The Masses

John Reed

War in Paterson

Published: The Masses, June, 1913
Transcribed:Sally Ryan for in 2000

There’s war in Paterson. But it’s a curious kind of war. All the violence is the work of one side—the Mill Owners. Their servants, the Police, club unresisting men and women and ride down law-abiding crowds on horseback. Their paid mercenaries, the armed Detectives, shoot and kill innocent people. Their newspapers, the Paterson Press and the Paterson Call, publish incendiary and crime-inciting appeals to mob-violence against the strike leaders. Their tool, Recorder Carroll, deals out heavy sentences to peaceful pickets that the police-net gathers up. They control absolutely the Police, the Press, the Courts.

Opposing them are about twenty-five thousand striking silk-workers, of whom perhaps ten thousand are active, and their weapon is the picket-line. Let me tell you what I saw in Paterson and then you will say which side of this struggle is “anarchistic” and “contrary to American ideals.” At six o’clock in the morning a light rain was falling. Slate-grey and cold, the streets of Paterson were deserted. But soon came the Cops-twenty of them—strolling along with their nightsticks under their arms. We went ahead of them toward the mill district. Now we began to see workmen going in the same direction, coat collars turned up, hands in their pockets. We came into a long street, one side of which was lined with silk mills, the other side with the wooden tenement houses. In every doorway, at every window of the houses clustered foreign-faced men and women, laughing and chatting as if after breakfast on a holiday. There seemed no sense of expectancy, no strain or feeling of fear. The sidewalks were almost empty, only over in front of the mills a few couples—there couldn’t have been more than fifty —marched slowly up and down, dripping with the rain. Some were men, with here and there a man and woman together, or two young boys. As the warmer light of full day came the people drifted out of their houses and began to pace back and forth, gathering in little knots on the corners. They were quick with gesticulating hands, and low-voiced conversation. They looked often toward the corners of side streets.

Suddenly appeared a policeman, swinging his club. “Ah-h-h!” said the crowd softly.

Six men had taken shelter from the rain under the canopy of a saloon. “Come on! Get out of that!” yelled the policeman, advancing. The men quietly obeyed. “Get off this street! Go home, now! Don’t be standing here!” They gave way before him in silence, drifting back again when he turned away. Other policemen materialized, hustling, cursing, brutal, ineffectual. No one answered back. Nervous, bleary-eyed, unshaven, these officers were worn out with nine weeks’ incessant strike duty.

On the mill side of the street the picket-line had grown to about four hundred. Several policemen shouldered roughly among them, looking for trouble. A workman appeared, with a tin pail, escorted by two detectives. “Boo! Boo!” shouted a few scattered voices. Two Italian boys leaned against the mill fence and shouted a merry Irish threat, “Scab ! Come outa here I knocka you’ head off !” A policeman grabbed the boys roughly by the shoulder. “Get to hell out of here!” he cried, jerking and pushing them violently to the corner, where he kicked them. Not a voice, not a movement from the crowd.

A little further along the street we saw a young woman with an umbrella, who had been picketing, suddenly confronted by a big policeman.

“What the hell are you doing here?” he roared. “God damn you, you go home!” and he jammed his club against her mouth. “I no go home!” she shrilled passionately, with blazing eyes. “You bigga stiff !”

Silently, steadfastly, solidly the picket-line grew. In groups or in couples the strikers patrolled the sidewalk. There was no more laughing. They looked on with eyes full of hate. These were fiery-blooded Italians, and the police were the same brutal thugs that had beaten them and insulted them for nine weeks. I wondered how long they could stand it.

It began to rain heavily. I asked a man’s permission to stand on the porch of his house. There was a policeman standing in front of it. His name, I afterwards discovered, was McCormack. I had to walk around him to mount the steps.

Suddenly he turned round, and shot at the owner: “Do all them fellows live in that house?” The man indicated the three other strikers and himself, and shook his head at me.

“Then you get to hell off of there!” said the cop, pointing his club at me.

“I have the permission of this gentleman to stand here,” I said. “He owns this house.”

“Never mind ! Do what I tell you I Come off of there, and come off damn quick!”

“I’ll do nothing of the sort.”

With that he leaped up the steps, seized my arm, and violently jerked me to the sidewalk. Another cop took my arm and they gave me a shove.

“Now you get to hell off this street!” said Officer McCormack.

“I won’t get off this street or any other street. If I’m breaking any law, you arrest me!”

Officer McCormack, who is doubtless a good, stupid Irishman in time of peace, is almost helpless in a situation that requires thinking. He was dreadfully troubled by my request. He didn’t want to arrest me, and said so with a great deal of profanity.

“I’ve got your number,” said I sweetly. “Now will you tell me your name?”

“Yes,” he bellowed, “an’ I got your number! I’ll arrest you.” He took me by the arm and marched me up the street.

He was sorry he had arrested me. There was no charge he could lodge against me. I hadn’t been doing anything. He felt he must make me say something that could be construed as a violation of the Law. To which end he God damned me harshly, loading me with abuse and obscenity, and threatened me with his night-stick, saying, “You big — — lug, I’d like to beat the hell out of you with this club.”

I returned airy persiflage to his threats.

Other officers came to the rescue, two of them, and supplied fresh epithets. I soon found them repeating themselves, however, and told them so. “I bad to come all the way to Paterson to put one over on a cop !” I said. Eureka ! They had at last found a crime! When I was arraigned in the Recorder’s Court that remark of mine was the charge against me !

Ushered into the patrol-wagon, I was driven with much clanging of gongs along the picket-line. Our passage was greeted with “Boos” and ironical cheers, and enthusiastic waving. At Headquarters I was interrogated and lodged in the lockup. My cell alas about four feet wide by seven feet long, at least a foot higher than a standing man’s head, and it contained an iron bunk hung from the sidewall with chains, and an open toilet of disgusting dirtiness in the corner. A crowd of pickets had been jammed into the same lockup only three days before, eight or nine in a cell, and kept there without food or water for twenty-two hours! Among them a young girl of seventeen, who had led a procession right up to the Police Sergeant’s nose and defied him to arrest them. In spite of the horrible discomfort, fatigue and thirst, these prisoners had never let up cheering and singing for a day and a night!

In about an hour the outside door clanged open, and in came about forty pickets in charge of the police, joking and laughing among themselves. They were hustled into the cells, two in each. Then pandemonium broke loose ! With one accord the heavy iron beds were lifted and slammed thunderingly against the metal walls. It was like a cannon battery in action.

“Hooray for I. W. W. !” screamed a voice. And unanimously answered all the voices as one, “Hooray !”

“Hooray for Chief Bums!” (Chief of Police Bimson).

“Boo-o-o-o!” roared forty pairs of lungs—a great boom of echoing sound that had more of hate in it than anything I ever heard.

“To hell wit’ Mayor McBride!”

“Boo-o-o-o !” It was an awful voice in that reverberant iron room, full of menace.

“Hooray for Haywood ! One bigga da Union ! Hooray for da Strike! To hell wit’ da police! Boo-o-o-o ! Boo-o-o-o ! Hooray ! Killa da A. F. of L. ! A. F. of Hell, you mean ! Boo-o-o-o!”

“Musica ! Musica!” cried the Italians, like children. Whereupon one voice went “Plunk-plunk! Plunk-plunk!” like a guitar, and another, a rich tenor, burst into the first verse of the Italian-English song, written and composed by one of the strikers to be sung at the strike meetings. He came to the chorus:

“Do you lika Miss Flynn?” (Chorus)
“Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!”
“Do you lika Carlo Tresca ?”
(Chorus) “Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!”
“Do you lika Mayor McBride?”
(Chorus) “No! No! No! No!”
“Hooray for I. W. W. !”
“Hooray ! Hooray ! Hooray!!!”

“Bis! Bis!” shouted everybody, clapping hands, banging the beds up and down. An officer came in and attempted to quell the noise. He was met with “Boos” and jeers. Some one called for water. The policeman filled a tin cup and brought it to the cell door. A hand reached out swiftly and slapped it out of his fingers on the Boor. “Scab! Thug!” they yelled. The policeman retreated. The noise continued.

The time approached for the opening of the Recorder’s Court, but word had evidently been brought that there was no more room in the County Jail, for suddenly the police appeared and began to open the cell doors. And so the strikers passed out, cheering wildly. I could hear them outside, marching back to the picket-line with the mob who had waited for them at the jail gates.

And then I was taken before the Court of Recorder Carroll. Mr. Carroll has the intelligent, cruel, merciless face of the ordinary police court magistrate. But he is worse than most police court magistrates. He sentences beggars to six months’ imprisonment in the County Jail without a chance to answer back. He also sends little children there, where they mingle with dope-fiends, and tramps, and men with running sores upon their bodies—to the County Jail, where the air is foul and insufficient to breathe, and the food is full of dead vermin, and grown men become insane.

Mr. Carroll read the charge against me. I was permitted to tell my story. Officer McCormack recited a clever mélange of lies that I am sure he himself could never have concocted. “John Reed,” said the Recorder. “Twenty days.” That was all.

And so it was that I went up to the County Jail. In the outer office I was questioned again, searched for concealed weapons, and my money and valuables taken away. Then the great barred door swung open and I went down some steps into a vast room lined with three tiers of cells. About eighty prisoners strolled around, talked~ smoked, and ate the food sent in to them by those outside. Of this eighty almost half were strikers. They were in their street clothes, held in prison under $500 bail to await the action of the Grand Jury. Surrounded by a dense crowd of short, dark-faced men, Big Bill Haywood towered in the center of the room. His big hand made simple gestures as he explained something to them. His massive, rugged face, seamed and scarred like a mountain, and as calm, radiated strength. These slight, foreign-faced strikers, one of many desperate little armies in the vanguard of the battle-line of Labor, quickened and strengthened by Bill Haywood’s face and voice, looked up at him lovingly, eloquently. Faces deadened and dulled with grinding routine in the sunless mills glowed with hope and understanding. Faces scarred and bruised from policemen’s clubs grinned eagerly at the thought of going back on the picket-line. And there were other faces, too-lined and sunken with the slow starvation of a nine weeks’ poverty—shadowed with the sight of so much suffering, or the hopeless brutality of the police—and there were those who had seen Modestino Valentine shot to death by a private detective. But not one showed discouragement; not one a sign of faltering or of fear. As one little Italian said to me, with blazing eyes: “We all one bigga da Union. I. W. W.—dat word is pierced de heart of de people!”

“Yes ! Yes ! Dass righ’ ! I. W. W. ! One bigga da Union"—they murmured with soft, eager voices, crowding around.

I shook hands with Haywood, who introduced me to Pat Quinlan, the thin-faced, fiery Irishman now under indictment for speeches inciting to riot.

“Boys,” said Haywood, indicating me, “this man wants to know things. You tell him everything"—

They crowded around me, shaking my hand, smiling, welcoming me. “Too bad you get in jail,” they said, sympathetically. “We tell you ever’t’ing. You ask. We tell you. Yes. Yes. You good feller.” And they did. Most of them were still weak and exhausted from their terrible night before in the lockup. Some had been lined up against a wall, as they marched to and fro in front of the mills, and herded to jail on the charge of “unlawful assemblage"! Others had been clubbed into the patrol wagon on the charge of “rioting,” as they stood at the track, on their way home from picketing, waiting for a train to pass ! They were being held for the Grand Jury that indicted Haywood and Gurley Flynn. Four of these jurymen were silk manufacturers, another the head of the local Edison compony—which Haywood tried to organize for a strike—and not one a workingman!

“We not take bail,” said another, shaking his head. “We stay here. Fill up de damn jail. Pretty soon no more room. Pretty soon can’t arrest no more picket!”

It was visitors’ day I went to the door to speak with a friend. Outside the reception room was full of women and children, carrying packages, and pasteboard boxes, and pails full of dainties and little comforts lovingly prepared, which meant hungry and ragged wives and babies, so that the men might be comfortable in jail. The place was full of the sound of moaning; tears ran down their work-roughened faces; the children looked up at their fathers’ unshaven faces through the bars and tried to reach them with their hands.

“What nationalities are all the people!” I asked. There were Dutchmen, Italians, Belgians, Jews, Slovaks, Germans, Poles—

“What nationalities stick together on the picket- line?”

A young Jew, pallid and sick-looking from insufficient food, spoke up proudly. “T’ree great nations stick togedder like dis.” He made a fist. “T’ree great nations—Italians, Hebrews an’ Germans"—

“But how about the Americans?”

They all shrugged their shoulders and grinned with humorous scorn. “English peoples not go on picket-line,” said one, softly. “’Mericans no lika fight!” An Italian boy thought my feelings might be hurt, and broke in quickly: “Not all lika dat. Beeg Beell, he ‘Merican. You ‘Merican. Quin’, Miss Flynn, ‘Merican. Good! Good! ‘Merican workman, he lika talk too much.”

This sad fact appears to be true. It was the English-speaking group that held back during the Lawrence strike. It is the English-speaking continent that remains passive at Paterson, while the “wops” the “kikes,” the “hunkies"—the ‘degraded and ignorant races from Southern Europe"—go out and get clubbed on the picket-line and gaily take their medicine in Paterson jail.

But just as they were telling me these things the keeper ordered me to the “convicted room,” where I was pushed into a bath and compelled to put on regulation prison clothes. I shan’t attempt to describe the horrors I saw in that room. Suffice it to say that forty-odd men lounged about a long corridor lined on one side with cells; that the only ventilation and light came from one small skylight up a funnel-shaped airshaft; that one man had syphilitic sores on his legs and was treated by the prison doctor with sugar-pills for “nervousness;” that a seventeen-year-old boy who had never been sentenced had remained in that corridor without ever seeing the sun for over nine months; that a cocaine-fiend was getting his “dope” regularly from the inside, and that the background of this and much more was the monotonous and terrible shouting of a man who had lost his mind in that hell-hole and who walked among us.

There were about fourteen strikers in the “convicted” room—Italians, Lithuanians, Poles, Jews, one Frenchman and one “free-born” Englishman ! That Englishman was a peach. He was the only Anglo-Saxon striker in prison except the leaders— and perhaps the only one who had been there for picketing. He had been sentenced for insulting a mill-owner who came out of his mill and ordered him off the sidewalk. “Wait till I get out !” he said to me. “If them damned English-speaking workers don’t go on picket I’II put the curse o’ Cromwell on ‘em!”

Then there was a Pole—an aristocratic, sensitive chap, a member of the local Strike Committee, a born fighter. He was reading Bob Ingersoll’s lectures, translating them to the others. Patting the book, he said with a slow smile: “Now I don’ care if I stay in here one year.” One thing I noticed was the utter and reasonable irreligion of the strikers—the Italians, the Frenchman—the strong Catholic races, in short—and the Jews, too.

“Priests, it is a profesh’. De priest, he gotta work same as any workin’ man. If we ain’t gotta no damn Church we been strikin’ t’ree hund’d years ago. Priest, he iss all a time keeping working-man down!”

And then, with laughter, they told me how the combined clergy of the city of Paterson had attempted from their pulpits to persuade them back to work-back to wage-slavery and the tender mercies of the mill-owners on grounds of religion ! They told me of that disgraceful and ridiculous conference between the Clergy and the Strike Committee, with the Clergy in the part of Judas. It was hard to believe that until I saw in the paper the sermon delivered the previous day at the Presbyterian Church by the Reverend William A. Littell. He had the impudence to Bay the strike leaders and advise workmen to be respectful and obedient to their employers—to tell them that the saloons were the cause of their unhappiness—to proclaim the horrible depravity of Sabbath-breaking workmen, and more rot of the same sort. And this while living men were fighting for their very existence and singing gloriously of the Brotherhood of Man!

The lone Frenchman was a lineal descendant of the Republican doctrinaires of the French Revolution. He had been a Democrat for thirteen years, then suddenly had become converted to Socialism. Blazing with excitement, he went around bubbling with arguments. He had the same blind faith in Institutions that characterized his ancestors, the same intense fanaticism, the same willingness to die for an idea. Most of the strikers were Socialists already—but the Frenchman was bound to convert every man in that prison. All day long his voice could be heard, words rushing forth in a torrent, tones rising to a shout, until the Keeper would shut him up with a curse. When the fat Deputy-Sheriff from the outer office came into the room the Frenchman made a dive for him, too.

“You’re not producing anything,” he’d say, eyes snapping, finger waving violently up and down, long nose and dark, excited face within an inch of the Deputy’s. “You’re an unproductive worker—under Socialism we’ll get what we’re working for—we’ll get all we make. Capital’s not necessary. Of course it ain’t! Look at the Post Office—is there any private capital in that? Look at the Panama Canal. That’s Socialism. The American Revolution was a smugglers’ war. Do you know what is the Economic Determinism?” This getting swifter and swifter, louder and louder, more and more fragmentary, while a close little circle of strikers massed round the Deputy, watching his face like hounds on a trail, waiting till he opened his mouth to riddle his bewildered arguments with a dozen swift retorts. Trained debaters, all these, in their Locals. For a few minutes the Deputy would try to answer them, and then, driven into a corner, he’d suddenly sweep his arm furiously around, and bellow:

“Shut up, you damned dagos, or I’ll clap you in the dungeon !” And the discussion would be closed.

Then there was the strike-breaker. He was a fat man, with sunken, flabby cheeks, jailed by some mistake of the Recorder. So completely did the strikers ostracize him—rising and moving away when he sat by them, refusing to speak to him, absolutely ignoring his presence—that he was in a pitiable condition of loneliness.

“I’ve learned my lesson,” he moaned. “I ain’t never goin’ to scab on working-men no more!”

One young Italian came up to me with a newspaper and pointed to three items in turn. One was “American Federation of Labor hopes to break the Strike next week;” another, “Victor Berger says ‘I am a member of the A. F. of L., and I have no love for the I. W. W. in Paterson,’ “ and the third, “Newark Socialists refuse to help the Paterson Strikers.”

“I no un’erstand,” he told me, looking up at me appealingly. “You tell me. I Socialis’—I belong Union—I strike wit’ I. W. W. Socialis’, he say, ‘Worke’men of de worl’, Unite!’ A. F. of L., he say,’All workmen join togedder.’ Bet’ dese organ-i-zashe, he say,’I am for de Working Class.’ Awri’, I say, I am de Working Class. I unite, I strike. Den he say, ‘No! You cannot strike!’ Why dat? I no un’erstan’. You explain me.”

But I could not explain. All I could say was that a good share of the Socialist Party and the American Federation of Labor have forgotten all about the Class Struggle, and seem to be playing a little game with Capitalistic rules, called “Button, button, who’s got the Vote!”

When it came time for me to go out I said goodbye to all those gentle, alert, brave men, ennobled by something greater than themselves. They were the strike—not Bill Haywood, not Gurley Flynn, not any other individual. And if they should lose all their leaders other leaders would arise from the ranks, even as they rose, and the strike would go on I Think of it! Twelve years they have been losing strikes—twelve solid years of disappointments and incalculable suffering. They must not lose again ! They cannot lose !

And as I passed out through the front room they crowded around me again, patting my sleeve and my hand, friendly, warm-hearted, trusting, eloquent. Haywood and Quinlan had gone out on bail.

“You go out,” they said softly. “Thass nice. Glad you go out. Pretty soon we go out. Then we go back on picket-line"—