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Jack Wilson

Resentment Is Bitter Over Trickery of “Settlement”

Inside Story of the Battle in Rubber Unions

(April 1935)

From The New Militant, Vol. I No. 18, 20 April 1935, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The railroading of the sell-out agreement arranged by Francis Perkins, Secretary of Labor and the A.F. of L. bureaucracy on Akron’s big three rubber workers’ unions this week put to shame the lousy auto-code agreement or any other previous capitulation of William Green to President Roosevelt and his other agents of capitalism.

Twenty workers at the Goodyear local walked out, half-sick, half crying, Saturday, April 13, when they received a report that Green, Coleman Claherty (his rubber organizer) and the Goodyear, Goodrich and Firestone local presidents had signed an agreement in Washington which gave away the right to strike, didn’t abolish the company unions and left all jurisdiction in labor disputes to a government board, not yet selected and having no power to enforce its decisions.

Nothing Is Too Low

While company union men jubilantly said, “Why it gives them nothing,” and the rubber barons smiled, an aroused rank and file prepared to fight the treacherous betrayal in the Sunday meetings. But they didn’t know to what depths the bureaucrats would stoop in an effort to smash the strike. They found out.

Claherty, red-faced and shifting uneasily from foot to foot, had scarcely finished reading the so-called agreement when a rank and filer at Goodrich, shouted, “Where’d you get the guts to bring back that god-damned sell-out to us?” to the thunderous applause of other workers. More criticism was hurled as Claherty retreated and finally sat down apparently defeated. His henchmen then began their work. Smooth tongues argued, “we must support our leaders,” and similar blather. It seemed to do little good. A vote was called. About one third of the Goodrich workers raised their hands in approval. The chairman said: “It evidently has passed.” No negative vote was taken after the meeting was over Goodrich workers walked out cursing, looking lost and humiliated. Claherty had “won over” the strongest local union.

The Rout at Firestone

Firestone was next. Shouts of betrayer, sell-out, down with the A.F. of L., bitter threats, more curses and eloquent speeches by progressives but to no avail. “Goodrich won’t walk out and you boys can’t do it alone. Why not be sensible. This is just a foothold, we’ll get more later.” Three hours of this and the Firestone workers gave up in disgust.

Goodyear workers were better prepared to meet the onslaught. Four days ago the progressives realized what would be done. They began organizing for a fight. Reports of the Goodrich meeting came in and inflamed the workers. The meeting began at the same time as Firestone’s. Regular business took an hour and then John House, president read the “agreement.”

A progressive from the rear immediately made a motion to repudiate the “agreement” signed. House ruled it out of order and said the approach would have to be a positive motion. He won.

A “Bold” Faker

Then a barrage by progressives placed throughout the hall sent House scurrying to cover. “I’ll bust any guy in the face that says I want this agreement or that I sold out. You boys decide this,” he temporized.

“We’ve had 18 months of boards. This is full of loop holes, Claherty has betrayed us. This means proportional representation. We don’t want to depend on the government or Francis Perkins!” progressives argued while the Goodyear workers cheered them on.

A recognized progressive leader got up. He took the agreement from House’s hands. He could barely speak he was so indignant. He threw the agreement on the floor, “It’s not worth a damn. This is what I think of it.” Shouts of approval encouraged him ... then the telephone rang. “Firestone boys are giving in, looks like they’ll approve the agreement.” The speaker almost bawled; other progressives became sick in the pits of their stomachs. But they didn’t give up for a while.

However, after nearly two hours of denunciation, and when the progressives had exhausted their ammunition, a Claherty-ite took the floor. More promises, more “stick-by-the-leaders” and the government ... slowly the game became clear. Workers began to walk out, their faces dead set, the pain of betrayal was clearly evident.

When opposition began to die down, Claherty appeared – very nicely-timed entrance, of course. He pleaded eloquently as workers turned their faces in disgust. He winced when someone shouted “Betrayer,” but only momentarily. “The two locals used reason and you can’t go out alone,” he carefully began. Soon the demoralization crept in. Even progressives looked discouraged, lost in a dark labyrinth. The vote of approval passed by a small majority.

The Specter of Black-Listing

Workers left quickly after the meeting, shamefaced, disappointed, tears gleamed dimly in some eyes. A few brave workers openly charged, “dictatorship from the top,” although expulsion was imminent. Progressives went home as one goes to a funeral. The dark specter of company blacklists, the black shadows of betrayal, the laughs of company union men haunted them.

The A.F. of L. bureaucracy had negotiated an “agreement.”

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