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Ira M. Finley established the Veterans of Industry of America (VIA), a Depression-era, radical labor group chartered on September 11, 1932, in Oklahoma City. By the opening years of the Great Depression Finley had secured three decades of experience with left-leaning Oklahoma radical groups. He believed the contemporary political and economic conditions necessitated a new, more aggressive organization to serve the needs of the poor and the unemployed. Although the organization's name indicated nationwide membership, it never expanded outside Oklahoma. The VIA organized along political lines with chapters on the local, county, and congressional district level and with each echelon under a seven-member directorate elected by the membership. The directors, in turn, selected the leaders for the local chapters. Between 1932 and 1939 the VIA became a power to be respected by aspiring political candidates. It channeled its principal energies into a series of seven initiative petition measures calling for generous old age pensions, a thirty-hour work week, gift and inheritance taxes, a limitation of land ownership not to exceed 640 acres, minimum family incomes, and a program of socialized medicine. Throughout the group's existence it published several newsletters: the V.I.A. Voice, the Labor's Voice, and the General Welfare Reporter.

Although actual VIA membership statistics cannot be substantiated, the group published claims of 160,000 members, with 100,000 of them being unemployed and dependent upon federal relief. While the active membership was probably only a fraction of that total, they played two significant roles. As a large percentage of the members were African Americans, the group provided perhaps the first example in Oklahoma history of a truly equal and widespread interracial cooperative effort. Second, the VIA provided at least a temporary political haven for many former radicals who had been left politically homeless by the Green Corn Rebellion almost two decades earlier. In July 1941, with the improving national economy, the VIA focused its efforts on advancing the program of the General Welfare Federation of America, which advocated old age pensions. As the economy improved, membership declined. The last VIA meeting was held in Oklahoma City in the spring 1947, and in the March 1947 issue of the General Welfare Reporter, Finley announced his resignation as editor and as president.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Labor's Voice (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma), 1934 1942. Patrick McGinnis, "'Share the Work': Ira M. Finley and the Veterans of Industry of America," in Hard Times in Oklahoma: The Depression Years, ed. Kenneth E. Hendrickson, Jr. (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 1983). Patrick E. McGinnis, Oklahoma's Depression Radicals: Ira M. Finley and the Veterans of Industry of America (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 1991).

R. O. Joe Cassity, Jr.

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