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B.J. Widick

The Lessons of Akron

Organize Workers’ Defense!

(June 1938)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. II No. 23, 4 June 1938, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

AKRON. – The most inspiring and commendable example of labor solidarity in this period of C.I.O.-A.F. of L. warfare was developed here last week when every C.I.O. and A.F. of L. union rallied behind Goodyear strikers whose picket lines were temporarily crushed by a vicious police attack that sent over 100 people to the hospital and tear-gassed hundreds of others.

Not since the tensest moment of the famed five-week Goodyear strike in February 1936 was Akron labor confronted with a graver crisis. Chaos prevailed for the few hours following the night-long reign of terror planned and carried out by Goodyear through its thugs and city police.

Unity Achieved

In the face of this fundamental challenge to its very existence, Akron labor responded. The petty fights between C.I.O. and A.F. of L. unions here, as well as the deep cleavage between them, were forgotten in this hour of danger.

A United Labor Defense Committee backed by the entire labor movement was set up. Threats of an immediate transportation strike and a truck-drivers strike stopped the drive momentarily against the Goodyear workers. Talk of a general strike reached the ears of the labor-hating bosses and cooled off their violent passions.

Akron labor achieved unity in action against the boss class. The results speak for themselves. It is a lesson and an example for unionists throughout the country who want to defend their organizations in this time of crisis against the offensive of the employers.

The need for unity of the labor movement was never greater than at the present time. The example of Akron could be multiplied a thousand times. Labor must achieve solidarity in a common fight against its common enemy – the ruling class – if it is to survive.

The Second Lesson

There is a second great lesson to be learned from the Akron experience. In the historic five-week Goodyear strike of 1936 that established the C.I.O. as a mass movement, rubber workers did not suffer from brutal police attacks. Picket lines remained intact and the strike was won despite formation of vigilante movements, despite the hostility of the same mayor who holds office today, despite a march on the strikers by an army of deputies and police which collapsed before it reached the strikers.

Any Akron worker would tell you why the labor-haters failed in 1936. The picket lines were organized and well-prepared to defend themselves against any kind of attack. Labor relied on its own might and power then. It was successful.

Last Thursday night, Akron labor was empty-handed. It was unprepared, and Goodyear and the police department knew it. They took advantage of it. The reign of terror – a nice commentary on American “democracy” – followed.

Defense is Necessary

The contrast between 1936 and 1938 was evident and the lesson to be drawn was made clear by almost every union leader who spoke at the mass protest meeting a day later. Akron labor must always be ready to defend itself. It must always be on guard. Let other union centers learn this lesson without the cost that the Akron workers paid.

The United Labor Defense Committee created by the C.I.O. and the A.F. of L. unions here was a real stride forward in building an organization which can keep labor on its guard and which can prepare labor to defend itself against any attack.

This committee should be transformed into a permanent body whose duty must be to create groups of workers in each union subject to call day or night to defend the rights of labor. It should form workers’ defense committees in every union. It should be able to mobilize thousands of workers to face any possible threat to the union movement.

Such a workers’ defense committee today can prevent the smashing of picket lines. It can preserve free speech and assemblage to the unionists. And tomorrow it can be ready to meet Fascist hordes who today do their work in vigilante movements, as strike-breakers, as company thugs, and blue-coats parading as the “Law.”

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Last updated: 14 September 2015