From THE FIGHTING MACHINISTS, A CENTURY OF
by Robert G. Rodden
LaFollette Committee Hearings
Lawless disregard of the rights of workers was not confined to
the top management at Remington Rand. During the late 1930's Senator
Robert Lafollette, "Young Bob," son of the old Progressive
from Wisconsin, headed a Senate Committee to look into
labor-management relations. Its hearings produced shocking exposure
of widespread corporate contempt for the legal and constitutional
rights of America's working men and women.
LaFollette found evidence that 2,500 corporations, including
many of America's blue chip companies, were spending millions to
maintain a national network of thousands of labor spies. Stool
pigeons and provocateurs wee paid to report on internal union
affairs, stir up dissension among union members and generally block
labor organization. When the committee questioned a vice president
of Chrysler about such clearly illegal practices, he said "We
must do it to obtain the information we need in dealing with our
GST Davison testified before the Lafollette Committee several
times. In testimony describing the IAM's thirty-five year war with
the National Metal Trades Association, he told of a certain Sam
Brady who had been hired by the notorious Pinkerton Agency to
infiltrate the IAM. According to Davison, Brady achieved
||positions of importance and trust in the IAM,
holding office in different local unions. He used his position
to cause union men to be discharged and to have them
blacklisted. He slandered union officials and attempted to
disrupt the organization by attacking the character and
integrity of the leadership with forged documents. On several
occasions he was expelled, only to reappear under different
names in different places to resume his disruptive tactics.
"There are thousands of his kind," Davison added. The
NMTA frequently planted spies in the union to incite violence for
which the union could be blamed. The committee uncovered such a case
at a Black & Decker appliance pant employing 450 IAM members in
Kent, Ohio. In the Spring of 1936 the company announced that it
would not renegotiate its contract with the local IAM lodge. The
entire plant walked out. One of the most militant and active
members, G. W. Bookhamer, was an NMTA plant. When the walkout began,
Bookhamer tried to get others to dynamite the factory and block
delivery of the mail, which would have been a federal crime. With
none responding to these suggestions the company got an injunction
limiting the number of pickets to three. Meanwhile the NMTA
requisitioned a couple of thousands of dollars worth of long-range
gas guns and grenades. The NMTA also sent guards to protect the
plant. When the guards arrived three pickets including one woman,
were at the gate. Without warning these hired thugs opened fire with
tear gas and shot guns. Within minutes some 350 union members came
running, many carrying hunting rifles.
The strikebreakers took shelter in the pant and gunfire was
exchanged for most of the morning. Finally the police arranged for
the sheriff to enter the plant, disarm the strikebreakers and place
them under arrest. Inside, the sheriff found a sizable arsenal of
guns and ammunition plus enough food to last a week. When these
so-called "guards" were booked, forty-three were found to
have long criminal records. The unprovoked attack on unarmed workers
so shocked the community the NMTA's violence boomeranged. Within two
weeks the company signed a union contract.
The LaFollette Committee found that some companies literally
kept their employees in their gun sights. When Richard Mellon, the
billionaire from Pittsburgh, was asked why his security guards kept
machine guns trained on workers at one of his mines, he airily
explained "You cannot run the mines without them."
LaFollette's probe into company conduct during a steel strike in
1937 disclosed that the Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company had an
arsenal of eight machine guns, 369 rifles, 190 shot guns, 450
revolvers, almost 10,000 rounds of ammunition, 109 gas guns and
3,000 canisters of gas. Republic Steel was found to be the largest
purchaser of tear gas in the United States--not excepting state and
local police departments.
As a result of the LaFollette Committee's findings, the NMTA
was forced to stop furnishing spies, "guards" and other
strike-breaking services to union-busting employers. With the
enactment of the Wagner Act. which gave workers a clear right to
organize and bargain collectively, it finally began to accept
unionized companies into membership.
Sit Down! Sit Down!
Because of the kind of employer tactics uncovered by the
LaFollette Committee workers sometimes turned to less traditional
and more desperate methods to get to the bargaining table.
Instead of marching on picket lines, where the police could
bust heads, some 500,000 sat down at their machines in the winter of
1936-37--where use of force would threaten the employer's property.
These sit-down strikes, in everything from dime stores to
rubber factories and auto plants, set off a wave of frenzy among
newspaper editors and apoplexy in executive suites. But working
people who had been sat upon by employers all their lives now sang a
||When they tie the
can to a union man,
Sit down! Sit down!
When they give him the sack, they'll take him back,
Sit down! Sit down!
When the speed-up comes, just twiddle your thumbs,
Sit down! Sit down!
When the boss won't talk, don't take a walk,
Sit down! Sit down!
Sit-downs alienated public opinion but were an understandable
response to industry's widespread refusal to obey NLRB cease and
desist orders. Wharton abhorred the tactic not only because it laid
the union open to legal reprisals but, more significantly, because
it gave small groups of hotheads or dissidents a way to weaken
internal discipline and the authority of elected leaders. As will be
seen he strictly forbid IAM representatives to lead or take part in
such activities. By the time the courts outlawed this tactic as
trespass on private property, most of the big open shop, non-union
corporations had been forced to negotiate with unions chosen by
The Memorial Day Massacre
One notable holdout was the Republic Steel Company. It was
headed by Tom Girdler, the corporate cut-throat who once threatened
to close his plants and retire to his apple orchards rather than
deal with a union.
On Memorial Day, 1937 several thousand striking workers, many
with their wives and children, gathered on an empty stretch of land
near Girdler's mill in South Chicago. As they marched in ragged
formation across the fields while singing "Solidarity
Forever," a police captain bellowed "You dirty
sons-of-bitches, that is as far as you go." The crowd slowed
but a few people continued to edge toward the factory. Some of the
police attacked a group of women, purposely digging clubs into their
breasts. When one of the workers shouted "We've got our
rights" the police yelled "You Red bastards got not
rights." Suddenly and without provocation or warning (as
newsreels later showed) the police exploded into a riot of mayhem
and murder. Men, women, and children alike were targets of police
brutality. Amid screams, vomiting and blood, the police chased
retreating workers, clubbing all within reach with their night
sticks and gun butts. Pistol shots rang out as frightened families
fled in panic. Ten unarmed and defenseless workers were killed and
ninety were wounded.
The following day the Chicago Tribune denounced the
victims as a mob "lusting for blood" and Hollywood moguls
suppressed ghastly newsreels filmed at the scene. Tom Girdler
snarled "There can be no pity. The police were performing a
hazardous duty. what were women doing there?"
The strike was broken and the defeated workers crept back to
the conditions they had protested. Despite attempts to bury the
evidence the films were shown at a dramatic session of the
LaFollette Committee. Girdler's tactics created a backlash of public
revulsion. The NLRB eventually compelled Girdler to bargain
collectively with the union. He did not retire to tend his apple
"Will You Support the Decision of this Convention?"
Reds and Raids
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