Mary Heaton Vorse

Weisbord's Farewell to Passaic

Published: New Masses, October, 1926.
Transcribed: for in January, 2002.

IT is the Thursday before Labor Day in Passaic. Eight thousand textile strikers are to be received into the American Federation of Labor. The price of their admission is that their young leader Albert Weisbord, said to be a communist, step aside completely. The coming of the A. F. of L charter means his going. Tonight Albert Weisbord is to say good-bye to the textile strikers.

The moat dramatic of all strikes is entering on a new phase. This is a strike different from all other strikes. It was a mass strike involving all the people. What had been a little disturbance in Passaic had become a whirlpool. It divided the town of Passaic. It caught Washington in its swirl. Senators disputed about Passaic on the floor of the senate. For the first time in labor history, men, women and children struggled side by side in a strike. It was the center of the conflict on the tariff.

The air is heavy in Belmont Park with the waiting of ten thousand people. High dramatic trees over their heads weave shadows across their faces. A shout rises to a roar of applause and then singing. Weisbord, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and Henry T. Hunt (who carries with him the charter that has cost so high a price) are getting on the platform. With them Alfred Wagenknecht, the relief director. Wagenknecht has fed these thousands of people, his organization of relief work is a story that has not yet been adequately written.

With every speech the tension grows. Now it is Elizabeth Flynn's turn. Her beautiful voice rings out into the night. The people stir uneasily, there is a moment of almost terrifying quiet. They had not realized that this close and loyal friend must also leave them. She is going out through the country to raise money for the defense of the arrested strikers. She is not leaving them since she is still working for them.

Henry T. Hunt gets up to present the charter. He is the link between the old leaders and the new order. Tonight he represents Thomas McMahon, President of the United Textile Workers. Wave after wave of applause greets him. In him the strikers see the power of the organized millions of workers.

The thunder of their applause keeps time to the mighty shouts of welcome. The presentation is over. Gus Deak. who takes Weisbord's place, reads the charter aloud. The Passaic strikers are no longer an isolated group, they are as Weisbord has it, part of the stream of the American Labor.

Weisbord's turn. Now they let loose. They can't stop cheering, not even Weisbord can stop them. A procession of great baskets of flowers staggers solemnly over the heads of the crowd, passed from hand to hand. The people who have been on strike for thirty-two weeks have collected peonies and dimes and have bought presents. A watch from the strikers, a loving cup from the Lodi workers. Smaller gifts him from individual groups. There are presents, too for Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. The strikers take a solemn satisfaction in the farewell gifts. The crowd sways forward. It applauds and sings. The tension of farewell which has been mounting has been broken. We all breathe easier.

Now Weisbord is saying farewell. Eyes fill with tears. The women all through the crowd weep bitterly: But notice this, there is no despair in this grief. They are not afraid to have him go. Now he speaks. Here is the final message of the young leader--

"It seems that my head has been demanded for having faithfully and loyally served the interests of the strikers. I am sure that there are many workers who will ask, 'What is it that Weisbord has done that he should be removed?' They will want to know if he is dishonest or disloyal. They will want to know why Weisbord can find no place inside the American Federation of Labor.

"These are questions that President William Green and all the members of the executive council of the American Federation of Labor will find it very difficult to answer.

"I may be expelled from the Passaic textile strike, but I cannot be expelled from the labor movement.

"I shall continue to devote my life's work to the cause of the working class. I have no interests other than those of the workers. When it became necessary that I remove myself in order to pave your way into the American Federation of labor and to victory over the mill bosses, I gladly pledged myself to-do so. I am here tonight to carry out that pledge.

"As you are aware, when I came among you to organize you, I had no thought of organizing MY union. I knew it would have been insanity to organize an independent union. From the very beginning it was my aim to get you into the main body of the American labor movement, and in this connection we made several overtures to the United Textile Workers of America, but the U.T.W. we can celebrate the realization of your first objective.

That I am going away is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength that I am able to leave you, satisfied that you are now powerful enough, that you have wise and trained leaders who have come up from your ranks, to assure the protection of your every interest."

He is like flame in darkness. He is the burning core of this crowd of people whom he has organized into an eager, militant army. Do the mill owners ever see their crowds, one wonders? Have any of those who make the mill's policies looked at their crowds? Look down in the faces of the strikers who have come to say good-bye to Albert Weisbord, their strike leader, and to their friend Gurley Flynn.

There is a sense of well being, a luminous quality to this crowd that sweeps over the consciousness of all people who see them. They will not forget Weisbord. They are a mass. They are hope and courage. They are the future. They will win.