Unionism At Its Best’
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
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
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.
'ONE OF THE FINEST'
"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
During his 40 years with Westinghouse, Martinson worked in
welding and progressed to working on cyclotrons and massive electric motors on
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