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.