Susan Green Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Susan Green

Labor Action Correspondent Talks to Kearny Men,
Finds Strike Sentiment Strong

(17 June 1940)

From Labor Action, Vol. 4 No. 10, 17 June 1940, pp. 1–2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

KEARNY, N.J. June 9 – The CIO leadership is now using the “time cure” to complete the process of demoralizing the workers of the Federal Shipbuilding Co. plant in this city who returned to work last Monday.

Defying their leaders and the vicious propaganda against them, the workers had completely tied up naval construction here in an attempt to improve wages and conditions, but after a few days, yielded to the pressure of the CIO leadership and the government. A mass meeting was held this morning to receive a report from the negotiating committee which had been at work for a whole week. According to John Dempsey, president of Local 16 of the Maritime & Shipbuilding Workers, to which most of the strikers belong, there are no developments.

I called up Dempsey to find out what had happened at the meeting. He was polite but brief, saying there was nothing to report. Pressed by my questions, he grudgingly stated that the meeting was a good one and that the men would continue to work pending negotiations.

“But,” I said, “that is exactly the situation the men were in a week ago. What progress has been made? What has the negotiating committee done?”

He hesitated, then informed me that the committee has made no progress.

“Are the men satisfied with that?” I asked.

“Under the present set-up they are,” he answered.

“What set-up?” I asked.

“The set-up of national defense. The men are satisfied to go along.”

Men Say Different

I know from personal conversations with men at the plant that they are not satisfied.

The press releases given out by the union a week ago stated that men were returning to work with an increase of 2½¢ to 4¢ an hour, against the demand for 10¢. However, one worker after another told me this is false; they are working for the old wages pending the completion of negotiations which are now being prolonged to heaven knows when.

Workers expressed disapproval of the leadership and stated that the mass meeting last Sunday at which the strikers had supposedly voted to return to work, was a steamroller affair.

At 4:30 last Wednesday, I waited at the plant gates to speak to the men changing shifts. The effects of the propaganda barrage against the strikers showed itself by the fear to speak on the part of’ some. But many did speak.

Six workers going home together in a car stopped when they saw me talking to the men. “We’ll give, you a story,” one of them shouted. He described last Sunday’s meeting with bitterness.

“Haywood – he’s a big shot from the CIO – gave us a long speech on national defense and how we must not interfere. Then, all of a sudden, he shouted: ‘And I move that we go back to work on Monday. How many are in favor?’ A bunch of workers raised their hands. Then he shouted: ‘Any opposed?’ Another bunch raised their hands. Then .Haywood shouted: “We go back to work on Monday.”

“Is that right?” I asked the other men in the car. They nodded that it was so. The speaker continued:

“The workers didn’t know what they were voting for. It was all mixed up. There was no resolution from the floor. A bunch of workers tried to get a re-vote and a reading of the resolution. But they were told not to create disorder. The publicity was already bad enough.”

Strike or No Strike?

Two of’ the men in the car had some faith in the negotiating committee, They probably don’t have much faith after today’s meeting. I asked if they would strike again if the terms submitted were unsatisfactory. The worker who had described the Sunday meeting thought they would. The others seemed to think the strike sentiment was over.

A Negro resting on the grass while waiting for his bus, told me he is a drayman in the yards. When I asked why the men went back without any gains when they had a 100% strike, he would not answer. But when I asked if he thought the men would go out again, he said simply: “The men got to get theirs; if they don’t they’re going to strike.”

Several workers were definitely afraid to talk. First they wanted to know what kind of paper Labor Action is. I assured them it was 100% behind the strike. They seemed on the verge of talking, but then changed their minds; “Better go to union headquarters for your story.”

Three men whom I approached had nothing at all to say. Whether it was merely a coincidence or some thing more, all three spoke with a foreign accent. Have these men been intimidated by the vicious “fifth column” propaganda?

A young pipe-fitter was anxious to explain to me that their strike had nothing to do with the national defense program. “The trouble is,” he said, “the leadership is weak.” To the question whether the men would go out again he answered: “The publicity is too strong against us.”

A bleary-eyed middle-aged worker became very sober when I asked him why the men went back to work without getting anything, though they had the plant tied-up completely. He answered: “The men are crazy. They didn’t know what they were doing.”

“Something Stinks”

I also had the good fortune – or misfortune – to run into a company stooge. After a conversation in which he heaped discredit on the CIO and said he preferred the AFL, he declared a shipyard could never be organized as an industrial union except by the company.

“That’s a boss union,” I exclaimed. “Between you and me, I’m a company man,” he answered.

Going back on the bus I sat next to a shipyard worker who began to talk to me. He said he’s a ship’s fitter, which means he tells other workers what parts go together. He commented upon the heat and explained that when the temperature is 90° outside, it is 115° in the shipyards because the metal retains the heat. Shipyard work, he said, is no joke in the summertime.

About the strike, he said: “It got off on the wrong foot because of the leadership. When leaders start to break strikes something stinks. These boys have got a lot of explaining to do.”

Susan Green Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers’ Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 16 February 2020