Louisville’s Union Legacy: Fighting Racism, Taking on Corporate Power


Toni Gilpin, who wrote the book on the union at International Harvester in Louisville

Senator Gerald Neal whose father was a leader of that Local Union 236

Thurs., June 8, 2023, 6:00 pm, IUE-CWA Hall, 5153 Poplar Level Rd., Louisville

The Farm Equipment Local 236 in Louisville came to represent, Gilpin argues, “the most perfect embodiment of the FE’s ideology.” Part of this was quantifiable, as the radical FE’s commitment to shop-floor militancy, including a liberal reliance on walkouts to win grievance disputes, was on full display at the IH plant in Louisville, where “wildcat” strikes became commonplace. But it was also evident in Local 236’s adherence to what could be called “lived solidarity” – the belief that day-in, day-out collective struggle against management, involving Black and white workers together, was essential to undermine racism and forge the class cohesion necessary to take on rapacious capitalists.

The combative, and extraordinarily united, Local 236 membership, moreover, took their fight for equity beyond the plant gates and into the community, challenging segregation in Louisville’s parks, hotels and hospitals. I illustrate all this through the stories of various Louisville FE members, including Jim Wright, who was Black, and Jim Mouser, a white man; both became leaders within Local 236 but also close friends who regularly spent time together outside of work, often with their families, at a time when interracial socializing in Louisville was a rarity.

How the FE’s linkage of workplace militancy and antiracism succeeded at transforming Harvester workers in Louisville, often in profoundly personal and heartfelt ways, is a moving – and timely – story, I’d say. https://www.lawcha.org/2021/10/12/toni-gilpin-on-her-new-book-the-long-deep-grudge/