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Jack Wilson

CIO Tested in Akron’s Gum Mines

(September 1937)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. I No. 6, 18 September 1937, pp. 1, 2 & 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

AKRON, Ohio. – The recent success of the United Rubber Workers of America, CIO affiliate, in winning decisively the sole collective bargaining NLRB vote at Goodyear and Goodrich, and the huge primary vote that Labor’s Non-Partisan League candidates for mayor on the Democratic ticket obtained, have turned national attention again to this rubber center of the world.

For Akron is rapidly becoming recognized as the testing laboratory of the labor movement, particularly of the CIO. And that is why Akron deserves close study.

Sit-Down Began Here

Who will ever forget the brilliant wave of sit-downs that swept the country in 1936? Akron rubber workers developed that weapon. They staged over 100 successful sit-downs that year, before the French working class terrified the bourgeoisie of the world by the May sit-down strikes.

The 75,000 rubber workers of Akron of 1920 were permanently reduced to less than 45,000 by 1930 due to technological developments in the industry. Productivity per rubber worker more than doubled, wages remained stationary. The cost of 17 tire price wars in the virtually bankrupt industry was foisted on the rubber workers in the form of wage cuts.

Role of A.F. of L.

The A.F. of L. craft unions existed only by the grace of the rubber barons and on condition that no effort would be made to organize the rubber industry, and the rubber workers were helpless until the summer of 1933, when the wave of unionization that swept the nation during the early days of the NRA reached Akron. Thousands of rubber workers flocked into A.F. of L. federal unions.

The A.F. of L. pursued its reactionary course: workers were divided into craft unions; unions were run autocratically; red-baiting against any form of opposition was the chief stock in trade of the A.F. of L. organizers; sell-outs were plentiful. The unions declined in membership from over 35,000 to less than 2,000.

Progressives Learn

A new factor appeared on the scene in the fall of 1934. A progressive workers school, agitating for industrial unionism and class struggle policies, was formed under the influence of the Communist League of America (later the Workers Party). Nearly 100 rubber workers, most of them subsequently the union leadership of Akron, attended the school. Some of its students included S.H. Dalrymple, now president of the URWA, L.S. Buckmaster, Firestone Local president, L.L. Callahan, Goodrich Local president, and others. They learned how to fight the A.F. of L. bureaucracy effectively.

The lessons were not in vain. In September 1935, the progressives had forced the A.F. of L. to call a rubber workers’ convention. Despite the personal intervention of William Green, the rubber workers threw out his chief organizer, Coleman Claherty, set up an independent international union based on industrial unionism and adopted a class struggle policy for organizing the industry.

Struggle and Victory

Meanwhile, the unrest in the factories developed into temporary stoppages of work, dubbed sit-downs by a reporter. They culminated at Goodyear in the five weeks strike. The rubber workers demanded and obtained the support of the CIO a week after the strike began. What started as a sit-down and walk-out of 500 out of 14,000 Goodyear workers ended in the winning of many concessions. Thousands of rubber workers in other plants, inspired by the Goodyear struggle, joined the URWA. The union was established.

Using the weapon of sit-downs, the rubber workers continued to gain many concessions, to recruit new members, to protest against company policies, fight threats of vigilantism both in Akron and other rubber centers. Akron became the sit-down capital of America.

Success Inspiration

The gigantic sit-down wave that shook the foundations of capitalist France added fuel to the fires of the American struggles. From rubber plants they spread to other industries, especially automotive (not the least reason was that Akron militants went into the industry and agitated for sit-downs as the best method of building the United Automobile Workers of America).

The effects of these struggles were not confined to the rubber plants. This entire city of 250,000 felt the repercussions. Grade school children sat down because home assignments were too long! The badly exploited downtown store clerks sat down. Aided by rubber workers, many struggles were successful. Akron was really becoming a union town.

Tired of being robbed by the milk trust, even the farmers near Akron went on strike, 3,000 of them. They called on the progressive and left-wing unionists to help them. A farmers union was organized and the strike was won.

CIO Tops Intervene

The convention of the URWA in September 1936 marked the turning point in the history of the local union movement. Under CIO pressure, and the constant barrage of the capitalist press, the convention refused to sanction sit-downs as a weapon of the union. Likewise support of Roosevelt and of Labor’s Non-Partisan League were voted.

Major attention of the leading unionists turned towards organizing the rest of the industry, after the glaring defeat at Gadsden, Ala., where Goodyear thugs smashed the union. With higher wages, better working conditions and definite limitation of production (temporary abolition of speed-up), Akron’s rubber workers began to slip back into their old norms of living.

Militancy, more and more, became a reflection of the great strike struggle elsewhere. The rubber workers kept the local plants going so they could better contribute to the auto, maritime and other strike funds. A fever heat was reached again during the General Motors strike. A general strike slogan raised by revolutionary socialists won wide support. At the last minute it was called off under terrific pressure of the CIO leaders.

Bureaucrats Develop

Each problem exposed the limitations of the “progressiveness” of the progressives. A CIO adviser, Allan Haywood, was the power behind the union leaders. When he was sent elsewhere, the official union leadership suffered a severe blow. He had propped up more than one weak union official. The rubber companies, aided by the local press, took up a policy of conciliation. It had its effect. Progressives turned into conservatives. Meanwhile, the best class-conscious elements were doing organizing work elsewhere. Bureaucratic tendencies became stronger.

Under pressure of the rubber companies, leaders of Labor’s Non-Partisan League, and the local press, the executive board removed B.J. Widick, left-wing socialist, as research director of the International Union. The bureaucracy continued to consolidate itself.

CLU Liquidated

Central Labor Union, under progressive domination, had done outstanding work. It was the first CLU to support sit-downs. It kept a general strike committee permanently in readiness. It gave funds generously to all strike and other labor struggles. It supported a YPSL fight against R.O.T.C. at Akron University, it refused to allow a split. William Green’s demands were always thrown into a waste basket. The CLU, as the platform of the left-wing, was a thorn in the side of the developing bureaucracies.

A few weeks ago the URWA international officers agreed to allow the rubber workers to be expelled from the CLU upon another request of Green. However, a joint CIO-A.F. of L. council is being formed, sentiment for solidarity is so strong. Of course, the left-wing will be excluded, if possible, from this council.


The growth of conservatism in the local union movement came because of definite, ascertainable reasons, in addition to the specific ones already mentioned.

Foremost of the reasons was the defeat of the “Little Steel” strike. Reactionary forces took heart from labor’s defeat. The widespread barrage of anti-union propaganda intensified, and union officials retreated before it. Roosevelt’s betrayal of the workers created political uncertainty, but the CIO leaders refused to speak out.

Militancy Declines

Akron workers this summer lost their first strike since 1933. City police, heartened by the success Chicago police had in getting away with the Memorial Day massacre, prevented picket lines in the Enterprise strike.

When a rumor spread that Goodrich Local might strike, a company of National Guardsmen appeared in Akron, fully armed and ready for trouble. (Not even a strike vote had been taken. The rumor was completely false.) Six months before, the appearance of guards would have signalized a general strike. But the workers kept quiet: when they had marched to Youngstown, 3,000, to fight the guards during the steel strike, union leaders ordered them home saying that Davey’s guards would protect the strikers.

The rubber companies completed large inventories this summer and also their plans for decentralization of production. They began a campaign of attrition to break the union spirit. Production was lowered to two-day a week schedules. Lay-offs began by the hundreds. “If you don’t like it, strike,” Goodrich told the union committeemen.

Confident that the unions were on the turn, Goodyear and Goodrich permitted the National Labor Relations Board to hold employee elections to determine if the URWA would obtain sole collective bargaining rights. The Unions won 3–1 at Goodyear and 10–1 at Goodrich. Despite the wavering of the leadership, the union rank and file wasn’t on the run. The great lessons of the past three years were not forgotten by the rubber workers.

In order to make this analysis of Akron as clear as possible, we must now refer to the specific political considerations that have been the center of controversy in the labor movement.

F.L.P. Scheme

The Stalinists began an intensive campaign for the formation of a Farmer-Labor party in 1936, in Akron as elsewhere.

Gathering delegates from all their stooge organizations, gaining some support from the unions here, the Stalinists called a convention in May 1936. Rubber unions sent observers. Since most of the delegates were either Stalinists or stooges, the movement collapsed, as the revolutionary Socialists had predicted. Attempts to blame the “Trotskyites” failed. The militants wanted independent political action but became disgusted and withdrew when the program adopted was so mild that its best supporters, along with the Stalinists, were the worst reactionaries in the labor movement, like H.B. Blanckenship, vice-president of the CLU at the time, one of Akron’s notorious red-baiters.

The huge rubber workers vote in the last presidential election created the basis for the present political situation. Hungry Democratic politicians saw a possible means of grabbing the spoils of city hall from the entrenched Republican machine. Union bureaucrats saw a source of political power.

Democrat Victorious

Labor’s Non-Partisan League, dormant after the Roosevelt re-election, was revived. The Stalinists lost no time in jumping on the band wagon. But they weren’t quite as fast as reactionary A.F. of L. politicians who grabbed leading posts in the League, even though the rubber unions furnished the vote. A municipal judge, G.L. Patterson, a Democrat, was chosen for mayoralty candidate, to run on the Democratic party ticket. He didn’t bother with a program.

Patterson received 17,000 votes in the primary, swamping the other Democratic nominee. The Republican mayor got less than half that figure but he was unopposed. This primary result was hailed as a great victory for labor.

No Program

However, subsequent events have already justified the revolutionary socialists who refused to support Patterson and the League’s nebulous political program. The corrupt Democratic politicians, the ward heeler, and other stooges of the capitalist class, and specifically of the rubber barons, are backing Patterson. He is campaigning not as a labor candidate but as a democratic candidate. (The officials of Labor’s Non-Partisan League, meeting with the Democratic chairman, determine this “strategy.”)

In an off moment Patterson told the press, “I expect to go high in Democratic national politics.” A labor candidate? Not an iota more than that faker, LaGuardia, and not as clever, incidentally. Patterson admits he is simply trying to climb higher on the back of the workers. He hasn’t even promised anything to labor, he has no program, yet the union officials are seeking to put him across.

Stalinists Right-Wing

And what are the Stalinists doing ? No sooner had the character of this political campaign begun to expose itself and militant workers began demanding a break with the Democratic party, than the Stalinists organizer gave a radio address, begging the workers not to split with the Democrats! The usual attack against the “Trotskyites” also featured his speech. Stalinism is being exposed in all its brutality, hypocrisy, and reformism in this campaign. The Stalinists, to the amusement of many workers, are the right-wing of Labor’s Non-Partisan League!

Uncompromising Struggle

Whether Patterson wins or not (his chances are (50–50) a new stage of political development has been reached in this rubber center. Basically, we have an attempt of the bourgeoisie to divert the growing class consciousness of the workers into the safe channels of class-collaboration on the political field.

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