Labor, Civil Rights, and the Hughes Tool Company
African American Studies - Texas History
6 x 9, 280 pp.
15 b&w photos., 6 tables.
Pub Date: 09/05/2005
Kenneth E. Montague Series in Oil and Business History
  cloth
Price:        $43.00 s

978-1-58544-438-0

Published by Texas A&M University Press

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2005 T.R. Fehrenbach Book Award, presented by the Texas Historical Commission

Labor, Civil Rights, and the Hughes Tool Company

By Michael R. Botson Jr.

On July 12, 1964, in a momentous decision, the National Labor Relations Board decertified the racially segregated Independent Metal Workers Union as the collective bargaining agent at Houston’s mammoth Hughes Tool Company. The unanimous decision ending nearly fifty years of Jim Crow unionism at the company marked the first time in the Labor Board’s history that it ruled that racial discrimination by a union violated the National Labor Relations Act and was therefore illegal. The ruling was for black workers the equivalent of the Brown v. Board of Education decision by the Supreme Court in the area of education.

Michael R. Botson carefully traces the Jim Crow unionism of the company and the efforts of black union activists to bring civil rights issues into the workplace. His analysis places Hughes Tool in the context created by the National Labor Relations Act and the formation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). It clearly demonstrates that without federal intervention, workers at Hughes Tool would never have been able to overcome management’s opposition to unionization and to racial equality.

Drawing on interviews with many of the principals, as well as extensive mining of company and legal archives, Botson’s study “captures a moment in time when a segment of Houston’s working-class seized the initiative and won economic and racial justice in their work place.”

MICHAEL R. BOTSON, JR., who has taught history at Houston Community College since 1999, holds a Ph.D. from the University of Houston. His interest in labor history also draws on a decade of experience as an apprentice then journeyman millwright.

What Readers Are Saying:

“A very worthy study . . . makes an important contribution to the literature . . . the subject of African American workers’ initiative is sensitively handled. . . there are no comparable studies on labor in the state of Texas.”--Emilio Zamora, University of Texas at Austin

“A very worthy study . . . makes an important contribution to the literature . . . the subject of African American workers’ initiative is sensitively handled. . . there are no comparable studies on labor in the state of Texas.” --Emilio Zamora, University of Texas at Austin

“Michael Botson’s history details the rise and fall of both genuine unionism and company unionism at Hughes Tool Company, whose management was vehemently hostile toward worker organization in general. It is also the story of black workers harassed by both management and the unions over the decades. It is a story of deficient working conditions that prevailed in all settings–boom times, depressions, and wars. Finally, in a landmark case in 1964, the NLRB upheld the status of the genuine AFL-CIO union and also struck down racial segregation by unions. Dr. Botson weaves together this tapestry of history with considerable skill and nuance, all the more heartfelt since he spent nine years as an industrial union worker, where he encountered some of the same problems he later discovered in his research of Hughes Tool. This story is a substantial contribution to the growing body of literature that focuses on civil rights and the labor movement, and is further evidence of the importance of Texas events in making that history.” --George N. Green, Professor of History, University of Texas at Arlington

“This is an important new book on a still neglected topic: civil rights in the workplace. Professor Botson uses the case study of Hughes Tool to examine the confluence of two of the great social movements in twentieth century American history, the struggle for independent unions and the struggle for civil rights. Black workers in the large Houston factory of Hughes Tool finally won a landmark case before the National Labor Relations Board that effectively challenged their separate, but not equal treatment as workers in the company’s all-black labor gangs.” --Joseph A. Pratt, Cullen Professor of History and Business, University of Hous

Labor, Civil Rights, and the Hughes Tool Company is a compelling read. Botson is an excellent historian and storyteller. The book is rich in detail, and he more than adequately recaptures the monumental struggle for justice at this Houston factor.” --The Journal of Economic History

“This fine book is an important contribution to the literature on the relationship between organized labor and the civil rights movement. It will be of great interest not only to those who study labor and civil rights in Texas, but also to scholars who focus on the broader social movements of the twentieth-century America.” --Southwestern Historical Quarterly

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