Main NI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

The Militant, 21 March 1949

Cardinal Spellman Smashes Strike of Cemetery Workers

(12 March 1949)

From The Militant, Vol. 13 No. 12, 21 March 1949, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


NEW YORK, March 12 – Francis Cardinal Spellman, with the aid and connivance of the Association of Catholic Trade Unionists, has broken the eight-week strike of CIO cemetery workers at two Catholic burial grounds here.

The ACTU leaders of United Cemetery Workers Local 293, originally affiliated with the CIO Food, Cannery and Agricultural Workers, capitulated completely to the strikebreaking edicts of the Cardinal, who is the supreme authority of the Catholic hierarchy in America.

Under Spellman’s orders, they pushed through a motion to disaffiliate Local 293 from its parent CIO international. They then took the local into the. AFL building Service Employes, whose international vice president, David Sullivan had secretly negotiated a deal with Spellman to get the men back to work on the Cardinal’s own terms.

Sullivan’s statement on the deal shows why the scab-herding Cardinal was willing to recognize him as the collective bargaining agent for the cemetery workers. Sullivan praised the strikebreaking cleric “who has always been a friend of labor” and claimed “this strike would not have resulted if there had been responsible union leadership.” To show how “responsible” he would be, Sullivan added: “I have assured the Cardinal that such a strike will never occur under my leadership.”

The Strike’s Issues

Yesterday the cemetery workers began returning Jto the job under a “sweetheart” agreement whose terms most of them didn’t even know and which was imposed on them by Sullivan, and the ACTU clique. The new contract retains the straight-time 48-hour work week which the men had fought to eliminate. They had demanded a 40-hour week with no reduction in pay and time-and-a-half for Saturdays. The Cardinal graciously granted them his original offer of an 8⅓% weekly raise for 48 hours work.

It was after the worker’s insisted on a legally-standard work week of 40 hours and went on strike that Spellman raised what the strikers called his “red herring” of “communism.” Even the ACTU leaders of the local felt constrained to complain about this lying charge.

When the strikers refused to bend the knee to him, Spellman personally led more than a hundred priests and seminary students in scabbing on the strikers. He sought a court injunction to halt picketing and threatened to fire the “ring-leaders” of the strike. He likewise demanded that the workers return as individuals without any union. He boasted that he was “proud” to be called a strikebreaker and that it was a “thing of honor” to scab against decent workers fighting for their rights against the immensely wealthy Catholic hierarchy.

“Disgusted,” Say Wives

A meeting of the striking workers, all devout Catholics, had passed a resolution assailing “the union-busting tactics of any employer.” A committee of the strikers’ wives went to Spellman to plead with him to negotiate in good faith. To these workers’ wives, who scrape together dimes from their household funds to maintain the hierarchy, the Prince of the Church turned a disdainful shoulder, “They had nothing to offer me, and I had nothing to offer them,” His Eminence said afterwards.

The head of the wives’ delegation, Mrs. Sigmund Czak, said they were “discouraged and disgusted” because the Cardinal “wants the men to go back to work as individuals, not as union men and he said he would not allow members of the strikers’ committee to go back to work because they were ringleaders.”

Faced squarely with the issue of defending the workers’ interests or cowing to the dictates of their strikebreaking Cardinal, the ACTU leaders submitted abjectly to Spellman.

ACTU Responsibility

The priest-ridden ACTU has split more than one union on the grounds of “communism” and has upheld strikebreaking against allegedly “communist” unions, such as in the Brooklyn Trust Co. strike two years ago. The Cardinal was merely carrying out the same program – only he exposed its real nature by applying it to devout Catholic workers themselves. As in every other strike in which it has interfered, the ACTU first disoriented the strikers and then betrayed them.

There is no question but that millions of Catholic workers who detest strikebreaking are sick at heart at the Catholic hierarchy’s demonstrative smashing of the cemetery strike. The Connecticut CIO Council, a right-wing “anti-Communist” body which represents many thousands of Catholics members, on Mar. 11 stated: “We condemn in strongest possible terms the strikebreaking tactics of Francis Cardinal Spellman.”

CIO President Philip Murray has said nothing about Spellman’s strikebreaking.

Top of page

Main Militant Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 6 March 2024