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The A.F. of L. in the South

(April 1930)

From The Militant, Vol. III No. 14, 5 April 1930, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

For two mouths the American Federation of Labor has been “campaigning to organize” the South. About 100 special organizers are claimed to be in the field covering the five states of Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and the two Carolinas, to concentrate mainly on the textile industry.

Results to date have borne out all the serious indictments made by the revolutionary movement against the A.F. of L. policy and methods. They have shown also that the Southern bourbons have not in the least relented in their hostility to union organization, even of the reactionary brand, but have rather intensified the offensive against the workers. The latter are giving ample proof of militancy and in the now less spectacular but still continuing sharp conflicts are making a mockery of the deceptive practices of the A.F. of L. with its spineless appeals to the bosses for friendly cooperation. Certainly there is a fertile field for union organization

Green Meets the Bosses

President Green is again touring the South to try further to put the Federation in the “right” light, to renew his pledges and, if possible, fully to win the favor of business (!!). On his last visit he did not forget to advise the employers to organize in order to make an end to cut-throat competition and particularly to emphasize common struggle against the Communists: “Accept us, or the alternative will be the Communists,” said Green. No wonder that certain of the more far-sighted capitalist dailies give him a rather favorable reception, comparing him to a successful banker or head of a large business institution. The mayor of Memphis, Tenn., in welcoming Green to the city could therefore, think “hopefully” of the future, remind his audience that he (Green) had “saved the Federation from the Bolshevik tide in 1922.”

Meanwhile even children under 16 years of age work the twelve hour shift in North Carolina. Just as the “organization campaign” started, the Piedmont mill in Gastonia administered a 20 per cent wage cut, reducing spinners from $14.30 to $11.78 per week and card hands from $14.40 to $12.00. This is at a twelve hour night shift and eleven hour day shift.

The Wage-Cutting Campaign and the Strikers

At the Riverside and Dan River mills at Danville, Va., a 10 per cent wage cut took effect on February 1st, bringing the average wage down from $18.69 to $16.75. Many, however, receive much less. The company claims, of course, that the workers, through the company union, voted the cut. In these mills Negroes are barred from the company union but not from the wage cuts. The president of the company, H.R. Fitzgerald, appears still able to draw his yearly salary of $85,000; and the dividends paid on its $7,500,000 common stock have kept the level of 10 per cent.

In general profits coming, out of the sweat and blood of the Southern textile workers, have piled into the coffers of the absentee owners. Senator Wheeler, quoting from a report in the Senate, stated that the American Viscose Co., producing two-thirds of all rayons, averaged a net profit of 48 per cent on $184,166,000 gross sales for the three year period 1926-29. Net profit, after all expenses, taxes and depreciation, amounted to $88,306,000, although the capital Investment in 1922 was only $10,000,000.

The Marion Clinchfleld mills, N.C., have announced that the stretchout system 10 to be put back into effect and, according to reports, there is strike talk among the workers. 135 families are still evicted from the company houses since the last strike. At Swannanoa the weavers in the Beacon Blanket Co.’s mill have struck against the stretchout system and predict that their ranks will grow.

At the American Bemberg Glanzstock Co. mills at Elizabethton, Tenn., the workers succeeded in obtaining control of the company union. Immediately wholesale discharges followed, against which the workers struck on March 3rd. Over 2,000 workers responded to the call and are now carrying on active picketing.

Southern Workers Show Militancy

Such are the reports from the South. The present Elizabethton strike is the third within less than a year. Without any financial backing and without any strike relief whatever, nevertheless, these Southern workers show splendid examples of class solidarity, worthy of becoming object lessons for the worker north of the Mason-Dixon line. McMahon and other leaders in charge of the “drive” have been the most emphatic in stating that they did everything in their power to avert strikes. Unquestionably so; that is the particular mission of the A.F. of L. in the South. Vice-President Gorman of the U.T.W., one of the committee of three in charge, offers the mill barons “cooperation of the U.T.W. in stabilizing labor costs and removing inefficiency in accordance with the labor-management cooperation plan worked out on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad”. The Southern workers, however, have already had lessons aplenty in company unionism, for which the B. and O. plan is but another name. By their own initiative they show the way, even forcing these reactionary leaders to move a step ahead.

Left Wing Must Adopt United Front Policy

Meanwhile the National Textile Workers union under Left wing leadership has apparently left the southern field uncontested to the A.F. of L. Not because the field for organization and militant struggle is less fertile now than before, to which the reports cited above bear witness. No, it is the penalty of false policies which now leaves the reactionaries in complete command. Undoubtedly the Left wing could yet have been an important factor. With correct united front policies, particularly at the height of the bourbon lynching campaign, at the time of the assaults at Gastonia and the killings at Marion, the whole crew of A.F. of L. organizers could not have separated the Left wing from the working masses of the South. Such a policy would have become a mighty lever to extend, to unify and strengthen these many scattered strikes, and thus become a mighty weapon against the bosses. There were conferences held at the time, at which delegates of both unions participated, which could have become splendid opportunities for the practical organization of the united front. Naturally, the A.F. of L. leaders would have opposed this most strenuously; that was to be expected. But, with this policy, whom would the workers follow? The Left wing, of course.

Lessons of the past should be taken advantage of to help guide the present and the future; and it is time that the Left wing learns this lesson.

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