Labor History: Marine Cooks and Stewards Union and the WPA Sewing Projects Strike

Posting because I think these are both important pieces of history. That is all.

Marine Cooks and Stewards Union


The Marine Cooks and Stewards Union was a Communist-backed labor union from the 1930s that represented servicemen on the West Coast who were involved with often dangerous work. Many of the workers in the union were gay and black, and the MCS was the first union in the US to not discriminate against workers based on sexuality and race. In addition, the MCS was the first organization to provide worker protection against sexual discrimination, decades before any organized gay rights group did the same. During McCarthyism, all Communist-backed unions were disbanded from the CIO, and the MCS fell apart. (see Alan Berube’s work for more).

WPA Sewing Projects/Strike of 1939


The WPA, or Works Projects Administration, was a 1935 New Deal development to create jobs. The Sewing Projects employed millions of Americans, with about 15-20% of them being women. The sewing projects was at first considered “unskilled” and thus paid far less than many WPA positions. It also employed more women than most positions ( Althought Roosevelt was “pro-union,” he and his administration believed that those participating in the WPA were lucky to have jobs at all and that strikes were unacceptable. In 1939, the renewed WPA act required a minimum of 130 hours of work per month with a base pay of 70 cents per hour, well below the union average. In Minneapolis, WPA officials laid of nine hundred workers, many from the sewing projects. In response, the Sewing Projects union led a strike that began on June 5, 1939 (Jeffreys-Jones, 2007). The strike lasted until June 21st and involved countless acts of violent street-fighting, including many altercations between women workers on strike and women scabs. On June 21, the WPA union settled without making any gains (Cott, 2004).


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