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Jack Wilson

Barberton Labor Rises

Plan General Strike in Akron Suburb to Meet Threat of Militia;
Reporter Tells of Heroic Battle

(25 November 1935)

From New Militant, Vol. I No. 49, 30 November 1935, pp. 1& 8.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

BARBERTON, Ohio, Nov. 25. – 6,000 organized workers in this highly industrialized suburb of Akron planned a general strike to back 300 strikers at the Ohio Insulator Co., a Dupont subsidiary, against possible use of the National Guard and martial law to smash the solid picket line, after their threat of the city-wide walkout forced the sheriff to withdraw 60 scabs and completely shut down the plant.

Aroused by the tear gas terror and clubbings by 70 company thugs against the 100 percent organized strikers, 2,000 unionists and sympathizers stormed the plant last night after they were attacked and routed the thugs and shouted:

“We’ll give you another Auto-Lite strike if you want it.”

The union went on strike ten weeks ago for a 20 percent pay raise, seniority rights, union recognition and a written agreement. It was called the “most peaceful strike in Ohio history” by the bourgeois press. But last Tuesday the company announced it would open the factory for “all loyal workers who wanted to work.” Meanwhile, Jim Flower, the sheriff, who is also a National Guard captain, hired 70 thugs to “keep peace,” and brought out all the tear gas guns and clubs bought last spring for possible use against the rubber workers.

The Weed Double-Crosses

A solid picket line greeted the company officials and the thugs early Wednesday. Flower, a big burly brute, called the pickets to one side and demanded peace. Just when the pickets came toward him, 12 cars filled with scabs, tried to break through. The workers grabbed stones, but a volley of tear gas and a clubfest by the thugs proved too strong.

Shouting, “We’ve been double-crossed by that rat,” the workers valiantly defended themselves, although over 20 were hurt by the gas shells and clubs. Another attack was made by Colonel Joe Johnson, an old strike-breaker and aide to Flower, at the railroad entrance against another picket line so a train could bring in food to the scabs.

As the tear gas drifted away the workers reformed their line. Flower marched out of the factory and ordered them to dissolve. He dug up a “riot act” passed in 1902 as his authority and threatened a $500 fine and 80 day sentences for workers arrested. The pickets jeered and swore. They shouted their right to picket.

Children Gassed

Flower replied by ordering his thugs to advance in military array – most of them were veterans. When they approached the picket line, Flower called for them to fire point blank with their tear gas guns. Five workers fell stunned. The thugs leaped to club the blinded workers. Twenty workers succumbed under the brutal attack. A crippled girl, going home for lunch from school, screamed in terror as tear gas scorched her. Three children, not over 10 years old, shrieked as gas shells broke a window in their home and narrowly missed them. A picket, defying the clubs, rushed to the house and carried them out.

An intermittent battle raged all day. The workers reformed their lines constantly, using coal and bricks to retaliate against the attacks. Word spread through the county of the terror. Workers came from Akron and elsewhere to reinforce the picket lines. Barricades were built, torn down, and rebuilt.

Union leaders called a mass meeting to protest the brutalities. All the strikers and 1,000 sympathizers attended while over 2,000 workers and sympathizers remained on the picket line.

Alarmed by the growing strength of tie workers, the thugs frantically fired more tear gas as night began to creep over the battle ground.

Tide Turns

A strong wind blowing from the plant towards the pickets shifted. It carried the tear gas fumes back into the factory. Soon the thugs and scabs were gasping for air and retreating.

Three main streams of pickets advanced towards the plant, concealing their movements by first, busting the glaring searchlight. A steady battery of rocks answered the thugs. The pickets met the clubs of the thugs in a fierce hand-to-hand battle without flinching. The mighty fist of labor crashed through the gangsterdom of the thugs. The gate-house, main stronghold of the enemy, was seized. Scabs rushed out with a fire hose but the workers brushed them aside. They started towards the plant entrance itself to clean it of scabs, but the wind died down. It took over 150 rounds of tear gas and plenty of reinforcements for the frightened thugs to keep the plant from being demolished. Even so, the front wall was badly damaged and every window broken.

A solid barricade was built of huge cement blocks and the workers prepared for another attack.

Demand General Strike

When word of the battle reached the mass meeting, it aroused the workers to a fever pitch of indignation against the company. Speaker after speaker told of the terror, women who were hurt demanded that their husbands protect them from the thugs. “No more tear gas or clubs. Disarm the thugs,” the workers cried in the meeting. “We want a general strike to defeat the company!” they cried. A committee representing 25 unions was formed to consider and plan the walkout

The Chamber of Commerce became frightened. It called two preachers and other “impartial” citizens to see what could be done to pacify the workers. This “citizens’ committee” called for a truce. Union leaders, worn out from the terrific struggle, their workers tear-gassed, dubbed and exhausted, agreed on condition that nothing come in or out of the plant and that the thugs stay within the plant. No attacks on the picket line would be tolerated. Such provocation would immediately bring a general strike, the union leaders said.

During the truce period the company refused to discuss even the critical situation. They spurned humble efforts of a federal conciliator who wanted to “ease the situation” by “compromising” the difference ; in other words, making a sell-out agreement and trying to fool the workers into acceptance.

Resentment against the company grew as truce expiration time drew near. The “citizens’ committee” begged the union leaders to continue it for another 48 hours. They replied they’d present it to a mass meeting Saturday night.

C.L.U. Promises Walkout

The workers, 1,000 strong at the meeting, thundered NO. Call the general strike, they shouted, unless the scabs are removed and the plant closed. We’ll go in and take them out ourselves if the sheriff doesn’t, voices added. The union leaders looked for Flower. He played hide-and-seek until midnight, and then told them he couldn’t do anything. He said this after the disgusted workers left the meeting.

Sunday brought a formal vote by the Central Labor Union for a general strike, to be called anytime needed to aid the strikers. In particular by Monday night, when the truce again expired, if the plant wasn’t closed. As the picket line began to. grow into the hundreds again today, the sheriff, realizing he was licked, withdrew the scabs and ordered the plant shut.

But the company doesn’t like this. If Flower can’t break the strike for them, they think the National Guard can. So they conferred with an “observer” from Adj.-General Marx’s office in Columbus, late today.

Workers Celebrate

Tonight 5,000 workers paraded in a “victory” march over the closing of the plant. A huge mass meeting followed with all organized labor in this district represented and pledging solidarity.

The workers know from the Toledo Auto-Lite strike that the National Guard can be defeated. They confidently face tomorrow, in one powerful united front against the Duponts and their tools, be they thugs or the National Guard. It will take every repressive measure possible under capitalism to keep the workers from victory on the picket line and they know it.

The workers aren’t so sure of themselves, however, around the conference table surrounded by Edward McGrady and other smooth-tongued federal conciliators whose treacherous moves can change a victoiy into a compromise. But the workers are learning and if McGrady comes here, they will be forewarned against him.

All Unions Involved

One thing is positively certain and realized by every adult in this town of 25,000. There is only one main issue in the strike: “The company is trying to bust the union and then the other unions will also be demolished.”

Last year the Mellon-controlled Columbia Chemical Co. officials tried to smash the union here. A picket line of 5,000 workers from Akron and elsewhere brought this company to its knees and the union gained its demands and its leaders were given their jobs back.

Now the Duponts are trying the same stunt. “But we know that a solid front against the capitalists can’t be broken and well win this strike,” a union leader said ... And so far it looks that way.

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