The 1,600 hourly rated employees of the Cleveland Pneumatic Tool Co., makers of aircraft shock absorbers, walked out on strike last week and threw a picket line around the company. It was like any other strike, with one important difference. The strikers were, in effect, striking against themselves; they own 49% of the company. In 1953 the hourly workers, office help and executives authorized their pension trusts to buy Pneumatic Tool for $11,803,000. The stock was divided between the two trusts, with 49% going to the workers, the remaining 51% going to the 150 executives (from foremen to president).
The first year the 49-percenters received $2,000,000 as their share of the profits. But they also had complaints: the profits were paid out not as cash dividends but into the complicated trust fund; they had no representation on the board; management bought competing companies and shifted work to them "without consulting us stockholders." As owners, the hourly employees stoutly insisted: "Management has to be management and must have control over the work force"; as workers they belonged to an independent plant union.
The dividing point came when the 49-percenters asked, as employees, for a 28¢ an-hour wage hike, later dropped to 17¢; management came up to 11¢, and there both sides deadlocked. The 49-percenters thereupon asked, as part owners, for an investigation of executive salaries, were told it was none of their business. Said a striker bitterly: "We don't own this place. All we got amounts to nothing more than death benefits and severance pay."