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Jack Wilson

A.F.L. Leaders Split Ranks of Canton Strike

Succeed After Bosses’ Guns, Clubs and Gas Fail

(June 1935)

From The New Militant, Vol. I No. 25, 8 June 1935, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

CANTON, Ohio, June 3. – After successfully resisting for over a week the ruthless terrorism of the Republic Steel Co. here to break up the picket lines, nearly 7,000 steel workers at six plants found themselves split by a more insidious force than the clubs, guns and gas bombs of company thugs – the treachery of A.F. of L. bureaucrats whose misleadership was directly responsible for the “go-back-to-work” vote passed by over half the strikers.

Although 75 workers were sent to hospitals, victims of five brutal provocative company thug attacks, the determination of the pickets to win union recognition was undaunted and firmer picket line was established after each attack than before. Public sympathy was entirely with the strikers as even bourgeois journals criticized the terrorism of the company.

Instead of crystallizing the anti-steel baron sentiment and building a more solid strike movement which spread spontaneously for two days to four plants, the A.F. of L. sent the notorious Akron rubber organizers, who betrayed the rubber-workers, into the scene and they permitted the city officials to hold an “independent” vote of workers on the question of returning to work, giving the company ample opportunity to propagandize for “peace” and thus breaking the back of the strike.

This development came after a week of militant struggle by the workers whose heroism was unexcelled by that of any strike group since the inception of the NBA.

When the first strike was called at the Berger Manufacturing Co., a subsidiary of the Republic Steel, 350 out of 400 workers answered and formed picket lines which company thugs and armored trucks tried to smash, sending 40 workers to hospitals last Monday. Grimly determined to win, the strikers reformed their lines as soon as the tear gas cleared away.

Five plants walked out in sympathy strikes during the next two days of last week as indignation arose over the continued company attacks. The workers came out under the slogan of “Avenge the Massacres.” So strong was sympathy with the strikers following the outrages, that city police arrested four thugs one morning and fired at a company car when the strike breakers began the fifth assault on the workers.

Then city authorities proclaimed a virtual martial law on the strike scenes and declared they would hold a vote for the strikers to see if they wanted to continue. Meanwhile influence of the rank-and-file was isolated to two “outlaw” lodges of the A.A. under Clarence Irwin’s control and while they boycotted the vote, other unionists went to the polls with tacit permission of the leaders who criticized the strike as a “wildcat” since official A.A. approval hadn’t been asked or given.

In this manner was labor’s forces split since today found more than half the workers going back into the plants while others who maintained a picket line were herded about by heavily armed police.

Attempts of local union leaders to set up a general strike committee had been foiled by the bureaucrats and this marked the beginning of the split. The division of the “leadership” on boycotting the vote, further widened the breach and now the return of many strikers to work has apparently broken the back of the strike.

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