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Jack Wilson

From Our West Coast Correspondent

Calif. Business Men Rally Anti-Union Forces

(December 1940)

From Labor Action, Vol. 4 No. 38, 30 December 1940, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Scab Convention Meets

Time magazine beat us to the punch in reporting on the annual convention of the Associated Farmers last week. Its account of this strike-breaking outfit speaks for itself. We reproduce its story, adding a comment or so at the end.

“Along California highways last week, red, white and blue billboard posters shouted: National Defense – A nation at work – Protect the open door for jobs for everyone – The open shop is the open door. California businessmen were rallying their forces for a last ditch fight with labor.

“Businessmen were alarmed by labor’s successful strike at Vultee Aircraft Corp., where workers had won a higher wage, by a State Supreme Court ruling upholding the legality of a closed shop contract. From their annual convention in Fresno, bigwigs of the Associated Farmers of California scurried to Los Angeles to huddle with members of the State Chamber of Commerce, the San Francisco Employers Association, and the Merchants and Manufacturers Association. There they discussed ways and means of nullifying the Supreme Court decision.

“Most notorious labor-baiting group in California are the so-called Associated Farmers. These Farmers track very little earth into their parlors. They were born at a meeting of an agricultural committee of the State Chamber of Commerce in 1934, when the state was being invaded by Dust bowl migrants (the Okies of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath).

“The Okies wanted better wages, better living conditions than Mexican peons. With mounting labor costs great industrialized farms faced a cut in profits,. Shippers, canners, bankers were also vitaliy concerned. The time had come, the Chamber of Commerce decided, for aggressive action if business is to survive.

“The Associated Farmers supplied the aggressive action. During the Salinas agricultural strike in 1936 and in the Stockton strike in 1937, they acted with tear gas and shotguns. The stench o£ blood and powder hung over California’s Imperial Valley. Strikes were broken, but so was the secretive silence that had surrounded these private affairs in the Valley. For direct action the Associated Farmers turned to quieter campaigns in the state legislature.

“They went on record as favoring the complete exemption of agricultural labor from the Wages & Hour Law, the National Labor Relations Act, the Social Security Act and similar legislation, and as opposed to repeal of the local anti-picketing ordinances, to the closed shop and the hiring hall. (They did not pass a resolution endorsing Hitler. Why bother? – JW).

“Contributors to the Associated Farmers, as revealed by the LaFollete Committee, include: American Trust Co., Bank of America, Bank of California, Canners League, railroads, utilities, packers, employers associations. Claimed membership of 40,000. According to the LaFollette committee report, a truer figure would be something under 2,000. Membership includes a small percentage of small growers in the state who were scared by desperate, frequently reckless labor tactics the important membership is a large percentage of the large growers. They are the hierarchy and inner circle, and were genuinely hurt by growing labor costs. But gentlemen landowners who have closer bonds with the banks than with the soil.”

That the California big shots met in Los Angeles after this convention was no accident. For they understand that the problems of the agricultural workers and the fate of the Okies depend primarily on events in the Los Angeles area.

If 65,000 aircraft workers are organized into militant unions the agricultural workers will have a powerful ally in their struggles. That’s why the Vultee strike victory worried landowners so much.

The Associated Farmers scab outfit dreads the day we look forward to, the day when representatives of a powerful union movement call on the gentlemen and say, “Listen you dirty so and so’s, we’ll tie up every damn plant you own, unless you sign a contract giving the agricultural workers a decent wage and better conditions.” Plain language like that, backed by a union movement of over 100,000 workers in aircraft, steel, rubber, shipping, etc. in this area, is something that even a businessman can understand.

And when Mr. Donald Archibald Stevening, ex-Army officer, and new president of the Associated Farmers, blusters, “We’ll be ready soon to shift from the tactics of defense to offense,” we can smile and reply, “That’s what Mussolini said too.”


“Red Scare” Scares Santa

If Santa Claus failed to arrive in the homes of millions of American homes this year it was not merely because so many people were poverty stricken. He was afraid of being picked up by the FBI or Martin Dies as a dangerous foreigner and red.

So the story goes out here. And it illustrates the level of the present hysteria which continues unabated.

Hollywood, as usual, contributes its share with a garbage pail full of mystery thrillers in which Boy Gets Girl via exposing sinister Fifth Column plots.

J. Edgar Hoover, striving hard to live up to the Hollywood conception of a G-man, came through with a report on Harry Bridges as a member of the Communist Party.

Martin Dies announces another “sensational” disclosure. There are 150 German-Americans working at the North American Aviation Co. This was too much, even for the company, which pointed out these workers had been with the company for between five to ten years and were quite reliable. Dies forgot that as yet it is not a crime to be of German ancestry in the United States.


Leaders of the “I Am” religious racket, on trial here because they failed to account for thousands of dollars taken from suckers, used all this spy hysteria to present a defense which, to say the least, is quite novel.

Among the good deeds done in the past year by Mr. Ballard, leader of this racket, was to make a psychic discovery that three submarines of Nazi Germany were headed for the Panama Canal to destroy it.

Making Super-Man look like a chump, the I Am boss used his power with God and forced the submarines to turn back and to be destroyed.

You might think this is silly beyond words, but it was all said very seriously at the court trial here, and the newspapers printed the story as serious testimony.

Of course, having the Los Angeles Times and two Hearst rags as the main newspapers here accounts for part of this stupidity. They do their darndest to make the workers believe all the propaganda about reds and spies in an effort to confuse and divide the union movement.


Bridges Tries a Little “Scare”

The Harry Bridges machine came through by the skin of its teeth in selling the two year contract between the CIO longshoreman’s union and the employers. Now the Stalinists have turned to the job of crucifying union opponents.

Since the San Pedro local has prominent oppositionists it was only natural that Bridges begin his campaign here. And what a campaign.

Last week Tom Brown, secretary of the Pedro local, committed suicide because of personal worries and ill health. He was a Stalinist.

So the C.P. machine is calling that suicide a murder, and blaming it on the union leaders, headed by President Bowen of this local. If they hadn’t opposed the two year contract and criticized Bridges, Brown would have been happier and wouldn’t have committed suicide, they say.

Anybody who opposed or opposes Bridges is, therefore, morally responsible for the death of Brown, say the Stalinists.

Sounds like the Moscow trials, doesn’t it? And those trade unionists who thought that the Moscow frame-up trials didn’t have importance to them are learning by painful experience how wrong they were.

Only a GPU mentality is capable of pulling the stuff that Bridges and his men are using against the opposition in the longshoremen’s union.

“I’m staying down here until we revenge the death of Brown,” snarled Bridges at the funeral last week. But it won’t be so easy to liquidate the opposition.


Miscellaneous Items

After a real pressure campaign, the workers at the Vega and Lockheed air plants finally signed enough cards to help pay for a Hudson bomber for England. The bitterness against this phoney company move remains so great, however, that over ten per cent of the workers still have refused to donate time to pay for the bomber.


The CIO Mine, Mill and Smelter union won bargaining rights at the American Potash and Chemical Corp. it was announced by the National Labor Relations Board, following an election.

The CIO union received 476 votes to 172 for the AFL Potash, Borax and Phosphate union, and 103 for the company union. The concern, which produces war materials, is owned entirely by a British Corporation.


A study of the facts on the trial and conviction of Don Keppler, vice-president of the Boeing Aircraft workers union, AFL at Seattle, on charges of being a “Communist” reveal that it was a company move.

The trial board was headed by a stool-pigeon, a man who has an open record as being in the pay of manufacturers to give them labor information. He admitted that he was assisted by the FBI and the local police in framing the charges.

Our suspicion was aroused immediately when the newspaper carried the story that Keppler was to be expelled from the union and fined $5,000, Someone more familiar with the union movement would have known that to fine a person for political activities is almost impossible in the union movement. Keppler is taking the business to court, among other things.

Disunity in the AFL union on this question will hardly help it in organizing workers in opposition to the CIO in aircraft.

And the fact that AFL craft unions are putting pressure on the large Lockheed local to give them jurisdiction over various workers isn’t going to help much either. It shows, among other things, how craft-union minded the AFL still is.

Reports are that the leadership of the Machinists international are not adverse to dividing up the Lockheed workers into craft unions.

CIO officials are watching this situation closely since an open craft union move is all they need to swing over the majority of the 14,000 Lockheed men into the CIO.

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