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Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

CLEVELAND GRAPHITE BRONZE SEIZURE

CLEVELAND GRAPHITE BRONZE SEIZURE

The CLEVELAND GRAPHITE BRONZE SEIZURE, 6 Sept.-11 Nov. 1944, put the Cleveland Graphite Bronze Co. plants (see CLEVITE, GOULD) under U.S. Army control after a strike crippled war production there. Cleveland Graphite Bronze, manufacturer of automotive and aircraft bearings at the onset of World War II, employed 2,500, with workers represented by the MECHANICS EDUCATIONAL SOCIETY OF AMERICA (MESA). After the company expanded its plant, hired 5,000 people, and ran 3 shifts per day to meet the demand for its products, wage disputes led to a series of strikes in 1940-41. Tensions ran high in the fatigued, poorly integrated workforce, and more strikes occurred when MESA accused Graphite of exaggerating its percentage of war work to exploit employees.

On 31 Aug. 1944, the contentious relationship between company and union surfaced again when employee Elmer Torok was fired for allegedly breaking a 75-cent lock to gain entry to his locker, and 5,000 Graphite workers went out on strike. To justify his firing, the company claimed that Torok's destruction of property was the last of several incidents involving him, but the union countered that Torok's dismissal was too harsh for the offense, pointing out that at least 18 people had been fired over a two-year period for petty causes. With an impasse between company and union, the regional War Labor Board, concerned about the effect on war production, referred the matter to the national board for action. Pres. Franklin Roosevelt then put the War Department in charge of Cleveland Graphite Bronze operations, and the company reopened 6 Sept. under the army's control, with Lt. Col. George D. Lynn in charge. The trouble that erupted at Graphite was part of a broader battle being waged by MESA to fend off CIO raids on its membership during the takeover--a problem not eliminated until MESA won a decisive victory at a 1947 union election.

After two months the army believed labor and management could again cooperate and military control was removed. Although MESA claimed victory for the strikers, the seizure effectively neutralized the Torok case as an issue, and eventually the U.S. Conciliation Service decided for the company. The Graphite Bronze seizure was the first war plant takeover in Ohio.