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Jack Wilson

Survey of Ohio Strikes Shows
Value of Revolutionary Party

(20 July 1935)

From New Militant, Vol. I No. 30y, 20 July 1935, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In the shadows of Northern Ohio’s massive industrial structure with its giant rubber, steel, auto and textile factories, the working class has fought incessantly since the inception of the NRA in 1933 to establish its fundamental rights and’ organize itself for its historic task – the overthrow of American and world imperialism.

Workers have won great victories during this period when led by the Workers Party as in the memorable Toledo Auto-lite strike.

Workers have suffered foulest betrayals when controlled by the A.F. of L. bureaucrats. Witness Akron, rubber city.

The stories of the struggles have been told in the New Militant. It is unnecessary to repeat them.

But a survey of the important strikes during the NRA period has been lacking; one that will establish facts that can serve as a basis for a more thorough, more detailed understanding of the problems of the working class in this key area; one that will serve as a basis for correct perspectives; this article attempts, at least partly, to answer to this need.

It must be borne in mind that the NRA was not the fundamental factor in causing strikes. Rather, increase in productive activity (as the industrial upswing in 1934) accentuates the constant class struggle in the forces of production and gives it its sharpest form, the strike. That is, under pressure of the miserable depression wages, the speed up accompanying the upswing, the long hours, etc., workers sought to better their conditions.

Using as a basis for generalizations sixty major Ohio strikes, three characteristics of them come sharply to the fore.

General Features of Strikes

  1. Two thirds of the strikes, predominantly those in the basic industries, were met with flagrant violence by local, state and county police, the national guards, all tinder the domination of the capitalist class. But in no instance did terrorism serve its purpose. The militancy of the working class hurled back this challenge. It took other means to “pacify” labor.
  2. The federal government played the dominant role in effecting “settlements.” in four-fifths of the strikes. In other words, the class character of the state exposed itself in the great majority of the struggles.
  3. The American Federation of Labor served as a brake in all struggles, it openly betrayed the rubber workers in three strikes, it ruined the labor movement in rubber temporarily through its policy and it served as an effective screen for the government in many cases.

Besides the rubber industry, there are many examples which should be mentioned; the Chevrolet strike this spring; the huge gas operators strike in Cleveland last year; the Columbia Chemical strike in Barberton; the Berger Steel strike; and so on and on.

While every strike had union recognition as its prime motive, this was won clearly in only two out of the sixty strikes. Pay increases were wrung from employers in ten of the strikes, being used as a “bribe” in five cases to avoid union recognition.

Concrete Results

Labor was organized in only four of the sixty plants involved before the NRA. Less than 5,000 out of the 65,000 workers in these strikes were union members before NRA. The weight of the factor of inexperience speaks or itself.

In sixty percent of the plants, and particularly in the basic industry plants, company unions were formed by the bosses to split the ranks of labor.

Over 21,000 of the 60,000 workers. involved in major strikes in the Ohio region were auto workers who struck in six plants during this period. Of course, the Toledo Chevrolet and Auto-lite strikes were the most significant.

The betrayed Berger Steel strike and the Weirtown and Steubenville walkouts drew 15,000 workers into open class struggle.

Textile strikes brought 4,000 workers on the picket line in three factories and three rubber strikes (in minor plants) had 2,500 workers.

What the paper results of the great majority of the strikes were can be summarized in the familiar terms, “Go Back to Work and Negotiate,” “Called Off,” “Company Agrees to Meet with Any Group of Employees,” etc., etc. Labor gained little there.

The Role of the W.P.

What the working class learned from its experiences is of decisive importance. One scarcely need add we are not “mechanical” Marxists – the workers didn’t learn automatically. Only where revolutionary forces drew correct conclusions and explained them to the masses was conscious progress made in the working class movement.

It is precisely in this that the Workers Party played its major and constructive role. Utilizing both an Auto-lite victory and the rubber betrayal to educate and lead the workers, the Workers Party gained in strength and influence.

Only in so far as the Workers Party is built up to play a greater and stronger role in the numerous struggles (through participating in them) will the revolutionary movement grow in America.

This must be one of our major tasks. Strengthen and build the Workers Party in the highly industrialized Ohio region.

A clear understanding of the nature and scope of the problem and of the prominent position strikes as a manifestation of the class struggle will play are necessary prerequisites to our success.

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