Earl R. Browder

The Labor Movement

The Situation in the United States

(26 September 1922)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 2 No. 82, 26 September 1922, pp. 616–617.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2020). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

Temporary Truce in the Coal War

The greatest strike ever witnessed in America, that of the 665,000 coal miners, which lasted five months, ended in a truce. The miners have gone back to work at the old scale of wages until next spring. The unprecedented solidarity and fighting spirit manifested by the workers was rapidly bringing the entire industrial system of the United States to a standstill. The country was facing a fuel famine. In this situation, with the railroad strike adding to the crisis, the employers capitulated in their demands for a wage decrease, and the unions compromised on a purely temporary agreement at the old wage, instead of their usual two years agreement.

Without doubt the employers expect that the production of coal during the winter and spring will again put them in a position to renew their war upon the union. American mines produce 40% more coal than is ordinarily demanded by the industries. Given normal conditions of production for the next six months, and the calculation of the coal barons might very well materialize, and the unions face another fight for their lives next year.

But already there are indications that all will not be so smooth for the capitalists. The railroad strike is preventing the movement of coal. Within a week after coal mining was resumed, mines were being shut down again because the cars for moving the coal were 40% out of service for want of repairs. In spite of coal production, the industries of America will be hampered and slowed down lor a long time for lack of fuel. The railroads cannot move it. In the meantime the miners are having a little breathing spell, and are gathering strength for the coming fight While the industrial battle is suspended by the truce, the class war between the miners and their overlords is being dramatized at Herrin (West Virginia). Some weeks ago a pitched battle took place here, between miners and company gunmen, in which the latter were completely wiped out. This event had the effect of immediately stiffening the the morale of the striking miners. Capitalist newspaper, in calling for drastic punishment of the Herrin miners, pointed out the fact that the week after the Herrin battle, the production of non-union coal fell off 50%. The entire capitalist class became aroused over this, and a great fund was started by the Chamber of Commerce of the State of Illinois, to punish the miners of Williamson County.

The authorities of Illinois, under the pressure of the Chamber of Commerce with its huge fund, went into Williamson County, and began a Grand Jury investigation of the Herrin battle. Within the past few days this grand jury has indicted several miners and has thrown them into jail. The Miners’ Union has immediately come to their rescue, and announces that it will fight these prosecutions to the last breath. Both the capitalists and the labor forces have set up offices in Williamson County, and are concentrating their forces, money, legal talent, and publicity, to fight the case out. The labor movement of the country is becoming aroused over the affair. The Herrin battle is just beginning, and promises to have far-reaching consequences.

U.S. Government Opens War on Unions

The United States Government threw the entire force of its executives, the courts, the police and all armed forces into the strike of the railroad shopmen on the side of the capitalists, when on September 1st, Attorney-General Daugherty appeared before United States Judge Wilkerson in Chicago and obtained from him a sweeping order which prohibits all strike activities, ties up the funds of the unions, and renders all strike participation an unlawful act. In his argument to the court, Daugherty announced that the Government was out to defend the existence of the open shop at the cost, if necessary, of completely destroying the trade union movement.

This startling and unexpected move has fallen like a bombshell in the ranks of labor. The striking railroaders have been making a magnificent struggle. They have stood solidly, 400,000 in number for two months, and the railroads have been speedily deteriorating. The effectiveness of the strike was not fully realized even by the strikers, until Daugherty stated, in his appeal to the court, that 50% of the locomotives on the railroads were standing idle as a consequence of the strike. Thousands of trains have been cancelled, and billions of dollars worth of crops have been ruined through delay in transportation. Added to this the fact that coal strike has just been temporarily settled, and that enormous quantities of coal are being poured into the market to be moved by the railroads, and the gravity of the crisis—and the significance of the railroad strike ’ may be appreciated. The men were winning, which is the reason why the powers of Government have been thrown so suddenly and ruthlessly into the battle against the workers.

The reaction of Labor has been one of defiance. Every labor body that meets is openly defying the court order. The Chicago Federation of Labor immediately declared its solidarity with the continuance of the strike, and organized a large committee to collect funds for the strikers. Even Samuel Gompers has been jolted into uttering a few strong remarks, although no one expects him to do anything. A growing demand is being made from coast to coast that the American labor movement enter upon a general strike to block this menace to the life of organized labor. So strong has this grown that the Executive Council of the A.F. of L, the most reactionary body in the labor movement, has announced that it will give this demand serious consideration.

The attitude of the railroad crafts who have not yet gone on strike is not yet clear. They realize that their own existence is at stake, but whether they will have the courage to enter the battle yet remains to be seen.

But among the rank and file the fighting spirit has been growing by leaps and bounds, and a great smoldering sentiment exists throughout the entire body of railroad labor, for a solid fighting front. This is being crystallized in the demand for the consolidation of all the railroad unions into one industrial union of the railroads. The leader of that move is Wm. Z. Foster, whose agitation has reached into every railroad union lodge in the entire country. The whole atmosphere in the railroad rank and file is one of militant aggressiveness.

Thus the stage is being set for the bitterest class war which America has yet seen. Today the railroads are the center of this war, and the railroad men are preparing for what may be the crucial struggle of American Labor.


The Trade Union Left-Wing and the Red Raids

The phenomenal growth of the left-wing in the trade unions, organized in the Trade Union Educational League, has drawn upon it the attack of the Governmental machinery with particular bitterness. This has resulted in a series of the most outrageous attacks upon the organization and its offices, culminating in a raid upon its offices, confiscation of its records, arrest of its secretary, Wm. Z. Foster, and a raid upon its National Conference on August 26, and the arrest of 13 delegates. This was preceded by a raid upon a gathering in Michigan, a few hundred miles away, which is alleged to have been a Communist Party Convention, and which it is attempted to link up with the National Conference of the Trade Union Educational League; 17 men were arrested at this gathering.

The first open attack came when Wm. Z. Foster, who was completing a long speaking tour covering all the cities from Chicago to the Pacific Coast on a route of 9,000 miles, came to speak in Denver, Colorado. Here he was taken from his hotel by State Cossacks, without any process of law, and hurried out of the State by motor car. He was taken to the State of Wyoming, where he was turned over to a sheriff who took him by motor car to the State of Nebraska. His baggage was confiscated, including the manuscript of a book which he had just written.

Shortly after Foster’s return to Chicago, the Illinois authorities made an excuse that they suspected Foster to be connected with a tram wreck in a nearby city, and raided the office of the T.U.E.L. They broke down the door in the middle of the night, and confiscated, the books and records of the League. Next day they admitted that they had found nothing of consequence, but the records were not returned.

This was soon followed by the raid in Michigan, where 17 labor men were arrested, charged with violation of the anti-syndicalism law. The newspapers carried great stories about Foster being in that meeting, and escaping through the woods. Meanwhile Foster was working in his office, and calling upon the state authorities, demanding the return of his records.

Without regard to these facts, Foster was arrested upon a fugitive warrant from Michigan, and held under bond. This was just a few days before the date set for the holding of the National Conference of the T.U.E.L.

The press of the entire country had blazoned all these events abroad as a great campaign to break up the “reds”. Undoubtedly it was expected to prevent the holding of the National Conference of the trade union left-wing. Raids and arrests were made throughout the country, in the various cities, and many of those who were delegates to the Conference were prevented from attending. But those who did arrive in Chicago for the Conference, 46 in all and representing some 30 cities, decided to go ahead with the National Conference. This was done, and the gathering was conducting its business, when it was raided, and Earl Browder and Phil Ahrenberg were arrested on fugitive warrants from Michigan, charged with having been in the convention raided there. Eleven others, aliens, were arrested in the Conference, but were later released. Browder and Ahrenberg were held on bonds of $5,000 each.

The Conference, however, continued its work after the police had left, and with augmented enthusiasm and energy completed its work. It formulated full and detailed programs for the work of the left-wing groups in the trade unions, declared for the Red International of Labor Unions, the overthrow of capitalism, and the inauguration of the Workers’ Republic. In spite of the suppression and terrorism, it was generally agreed that the First National Conference of the Trade Union Educational League has positively established this organization as a power in the American labor movement. The bureaucracy and the Government are both alarmed at the extent of its power, and are preparing for another attack upon it.

Meanwhile, the work of the left-wing goes on with broadening scope and intensity. The workers are preparing to fight with all their power the attempt to railroad Foster and his co-workers to prison. On the same day in which this is written the Chicago Federation of Labor has declared its solidarity with Foster and the others, and condemned the attempted frame-up. While Gompers and Co. are pleased, Labor generally is in revolt against this suppression.

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