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Jack Wilson

It Took 3,000 Bayonets
to Push the Picket Line Back

(June 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No.24, 16 June 1941, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

LOS ANGELES, June 10 – The strike at the North American Aviation Co. ended today as strikers, voted to return to work in the plant, which is now under command of the U.S. Army. The union leaders were trying, as this story is written, to make an agreement for the return of men in a body. Army officials in charge of the plant refused, however, to make any commitments. Though the men voted to return, they did so in the spirit that victory was yet to come – they were not a disorganized and demoralized group. They had waged a magnificent fight despite treachery and bayonet charge. The issue of 75–10 remains. The men will yet win their demands.


LOS ANGELES – Courageous North American Aviation Co. strikers on Monday took their place of honor with Flint auto workers, Bethlehem steel workers and other militants who built the CIO into a powerful industrial union movement.

It took nearly 3,000 federal troops to force the picket lines of over 6.000 strikers and thousands of sympathizers away from the plant gates, after three police charges against the workers were stopped cold.

The baptism of fire the thousands of young workers received in the tussle with the strike-breaking cops turned them into militant, union conscious fighters ready for the big struggle ahead.

And the tear gas fumes, the bayonets and the army uniforms only served to heighten the determination of the strikers on Monday.

Cold steel, backed by machine guns, was used by the U.S. Army in what it admits is an open strikebreaking move under Roosevelt’s direct orders.

The use of federal troops – unprecedented in the last decade – against strikers became a national issue since labor unionists everywhere saw it as the beginning of a union-smashing campaign by Roosevelt.

Before the troops marched into the scene, over 500 cops and special deputies tried to break the picket line. But the mass chain picketing proved too strong for them.

Early dawn today found thousands of peppy strikers and sympathizers marching at the gates, singing songs and shouting, “Hold That Line!”

Two minor skirmishes were begun by police to test the mettle of the strikers. The atmosphere was still cheerful and friendly.

Suddenly the cops at the main gate began crowding through the chain picket line. It held solidly. So tear gas was thrown by the panicky police, who obviously were plenty impressed by the size and spirit of the picket line.

After a momentary break in the line, the pickets reformed, meanwhile sending the cops running into the plant like scared rabbits, with the tear gas shell they had thrown following right after them.

About 30 unionists suffered minor injuries and everyone shed tears from the gas, which had exactly the opposite effect intended: It stiffened the resistance tremendously. A second major attempt was made shortly thereafter when Mayor Bowron, elected by labor, of course, started to walk through the chain picket line surrounded by a hundred cops and with some scabs. The army had arrived and was watching this tussle.

A group of militants jumped into the breach made open and soon a powerful surge of the entire picket line forced the cops to quit ... and were they glad when they saw the federal troops come in!

CIO leaders pointed out to the strikers that the picket lines would be sent back by the army but that they would be maintained right outside the bayonets, and that soldiers can’t build airplanes. To most of the strikers it was unbelievable that the army would openly bust the strike if it could. But the hard, grim orders and the cold steel pressing back the lines soon convinced many strikers why the army was here.

After three hours of this Hitler-like demonstration against the strikers, about 500 weak-sisters out of the 9,000 production, workers entered the plant.

Only continued strike-breaking maneuvers by the top CIO leaders, in violation of the entire spirit and tradition of the CIO movement, can stab the men in the back.

The United Automobile Workers locals throughout the country especially have the job of rallying quickly behind the strikers. The UAW record of militant struggle and victory has a dark stain in Richard T. Frankensteen’s treachery which must be wiped off the banner of this powerful industrial union organization.

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