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Labor, Civil Rights, and the Hughes Tool Company

By Michael R. Botson Jr.

Publication Year: 2005

On July 12, 1964, in a momentous decision, the National Labor Relations Board decertified the racially segregated Independent Metal Workers Union as the collective bargaining agent at Houston’s mammoth Hughes Tool Company. The unanimous decision ending nearly fifty years of Jim Crow unionism at the company marked the first time in the Labor Board’s history that it ruled that racial discrimination by a union violated the National Labor Relations Act and was therefore illegal. The ruling was for black workers the equivalent of the Brown v. Board of Education decision by the Supreme Court in the area of education. Michael R. Botson carefully traces the Jim Crow unionism of the company and the efforts of black union activists to bring civil rights issues into the workplace. His analysis places Hughes Tool in the context created by the National Labor Relations Act and the formation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). It clearly demonstrates that without federal intervention, workers at Hughes Tool would never have been able to overcome management’s opposition to unionization and to racial equality. Drawing on interviews with many of the principals, as well as extensive mining of company and legal archives, Botson’s study “captures a moment in time when a segment of Houston’s working-class seized the initiative and won economic and racial justice in their work place.”

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Series: Kenneth E. Montague Series in Oil and Business History


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Title Page

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-ix


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pp. x-x

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pp. xi-2

THE ORIGINS OF THIS BOOK go back to the spring of 1993 when I was a graduate student at the University of Houston trying to find a topic for my master’s thesis. My original intention was to write the labor history of the Armco Steel Corporation’s Houston mill that was opened on the eve of the Second World War. ...

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pp. 3-11

ON JULY 1, 1964, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decertified the racially segregated Independent Metal Workers (IMW) Union as the collective bargaining agent at Houston’s Hughes Tool Company. The ruling ended nearly fifty years of Jim Crow unionism at Hughes Tool, one of Houston’s premier manufacturing plants. ...

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Chapter One: Houston’s Working Class and the Origins of Organized Labor in the Bayou City

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pp. 12-33

FOUNDED IN 1836 by the brothers Augustus and John Allen, Houston was a town built on speculative growth and dedicated to the spirit of unfettered capitalism. Located on the desolate Texas coastal plain about fifty miles north of Galveston, the city they envisioned along the banks of White Oak and Buffalo Bayous eventually became the leading financial, commercial, and industrial center in the Southwest. ...

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Chapter Two: How It All Began: Houston, labor, oil, and working at Mr. Hughes’s place

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pp. 34-58

THE HUGHES TOOL COMPANY owes its existence to the discovery of oil at Spindletop near Beaumont, Texas, in January, 1901. The spectacular oil discovery ushered in the Texas oil boom, and within weeks tens of thousands of people flocked to the Beaumont area in hopes of finding oil and instant wealth. Hundreds of wells soon jammed the vicinity as drillers, ...

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Chapter Three: Labor at Hughes Tool, 1929–1934: hard times, Jim Crow, unions, and Uncle Sam

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pp. 59-81

THE ONSET OF THE GREAT DEPRESSION following the 1929 stock market crash upset the paternalistic management environment cultivated by Howard Hughes Sr. and Col. Rudolph Kuldell. The Depression caused a downturn in the drilling industry, forcing Hughes Tool to lay off workers and slash wages. Falling revenues also forced the curtailment of welfare benefits. ...

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Chapter Four: Industrial Democracy Comes to the Monarchy of Hughes Street: the Wagner Act, the CIO, and Hughes Tool, 1935–1940

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pp. 82-107

THE WAGNER ACT irrevocably changed labor-management relations at Hughes Tool. It democratized the company’s labor relations by protecting the right of employees to freely choose their representatives through NLRB-conducted union certification elections. Equally important, it outlawed company dominated unions such as the EWO and the HTC. ...

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Chapter Five: Jim Crow Wearing Steel-Toed Shoes and Safety Glasses: Hughes Tool’s race-based unionism, 1940–1943

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pp. 108-127

LABOR RELATIONS AT HUGHES TOOL entered a transitional period following the Labor Board’s dissolution, in October, 1941, of its company unions, the Employees Welfare Organization and Hughes Tool Colored Club. The company lost two allies in its campaign against the CIO, but company union loyalists formed the Independent Metal Workers Union to replace them. ...

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Chapter Six: The Battle for Union Security and Civil Rights: labor’s war at Hughes Tool, 1943–1946

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pp. 128-145

THE CIO’S ASCENDANCY as the collective bargaining agent at Hughes Tool marked the end of a five-year struggle. But the CIO’s selection by the majority of employees’ as their collective bargaining agent did not bring labor peace to Hughes Tool. Management refused to recognize the CIO as the collective bargaining agent of its employees due to the ...

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Chapter Seven: The Independent Metal Workers Union Era, 1946 –1961

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pp. 146-162

THE 1946 STRIKE turned out to be the climactic battle between the CIO, Hughes Tool, and the Independent Metal Workers Union. The CIO’s misguided decision to strike in the face of widespread opposition to the walkout, internal racial dissension, management’s absolute refusal to accept the union’s wage demands, and the IMW’s willingness ...

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Chapter Eight: No Gold Watch for Jim Crow’s Retirement

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pp. 163-187

DURING THE LATE 1950s demand for Hughes Tool’s drilling products dropped dramatically. According to a monthly company report, the Hughes rig count, which kept track of the number of drilling rigs in operation, between August, 1957, and July, 1958, the number of rigs operating throughout the world dropped from 2,716 to 1,957. ...

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pp. 187-192

THE JULY, 1964, NLRB DECISION was more than a triumph for unionism and civil rights at Hughes Tool. It became a rallying point for equality in the workplace nationwide. The struggle had begun in December, 1918, when the company’s white machinists, patternmakers, and blacksmiths joined a citywide strike by the Houston Labor Council against the city’s largest manufacturers. ...


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pp. 193-238


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pp. 239-254


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pp. 255-265

E-ISBN-13: 9781603446143
E-ISBN-10: 1603446141
Print-ISBN-13: 9781585444380
Print-ISBN-10: 1585444383

Page Count: 280
Illustrations: 15 b&w photos. 6 tables.
Publication Year: 2005

Series Title: Kenneth E. Montague Series in Oil and Business History
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OCLC Number: 826658073
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Labor, Civil Rights, and the Hughes Tool Company

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Subject Headings

  • Labor movement -- Texas -- History -- 20th century.
  • African Americans -- Employment.
  • African Americans -- Civil rights.
  • Hughes Tool Company.
  • Labor unions -- Texas -- History -- 20th century.
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