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On Strike

The Army Medical Corps was down to a three-day supply of vials due to a Kimble Glass walkout in 1944.

by Vince Farinaccio

Just before becoming a part of Owens-Illinois, Kimble Glass of Vineland attracted national attention in 1944 when its workers decided to strike. As a manufacturer of glassworks crucial to medical units during World War II, the company, recognized as the largest producer of medicinal glassware in the East, spent a portion of July that year struggling to meet its quota for the U.S. military.

The strike occurred because Kimble Glass workers had brought a wage dispute before the National War Labor Board (NWLB) the previous November that was still undecided by the start of July 1944. The workers’ union demanded a general 5 percent wage increase, a 15 percent increase for piece workers and an hourly wage increase of 15 cents for hourly workers. By July 10, the NWLB began insisting that Kimble Glass employees return to work.

A July 11 article in the New York Times reported that “in a telegram to international representatives of the American Flint Glass Workers Union of the American Federation of Labor, Toledo, Ohio, urging the termination of the stoppage, the board said the strike was ‘seriously interfering with the production of vital materials needed in the war effort by the Army Medical Corps.’ ”

Seven days later, the newspaper reported that the Army Medical Corps had announced it had only a three-day supply of vials used for penicillin and blood plasma due to the Kimble Glass walkout.

It may appear surprising, if not alarming, to today’s readers that such a strike could occur during the country’s involvement with World War II, but there was nothing out of the ordinary in such a dispute at the time. According to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) report Strikes and Lockouts in 1944, there were a total of 4,956 strikes and lockouts that year, with half of them occurring in “single-establishments” like Kimble Glass.

And it wasn’t the first time strikes occurred during the war. Businesses throughout the nation began experiencing walkouts shortly after the country entered World War II, and they included Kimble Glass, whose 2,400 employees spent 11 days in 1942 striking for a 25-cent hourly increase in pay. The 1944 DOL report identified that work stoppages lasted 12 days on the average in 1942.

That number dropped to 5.6 days in 1944, but Kimble Glass had already exceeded the average by July 18 and was one of 1,629 strikes and lockouts that year with which the NWLB dealt directly, according to the DOL report.

Curiously, the New York Times coverage of the 1944 Kimble Glass strike concluded with its July 18 reports, which indicated that the NWLB orders to return to work had convinced some. Of the 2,000 striking workers seven days earlier, 1,500 remained on strike.

The newspaper also reported that “unless the strikers return to work soon the case will be sent to President [Franklin D.] Roosevelt for ‘appropriate action.’ ” The DOL report identifies exactly what that action would have been in its summation of those who chose to defy the NWLB orders: “Fifteen disputes involving work stoppages were followed by Government seizure of plants or operations in 1944 after the NWLB referred them to the President upon refusal of one party or the other to comply with Board orders.”

The New York Times noted on July 18 that the Kimble Glass workers “agreed, however, to ballot in the near future (no date was set) on the question of returning to work.”

It’s likely that voting took place shortly thereafter, as the strike apparently ended not with a bang, but with a whimper. It had been one of six New Jersey strikes/lockouts for manufacturers of stone, clay and glass products in 1944. It had lasted about twice the length of the average strike/lockout that year. And it began with over four times the average number of workers involved in strikes/lockouts in that 12-month period.

Jersey Reflections