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David Coolidge

Missouri Sharecroppers Are Really Rarin’ to Go

They Have Confidence in Their Strength and
They Believe in Their Union—But It Must Become a Real Functioning Union

(19 May 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 20, 19 May 1941, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

After the 1939 roadside sit-down of sharecroppers from southeast Missouri, many of these dispossessed and jobless workers went to a 100 acre plot about 11 miles outside of Poplar Bluff, Mo., and tried to begin life over again. The land had been bought by some citizens of St. Louis and presented to the sharecroppers. They moved in, began to clear the place, build houses and lay out plots for gardens. The federal and state governments did nothing. These Negro and white agricultural workers were forced to go on their own with no money and without clothing and food. There were no educational of recreational facilities.

They set to work to build houses out of any material afforded by the land on which they settled. This proved to be logs cut from the trees on the place and mud taken from the land. These were the more fortunate “settlers.” Others lived in old tents and in any old slapped-together shelter they could provide for themselves.

These workers are living today in the same poverty. There has been no improvement in their condition. They are still without adequate shelter. They have no work to speak of. They are literally starving and are without clothing. Medical care, educational facilities and such common things as radios and reading matter are luxuries to these workers at the Poplar Bluff camp.

Despite this, despite their poverty and their misery, these workers have no feeling of defeat and maintain a superb courage and loyalty to the working class. They belong to the Missouri Agricultural Workers Union which is a section of the Agricultural and Cannery Workers Union (CIO). They believe in their union and are always anxious to find out how they can improve it and make it stronger. They are real union people and thoroughly union-conscious. They understand that only through a strong union can they improve their condition and win better working conditions from the cotton planters.

There are many improvements that need to be made in the union and the way in which it functions. In the first place, the organization should be extended to cover all the seven counties in southeast Missouri. This applies especially to Pemiscott County, where there are thousands of day laborers. What is needed is a real organizing drive to bring thousands of these white and Negro cotton workers into the union.

Cotton is a war industry and the profits of the planters will increase by leaps this year. The cotton workers must get organized to make demands on the planters for increased wages.

Must Have a REAL Union

The union officers should be busy these days getting the organizing drive under way. A union program of action should be discussed in the union and adopted by vote of the membership. Demands on wages and hours of work should be formulated and adopted by vote of the union.

This means of course that the cotton laborers and croppers must have a REAL union, with real functioning officers at the top and in every local.

All of these questions can be taken up by the union at its next convention. These workers should prepare now for a show-down struggle with the cotton planters. They can only win their demands by using the same methods that are used by other workers. This calls for organization. For a mass union, for a militant and democratic union.

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Last updated: 27.12.2012