B.J. Widick Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

B.J. Widick

In the Trade Unions

(10 February 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 6, 10 February 1939, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Akron, Ohio, rubber workers have learned many valuable lessons in the course of their six years of struggle under the banner of unionism. The powerful weapon of sit-downs arose from the rubber shops of Akron to set off a nation-wide wave that brought success to the C.I.O. in 1936–37.

It is a tragedy that the magnificent history of the rubber workers should be faked to serve the ends of the Stalinist “rule-or-ruin” clique. For that is exactly what Ruth McKenney does in her book, Industrial Valley, just published. McKenney was a sob-sister on the Akron Beacon-Journal most of the time from 1932 to 1936 about which period her book is written. She is a Stalinist and makes no bones about it.

Fakes Stalinist Role in Union Growth

Akron union militants who spent the hardest and best years of their lives making great sacrifices to build a union movement will be aroused by McKenney’s impudence in trying to fake a story of the growth of the United Rubber Workers of America which is supposed to convince the “non-believers” that the Stalinists were responsible for developing the union.

During the N.R.A. days, thousands of Akron rubber workers flocked into the A.F. of L. federal unions. The Communist party, however, spent over a year trying to build dual “Red trade unions”! It missed the boat completely. McKenney omits this chapter from the history of the Communist party in Akron.

McKenney vaguely mentions that union progressives fought for industrial unionism and formed caucuses to organize a national struggle for an autonomous rubber workers’ international union. She pointedly omits mentioning that this was done mainly at the Progressive Workers School ...

because the school leaders became “Trotskyist” sympathizers. It was here that S.H. Dalrymple, now president of the U.R.W.A., L.S. Buckmaster, president of Firestone Local, L.L. Callahan, president of Goodrich Local and scores of other rubber workers studied and discussed industrial unionism and other labor problems to prepare themselves for better union leadership in the future. Out of this school in 1934–35 came the ideas which brought the formation of the United Rubber Workers of America in the fall of 1935. The Communist Party was a nearly negligible force then.

Goodyear Strike History Distorted

Perhaps the most amazing performance McKenney gives is her writing about the Goodyear strike. Any Akron unionist will tell you that W.J. Carney, now New Jersey C.I.O. director, won his spurs in the C.I.O. movement because of his leadership of the rank and file in this historic strike. McKenney fails even to mention him. Why?

Because she has Stalinist party orders to build up through lies the role of the Stalinists in this strike. Carney, the genuine leader of the rank and file, had the reputation of “working both with the Trotskyists and Stalinists.” He was an independent. He was a close personal friend of this writer.

But McKenney does even worse. She fails to say a word about the real leader of the Communist Party fraction in the Goodyear strike, the only real militant the Stalinists had in those days. He is Lloyd Holmes, a member of the Firestone local, who organized all C.P. work in the rubber unions. Holmes is now under suspicion of “Trotskyism,” although he’s an independent.

Nor do many independent rank-and-file leaders like E.O. Barthol, E.L. Howard, Joe Vaught, Skip O’Harrah, Carl Hooper and others who did noble work in the strike, get any serious mention in this book. Only two Stalinist stooges are given credit. The union men mentioned here are not “Trotskyists.” Far from it. Some are opponents of the revolutionary movement. That does not justify ignoring their good work in the strike. But McKenney is forced to ignore all but true party-liners. How else can a fake history be built up?

Frame-up Part of the Stint

Naturally, a book written by a Stalinist can not contain merely distortions, omissions and lies. Since the Moscow trials, frame-ups are a necessary part of the Stalinist literary stint. McKenney does right by Earl Browder on this score too. Her methods are clever, to be sure, but nonetheless obvious and despicable. It has always been a source of extreme annoyance to the Stalinists that certain Akron unionists known as “Trotskyists” did their part to help win the Goodyear strike. This writer, for example, was hired as research director and associate editor of the United Rubber Workers of America, after the Goodyear strike because he lost his job for aiding the strikers.

Yet McKenney blandly quotes Jim Keller, the Stalinist organizer, “And a Trotskyite isn’t a Communist. He works for the company!” Proof? None!

The Stalinists tried, during the strike, to frame this writer on a claim that he published a leaflet attacking the strike leaders and urging rejection of the final strike settlement. Adolph Germer, of the C.I.O., and Powers Hapgood, investigated this C.P. claim, and found it to be a frame-up. There never was any such mimeographed leaflet. At the time that this writer was supposed to be passing out the leaflet, according to C.P. charges, he was in a conference with C.I.O. leaders, as Rose Pesotta, of the I.L.G.W.U. testified. These C.I.O. leaders recommended this writer for the job with the U.R.W.A. afterwards. Today, McKenney seeks again to stir up the frame-up charges.

McKenney worked together with this writer for nearly three years in the Akron Newspaper Guild. We were members of the same progressive caucus. She supported my candidacy for vice-president of the Guild, a post to which I was elected. Later, I became chairman of the Ohio District council of the A.N.G. And in 1936 at the U.R.W.A. convention, even the C.P. voted approval of the writer’s work.

McKenney through her personal experience knows better than to believe the slanders she prints. Yet, once you join the party of lies, you must live a life of lies and tell lies. That is the tragedy of Ruth McKenney. It should serve as a warning to Akron workers.

B.J. Widick Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 28 November 2015