Hugo Oehler Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Hugo Oehler

Review and Criticism

The Communists in the South

(July 1930)

From The Militant, Vol. III No. 27, 26 July 1930, p. 7.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

(Continued from Last Issue)

Success or failure of any struggle depends on how wide your first break is, and how fast you follow this up with additional attacks before the bosses can mobilize a counter attack. This is true in every stage of the development of the struggle. For example in Passaic, the first attack of the workers was followed up with not one but several victories before the bosses could begin an important counter-attack.

If our first attack is not broadened before the bosses answer, we are not so able to withstand these blows but if we make big inroads and then the bosses attack, it is not felt so easily and we can not only better withstand their blows but answer them much faster before the bosses can follow up.

Such was not our fortune in Gastonia. Our mass picketing was very good, but did not enable us to follow up this first point with anything of consequence. The bosses answered the first blow with the Loray Committee of 100, organized from overseers, thugs and superintendents, led by Major Bulwinkle of Loray Mill. To this was added wholesale arrests by the local police and the cavalry terror, the church and the local press. April 10th the cavalry was removed and 35 deputized American Legion men replaced them. In the meantime the National Textile Workers Union was doing its best to push ahead. Several hundred struck in Bessemer City several miles from Gastonia. The small force of organizers who had strike experience were pressed to handle this mass of determined but inexperienced workers.

The Strike in Full Swing

By April the 15th the strike was in full swing with the W.I.R, the I.L.D., and Communist youth handling the work. The use of police, militia, gunmen and press could be expected.

We did not have long to wait. On April 18, a bosses’ mob, under police and deputy protection wrecked the union office in a well-planned fashion. The demolishing of the W.I.R. supplies and the continual wholesale evictions, arrests and intimidations of strikers through the rest of April and in May showed us that the bosses were gaining in the counter attack.

In this whole period from the strike to the mob terror the spirit of the strike rose and repulsed each attack with sacrifice and determination but without effective counter-offense, entirely confined to counter-defense. In this period of attack on the workers we could have answered in a more positive way, if our leading force had been handled right.

Half the time Beal and the other leading comrades were sent back and forth from Elizabethton to Lexington, etc. hundreds of miles with most of those in the Gastonia area handicapped and those in New York ordering these drives as though they were sending some one from New York City to Passaic. Such a broadening out activity and especially in relation to A.F.L. activity must be carried on but not at the expense of our base and Southern center and that only further played into the hands of a powerful enemy attacking us on all sides in the Gastonia area.

Added to this improper draining of the field center was the sending of comrades such as Crouch and Pershing, etc., who may be able to function some places under proper leadership but who only “messed things up” in the strike area with bombastic disconnected “radicalism”.

This first mob action and police attacks were answered by rebuilding and continuing the work. Broken picket lines were reformed. Throughout the country the issue was raised for Gastonia and funds started to flow in to help. Mass meetings were held daily at the Union headquarters in Gastonia and workers for many miles around came in and asked for organizers for their mill towns. Hundreds were signed no into the Union from all parts of the area. The “unorganizable” were starting to organize.

This rebuilding and recruiting inspired new hope and the stubborn picket lines [stood] firm ranks. The union planned to follow up this drive with a new drive on [illegible] to close the mill. This belated attempt [became] known to the Committee of 100 before it materialized and the terror ,of the thugs increased with a plan of ending it all before the new drive would start.

The Company’s plan, like the union’s, fell short with the murderous raid of Chief Aderholt and his death through the workers’ self defense on June 7. The planned drive of the union was transformed into a counter attack of the law with the Committee of 100 to follow up and clean them out. The first part of this counter attack of the bosses’ legal troops was transformed into their defeat by the heroic action of the striking textile workers. The bosses force followed up the June 7th raid with terror for a week, wholesale arrest, intimidation, searching of homes, beatings, attempted lynching of Beal and others who were jailed.

With the entire force of active strikers and leaders arrested, held without right of bail, the police closed the destroyed tent colony and union headquarters and reaction and terror rode the county.

In this atmosphere came the national representatives of the W.I.R. and I.L.D. and although at first arrested and intimidated the W.I.R. took the lead and opened a new tent colony with the I.L.D. preparing for legal aid. This force brought new hope to the shattered and scattered forces of blacklisted, arrested, evicted and terrorized textile workers.

One of the outstanding weaknesses of our work brought to the surface by this period of reaction following June 7th was that all members recruited in the union were admitted through the Gastonia central office AND IN THIS WHOLE PERIOD NO MILL LOCALS HAD BEEN SET UP, yet we had plenty of material and time to do so. If a few mill locals had been set up the union would have been able to weather this storm in a far greater stable fashion and chaos would not have reigned. And instead of the auxiliary organizations reorganizing and laying a base they would have acted in a helpful secondary fashion and on the whole we would have been able to answer this with greater success.

The mill bosses through the control of Gaston County and the City of Gastonia government as well as the state government, lost no time and indicted 23 for murder – 16 for first degree murder.

The fact that the union did not answer this attack and indictment and replace Beal at once, lost our forces valuable time that as far as the Loray strike was concerned could not be made up.

The new force sent in over a month after this terror, July 12th, inherited the strike of Loray and Bessemer that weeks before had been settled as far as life and immediate demands were concerned but a strike that was still officially on. On top of this they inherited the bombastic action of the fly by night organizers sent in, and add to this, the loss of records and chaotic conditions of the union forces after this month period.

Hugo Oehler Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 22.10.2012