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Wyndham Mortimer Papers

Identifier: LP001171

Scope and Content

The papers of Wyndham Mortimer and John M. Orr mainly relate to their efforts to organize the West Coast aircraft industry and to factional tensions within the UAW. There is also material relating to Mortimer's writings.

Among the important subjects covered in this collection are: Aircraft organizing, 1940-41 Communists in unions Flint Sit-Down Strike North American Aviation Strike, 1941

Among the important correspondents are: Addes, George F. Hetzel, Ralph, Jr. Lewis, John L.

Series Description: Series I, Wyndham Mortimer Correspondence, 1933-1966, Box 1: Correspondence relating mainly to his work organizing aircraft workers on the West Coast for the UAW. There is also correspondence with George Addes supporting his candidacy for president of the UAW at the 1946 convention.

Series II, Wyndham Mortimer General Files, 1934-1975, Boxes l-4: Manuscripts, reports, organizing and strike materials relating to efforts to organize North American Aviation and other West Coast aircraft companies. A diary and a few other documents relate to the Flint Sit-Down Strike. Other material relates to his writings, his trip to the USSR and other activities.

Series III, John M. "Scotty" Orr, 1939-1945, Box 4: Correspondence, reports, clippings and other items given by Orr to Mortimer. Most relate to aircraft organizing.


  • 1943 - 1973
  • Majority of material found within 1940 - 1962

Language of Materials

Material entirely in English.


Collection is open for research.


Refer to the Walter P. Reuther Library Rules for Use of Archival Materials. Restrictions: Researchers may encounter records of a sensitive nature – personnel files, case records and those involving investigations, legal and other private matters. Privacy laws and restrictions imposed by the Library prohibit the use of names and other personal information which might identify an individual, except with written permission from the Director and/or the donor.


Wyndham Mortimer was born March 11, 1884 in Karthaus, Pennsylvania. His father, an immigrant English miner, and his Welsh mother were both supporters of the Knights of Labor. Mortimer, who entered the mines at the age of twelve, continued this tradition by becoming an active member of the United Mine Workers. When he left the mines at twenty-two, he worked in a steel plant and as a railway worker. He married Margaret Hunter in 1907, and in 1908 he joined the Socialist Party.

He became an autoworker in 1917, when he joined the White Motor Co. in Cleveland. In 1932 he formed an independent union there, which became AFL Federal Local 18463. He was elected president of the local and also president of the Cleveland Auto Workers Council in 1934.

Mortimer soon became critical of the AFL's reluctance to organize industrial workers and participated in the effort to establish a national industrial union for auto workers. He was a member of the bloc which succeeded in removing Francis Dillon from the presidency of the United Automobile Workers Union at the South Bend convention in 1936 and was elected First Vice President at that convention.

Mortimer, who was somewhat older than his fellow UAW officers, was then sent to Flint, Michigan to begin an organizing drive among GM workers at the Fisher Body Co. This led to the Flint Sit-Down Strike of December 1936 and January 1937. He also participated in the negotiations, which resulted in GM's recognition of the UAW. Mortimer figured in the factional struggles within the UAW as a leader of the "Unity Caucus," and as such, he was frequently accused of being a Communist. He denied this, but generally he supported the same positions as the Communists in internecine disputes. In 1938 he, with other officers of the UAW, was expelled from the union by President Homer Martin on charges that they intended to turn the union over to the Communists. They were reinstated in 1939, when R. J. Thomas replaced Martin as president.

In 1939 he was sent to the West Coast to organize the low-paid workers in the burgeoning aircraft industry. His efforts at the Boeing Company in Seattle failed due to opposition by the International Association of Machinists and the Teamsters and because of charges that the drive was a Communist attempt to hurt the defense effort. His next organizing effort at Vultee Aircraft was more successful. The company signed a contract with the UAW after a short strike by its employees. The UAW succeeded in signing up a large proportion of the workers at North American Aviation, but negotiations with the company stalled. The workers, impatient to see an improvement in their pay, went out on strike. Richard Frankensteen, who headed the UAW Aircraft Division and was anxious to cooperate with the government in avoiding defense strikes, denounced the strike as unauthorized and Communist-led. The strike ended when President Roosevelt sent in troops to take over the plant. Mortimer and other UAW representatives involved in the strike were discharged from the union. Afterwards, Mortimer had some intermittent organizing assignments with the CIO and other unions before retiring from the labor movement in 1949. He died in 1966.

Mortimer wrote pamphlets, newspaper columns and letters to the editor on the subjects of labor and politics. His autobiography, Organize! My Life as a Union Man was published posthumously in 1971.

John Marshall "Scotty" Orr was born in 1896 in Paisley, Scotland. He worked as a plumber before volunteering for the army at the outbreak of World War I in 1914. After being wounded, he was mustered out and became active in organizing plumbers and in veterans' groups and the Labor Party.

He emigrated to America with his wife and son in 1923 to seek better employment opportunities. In Philadelphia he joined the AFL plumbers' union Local 123, becoming vice president in 1925 and president the following year. In 1926 he moved to the aircraft industry in Bristol, Pennsylvania. His attempts to organize an AFL union there failed. He worked for a number of East Coast aircraft manufacturers before going to Consolidated Aircraft in San Diego in 1936. He helped found a company union there and served as an officer.

Orr became a UAW organizer in the late 1930s but was discharged because of opposition to Homer Martin. He was working at Vultee when he was reinstated and worked with Mortimer to achieve recognition of the UAW there in 1940. He later joined the United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers of America Local 1421 and was a trustee and delegate of the Los Angeles Industrial Union Council. He wrote for various union papers and was active in Scottish societies.


2 Linear Feet (4 MB)


As United Auto Workers (UAW) Vice-President, Wyndham Mortimer worked to organize the employees of General Motors Fisher Body Plant, which led to the Flint Sit-Down Strike of 1936-1937, and later participated in the negotiations that achieved the first UAW-GM contract. Mr. Mortimer was active in factional struggles within the UAW as a leader of the Unity Caucus and was ultimately expelled from the UAW with charges of Communist allegiance. Mr. Mortimer’s papers document his work in the UAW, particularly concerning his efforts to organize the West Coast aircraft industry, and the factional struggles within the UAW

Included in Mr. Wyndham’s papers are the papers of John M. “Scotty” Orr, who was an active organizer for American Federation of Labor (AFL), and the UAW. Mr. Orr’s papers largely relate to his efforts as a UAW organizer in the West Coast aircraft industry.


Arranged in 3 series – Series 1 (Box 1), Series 2 (Boxes 1-4) and Series 3 (Box 4). Folders in series 2 and 3 are arranged alphabetically by sugject and folders in series 1 are arranged chronologically.


The papers of Wyndham Mortimer were placed in the Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs by his daughter Irma M. Stewart in March of 1984 and were opened for research in February of 1985. The papers include a few documents given to Mortimer by John M. "Scotty" Orr.

Related Materials

Wyndham Mortimer's oral history may be found at UCLA.


Copies of pamphlets by Mortimer, books, UAW pamphlets, newspapers and agreements, and other union publications have been placed in the Archives Library. Three union hats, a convention badge, photographs, including some of the Flint Sit-Down and the North American strikes, plus some original sketches have been transferred to the Archives Audiovisual Collection.

Processing History

Processed and finding aid written by Walter P. Reuther Library in February 1985.
Guide to the Wyndham Mortimer Papers
Processed by Walter P. Reuther Library.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Walter P. Reuther Library Repository

5401 Cass Avenue
Detroit MI 48202 USA