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Jack Wilson

Rebel Spirit Stirs Akron Gum Miners

Successful Sit-Down Strikes Impel Militant Actionin Rubber Unions

(10 February 1936)

From New Militant, Vol. II No. 7, 15 February 1936, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

AKRON, Ohio. Feb. 10 – In a powerful display of organized strength that amazed and alarmed the tire companies, thousands of rubber workers joined in various spontaneous “sit-downs” at the Big Three plants here during the past two weeks which had serious possibility of spreading into an industry-wide strike until the workers’ demands were mainly met.

These “sit-downs” began at Firestone which involved 2,000 workers and brought complete victory of the union as explained in the previous issue of the New Militant.

The “sit-down” idea spread to Goodyear where another 2,000 workers supported the refusal of the tire-curing room to take a wage cut. Although the company failed to rescind the cut, they did not dare carry out a written order to spread the cut to plant 2 as the workers prepared to shut down the plant under leadership of the Goodyear local of the United Rubberworkers of America.

Then, tire-builders at Goodrich sat down Friday night, because one of the union men was not given a fair-wage allowance when he was transferred to another machine.

A tire-builders committee went from department to department rallying workers to their banner and thus entire production was stopped within an hour. This involved 1,500. Another shift came in at midnight and joined, doubling the number refusing to work.

A committee of two union men from each of the four shifts was selected by the workers to confer with the management. The company quickly agreed to give the worker his allowance and the men went back to work.

However, it was discovered that the company wasn’t going to pay any of the workers money for the time lost during the sit-down so the entire factory again quit work.

Threats by the company to forcibly move the workers from the plant were met with jeers and the police were defied. Although the plant normally is closed over Sunday the workers prepared to remain inside until their demand for half-pay was met.

When the company saw that the workers were going to keep the plant closed at all costs and would not let anyone work, it agreed to pay all the men except the tire-builders half-pay.

The tire-builders, to show that they were willing to sacrifice for the sake of fellow-workers, accepted the proposal but the other workers refused it for over two hours although union leaders urged them to accept.

The union committee was “tricked” into accepting the proposal and recommending it to the men, some of them said later, but not many were disturbed because it was seen that a mistake this time could and would be rectified in the near future.

During the entire time of the sit-down, active union members, enthused by the fight of their leaders in the negotiations, signed up hundreds of non-union men into the bona-fide union.

Union Grows After Struggle

The union at Goodyear grew after the sit-down but for just the opposite reason which brought the great increase of membership at Firestone and Goodrich locals.

Goodyear workers realized clearly that it was their lack of organization, of leadership that brought the tire-builders defeat. Failure of the union leadership itself to utilize the situation quickly enough also left the workers without confidence and so they went to work when the Goodyear company assembled its prize strike-breakers, the Flying Squadron to do the work.

They joined the union because together with the other union workers they make a solid front and so were able to plan a 100 per cent sit-down at plant 2 which the company was afraid of. That’s why the order to carry out a wage cut is still in the superintendent’s office and will remain there for a while.

Since both Goodrich and Firestone unionists and their leaders quickly stepped into the forefront of the sit-downs and led the workers to victory, hundreds joined the organizations for they have found an answer to the crying need of the rubber-workers – a militant trade union constantly fighting for the workers rights.

That the rubber workers would themselves take spontaneous action against the slow but steady depression of their living wage through various moves of the companies is thousand fold proof of our contention that the unions must show in action that they will lead the workers, for the workers are demanding action.

Causes of the “Sit-Downs”

The causes of the sit-downs cannot be found in the issues around which the recent skirmishes were fought. There have been wage cuts, longer hours, etc. introduced before in the factories without voluble protest. Union men have been layed-off before and not for just a week as the Firestone unionist whose case started the sit-down.

L.L. Callahan, Goodrich local president, correctly gave as the reason for the sit-downs the following statement.

“The whole thing in a nutshell is that the men have been overworked, overloaded and underpaid over a period of time to a breaking point. It has been reached now. Any incident will serve as the spark to set off an explosion.”

In other words, the sit-downs are significant as portraying the mood and temper of the rubber workers; as showing what working conditions and the drive of economic forces have done to their ideas.

The rapid spread of the sit-downs shows how a fighting slogan will be concretized by masses in motion and that the rubber workers are in motion.

This places squarely before the union leaders the responsibility of answering the fundamental demands of the workers and leading them in a battle for a real victory against the rubber barons who have been running everything their own way while Claherty previously was ruining the unions.

Workers Ready for Strike

Every avenue of thought arising from a study of the meaning of the sit-downs leads to the inescapable conclusion that the rubber workers not only are ready for but demand an industry-wide strike to break the continual drive against them by the companies.

There are no smooth-tongued Clahertys to divert the growing strike sentiment among the workers into the channels of betrayal and defeat this year.

Whether any individual union officer wants to continue the fight against the rubber companies, he will not have any chance to decide. The upswing of the workers will carry him along.

What is needed is conscious preparation for the strike so that the workers can have every advantage possible against their ruthless class enemies.

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