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Great Depression and World War II, 1929-1945
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal
Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) Unionism

The New Deal not only focused on economic and social programs, it also provided for the nation's workers. In 1933, existing union membership had dropped significantly, and attempts to unionize labor in such "new growth" industries as steel, textiles, and automobiles had not been successful. However, with the passage of the National Industrial Recovery Act, the right of workers to join unions and as a group to negotiate hours, wages, and working conditions with their employers was guaranteed. In 1935, the passage of the National Labor Relations Act guaranteed workers the right to choose their own unions. The following excerpt from American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940 describes the efforts of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) to unionize telegraph employees of the Postal Telegraph. You may have heard of the "sit down" tactic used by strikers. What was the "stand-up" tactic used by the telegraph workers? Why was it an effective tactic? What was the purpose of "composing" the worker's songs? What messages are contained in the songs?

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Mr. Silverman is the publicity director for the ACA. He is a tall, good looking guy about 28, breezy, informal, tactful and extremely co-operative. Promised to round up all available material, to assist in making contacts, to publicize the project in the Union Newspaper, to help in any way possible. . . .

I'll tell you about the stand up the workers pulled when the Union was negotiating with Postal Telegraph. You've heard of the sit down. Well this was a stand up. Here's the way it happened. Around November 1937, we were negotiating with Postal for recognition and other demands. Things were going slow and then this action was organized which clinched the contract. Here's how it worked. The workers called it the Iron Ring. Now here's a map of the United States. Now if you draw a line through theses cities, you'll sse what was meant by the Iron Ring. It looks something like this . . .

WASHINGTON, PHILADELPHIA, PITTSBURGH, DETROIT, NEW YORK, BUFFALO, in these cities, stand up meetings were held simultaneously for three hours. All messages going East, West, North or South have to be relayed through one of these points. When the workers stood up at their machines and the action was [85%?] successful, well, it stopped the work. It stopped 85 to 90 percent of the traffic throughout the country.

Things happened during those stand up meetings. The workers tell stories about it. They wrote songs about it, their own songs. There's no record who wrote them. Ten or fifteen people got together and composed them. They send them during the stand up and they're still being sung today. Almost everybody remembers them. Here's how the action took place. Nobody knew just when and where it would start, not even the executive committees in the shops. But the workers had voted the National Office the power to call this action. At exactly 10:19 the organizer stepped into the Pittsburgh shop and he was supposed to blow a whistle which would begin the action. He had the whistle with him and he tried to blow a terrific blast. Nothing came up. That was hot. Finally the damn thing did let out a squeak and as soon as the Pittsburgh workers heard the whistle they flashed this message at the end of whatever message they were sending. STOP STOP STOP ACA STAND UP FOR BETTER CONDITIONS, and they stood up. The workers receiving the message sent it on and did the same. In a minute the action was flashed all over the country and the Stand Up meetings were on. When the three hours were over, someone flashed the word and in the same way they resumed work. It was that action that broke the back of Postal and they signed up. Here are some of the songs that were born during the time.

The [song] is called the Postal Soup Song. It goes to the tune of My Bonny Lies Over The Ocean:

All my lifetime I worked for the Postal.
Until I was near ninety-nine;
And when I was laid off they told me
"We'll give you something that's fine,"


Sou-up, Sou-up. They gave me a bowl of soup.
Sou-up, Sou-up. They gave me a bowl of soup.

I had fourteen kids and a wife,
Who were hungry and ragged and cold.
And when I asked for a raise,
Here is what I was told.

Sou-up, Sou-up. We'll give you a bowl of soup.
Sou-up, Sou-up. We'll give you a bowl of soup.

Here's one to the tune of Tipperary which was sung when the Union was organizing Western Union.

It's a good thing to join the union.
It's a fine place to go.
It's a good thing to join the union
And march with the CIO.
Good bye to the speed up,
Hello union pay,
Rally Western Union workers for the ARTA.
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