Weir, Stan (audio interview #3 of 6)
Stan Weir(1920 - 2001)
Pat McCauley, interviewer
12/5/1990 12:00:00 AM
Individual Labor Activists
SUBJECT BIO - Stan Weir was a rank and file activist and organizer in the auto and longshore industries in California. Raised in Los Angeles, Weir attended UCLA briefly after graduating from high school in East Los Angeles. He joined the Merchant Marine when WWII began and his political education began on the first ship on which he sailed. His class consciousness and view of industrial unionism was heightened as he came into contact with the organized left through the Sailors Union of the Pacific. After the war, Weir worked in a variety of unionized jobs in both southern and northern California. He helped to foment a brief wildcat sit-down strike in the East Oakland Chevrolet plant. Beginning in the late 1950s, and for the next five years, his activism on behalf of other ILWU members who were classified as "B" workers eventually forced him out of the union. And despite the lawsuit against the ILWU that he filed along with other representatives of the "B" workers, he later resumed work on the docks in San Pedro. Weir remained an independent labor and socialist activist throughout the years, regardless of the particular jobs he held, and in the mid-1980s founded "Singlejack Books" in an effort to bring affordable "little books" to workers. Singlejack Solidarity, a collection of Weir's writing was published posthumously by University of Minnesota Press in 2004. The lengthy oral history with Stan Weir was conducted by Patrick McAuley while he was a graduate student at CSULB. A transcript prepared by Weir's wife, Mary, is on deposit at the Wayne State Labor Archive. The original recordings and accompanying summaries are on deposit in the Archive of California State University, Long Beach.
INTERVIEW DESCRIPTION - This rather long interview is the third of six sessions with Stan Weir. The session was recorded in Weir's office in San Pedro. The life history project was initiated by Pat McCauley while he was a graduate student in history at CSULB.
TOPICS - socialist activities; influence of Max Shapiro; joining Workers Party; role of women in Workers Party; participation of Black in union activities; role of CP and of ILWU in San Francisco; life in San Francisco; Lodge 68, IAM revolt; Workers Party debate;Merchant Marine service, Greenwich Village adventures; factional fighting in Workers Party; James Baldwin; homophobia in political groups; working at Chevrolet; meeting future wife; and fomenting job action;Oakland general strike, 1946; Reuther caucus in the UAW; CP influence in UAW; Reuther postwar organizing; and role of Association of Catholic Trade Unions;internal politics of UAW; Reuther caucus, UAW; defeat of resolution condemning Taft-Hartley; Weir's attraction to Trotskyism; Hal Draper; internal conflicts, Workers Party; Teamsters organizing;concept of informal work group ideas; conflict with Teamsters; Hungarian revolution and 1956 layofff at GM; driving truck for Welch's Overalls,LA; firing; removal by Teamsters and losing arbitration; job painting custom made trucks;
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*** File: lhsweir7.mp3
Audio Segments and Topics:
(0:00-11:04)... In early 1943, on a C1 fast ship to Australia, Weir was deck delegate. He'd met some communists at UCLA and didn't relate to them. And Oliver, the Oehlerite, couldn't communicate with him. He was on deck and saw an immense sea bag with a pigeon-toed walk under it. He was Max Shapiro, AB seaman, and Weir introduced him to everyone with a handshake, aborting any anti-Semitism. They talked on deck when Weir was off watch, and others joined him because he was knowledgeable, answered them and asked questions. In Australia, Shapiro got publications of the American Workers Party (500 members) and Socialist Workers Party (800-900), the two wings of the American Trotskyist movement. He suggested Weir read them. Weir liked New International, organ of Workers Party, and The Militant of the Socialist Workers Party.
(11:04-14:24)... Weir joined the Workers Party, and by the time he reached the next port he had learned about world politics and economics from a sophisticated New Yorker. The Workers Party was the only one he would have joined, because they they were the only one that reserved the right to oppose the war publicly. It was radical and pro-labor. In the SUP, he had found a way to talk back without being fired. He felt a responsibility to carry on what the'34 men had done, to sustain that militancy and not give up what they had won earlier during the war. The WP supported all those things, and he took to it rapidly.
(14:24-18:17)... On returning to port in San Pedro Weir became active. He went to hear the Black trade union secretary for the Workers Party talk, but found him boring. A Socialist Workers Party (SWP) branch was also active, putting out 12,000 copies of Labor Action a week for four years running, The women members distributed it after their shifts in the shipyard. They concentrated on shipyard workers, expecting a long war. When it ended and the shipyards shut down, people scattered. Although women held the movement together during the war, while the men were off at war, they were second class citizens; there was no feminism or women's liberation.
(18:17-21:00)... Every effort was made to encourage Black participation on the docks, but Weir doesn't believe that it was successful. Seventy percent of the peripheries of the San Francisco and San Pedro branches were Black. At first they came meetings out of a sense of obligation to those who had fought and taken risks for them, but it wore off. The major discussion at meetings was the national question in Europe, i.e. whether to join the European liberation movement or form their own. There was no way anyone not a constant reader and with advantages of education could sustain an interest.
(21:00-23:32)... Weir joined the "suitcase parade" in San Francisco, leaving ship in San Francisco with 30 days ashore. He moved in with Max and Marjorie Shapiro. Max is the one who gave Weir his political education and recruited him to the Workers Party. His wife, Marjorie, was an artist who had become a machinist in Lodge 68 of the IAM, the Lodge that revolted against the International and struck in 1945. The half-dozen communists who supported the strike were expelled from the party. Weir comments that the CP was stronger in San Francisco than anywhere, part of the warp and woof of the Bohemian element, and that the active radicals of the ILWU were part of the woodwork in SF. The local party would not expel the strike supporters and national president, William Z. Foster, had to come out and put together a trial commission, which was chaired by Bill Bailey. It expelled the militants.
(23:32-26:10)... Weir details some of the history of IAM, Lodge 68, noting that the strike was over conditions that had been won that most unions had never even heard of. The CP considered Hook and Dean, the leaders of the revolt, to be Trotskyites and a threat to the CP. These two had lost out in the effort to bring a machinists Lodge (168) into the CIO and had to remain in the AFL. They formed a steelworkers union in the East Bay that became unique, the only machinist union in the CIO, and the two locals worked together. (Weir notes that historian, Richard Boyden, wrote his dissertation on Lodge 68.)
(26:10-30:53)... Weir had a small front room in the Shapiros' large, rent-controlled apartment for two or three years. There was a branch of the Workers Party in East Bay and a small contingent in San Francisco. Weekly meetings of about fifteen people were held in one of the other location. The big discussion was the national question in Europe, which was going to be fought out at the Workers Party 1944 national convention. The national was beginning to see the dangers of the war, scattering and atomizing the radicals in Europe, and there was a growing feeling that socialists should become part of the bourgeois movement. Max Shapiro was opposed. They all went to the New York convention, green as grass. End of tape.
*** File: lhsweir8.mp3
(0:00-3:11)... Being in the Merchant Marine meant that Weir was removed from both the direct killing and the military discipline he hated. However, he didn't find any pacifists on the ships. Weir's friends and party members, the Shapiros, went to New York, where they rented a large apartment in Greenwich Village. He was drawn to the romance of the bohemian quarter and he stayed there and sailed east coast. Weir watched the Workers Party bureaucracy very closely and was not impressed. There were three factions fighting and his friend, Max Shapiro, was fighting to retain the ideas of Trotskyism without watering them down with social democratization.
(3:11-5:00)... Weir stayed in the movement largely for the adventure of the Greenwich Village. The Workers Party was a third camp, adopting the phrase "Neither Washington nor Moscow," shorthand for national self-determination for all people. He could put up with that as long as they had politics of integrity. Even though he was in opposition from the beginning, he stayed because he had something to fight for that would make the Workers Party better. During this time, Weir read enormous amounts of written material, more than at any time in his life.
(5:00-9:32)... Weir quit going to sea in New York in 1946, planning to return to California, enjoy the beach, body surf, and then become a longshoreman. Several WP party members urged him to become an auto worker. During the war, the Workers Party had been instrumental in creating the rank and file caucus and Walter Reuther wanted to take it over. Weir comments that becoming an auto workers was a mistake, that he would have done better to become a longshoreman and could have gotten in some beach time.
(9:32-13:02)... Weir describes his Greenwich Village experience living in the Shapiros' apartment above the Calypso Cafe, which became almost a home for him. James Baldwin was the waiter and was about to get funding to write Go Tell It On The Mountain. It was his first close relationship with a Black, and they talked about the situation of Blacks in the US. Baldwin's sensitivities and his feeling that racism was too ingrained to eliminate by simple reform were like those that Weir was pressing in the Workers Party.
(13:02-17:29)... Weir once broached the idea of joining the Workers Party with Baldwin. Baldwin declined and noted that although none of them had ever betrayed him, they buried the issue of homosexuality. He recounted an anecdote, ending by noting that as long as the closet is closed, other doors were closed to him. Although Baldwin didn't parade his homosexuality, he didn't hide it.
(17:29-30:54)... Weir got a job at Ford in Richmond, California, where they had just fired all the wartime women workers, except two janitors. They couldn't keep anyone on the line, and it was mayhem. He quit, then felt guilty and went to work at Chevrolet. About this time, he went to a dance and met his future wife, Mary. His activities in the Workers Party branch life was very concentrated, with meetings once or twice a week. That, on top of working, meant that his time reading was cut down. When Weir first met Mary, he was working in the paint shop, and she worried because he would spit all six colors. Then he got the most dangerous job, loading. When he got hurt, he led a sit down strike over management's refusal to provide gloves. Although the plant manager did not come down to the shop, the foreman brought a gross of Christmas-wrapped gloves. Weir maintains that the CP was upset that he'd called the strike. Note: this segment ends with a discussion of wildcat strikes, and continues on the next tape.
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(0:00-4:23)... A wave of strikes broke out in 1946, among them, the wildcat led by Weir and the Oakland general strike in December. Weir claims that these were part of the largest wave of strikes in US and that they were driven by damned up militancy. It was still a wartime labor force, not yet swamped by GI's returning, and vented hostility to the abuse they had taken during the war from employers "mouthing phony patriotism." The state CIO, run by CP sympathizers, was not officially part of the Oakland general strike. They wanted a no-strike pledge for nine years following the war. When crews on three ships at the Oakland army base walked out, Bridges sent a group of politicos to man the ships. Weir was still in the SUP and called Lundeberg, who sent about thirty Hawaiians with a bunch of SIE/SUP buttons to distribute as a kind of strike police badge.
(4:23-6:08)... Weir notes that the strike failed. He describes a general strike meeting in the Oakland auditorium where Lundeberg mouthed what Weir describes as pure demagogy, while he had already sold out the strike. The strike died for lack of leadership. The strike was called in support of workers at Kahn and Hastings department store. They had the town shut down, but the leadership in the Retail Clerks Union and the Teamsters did not get an agreement protecting the workers' jobs and settling their grievances. As a result, they went back to work with no protections and no gains.
(6:08-8:40)... Weir describes the strikes (during the Oakland general strike) as spontaneous venting of frustrations. The real leaders were the Key system bus drivers, with Eisenhower jackets converted to bus jackets, some with overseas marks still on them. They marched to City Hall, where Oakland police had herded L A. truck scabs into the stores, but no one would come out to speak with them. Note: Weir's account ends at 08:24, when the interviewer re-introduces the tape after what was apparently a short break.
(8:40-11:57)... The general strike confirmed Weir's ideas that the membership of the unions was way ahead of the leaders on how to fight the employers and in inventing democratic methods to further the fight. Officials were shocked by the absence of union leaders. Weir illustrates rank and file militancy and describes the bus drivers leaving their buses in the middle of the street to protest that LA scab truck drivers were delivering merchandise to the struck stores.
(11:57-14:25)... Weir describes the carnival atmosphere that prevailed during the Oakland general strike. People got off the trolley with no place to go at 7:00 a.m. Soon they were dancing in the streets to jukeboxes out on the sidewalk in front of bars. It was freedom for workers who got to sit down for more than three minutes. At the time of the strike, the CIO was led by the CP. At the state convention that year Weir challenged the chair, asking where the CIO was in the Oakland strike? The response - which Weir characterizes as Orwellian doublethink - was that it wasn't a general strike.
(14:25-24:55)... Weir describes the Oakland general strike in great detail. Without leadership, the participants in the street cordoned off ten blocks. People could get out but not back in without a union card. They kept the streets clean, there was no littering, no looting, no crime, there was an attitude of spontaneous morality. [Note: Weir spends a lot of time here talking about Albert Rhys Williams' Though the Russian Revolution and quoting Trotsky.] Although members of the Office Workers Union (OPEIU) and the Retail Clerks participated, there was no general outpouring of non-union general office workers.
(24:55-27:28)... Talking about the civil crowd behavior during the Oakland general strike leads Weir to a discussion of how common this is, illustrating it with an experience at Chevrolet.
(27:28-30:47)... Weir discusses the Reuther caucus in the UAW. This was the rank and file who opposed the middle of the road, conservative followers of Philip Murray and supporters of the CP labor tactics. That coalition had controlled the union through the war and had misled it by giving up the hard won gains in the '30s. Reuther opposed the coalition from the left and had taken over the rank and file caucus, which was built during the war mainly by Trotskyists (with the exception of the SWP, which mostly stayed with the coalition). Although Reuther wouldn't touch it in a job action during the war, he acted when the war was over. The rank and file made him president, and at the next convention he got a majority of the executive board. To achieve that, he needed the Association of Catholic Trade Unions. They were red baiters, and you could see Reuther moving in that direction in order to win a clean sweep. End of tape. [Note: this discussion continues on the next tape]
*** File: lhsweir10.mp3
(0:00-3:06)... Weir continues discussing the Reuther caucus in the UAW and Reuther's ascension to power. As first vice president in charge of General Motors, Reuther won the presidency with active left wing support and then got a majority of the Executive Board. Weir maintains that Reuther moved to the right and picked up strength with the conservatives by secret promises of good, full time jobs. These people owed him everything, and he ended up getting the Executive Board majority.
(3:06-5:55)... Weir details the political developments and infighting in the UAW in California, discussing the ways that activists in the Reuther caucus were often betrayed. Weir thinks that Reuther had built a one-party, one-caucus union at the expense of the rank and file.
(5:55-11:15)... Weir continues to talk about the politics of the UAW noting that demoted leaders lost no respect when they ended up back in the shop. Those who lost respect were the leftists who went overboard for Reuther. He recounts a story that illustrates how the leftist tracks of some people were erased. He believes that the 1948 convention sealed the effort to marginalize the radicals and details what he refers to as the disgrace at the convention.
(11:15-13:45)... Weir details why he thought the 1948 UAW convention was a disgrace. Even though the Thomas Addis people were defeated, they put up an anti-Taft Hartley resolution, that the leaders not sign the non-communist affidavit. A young Black president of a Chicago local attacked them and they were driven out. This legitimized the Taft-Hartley Act and killed any hope of a fight against it.
(13:45-15:35)... Weir believes that the vote against the resolution challenging Taft-Hartley changed the union. They didn't know about it on the west coast until The UAW and Walter Reuther was published (Random House, 1949). Weir comments that in their "Stalin-phobia," Irving Howe and B.J.Widdick reported the vote as a great victory. They were no longer functioning as level-headed militants; they'd lost hope in socialism and were going for careers. The Reutherites were no longer the left wing opposition; they were now business unionists.
(15:35-20:58)... Weir believes that Trotskyists lost ground as a result of the changes in the postwar era. The war destroyed the basis of the socialist movement around the Russian revolution. In the 1930s, Trotskyists felt they could win communists over, but once the CP disintegrated, it meant starting over again. People like Weir came in during the war because Trotskyists made sense of the world around them. He owed them, but he had never counted on world revolution. Once people on the west coast lost heart in Shapiro-Draper ideals and hope of a new society, they embraced careers and forgot the rank and file workers. It was a total disgrace, compounded by being anti-Red on the wrong basis.
(20:58-23:00)... Weir talks about Hal Draper, who he characterizes as the only anti-labor party man left in the party. He had a big following, especially in the San Pedro Branch, which was the largest branch outside of New York. At war's end he was persuaded to go to New York as editor of Labor Action in the new International. When a labor pamphlet appeared in 1945 with a foreword by Draper, it became clear that he had become a member of the apparatus, head of the newspaper and magazine. When they went into the Socialist party in 1958, Draper was one of the most anti-unity people. They stayed in it less than a year, and Draper facilitated their exit, formed the Independent Socialist Club, and finally the Independent Socialists (IS).
(23:00-26:20)... Although Weir believes that Draper had done wrong, he made a comeback and fought well. If he had been stereotyped and rejected, they wouldn't have gotten the benefit of his efforts later on. Weir details the internal fights in the Workers Party, noting that in San Francisco there was no Shachtman-Shapiro rapprochement. At war's end, the Workers Party forbade members from going to Europe. When Shapiro got a ship and went, Shachtman expelled him, spelling the end of Shapiro in the WP. Weir is critical of Shapiro and feels that he left the workers in San Francisco high and dry. He knew there was nothing left in Europe of the WP movement. Confronted by Weir, Shapiro told him that he needed some rest, some peace of mind and was going to go to Europe, make some money, and write. Weir notes that Shapiro was there for fifteen or twenty years, made no money, and didn't write.
(26:20-30:50)... When Weir returned to Los Angeles in 1951, where he stayed until 1956 or 1958, he was still in the Workers Party. While they had branch meetings once or twice a week and executive board twice a week in San Francisco, in LA they were getting ready to become inactive because of McCarthyism. Weir led a revolt in the Teamsters Union and for the next two years the Teamsters and Lt. Stevens of the LAPD "red squad" got him fired from every job he got. He made only $1300. in two years and had to support a wife and babies. In 1955 GM was hiring, and he knew he could get a spray-painting job. He lived on the east side and joined a ride group with four Mexicans. He no longer tried to be a leader. He shut up and watched and learned, which is how he developed his ideas about informal work groups. End of tape.
*** File: lhsweir11.mp3
(0:00-3:00)... Weir developed his ideas about informal work groups during the early 1950's. The concept (referred to interchangeably as informal work group, informal group, primary group, primary work group) was developed at Hawthorne, the Cicero AT&T plant, between 1927 and 1932. Informal work groups are not "purists;" they're wracked by love and hate and have serious disagreements, but close ranks when attacked. The struggle between them and management is unceasing. Management understands that if you can buy off a leader you can foul up the group temporarily. However, a new leader will appear as the group regenerates itself.
(3:00-5:58)... Weir illustrates how informal work groups regenerate, drawing on his experience when he worked by himself in the Chevrolet spraying cellar. He recounts an incident in Norfolk port when a Shipping Commissioner from Department of Commerce came aboard so that the crew could sign articles for the voyage. As bos'n Weir was the first to be called. The Commissioner became livid when Weir refused to call him "sir," and threatened to stop Weir from making his trip. Two young deck hands stepped up and said, if he doesn't go, we don't go; and the skipper chimed in and told the Commissioner to sign him on. To this day Weir remembers how wonderful those two kids were.
(5:58-8:20)... According to both Weir and company literature, Informal Work Groups are more powerful than unions. One management consultant said that their whispers are more powerful than management orders. Weir recounts an incident of one of the men in his ride group who was stealing paint in his thermos. Then he stole a gun, cleaned it with lacquer thinner, and hid it in his crotch. Thinner leaked out and he was in agony. Weir told him that it served him right. It wasn't that Weir was against his stealing from GM he told him, but that he was against him getting caught and their losing a good man.
(8:20-11:26)... Weir was sent to LA to "de-organize" the Workers Party branch and to get confirmation of his ideas. The WP by then had changed its name to Independent Socialist Party. This was Draper's idea, not to be pretentious. It was obvious to Weir that LA was falling apart, badly scarred by McCarthyism. They weren't industry workers, but students, small business owners, and teachers. Weir hastened the disintegration of the branch by rubbing their faces in their plight. After this, he ceased to function as a regular party person while he was working in auto. Returning to San Francisco after the 1956 layoff and the Hungarian revolution, he was back in the thick of it. (He notes that after not smoking for two years, he started again with Hungarian Revolution and didn't quit until 1984.)
(11:26-15:43)... Weir saw a union victory at Chevrolet. The San Francisco auto plant was pretty well integrated, but each department was isolated and the workers didn't know each other. So in any job action, when management disappeared, the workers held guided tours to acquaint everyone with all of the plant. One night on his nine-minute break he raced to the trim line to get root beer from the drink machine there. He saw that the workers wouldn't work on a car. It turned out someone who had to relieve himself and had already had his nine-minute break used the car as a toilet. Management had to push the car off the line and clean it. Weir was over four minutes late getting back and guys were livid until he told the story. Then they rolled in the aisles. Weir describes this as a victory.
(15:43-20:33)... Weir worked as a laundry driver in Los Angeles at Welch's Overalls, the largest industrial laundry in the world, going to the Teamsters to get the job. As relief driver, he saw industrial LA as few people did, covering Orange, Ventura, and part of Santa Barbara counties. Weir was elected shop steward, with the blessing of local leadership, who liked the idea of a red-headed freckled "Huck Finn" American working with them. He spoke at meetings and the membership saw new, more militant leadership from this thirty year old and two or three others.
(20:33-30:50)... Weir was, ultimately, blackballed by the Teamsters. The membership began pressing for a new contract, and Weir fought hard for them, going "beyond the line" in his enthusiasm. Both the union and owners, who were not responsive to the demands of the workers, decided he had to go. They hadn't realized with whom they were dealing, i.e. that he was "Trotskyite-radical-Wobbly-syndicalist." The fired him on the ruse that he hadn't kept his pink slips in a neat pack and had misappropriated $1.10. The workers, who were paying his salary out of their own pockets, wanted to start a wildcat strike, but Weir elected to go to arbitration, instead. When he lost, he went into "emotional paralysis." It was the first time this had ever happened to him. Mary was pregnant with their first child. When he saw he was at the end of the line with Welch, he got a job painting custom-made trucks. The Teamsters found out and got him fired. End of tape.
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