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Chapter 27 - Progress in Spite of Leaders

Other strikes come to my mind, strikes of less fire and flame and hence attracting less national notice. The papers proclaimed to stockholders and investors that there was peace, and there was no peace. The garment workers struck and won. In Roosevelt, New Jersey, the workingmen in the fertilizing plant of Williams and Clark struck.

Two strikers were shot dead – shot in the back by the hired gunmen. The guards were arraigned, let out on bail, and reported back on the job. The strikers were assembled in a vacant lot. Guards shot into their midst, firing low and filling the legs of the workers with bullets.

“Mother,” the strikers wrote to me, “come help us with our women.”

I went. “Women,” said I, “see that your husbands use no fire arms or violence no matter what the provocation. Don’t let your husbands scab. Help them stand firm and above all keep them from the saloons. No strike was ever won that did not have the support of the womenfolk.”

The street car men struck along in 1916 in New York City.

I spoke to a mass meeting of carmen’s wives and we certainly had those women fighting like wildcats. They threatened me with jail and I told the police I could raise as much hell in jail as out. The police said if anyone was killed I should be held responsible and hanged.

“If they want to hang me, let them,” I said. “And on the scaffold I will shout ‘Freedom for the working class!’ And when I meet God Almighty I will tell him to damn my accusers and the accusers of the working class, the people who tend and develop and beautify His world.” The last years of my life have seen fewer and fewer strikes. Both employer and employee have become wiser. Both have learned the value of compromise. Both sides have learned that they gain’ when they get together and talk things out in reason rather than standing apart, slinging bricks, angry words and bullets. The railway brotherhoods have learned that lesson. Strikes are costly. Fighting them is costly.

All the average human being asks is something he can call home; a family that is fed and warm; and now and then a little happiness; once in a long while an extravagance.

I am not a suffragist nor do I believe in “careers” for women, especially a “career” in factory and mill where most working women have their “careers.” A great responsibility rests upon woman-the training of the children This is her most beautiful task. If men earned money enough, it would not be necessary for women to neglect their homes and their little ones to add to the family’s income.

The last years of my life have seen long stretches of industrial peace. Occasionally has come war. I regretted that illness kept me from helping the railway shopmen in their brave fight for recognition a few years ago. And I rejoiced to see the formation of a third political party-a Farmer-Labor Party. Too long has labor been subservient to the old betrayers, politicians and crooked labor leaders.

I had passed my ninety-third milestone when I attended the convention of the Farmer-Labor Party and addressed the assembly. “The producer, not the meek, shall inherit the earth,” I told them. “Not today perhaps, nor tomorrow, but over the rim of the years my old eyes can see the coming of another day.”

I was ninety-one years old when I attended the Pan-American Federation of Labor held in Mexico City in 1921. This convention was called to promote a better understanding between the workers of America, Mexico and Central America. Gompers attended as did a number of the American leaders.

I spoke to the convention. I told them that a convention such as this Pan-American Convention of labor was the beginning of a new day, a day when the workers of the world would know no other boundaries other than those between the exploiter and the exploited. Soviet Russia, I said, had dared to challenge the old order, had handed the earth over to those who toiled upon it, and the capitalists of the world were quaking in their scab-made shoes. I told them of the national farce of prohibition in America.

“Prohibition came,” said I, “through a combination of business men who wanted to get more out of their workers, together with a lot of preachers and a group of damn cats who threw fits when they saw a workingman buy a bottle of beer but saw no reason to bristle when they and their women and little children suffered under the curse of low wages and crushing hours of toil.”

“Prohibition,” said I, “has taken away the workingman’s beer, has closed the saloon which was his only club. The rich guzzle as they ever did. Prohibition is not for them. They have their clubs which are sacred and immune from interference. The only club the workingman has is the policeman’s. He has that when he strikes.”

I visited the coal mines of Coalhulia and saw that the life of the miner is the same whereever coal is dug and capital flies its black flag. As I look back over the long, long years, I see that in all movements for the bettering of men’s lives, it is the pioneers who bear most of the suffering. When these movements become established, when they become popular, others reap the benefits. Thus it has been with the labor movement.

The early days of the labor movement produced great men. They differed greatly from the modern labor leader. These early leaders sought no publicity, they were single minded, not interested in their own glory nor their own financial advancement. They did not serve Labor for pay. They made great sacrifices that the future might be a bit brighter for their fellow workers.

I remember John Siney, a miner. Holloran, a miner. James, a miner. Robert Watchorn, the first and most able secretary that the miners of this country ever had. These men gave their lives that others might live. They died in want.

Dick Williams, McLaughlan, Travlick, Roy, Stevens, Wright, Powderly, Martin Irons, Davis, Richards, Griffith, Thomas and Morgan were pioneers worthy of our memory.

Powderly had to get up a subscription to defray the expenses of Griffith’s funeral. Many of these pioneers died without even the gratitude of those whom they served. Their monuments are the good they did.

Many of our modern leaders of labor have wandered far from the thorny path of these early crusaders. Never in the early days of the labor struggle would you find leaders willing and dining with the aristocracy; nor did their wives strut about like diamond-bedecked peacocks; nor were they attended by humiliated, cringing colored servants.

The wives of these early leaders took in washing to make ends meet. Their children picked and sold berries. The women shared the heroism, the privation of their husbands.

In those days labor’s representatives did not sit on velvet chairs in conference with labor’s oppressors; they did not dine in fashionable hotels with the representatives of the top capitalists, such as the Civic Federation. They did not ride in Pullmans nor make trips to Europe.

The rank and file have let their servants become their masters and dictators. The workers have now to fight not alone their exploiters but likewise their own leaders, who often betray them, who sell them out, who put their own advancement ahead of that of the working masses, who make of the rank and file political pawns.

Provision should be made in all union constitutions for the recall of leaders. Big salaries should not be paid. Career hunters should be driven out, as well as leaders who use labor for political ends. These types are menaces to the advancement of labor.

In big strikes I have known, the men lay in prison while the leaders got out on bail and drew high salaries all the time. The leaders did not suffer. They never missed a meal. Some men make a profession out of labor and get rich thereby. John Mitchell left to his heirs a fortune, and his political friends are using the labor movement to gather funds to erect a monument to his memory, to a name that should be forgotten.

In spite of oppressors, in spite of false leaders, in spite of labor’s own lack of understanding of its needs, the cause of the worker continues onward. Slowly his hours are shortened, giving him leisure to read and to think. Slowly his standard of living rises to include some of the good and beautiful things of the world. Slowly the cause of his children becomes the cause of all. His boy is taken from the breaker, his girl from the mill. Slowly those who create the wealth of the world are permitted to share it. The future is in labor’s strong, rough hands.