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Ole Martinson:
Unionism At Its Best’


Hilding Mauritz "Ole" Martinson
Ole Martinson

Hilding Mauritz "Ole" Martinson, a UE founder hailed as representing "the very best of everything good about rank-and-file unionism," died September 25. He was 89.

Martinson was born in Gladstone, Mich., one of five children of immigrants who were of Finland’s Swedish minority. As a young man, he found work in Milwaukee, Wis., and in Palo Alto, San Francisco and Oakland, holding cards in the bakers, woodworkers and electricians’ unions.

In 1936, when independent local unions and rank-and-file groups organized UE, Martinson began working at the Westinghouse plant in Emeryville. He joined his co-workers in organizing UE Local 1412 — despite raids on organizing meetings by the police. The young man served as shop secretary in what quickly became an amalgamated local; he was elected chief steward in 1942.


Between March 1947 and March 1948, Martinson joined the UE staff, working on campaigns at Pacific Coast Westinghouse shops. Once back on the job in the Emeryville plant, his co-workers quickly re-claimed "Ole" as their chief steward.

Lloyd Vandever, a co-worker in the shop and in the union for decades, recalls Martinson as "a consistent and principled supporter of UE program and policy. Even during the times of McCarthyism and attacks on the union," says Vandever, "he never faltered in his support of rank-and-file unionism. During the worst red-baiting times, he could be depended on to defend the union and protect the membership from attacks on the company."

In the 1950s and 1960s, Martinson was elected financial secretary of the California UE Conference and its successor, UE District 10. He represented the West Coast district as a delegate to UE national conventions.

Martinson was an enthusiastic supporter of union education, leading classes for District 10 locals on financial practices and effective unionism. Martinson assisted and serviced the former UE Local 1002 at the Westinghouse service shop in Seattle, Wash. In the early 1970s he welcomed to the district office a young Westinghouse worker from Local 1002 — John Hovis, the present national president.


"Ole Martinson epitomized the very best of everything good about rank-and-file unionism," declares Hovis. "He was one of the finest UE leaders I’ve ever had the privilege to work with. I worked with Ole both as a rank-and-file leader and later as a staff member. Ole was not only a tireless leader, he was also an educator. He was never too busy to take time away from his family or his own union projects to lend a helping hand and his wealth of experience and knowledge to others when asked."

Martinson was Local 1412 business agent near the end of a long union career in 1978 when he wrote to Dir. of Org. Hugh Harley, reporting that he and Vandever were meeting with unorganized National Semiconductor workers.

During his 40 years with Westinghouse, Martinson worked in welding and progressed to working on cyclotrons and massive electric motors on nuclear submarines.

He was an active member of the Lutheran Church.

"In all these years of activity in the union, in good times and bad, he maintained the respect and confidence of his fellow workers, who knew that in all circumstances he would defend their interests," says Vandever; UE became a great union because of people like Ole Martinson.

Martinson is survived by his sister, Audrey, daughter, Karen, son, Stan and grandchildren.

UE News - 10/99

Home -> UE News -> 1999 Archives -> Article

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