The MECHANICS EDUCATIONAL SOCIETY OF AMERICA (MESA) represented workers in the machine-tool, automotive, and steel industries as an independent union until it affiliated with the CIO in 1954. Founded in Detroit in 1933 for tool-and-die makers, MESA organized in Flint and Pontiac and then moved to Toledo and Cleveland, sites of automotive factories and job shops. Here, the union became the bargaining agent at a number of companies, including Cleveland Graphite Bronze, Eaton Axle, and S. K. Wellman, fighting for recognition of the special skills of machinists through better wages and working conditions. Within months of its founding, MESA staged a walkout of its entire membership, which gained it recognition as an industrywide bargaining agent, and in 1935 it merged with the Associated Automotive Workers of America.
As an independent union, MESA was active in several Cleveland war-production plants, and conflicts with its then-rival CIO and strikes led to the military seizure of some plants. Major Cleveland war-material manufacturers were at risk in March 1942 when MESA leader Matthew Smith threatened to call out the area's 42,000 war workers in order to obtain the union's admission to local WLB negotiations and representation on the board. Plants such as Cleveland Graphite Bronze were also affected by a series of strikes based on local issues and wages, work demands, and work rules (see