On March 2, 1944, everyone was raving about Jimmy Dorsey’s “Besame Mucho,” a train stalled in Italy killing five-hundred and twenty one people, and World War Two raged on. Here in Georgia, the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) announced the result of union certification elections at Marietta’s Bell Aircraft plant. Mold loft workers voted for representation by the International Association of Machinists; however, maintenance and production workers selected the United Auto Workers.
The Marietta factory brought a massive amount of federal dollars to, what was previously, a small town in rural Cobb County. The impact of the plant cannot be overstated. The United States pumped over seventy-three million dollars in the factory. In turn, this brought jobs and provided a significant boost to Georgia’s economy. The U.S. Department of War did not select Marietta by accident. The 1941 announcement of Marietta as the site of the Bell plant was the result of political wrangling by General Lucius D. Clay, son of Senator Alexander Clay of Marietta. The plant saw several general managers during it’s lifespan, including James Carmichael–an Atlanta lawyer and future gubernatorial candidate.
But the Bell plant was short lived. By 1945 the war was winding down and the plant began to decrease in terms of production and employees. In 1951, the U.S. Airforce invited Lockheed of Georgia, now Lockheed-Martin, to re-open the plant. The Airforce needed refurbished B-29s for the Korean War. Lockheed’s operations furthered what began with Bell and helped make Cobb County what it is today.
I would be remiss, if I did not mention Georgia’s general stance regarding unionization and labor movements. While most generally consider Georgia hostile to union activity, and by extension concerted activity by employees, this was not always the case. Particularly, in 1934 textile workers began striking. A famous “strike-breaker,” Per L. Bergoff, sent around two-dozen strikebreakers to Georgia to disrupt the employees. Bergoff previously was very successful in quashing employees’ protests. But when he came to Georgia he met his match; Governor Eugene Talmadge. Ironically, Talmadge was staunchly against FDR’s New Deal programs; while at the same time purporting to stand up for the common man. Indeed, most Georgians were more receptive to labor activity during the Great Depression than today.
The rest, dear readers, is history.