and Hillman, and by the host of heroic labor pioneers of other eras.
    (April 17, 1969, p.4) Return to text.
  20. A letter published in The Searchlight described Bert Boone's performance as president of the local:
    Local 659 was six years old last March. Out of all those years we've had one president that cooperated with all local union committees during the life of Local 659. He was Bert Boone. At no time have I ever heard anyone accuse him of trying to undermine any committee. Any business brought to his attention was promptly and properly referred to the committee handling said business or problem. That is what the head of any institution should do....Such leadership was unknown before Boone's tenure of office and it isn't being done now.
    (August 2,1945) Return to text.
  21. His column appeared 'off and on', because sometimes it was suppressed, as he notes in a column that was published in March 4, 1954: "May I first of all thank you for informing me that I may once again pollute the pages of your esteemed publication with my opinions which for the past years have been deemed too radical for consumption by my fellow members of the proletariat." Return to text.
  22. Obituaries written October 12, 1954, when he died, show the great respect he received from fellow union members. One said, "George liked to trust his fellow man as we all do, but his honesty and integrity wouldn't permit him to tolerate betrayal. That is one of the highest tributes possible to pay anyone." A second eulogy said:
    Not only is it a loss for us here at Chevrolet, it is a great loss to the whole labor movement, for the 'Old Rebel' was to the Union what Dempsey was to the fighting game or Babe Ruth to baseball. What Roosevelt was to the Democratic Party or Taft to the Republican. He was MR. UNION MAN. There was none better before and there will never be another.

    He was liked and respected by all union men and hated and feared by all fakers and scissorbills. His principles were, never give a rat a break. Return to text.

  23. A number of articles and letters appeared in The Searchlight over the years praising George Carroll as editor. One such letter said:
    The Searchlight is or was at one time an important function of Local 659. George Carroll, the former editor, was elected when the paper was established and re-elected the two succeeding years making a total of three years he served as editor of The Searchlight, and he served well. He had real qualifications and was as impartial as was humanly possible to be.

    Look at The Searchlight now. It hasn't any punch at all. Thnere isn't any shop news to speak of. I've seen the time that two full pages wouldn't hold the shop news. Further, anyone submitting an article for publication need only be a union member in good standing. Whether the editor agreed with it or not made no difference. But one thing sure, it would be published. You can't say that for the present editor.

    (August 2, 1945) Return to text.
  24. There isn't room in this article to examine and give samples from the many other principled positions worked out and debated in The Searchlight on a number of difficult questions confronting the workers movement during this period. Return to text.
  25. See text of Ford Pension Plan, November 3, 1949, p.2 and "Resolution on Ford Pension Plan," October 20, 1949, p.3. Return to text.
  26. A column written by the "Buster Reporter" appeared in The Searchlight over a number of years describing fantastic trips and exploits of various Busters from the plant, and making comments and criticisms on the struggles of the day in the midst of poking fun at different people. The name "Buster" often preceeded the different people named in the column. Return to text.
  27. In retrospect, it is interesting to look back at the International union leadership's response to this article. Not only did they disagree with it, but they objected to the fact that it had ever been printed. For example, the Grievance Committee at the 1951 U.A.W. Convention especially cited this article as proof that The Searchlight was guilty of attacking union policy. They said: "Outstanding among those examples of anti-policy material contained in The Searchlight is an article...entitled "21 OR BUST", from UAW Convention Proceedings, 1951, p.345. Return to text.
  28. B.J. Widick, in Labor Today, (Boston, 1964) shows how debate over the efficacy for labor of the Taft Hartley union shop is still ongoing. He writes:
    Labor leaders denounced the Taft Hartley Act of 1947 -- enacted under employer pressure to hamstring unions -- as the 'slave labor law'....The labor leaders failed to note, however, that the major effect of the new law, unintentional as it may have been, was to pave the way for making compulsory unionism a permanent feature of our industrial relations.

    The sponsors of the Taft Hartley law hoped and believed that the provision for free secret elections under NLRB auspices before a union shop could be granted would free workers from unions and might even abolish unions....Compulsion entered the picture once the majority had voted to make union membership a condition of employment; the majority who rejected the union shop were bound by the decision.

    With mandatory union membership, the issue of individual freedom and the rights of the workers becomes more acute and troublesome.

    (p. 72) Return to text.
  29. This review of The Searchlight by the International union leadership was reminiscent of a similar review undertaken by former U.A.W. President Homer Martin during his attempts to defeat his opposition in 1937. Martin had introduced a resolution at the International Convention proposing to eliminate the publication of local newspapers on the grounds that the International was "legally responsible for statements made in them." (Skeels, J.W., "Development of Political Stability within the UAW Unions," unpublished doctoral dissertation, Department of Economics, University of Wisconsin, 1957, P.58-59) The resolution was defeated by delegates at the convention, but in January, 1938, a similar motion abolishing local papers was passed by Martin's Executive Board. Through the successful struggle to topple Martin, the right to publish local papers was restored. See also Skeels, p.320 and Labor Action, January 29, 1951. Return to text.
  30. The following is a summary taken from Skeels of the findings of the convention:
    On the first charge, that of printing anti-union material, the convention grievance committee found that the local newspaper, The Searchlight had attacked the Reuther negotiated 1950 contract with General Motors which was to run for five years (sample headline: THE FIVE-YEAR PLAN, RUSSIA OR AMERICA, 250,000 WORKERS GET FIVE YEARS OF HARD LABOR) also attacked the 1949 Ford agreement when the membership was in the process of ratifying it, attacked the international union leaders (sample headline: STATE OF THE UNION, Chiselers and Pork Choppers Attempt to Raise Dues), and finally attack union policy matters by printing a criticism of the union shop at a time that the General Motors department was trying to muster support for it. On the basis of these charges, the convention grievance committee contented that the local had violated the section of the constitution which stated 'Local union publications shall conform with the polices of the International union.'
    (p. 318-319) Return to text.
  31. See United Auto Worker, May 29, 1954, The Searchlight, April 15, 1954 and April 30, 1954. Return to text.
  32. Jack Stieber, Governing the UAW, (New York, 1967), p.143. Return to text.
  33. Stieber, p.143. For example, the publication of The Searchlight was suspended April 5, 1956, and reversed May 6, 1956. For an account see The Searchlight, May 10, 1956. Return to text.
  34. See especially The Searchlight, February 2, 1962 and The Searchlight, February 5, 1976. Return to text.

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