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Silk Dyers Vote for Separate Agreement

(October 1933)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 49, 28 October 1933, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Paterson, N.J. – The great odds fought against by the embattled silk workers have been greatly increased by the split in the ranks occasioned by the vote of the dye house workers under the U.T.W. to accept the agreement and return to work. The fifteen thousand workers in the dye houses are taking up their places at the tubs after a seven weeks strike under a contract offering concessions in wages and union recognition.

Under the separate agreement the dyers have obtained union recognition for their organization, the United Textile Workers, from the powerful institute of Dyers and Printers, the manufacturers association. They have been granted a minimum wage of $23 which constitutes an increase of from five to seven dollars over what they had been receiving prior to the strike. The closed shop was not obtained but the employers have agreed, according to the contract, to deal with the union shop committees over grievances, firing, etc.

Vote Not Unanimous

The vote for the agreement was neither unanimous nor did it include the majority of the dye workers, although a decisive section participated. The sentiment of the dye workers cannot be judged accurately by the outcome of the vote because the majority of the dyers did not vote and because of the peculiar ballot they were asked to cast. They were asked to vote on the following questions: “Do you favor acceptance of the settlement terms?” 3,311 voted for acceptance and 1,422 voted against. The second question, which undoubtedly appeared to be a contradiction to the workers was: “Do you want to stay out until the weavers return?” 1,913 declared for staying out with the weavers and 2,539 for returning to the job immediately.

The large size of this minority vote is highly symptomatic of the confusion and doubt in the minds of the dyers, inexperienced in union affairs and taken in by the trick method of posing the question. The dyers were faced with a dilemma. The agreement gave them certain concessions – wages, recognition, etc. – and consequently there was some sentiment for its acceptance. But the question must have no doubt cropped up: “If we have an agreement, and the agreement is favorable, then why not return to work; why wait for the weavers who may be out for a long time yet?”

The Separation of the Dyers

The question of a national strike settlement and of the dependence of one section of the silk industry upon another was never made clear to the dyers. They did not perceive the heavy blow they were dealing the weavers by returning to work. They had not years of experience and a tradition of many strikes to make them aware of this elementary lesson of solidarity. The isolation of the dyers into a separate union had awakened craft consciousness. Only vaguely did they feel themselves part of the strike led by the American Federation of Silk Workers.

On the other hand the dye workers were handicapped by bad leadership. Leading their section of the strike, were two old-line politicians, Vigorito and Pirolo, self-seeking, out for votes. The dyers’ interests were secondary to their own careerist ambitions. Besides these two shady figures was the conniving and fakery of McMahon through his agent, Pat Quinlan. A conscious Left wing was not present in the dyers local. Except if one, by a stretch of the imagination, could consider Jack Rubenstein of the Lovestoneites in that category. But Rubenstein failed to take a clear position on most of the questions facing the dyers. Where he should have been strong and uncompromising he was weak and conciliatory. He took no definite position before the dyers on the question of breaking the ranks of the strike and accepting the separate agreement. The policy of the Lovestoneites of pussyfooting before the A.F. of L. skates had disastrous consequences here as it has had in every case.

Disruptive Role of N.T.W.

If the dyers were misguided by the reactionaries they were confused and demoralized by the disruptive policy of the National Textile Workers Union. At the outset the Stalinists divided the dyers into two unions. They continued with baseless recrimination. When they felt the ground was slipping under their feet the Stalinists began to pack the meetings of the U.T.W. dyers with disruption as their aim. They succeeded in winning over two “dyers” on their insincere proposals for united action – the old-line politicians, Vigorito and Pirola!

The strike committee of the dyers repudiated Vigorito and Pirola who thought, judging by the “organized” applause, that more votes could be obtained by this unity business. It will be remembered that not so long ago the N.T.W. had levelled shafts, of attack at Vigorito and Pirola as agents of the bosses. The disruption of the N.T.W. made calm deliberative meetings of the dye workers impossible; they gave an excuse for the voting of the dyers on the agreement to be conducted secretly and by shops instead of in open strike meeting.

And now, as a last fit of desperation, as a last seed of confusion, the N.T.W. makes a complete change of policy but hardly in the right direction. This is the latest proposal of the N.T.W.:

“The National Textile Workers Union stands ready to merge with the members of the U.T.W. and unorganized workers, into One Dye Workers Union.”

Not unity but a new union. (There are not enough unions now!)

Tactics of the Bosses

The canny dye bosses were well aware of the inexperience of the dye workers, and their lack of effective leadership. For ten days they wore out a rank and file negotiations committee by incessant meetings, flattering these gullible workers with back-slapping and honeyed words but fighting like tigers for every point of the agreement. And when the workers’ negotiations committee was demoralized with fatigue they set the stage for a last act of intimidation. All the cops were called off their regular beats for “duty” at the mills, rumors were spread that a large gang of strike breakers and thugs had been imported into Paterson, the bosses made a public statement that the mills would open and the mayor backed them up by saying that he would see to it that “any man who wanted to return to work would not be prevented from doing so.” It was under these circumstances that the agreement was made.

One can say with some certainty that this split in the strike was prepared even before the outbreak of the strike. The outcome might have been different if the dyers had been affiliated with the A.F.S.W. Before the strike, Schweitzer, the cautious, week-kneed organizer of the A.S.W. turned down an offer to organize the dyers into the Associated so that the organizer of the dyers, Yanerelli, made a deal with McMahon and the dye house workers went directly into the U.T.W.

Evil Result of Separate Organization

In the U.T.W. the mass of the strikers, the more experienced and tested militants in the A.F.S.W., had no control over the actions of the dyers. It is true that there was some sort of reciprocal representatives of the two unions on the respective strike committees. The lack of forces prevented the working of this committee. Given these circumstances the appeal of Schweitzer calling upon the dyers to remain out until the weavers got a settlement was only a futile gesture.

By the separate agreement with the dyers, the bosses surely have obtained a moral advantage. Already 3,000 jacquard workers want to stampede back to work. The bosses have given them certain concessions and they have also voted to go back to the job following the lead of the dyers. Further disorganization is to be seen in the action of the jacquard workers in withdrawing from the strike committee of the A.F.S.W. and forming a strike committee of their own.

The defection of the dyers has unquestionably made the road of the silk workers to victory more difficult and more tortuous. But a great mass remains on strike and a great power is still in their hands, and if they hold their ranks solid they can yet force a favorable settlement.

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