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Guide to the United Automobile Workers of America, District 65 Records WAG.006

Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive
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Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives

Collection processed by Tamiment Staff

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on July 01, 2019
Description is in English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

 Updated by Megan O'Shea to incorporate material from accession number 2019.076  , June 2019

Historical/Biographical Note

District 65, United Auto Workers (UAW) traces its origins to the Wholesale Dry Goods Workers Union organized in September, 1933, by Arthur Osman and a group of Jewish workers at H. Eckstein & Sons, a dry goods warehouse on New York's Lower East Side. It was one of many unions formed during the early years of the Great Depression and was a part of the resurgence of working class organization that occurred as a result of the passage of Section 7(a) of the National Industry Recovery Act.

Originally affiliated with the United Hebrew Trades, the union succeeded in early 1935 in convincing the American Federation of Labor (AFL) to grant it an industrial charter. As Federal Local 19932, Wholesale Dry Goods Employees Union (WDGEU), it was one of the very few federal locals which organized and functioned on an industrial basis. The relatively slow growth of the union at this time was attributed by the union's leaders to the hostility of the AFL towards the WDGEU's concept of unionism. The insistence of the WDGEU on the policy of uniting all wholesale and warehouse workers--whether engaged in the handling of dry goods, shoes, textiles, hardware, drugs, or their commodities--into one union caused jurisdictional disputes between the various federal locals that were organizing these industries. The WDGEU turned to the Committee for Industrial Organization (CIO) for support.

In 1937, the WDGEU, whose membership was approximately 1000, merged with the AFL Shoe Warehouse Local and the CIO Textile House Workers Union and formed the United Wholesale Employees of New York. Chartered as Local 65 of the Textile Workers Organizing Committee (TWOC), the union affiliated with the CIO with the understanding that it complete jurisdiction over all warehouse employees in New York City. A unified movement to organize all the wholesale industries was launched as a result of the merging of the three wholesale unions. That same year the Downtown Dry Goods Jobbers Association became the first association to recognize and deal with the union.

The affiliation with the TWOC was short-lived. In September, 1937, when the United Retail and Wholesale Employees of America (URWEA) received jurisdiction over the wholesale industries, 65 became a local of that inter- national. In November, 1938, the CIO United Wholesale Grocery Employees, Local 220 merged with 65; in September, 1940, CIO National Union, Local 353 of the China and Glass Workers also joined 65.

Between 1937 and 1942, 65 grew at a tremendous rate through three carefully planned and executed organizing drives. During the three organizing drives (1939--"Drive for 2500"; 1940--"10,000 in '41" and the 1941--"7 in 7 Drive") membership grew from 4,000 to 15,700 by December 1941. Careful planning, militant and direct action and mass mobilizations characterized the organizing campaigns and gave Local 65 prominence among the grouping of left-wing locals in New York City.

Beginning with World War II Local 65, along with most other CIO unions, adopted the no-strike pledge. The war period was characterized by a dramatic shift in union tactics. Instead of confrontation the union turned to the War Labor Board to resolve conflicts. Over 10,000 served in the armed forces or joined war-related industries depleting the ranks of union pioneers. Additionally, women members became the majority of the union and took increased leadership roles.

During World War II the conflict between the union and the inter- national subsided as the two factions entered a period of cooperation in support of the war effort. But differences between the left-wing New York locals and the Wolchok leadership, including a dispute over the signing of the Taft-Hartley Act's non-communist affidavits, led to a split in the URWDSEA in September, 1948. Eight of the largest of the 40 New York locals of the URWDSEA seceded from the international; these seceding locals, which represented between 30,000 and 40,000 workers, formed a joint council known as the Distributive Trades Council of New York. Arthur Osman became president of the council.

In February, 1950, an international that was to be one of the shortest- lived unions in American labor history came into being. This was the Distributive Workers Union (DWU), formed by a merger of local 65 and other former Retail and Wholesale affiliates: Local 2 (Gimbels-Saks 34th Street); Local 3 (Bloomingdales); Local 5 (Sterns); Local 1199 (Drug Clerks); and Local 144 (Displaymen). Local 1250, formerly affiliated with the Retail Clerks International and representing the Norton's department stores employees and Local 121, formerly part of the Gas, Coke and Chemical workers also merged. Local 65 had 122 of the 290 delegates to which the various merging locals were entitled. Arthur Osman headed the international; David Livingston became president of Local 65. In April, 1950, Local 65 leaders signed the non-communist affidavits in order, they said, to minimize the danger that other unions would use the NLRB facilities against the DWU's proposed organizing campaign.

In October, 1950, the DWU merged with the remnants of two unions expelled from the CIO for Communist domination, the United Office and Professional Workers of America (UOPWA) and the Food, Tobacco and Agricultural Workers Union, to form the Distributive, Processing and Office Workers of America (DPOWA). This international proved more durable than the DWU, surviving until 65 returned to the RWDSU in 1954. The merger made Local 65 (now District 65) the largest local in New York, and next to Ford Local 600, UAW, the largest in the country.

In January, 1952, the RWDSU, then headed by Irving Simon, who had replaced Wolchok in 1949, unanimously adopted a resolution inviting any of the seceding locals to rejoin the parent international. This resolution was aimed at the DPOWA. Also, in District-wide elections in June, 1952, candidates representing the Communist Party's opposition to reunification with the CIO were decisively defeated, in part because many District 65 Communist members and officers opposed this policy. The following year negotiations occurred between the two unions, and the merger, which was delayed by the death of Simon, was effected in 1954. Simon's successor, Max Greenberg, remained president of the international and Osman became a national officer. The DPOWA became District 65, RWDSU-CIO.

At the same time 65 was experiencing internal strife, it was being investigated by Congressional committees and grand juries for alleged radicalism. Leaders of the union were called to appear before a grand jury in the spring of 1952. David Livingston, President and Jack Paley, Executive Vice-President of 65, were held in contempt for their refusal to release membership records. In July, 1953, union officials appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee's New York City hearings. On advice of counsel and with the approval of the membership each refused to answer questions as to whether they were Communists or supported Communist causes.

Though workers in the warehouse industry remained the core of union strength, the union expanded in the 1940's and 1950's to include a variety of workers in small retail and manufacturing firms and other small shops such as those dealing in shoes, hardware, toys, gifts, television, mail order merchandise, needles, cigars, knitwear, chemicals and dental supplies. This growth brought significant changes in the composition of the union, adding groups of blacks, Puerto Ricans, Italians, and Irish to the original, primarily Jewish workers from small wholesale dry goods and textile shops. District 65 attempted to reach white collar workers by its organizing of clerical personnel, salesclerks, writers, editors, technicians, and lawyers.

Opposing the Vietnam War, 65 helped to found the Labor for Peace Coalition. By 1969, differences between the RWDSU and District 65 over foreign policy, civil rights, and organizational matters resulted in the disaffiliation of 65 from the international. A new national organization, the National Council of the Distributive Workers of America (NAWCDA), was formed by District 65 and ten local unions in seven states. Cleveland Robinson, Secretary-Treasurer of District 65, was elected president of NAWCDA.

As an independent union the Distributive Workers opened new organizing campaigns among clerical workers at Barnard and Columbia universities; editors at Simon & Schuster, Harper & Row, Random House, and Prentice-Hall; employees of the Museum of Modern Art; writers at the Village Voice; and other white collar workers. In 1969, the Distributive Workers joined the short-lived American Labor Alliance formed by the Teamsters and the UAW two years earlier. Ten years later, a merger between District 65 and the UAW was completed.


Sep 1933 Workers at H. Eckstein & Sons organize the Wholesale Dry Goods Employees Union.
Feb 1935 WDGEU affiliates with the AFL as Federal Local 19932.
Jan 1936 Union drafts Arthur Osman as full-time executive secretary.
Jul 1937 Union adopts resolution to affiliate with the CIO.
Aug 1937 WDGEU merges with AFL Shoe Warehouse Local and CIO Textile Warehouse Workers Union to form United Wholesale and Warehouse Employees of N.Y.'s Local 65.
Sep 1937 D65 becomes local of the United Retail and Employees of America.
Nov 1938 CIO Local 220, United Wholesale Grocery Employees merges with Local 65.
Mar 1939 Union reorganizes along a geographic rather than an industrial basis.
Jun 1939 First major organization drive begins -- goal of 2500 members in one year.
Feb 1940 Union establishes Hiring Hall.
Jun 1940 Union achieves first organizing drive goal. A new drive, "10,000 by 41", begins.
Sep 1940 CIO Local 353, China and Glass Workers merges with 65.
Jun 1941 Union membership reaches 10,000.
1942-1945 Union takes "No Strike" pledge.
May 1942 Union purchases building at 13 Astor Place.
Jul 1943 Union reverts to industry (local) groupings.
Sep 1945 Union inaugurates Security Plan.
Aug 1947 Union solicits $500,000 strike fund to fortify 65 against anti-labor attacks.
Jul 1948 Union officers decide not to sign Taft-Hartley non- communist affidavits.
Sep 1948 65 and seven other locals secede from the URWDSEA. They form the Distributive Trade Council with Osman as president.
Nov 1948 65 reverts to a territorial structure as defense against raiding
Feb 1950 Local 65 mergers with seven other locals to form the Distributive Workers Union. Osman heads international; David Livingston becomes president of 65.
Apr 1950 65 leaders sign non-communist affidavits.
Oct 1950 DWU merges with the Food, Tobacco and Agricultural Workers Union and the United Office and Professional Workers of America to form the Distributive, Processing and Office Workers of America. Local 65 becomes District 65.
May 1952 Union adopts a dual structure of organization --a combination of local and geographical alignments.
Sep 1953 Union divides into four locals or sections.
May 1954 District 65 rejoins the RWDSU.
Sep 1963 Union shifts from local to area structure.
Apr 1969 District 65 withholds per capita in move to disaffiliate from RWDSU. Union forms new national organization, Distributive Workers of America.
Aug 1979 65 affiliates with the UAW.

Bibliography: District 65 Publications:

  1. The Union Voice: August 1934 - April 23, 1935
  2. The New Voices: April 23, 1935 - August 15 1937
  3. New Voices: August 15, 1937 - January 7, 1945
  4. Union Voice: January 7, 1945 - June 6, 1954
  5. Publication of the RWDSU: June 6, 1954 - July 4, 1954 (two issues)
  6. RWDSU Record: July 4, 1954 - January 8, 1961
  7. The 65er: January 8, 1961 - July 1969
  8. The Distributive Worker: July 1969 - Present

Works about District 65:

  1. Cook, Alice, Union Democracy: Practice and Ideal, An Analysis of Four Large Local Unions,Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1963. (Section on Local 100.)
  2. Rogow, Robert, Relationships among the environment, policies, and government of a labor union: a study of District 65, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, AFL-CIO,Ph.D, New York University, 1965
  3. Tabb, Jay, A study of white collar unionism: tactics and policies pursued in building the Wholesale and Warehouse Workers Union of New York,Ph.D, University of Chicago, 1952