The National Labor Relations Board tries to settle the Kohler strike, 1934

Hearing in the matter of the Kohler Company, Federal Union no. 18545, Kohler Workers Association.

In 1934, employees of the Kohler Company attempted to organize a union over the objections of company president Walter J. Kohler, who had a different interpretation of a labor law that allowed employees to organize and bargain collectively. Kohler believed that his workers could organize but he did not think that any union should have exclusive bargaining power--a right claimed by the newly formed AFL Union of Kohler workers. After Kohler refused to bargain with them, the workers declared a general strike on July 16th. The relatively peaceful strike took a violent turn on July 27th when special deputies broke through the picket lines to escort a coal car that strikers had turned back. A battle ensued outside the plant that left two strikers dead and over 40 wounded. The next day, Governor Schmedeman called out the National Guard to restore order.

Unable to settle the strike, the case went to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in Washington DC, which ruled that employees could choose between the company-organized Kohler Workers' Association or the AFL union. Despite an overwhelming vote in favor of the company union, the local AFL refused to concede defeat and continued to strike. The AFL union accomplished little, though, as most Kohler employees were happy to have jobs at all during the Depression and appeared content with the company union. The strike finally ended in 1941 as World War II increased demand for Kohler products. This 1934 report is from the hearings before the NLRB.

Related Topics: The Progressive Era
Industrialization and Urbanization
The Birth of the Labor Movement
The Rise of Skilled Manufacturing
Creator: United States National Labor Relations Board
Pub Data: Washington, D.C. : [s.n.], 1934. (pamphlet 94- 994)
Citation: United States National Labor Relations Board. "Hearing in the matter of the Kohler Company, Federal Union no. 18545, Kohler Workers Association." (Washington, D.C. : [s.n.], 1934); online facsimile at Online facsimile at:; Visited on: 9/29/2022