The history of organized labor in Muncie began during the Gas Boom, the discovery of natural gas and the early days of industrialization, in 1886. Ten years later, there were 30 unions in Muncie, representing 3,766 workers. Unions were organized by workers in numerous industries, from the glass workers, who organized the United Green Glass Workers Association in 1896, to bricklayers and masons and cigar makers. The first women’s union, the Women’s International Union Label League, was founded in 1899.
The early decades of the twenthieth century saw a decline in the number of unions and union members in Muncie. Businessmen and local civic leaders formed citizen alliances and employer protective associations to promote "the open shop" in Muncie and around Indiana.
In 1935, the passage of the Wagner Act secured the rights of workers to organize unions and bargain collectively. Muncie's two largest labor unions, United Auto Workers (UAW) 499 and UAW 287, were organized in the late 1930s and dominated the labor movement in Muncie for the rest of the century. They not only worked to improve working conditions for their members at the Chevrolet and Warner Gear (now BorgWarner) factories, but they also supported educational, welfare, and leisure programs for their members and the citizens of Muncie. Some leaders became active in the labor movement nationally, and others ran for elected positions in the city and state governments. African Americans and women also became increasingly active in the unions as opportunities for them to work in the manufacturing industry expanded.
This exhibit documents the history of organized labor in Muncie from the early years to the closing of the factories and the decline of the unions over the last two decades. The photographs, publications, and other documentation used in the exhibit are only a sampling of the resources available in Archives and Special Collections.
This online exhibit includes selected items from the exhibit on display in Bracken Library, 2nd floor, from November 13, 2006, through January 31, 2007. For further information on this and other exhibits, please contact Ball State University Archives and Special Collections email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Credits: The "Once There Was a Union Town: A History of Organized Labor in Muncie" exhibit was prepared by Maren Read and student assistants Alexandra Lawrence and Sarah Haynes.