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Ruth Newell Dies;
Was Pioneering
1940s Organizer

WATSONVILLE, Calif.

uen_0499_rn.jpg (4248 bytes)
Ruth Newell
(1944 photo)

Ruth Newell, an outstanding UE organizer in the 1940s whose work for the union continued intermittently into the early 1970s, died March 13. She was the mother of former UE Genl. Sec.-Treas. Amy Newell.

Ruth Voithofer was born in 1915 in Whittsett, Pa. a mining hamlet near the West Virginia border. The daughter of a union coal miner and one of 11 children, she grew up in a mining camp in Scotts Run, W. Va.. As a young girl, she was an enthusiastic participant in a mission opened by the Presbyterian Church, which encouraged an interest in education. She became the first in her family ever to attend high school. She went on to attend College of Wooster in Ohio, graduating in 1937.

"The education I had acquired at Wooster and the abilities I had taken there with me and had sharpened during those four years would be used to make life better for the working people and their families," she resolved. "I knew I could never forget where I had come from."

Just out of college, the young woman taught for a year at Commonwealth Labor College in Mona, Ark. before returning to the coal fields of northern West Virginia where her father and brother worked as miners. Backed by the United Mine Workers Union and Marion County Industrial Union Council, Voithofer set up and directed an educational program for miners and their families; classes covered labor history, health, education, legislation and consumer issues. Out of these classes came a statewide campaign that led to the formation of the West Virginia CIO Council of Women’s Auxiliaries. Voithofer served as director of the council from 1940 to 1942.

As Ruth Allen (following marriage), she became an organizer for UE in late 1942, at the time when the union was the third largest CIO affiliate. She wrote a significant chapter in the union’s history by leading successful organizing campaigns in the Sylvania chain in the 1940s.

ORGANIZING SYLVANIA

The breakthrough occurred in September 1944, when the 2,225 war workers employed by the Sylvania Electric’s Altoona, Pa. plant voted by a two-to-one margin for UE representation. Allen led the drive at this plant and others in western Pennsylvania which fell into the UE column.

On May 4, 1946, the UE NEWS exultantly announced that the union won a Labor Board representation election at the Sylvania company’s home plant in Emporium, Pa. It was the tenth Sylvania plant brought into the union. Victory came after "a vicious, company-inspired slander campaign" and "several years of organizing work," the paper reported. "The solid organization that had been built in the plant during the past several months under the direction of Field Organizer Ruth Allen withstood all the conniving of the company."

The following week, the UE NEWS announced that Sylvania had agreed to negotiate a national contract with UE. Field Org. Allen joined top UE officers, local representatives and other staff at the negotiating table. The national agreement would improve the wages and conditions of tens of thousands of Sylvania workers and their families.

In 1946, Allen married Charles Newell, who had been one of the first four organizers hired by UE and business agent of UE Local 601 at the flagship Westinghouse plant in East Pittsburgh, Pa. She left her full-time position with the birth of their children. After moving with her family to California in 1957, she became active in local labor struggles, youth activities, the YWCA and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. But she never completely severed her connection with UE.

Ruth Newell made two extended trips to Emporium, Pa. in the late 1950s, taking part in UE campaigns that successfully repulsed raids on UE Local 639. Amy Newell recalls her mother working on an organizing campaign with Humberto Camacho and Pat Chaplin in Santa Barbara in the mid-1960s. In the late 1960s and early 1970s she worked on organizing campaigns in the Silicon Valley (where daughter Amy began working not long after).

She is survived by her husband Charles, daughter Amy, son Gerry and grandson Fred. Memorial contributions may be made to the Pajaro Valley Branch of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), 85 Live Oak Road, Watsonville, CA 95076.

UE News - 04/99


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