‘About Picket Lines’ from The Party Organizer (Communist Party USA Central Committee). Vol. 4 Nos. 7. August, 1931.
The present coal miners’ strike teaches us many lessons about mass picket lines. The strike began by throwing a mass picket line at one of the Carnegie Coal Co. mines in Avela (see article by Frank Borich in this issue about preparations for the strike.) The strike was spread by massing the striking miners into picket lines and marching them from mine to mine.
Mass picketing, as against few paid pickets, is one of the basic strike tactics of revolutionary unions which has as its purpose the involving of all strikers into active participation in the strike, and is further extended to include in its ranks the wives and children of miners as well as the unemployed miners.
A well-functioning, organized and properly led picket line is indispensable to the proper conduct and winning of any strike. During the early phase of the strike, while enthusiasm runs high, daily mass picket lines are mobilized with little effort or organization. This generally leads to the underestimation of the need for organizing the picket line with the result that after a few weeks the picket line dwindles, loses its enthusiasm and firmness and often crumbles before an attack or in face of other difficulties (shortage of relief, decline of tempo of strike, police terror, etc.)
Importance of Organization
The picket line, like every other part of strike machinery, requires utmost organizational attention. Enthusiasm and spontaneity must supplement organization of the picket line and not take its place. On the other hand, proper organization will fully utilize, sustain and direct the enthusiasm and the militancy of the strikers.
During the course of this strike we witnessed picket lines running into thousands and marching tens of miles from the early hours of the morning. However, after the terror increased and the strike received its first break and relief became inadequate, the picket lines dwindled.
The leading committee of the strike took the following steps to consolidate the picket lines:
1. The strikers were registered and given activity cards.
Each morning the cards were punched on the picket line and only those strikers who showed picket activity were given relief.
2. Strikers were organized into squads of 10-15 and 20 with a captain and assistant who were responsible to mobilize their squads each morning for picket duty unless assigned for gathering relief or other special work. After the gathering of pickets was addressed by the picket line leader the squad captains were given instructions and the squads were called into formation one by one and marched off or loaded into trucks for picket duty.
With the organization of these smaller units the picket lines became firmer, more mobile and more militant. Singing and shouting of slogans was more successful, spirit higher and greater initiative was developed.
The selection of hundreds of captains and assistants for responsibility for their squads and the conduct of these squads resulted in the creation of a larger group of active leaders whose potentialities for leadership were revealed and developed for the first time.
The Party Organizer was the internal bulletin of the Communist Party published by its Central Committee beginning in 1927. First published irregularly, than bi-monthly, and then monthly, the Organizer was primarily meant for the Party’s unit, district, and shop organizers. The Organizer offers a much different view of the CP than the Daily Worker, including a much higher proportion of women writers than almost any other CP publication. Its pages are often full of the mundane problems of Party organizing, complaints about resources, debates over policy and personalities, as well as official numbers and information on Party campaigns, locals, organizations, and periodicals making the Party Organizer an important resource for the study and understanding of the Party in its most important years.
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