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Susan Green


We Must Assess Strike’s Lessons

(7 June 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 23, 7 June 1948, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The packinghouse workers are back on the job. Some of them still nurse their wounds, received on the picket line. Some families grieve for their dead, killed on the picket line. After sixty-five days of brave struggle, the strikers returned to work with the nine-cent-an-hour increase the companies had originally offered, which is twenty cents less than the workers were asking to enable them to come abreast of the cost of living.

This unsuccessful strike must not be pushed in-to oblivion as rapidly as possible and forgotten. The determination of the big packing companies to break the strike was indeed an eye-opener. Who that has the labor movement at heart was not alerted by the frank and unashamed reversion to “good old-fashioned” strikebreaking methods re-sorted to by the companies unwilling to grant an adequate wage increase out of profits that had risen 430 per cent in 1947 over 1939?

It is an open secret that long before the end of the war the capitalist class was sharpening the swords with which to slash at the labor movement as soon as the war was decently over and it was no longer necessary to kid labor along. The anti-labor drive seemed, however, to be mainly to get anti-labor legislation on the books, to attack labor through “legitimate” channels. Thus, before long, thirty-six states had passed anti-union laws,climaxed by the passage of the federal Taft-Hartley law. The varied court action against the unions based on this hostile legislation was expected. The injunctions, the fines, even the seizing of the railroads by the federal government, all were in line with the legislative advantage gained by the capitalist class. However, it was a jolt to see the raw, physical violence employed by the barons of meat to break the strike, methods that harked back to the most bloody struggles in labor’s history.

Violence Against the Strikers

The companies used scabs and armed them. Company trucks and cars recklessly crashed into picket lines. Strikers were provoked to so-called violence as a pretext for calling in guardsmen to protect the scabs. Police beat strikers, destroyed union property, and terrorized a whole community. The paraphernalia of modern war stood as a threat against the strikers.

In South St. Paul, Minnesota, the national guard was called in after armed scabs had shot and killed three pickets. But the guardsmen did not direct their attention to disarming the scabs. They “roughed up” the strikers, then stood with fixed bayonets ushering scabs in and out of the Swift and Armour plants. The soldiers were also under orders to suspend the strikers’ right of free assembly and prevented four or more people from gathering in public.

At Waterloo, Iowa, William Farrell, a striker, was shot from an auto that was entering through the plant gates of Rath Packing Company. The bullet also pierced the shoulder of a woman striker. Whereupon a state of “violence” was perceived by Governor Robert Blue who called out the State Guardsmen for anti-strike duty. At the East St. Louis, Illinois, plant of Armour, Ed Hucks was shot and killed while picketing. In Atlanta, Mrs. Marie Browder was run down and badly injured by a truck attempting to enter the Armour plant.

At the Armour plant in Chicago, the company attempted to run trucks through the picket lines. As reported by the CIO News, on order from Police Captain George Barnes to “step on it,” a ten-ton truck hit picket Santo Cicardo, crushing him to almost immediate death. Cicardo was attempting to talk to the driver of the truck to dissuade him from driving through the picket lines. Barnes is reported to have said he would get trucks through “regardless of consequences.”

The pogrom against strikers by the police of Kansas City, Kansas, received wider publicity than the other acts of strikebreaking violence instigated by the companies. Without provocation seventy police descended upon ten pickets, entered restaurants where workers ate, broke into the union hall. Skulls were broken, and bodies battered and bruised. An estimated one hundred union people were injured; ten had to be hospitalized; a woman needed five stitches in her head. In addition, the police smashed the door of the union hall, destroyed the loud speaking apparatus, broke dishes in the soup kitchen, shattered windows and chairs, carried away union records.

How did all this happen in Kansas City, Kansas? It is reported that the Chamber of Commerce had called upon the Mayor, protesting that the police were too “easy” on strikers. The police raid was “ordered” by the Chamber of Commerce from its servant, His Honor. The Police Captain, Eli Dahlin, is said to have told his men to “crack skulls.” They did. The climax of the story is that the Mayor of Kansas City, Kansas, a Republican,was endorsed, by the ... CIO-PAC!

Time to Make a Change

Such reckless strike-breaking tactics testify to the deep-seated determination of the capitalist class to beat down labor to where it will “give no trouble.” The atrocities of the packing companies also reveal, how shallow and hypocritical is the so-called respect of the capitalist class for the workers’ right to strike and to picket.

Yes, who that has the labor movement at heart was not alerted by these actions of the powerful meat companies against their striking workers? The CIO has instituted legal actions wherever possible to bring the culprits to justice. But what is capitalist justice in such a case? Will the real culprits, the meat companies and their politicians in the places of government, be punished.

Far better is it for labor to have its own people in the places of government. Far better is it for labor to organize its own class political party and cease supporting capitalist class politicians. There must be an end of electing governors and mayors, presidents and congressmen, who are servants of the capitalist class, to pass their laws and carry out their deeds of violence against the workers.

Furthermore, labor must advance in its ideas of solidarity and team work in economic struggle. One section of labor must not be permitted to get out on a limb, all by itself, to be battered as were the packinghouse workers. Financial support of some sort they did get from other CIO unions. But as for the actual fight, they stood alone, without even sympathy strikes to give them courage and to give the companies pause in their brutal tactics.

The conduct and outcome of the packinghouse strike, therefore, seem to say; It is time for labor to change its political and economic ways.

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Last updated: 3 March 2018