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B.J. Widick

In the Labor Unions

(21 July 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 52, 21 July 1939, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Three good union men were killed in Harlan, Kentucky, during the last week. Two of them were shot by National Guardsmen. One of them was killed by a scab over the weekend.

Three union men dead. What was their crime? They were only defending their inalienable right to organize, to obtain collective bargaining.

In its strike-breaking activities the National Guard was not satisfied, however, with merely trying to terrorize the Harlan miners by threat of armed force. The Guardsmen used force.

Resentment among the miners, already plenty high because of the presence of the National Guard, reached a breaking point after the shootings.

So what did the Guard do? It rounded up 246 active strikers and their wives and packed them into an over-crowded jail.

Guilty of What?

What was the charge? “Banding and confederating.” Phoney from the first letter to the last. A family eating dinner is “banding and confederating” to eat food. A Sunday school is “baading and confederating” to observe religious exercises.

In so many words, the “Crime” of the Harlan miners, according to the” National Guard mentality, was getting together and striking.

The charges against the 246 miners and their wives are pure and simple frame-ups. A desperate move to use “Legal” terror against the solid ranks of the strikers. Bail was put at $257,000 in an effort to keep the strikers in jail and try to break their morale.

It’s the same dirty stunt the National Guard always uses to break strikes. They tried it on the auto workers in Anderson, Ind., when we were there during the General Motors strike.

It served to expose the National Guard to many wavering elements. It forged an iron ring of solidarity among the workers. In Harlan, the result will be the same.

A national campaign of the C.I.O. to free the Harlan miners must begin immediately. The three martyrs among the Harlan strikers can be avenged in only one way. The open shop must be smashed. The United Mine Workers should continue its drive until a closed shop and good union conditions prevail in Harlan, Kentucky.

Perhaps John L. Lewis spoke of the Harlan miners in his Chicago speech Sunday and the press failed to mention it. He should have made it such a big point that omission was impossible.

The Harlan victims should be honored by the C.I.O. with the same reverence as the murdered Workers of the Chicago Little Steel massacre.

Honor them by fighting against the oppressors who caused their death. And John L. Lewis hardly looked like a fighter or union leader when his only action after the Harlan killings was to write a letter to Frank Murphy, Attorney General demanding protection ... at a time when Murphy was doing his best to break the W.P.A. workers’ strike against starvation wages.

* * *

Green Fails

After all these years of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. dispute, William Green, president of the A.F.L., couldn’t split the Salem, Mass. labor movement despite the strenuous efforts on his part.

The current issue of the North Shore Organizer, newspaper of the Lynn, Peabody, and Salem, Mass., C.I.O. movement tells the story of how Green’s orders to expel C.I.O. unions from the Central labor movement failed completely in the past.

His personal agent, Aaron Vellman appeared at the last meeting and demanded expulsion of the C.I.O. unions or else the charter would be lifted. The body fought unanimously against this tactic but in the end the purge was carried out, although in a different fashion than Green would have liked.

The C.I.O, unions called a recess and met by themselves. They returned shortly and announced that to avoid the A.F.L. unions losing their charter by disobeying Green, the C.I.O. unions would withdraw, but that unity would not be broken.

“We’ll find organizational means of working together,” the spokesman of the C.I.O. declared.

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