At home, advances in everything from radar and sonar to superhighway building were made in America in the 1940s. The Pennsylvania Turnpike opened in October 1940, a forerunner of today’s Interstate Highway System. And the United States pioneered technology in everything from nylon, synthetic rubber, and the transistor to unleashing the energy which drives the sun. Most of that technology involved highly skilled electrical engineers to develop and great numbers of qualified electrical workers to operate and manufacture.
By 1943, with America and Russia fighting with the Allies, the tide of the war began to change. Two years later, on May 9, 1945, the Germans Surrendered. The United States was firmly on the offensive in the Pacific by the end of 1942; and by the time Germany surrendered, the United States—under the leadership of a new president, former Missouri Senator Harry S Truman-was poised for victory over Japan. That victory came in August 1945 after Truman made the very difficult decision to try to avoid greater bloodshed by dropping two atomic bombs on Japan.
IBEW membership more than doubled during the war to over 360,000. U.S. industrial output rose an astounding 90 percent from 1941-1945. Both the AFL and the CIO (which had a new leader, Philip Murray) experienced real growth and used that strength to further influence pro-labor political policy. Unions started political action committees and continued to exert strong positive pressure on the government. And except in its response to several major strikes, the Truman administration maintained Roosevelt’s generally pro-union stance.
The war years brought rationing and hardship to America and devastation to Europe and Japan. The years which followed left the United States the strongest nation in the world. The U.S. economy was poised on the edge of it’s biggest-ever boom, its scientists had unlocked the secrets of the atom and its workers had lifted the country to its highest level of prosperity.
In many cases, right after the war, salaries were still low and working conditions still poor. The Cold War would soon set in and intensify in Korea and Southeast Asia. And in the United States poverty and illiteracy had not begun lo be addressed. But the future looked brighter than it ever had. After the war the century clearly belonged to the working-people of North America.
San Francisco line inspectors checking out the wires.
1940 Winston Churchill is elected Prime Minister of Great Britain, the United States sells war materials to Britain and enacts first peacetime draft. Court rules sit-down strikes do not constitute a restraint of commerce in U.S. The AFL-CIO agrees to refrain from strikes for the length of WWII. After a hard fought campaign, UAW wins right to represent workers at Ford Motor Co. Ford also agrees to abide by union-shop provision - the first instance where a major automobile maker had agreed to such a provision.
1941 Japanese war planes strike Pearl Harbor. Lend-Lease agreements begin for military loans to Britain and USSR. Atlantic Charter is signed. United Steel Workers of America replaces Steel Workers Organizing Committee. And the IBEW celebrates its 50th Anniversary in St. Louis, Missouri.
1942 A national War Labor Board is created by the Roosevelt administration to settle labor conflicts for the duration of the war. The board establishes wartime "Little Steel" annual raises for American workers based on the cost-of-living year end tabulations. Soon afterward, President Roosevelt freezes wages and salaries at Sept 14, 2942 levels. Battle of Midway occurs June 4-7. Nuclear fusion is attained in Manhattan Project experiments at University of Chicago.