‘Building the United Front in Ford-Controlled Dearborn’ by Max Salzman from The Communist. Vol. 12 No. 8. August, 1933.

1932 Dearborn Hunger March.

Communist Party Midwest organizer Max Salzman with a detailed report on the Party’s activity in the company town of Dearborn, Michigan right outside of Detroit, home to Ford’s massive Rouge factory complex. Written in the period of the Hunger Marches and the March, 1932 massacre of five workers in Dearborn by Henry Ford’s police and goons.

‘Building the United Front in Ford-Controlled Dearborn’ by Max Salzman from The Communist. Vol. 12 No. 8. August, 1933.

The experiences which our Party had in the development of a broad mass movement in the Ford-controlled city of Dearborn has great lessons for the whole Party. It is an example of how through proper Bolshevik work we can break through the most vicious terror and involve broad masses in struggle around elementary demands.

At the start of our work, we made an analysis of the situation in the city. We found that the system of cash payment for relief work, established in an effort to ward off the Ford Hunger March, would be discontinued. The city was bankrupt and was at this time considering placing an additional tax in order to raise $100,000 for relief. However, the Ford Motor Company refused to allow this tax to go through and loaned the city the money.

Diego Rivera’s ‘Detroit Industry’

Dearborn is a town of 50,000. Besides Ford, the only other large plant is Graham Paige which employs about 700 men. Close to 10,000 Dearborn workers had worked in the Ford plant. At the present time about 6,000 are unemployed.

Using the bank closings on February 13th as an excuse, the city instituted a commissary store relief system which became particularly obnoxious to the workers because of the small amount and rotten quality of the food and distance they traveled for it.

Before we developed our work openly, we had a special meeting of our Party comrades in Dearborn at which we discussed the situation and where the comrades were convinced of the necessity for the development of a movement to break through the terror. Our first step in this direction was taken in connection with the March 4th demonstration. The Ford Motor Company, fearing a new march on the Ford plant on March 7th, organized through its agents a “good will” parade toward the Ford plant on that day. This movement consisted of a campaign to collect signatures praising Henry Ford, stating that the workers were receiving $5.00 a day—which was not true—and that he had done everything possible for the workers in Dearborn. When our March 4th demonstration became known, the Ford agents organized their parade and mass meeting for the same day in order to counteract our movement. Workers were asked to sign the petitions. The collectors stated: “We know what the petition says is not true, but if you sign it you will get a job from Ford.”

On February 26th, we held a conference with 20 organizations to prepare the March 4th demonstration. The carrying through of this demonstration was of great political importance not only because it was a part of the nation-wide demonstrations but because its chief function was to combat and defeat the pro- Ford movement. A permit was granted only 10 minutes before the demonstration was to open. Three hundred deputies were sworn in—the police force was mobilized—all with the aim to terrorize the workers in attendance. But the determination of the workers to stick and fight if necessary kept the meeting intact. The meeting took place within City Hall Park for the first time in the history of Dearborn. The political significance of the meeting had repercussions throughout the city. It undermined the basis of the pro-Ford parade and instead of the 7000 marchers they expected, there were exactly 346 people in their line of march. An essential factor which enabled us to rally still broader masses was that in drawing up the demands we consulted the workers themselves.

We proceeded to broaden out our conference around the main issues, which were: The abolishment of the commissary store; the fight for cash relief; the end of police terror; and the fight for civil rights for the workers.

Here it is necessary to mention that before our present movement began a systematic reign of terror had been conducted against the workers of this city. Even if only two workers stopped on the street, they were soon approached by police or detectives and told to keep on moving. Meetings of organizations not directly controlled by Ford were prevented from taking place. Immigration Department raids were organized at two and three o’clock in the morning. Hundreds of workers were arrested, although later almost all of them were released. And, to climax this, when the workers went to get their pay for the last week that they worked for cash, each of them was questioned and intimidated by immigration officials.

Meanwhile the city instituted what it called the “One Man Grand Jury” investigation, in which every person receiving relief was called before a judge, threatened, terrorized, and if he had anything that could be turned into cash, such as a piano, a ring, an insurance policy, he was ordered to do so immediately and turn the money over to the city on threat of being sent to jail. In these “investigations” almost every worker was asked if he was a member of the Communist Party, the Unemployed Council or the Dearborn Conference of Labor and Fraternal Organizations.

Under these circumstances, we called an open conference to which we invited all workers. Meanwhile, delegations had gone to the City Hall to present a program for relief, and had come in conflict with the special state welfare representative who had been given dictatorial powers in the local welfare station. At this broad conference, which was held in a public school (the first workers’ meeting held in a public school since the March 7th, 1932 Hunger March) over 400 workers were present. Our program was presented and one of the City Council members, Bovill, was given the floor. He made a speech in which he attempted to excuse the city relief policy, tried to pacify the workers in their protest against the terror of the Immigration officials and attempted to undermine our leadership in the movement by stating, “beware of those agitators who tell you to tear up the city streets, throw bricks and tear down the City Hall.”

In our answer to Bovill, we emphasized that what we were concerned with was not listening to more promises but, first, establishing a system of adequate cash relief; second, that this relief had to come from the Ford Motor Company; third, that the terror against the Ford workers had to be stopped; fourth, that the commissary store had to be abolished; fifth, that the state welfare representative had to be removed, and the distribution of relief to be placed in the hands of the unemployed; and sixth, that our movement was not interested in tearing down the City Hall, but on the contrary, was interested in driving out the agents of the Ford Motor Company and replacing them with representatives of the workers.

Immediately following this meeting, we established contacts which served as a base for a broader united front movement than we had developed up to this time. The meeting elected a committee of 25 and made the following decisions: That the committee meet with the welfare representative. If it failed to get satisfaction from him, it was to meet with the City Council, and then go to Lansing, the state capital.

Our Party felt it necessary to support this movement to the state capital, in order to bring the struggles of the workers in Dearborn to the attention of the workers throughout the state, and to utilize this action to shatter the illusions of many workers who felt they would receive better conditions as a result of this action.

1932 Dearborn Hunger March.

The Ford agents made every effort to keep the delegation from going to Lansing. The chairman of our conference was brought before the Grand Jury on Tuesday and an attempt was made to subpoena the writer to the Grand Jury on Wednesday, the day we were to go to Lansing. We avoided service of the subpoena on that day. The next morning the main arteries of the city were filled with motorcycle police who had instructions to head us off. We had expected this and found a way to get through in spite of it.

In the Attorney General’s office we recited a list of cases of the denial of our civil rights, illegal raids, searches and intimidations, and we were demagogically told: “Your complaints are justified. Your rights are being violated. But what can we do about it! Dearborn is controlled by Ford.”

When we raised the point that Ford was responsible for relief for the unemployed, we were told that Ford was morally responsible. We answered that we would make it our job to make him actually responsible for unemployment relief in Dearborn.

We went to the office of the state welfare department and, in an attempt to appease the anger of the delegation, the state officials told us that the actions of the local state welfare representative were wrong. They said that Dearborn had been allowed up to now an average of $36 a month for a family of five. We knew from our own experiences that the average family of five received less than $15 per month. ‘The local state welfare representative had informed us that the maximum a single unemployed worker was allowed was $8 per month. We were informed by the state welfare department that this was untrue and the amount was a local matter to be settled on the basis of local conditions.

On the basis of our information we called two mass meetings on our return, in different sections of the city. Two thousand five hundred workers attended these meetings. Here we gave a report and still further consolidated our position in the fight against Ford.

In the process of this struggle, we forced the city to establish a system of relief for the single men. Three relief kitchens were opened, where over 1,200 single men were fed. The food in these kitchens was objectionable and monotonous. We organized a pro- test movement among the single men around this and out of the 1,200 receiving relief, 600 met and became directly part of our movement, electing committees in each of the kitchens.

At this time the city began to take additional steps to intimidate the movement. Workers were arrested for distributing leaflets, although there is no law against this in Dearborn, and single men so arrested were refused relief. ‘The schools which had been given to us under the pressure of the masses were withdrawn by order of the Ford-controlled Safety Commission, which is the real power in the city. Workers complaining about food were threatened and in one case a worker was charged with petty larceny because he found a cockroach in his food and carried it out on a spoon.

When the workers’ committees went to the City Hall to demand the release of those arrested, they were told that the city was going to make an example and keep them off the welfare list.

By this time the influence of our actions began to spread into the ranks of other organizations. When our conference proposed to send a second, but this time a smaller, delegation to Lansing, we were approached by other organizations asking if it would be agree- able to us for them to elect delegates to go along. The result was that instead of having five delegates as originally decided, there were 27, representing eight additional organizations, including the Dearborn local of the Socialist Party and a number of organizations which in the past had been tied up with the Democratic and Republican machines. Our comrade was elected with only one opposing vote as spokesman of the delegation.

Our experiences in Lansing this time were still more important. First, the Governor refused to see the delegation, even though most of them had voted Democratic in the last elections. This refusal created strong resentment when reported to our city, causing a split in the 16th Congressional District Democratic Club. The second question, the violation of our civil rights, was so strongly presented that it compelled the Attorney General to make a statement to the effect that it required immediate action and, if necessary, the removal of the city officials for violation of the state constitution. Needless to say no steps in this direction were taken in the months that have passed since that time.

While all this activity was going on, we were proceeding with preparations for the Ford Hunger March, and a demand for a permit for the march was one of the issues raised by the delegation to Lansing. The whole development of this movement created a very favorable base for the Hunger March and the struggle for the permit became an additional means of rallying new sections of workers. It became so effective, that at a secret meeting of the City Council it was decided to demand of the Safety Commission, another Ford-appointed body, that the permit be granted. But the Ford Motor Company refused the permit and prepared to re- peat the murderous attack of March 7th, 1932.

We don’t propose to give an analysis of the Ford Hunger March here, except to enumerate a few points. A permit for the march was granted by the Detroit police. Our committee worked out a strategy that was aimed at avoiding a battle under unfavorable circumstances. We had decided that in case a permit in Dear- born was refused again at the last minute, and the forces of the police were too strong for us to break through, we would camp at the Dearborn city line and utilize this situation to rally still further masses of workers. This strategy caught the police unawares and served as a means to build new support for our movement, not only in Dearborn but throughout Detroit and surrounding towns. And when it became apparent at 11 o’clock that night that the police Were preparing a surprise attack, and our committee organized an orderly militant retreat, this increased the confidence of the masses in our movement and gave them faith in our leadership. The contrast between the situation at this time and the situation at the time of the Hunger March of March 7th, 1932 is:

After the first Hunger March no two workers could gather on the streets of Dearborn. The day after the June 5th, 1933 march, the writer was speaking to 100 workers who gathered around him on the street and two police came up and drove by without even asking questions. It was this new situation that created among the workers a new and determined fighting spirit which also helped to develop and intensify a broader united front movement.

As a result of the broad conference and the other activities, the basis was created for a united front movement in the city elections. An election program has been unanimously adopted and has won the support of additional organizations. Our comrade has been endorsed as the candidate for Mayor.

It is important at this point to mention the role of the Socialist Party in this situation. The Socialist Party during this period made no effort to carry on any open work. Even its Party meetings were held out of the city, in Detroit. But when we began to develop the movement, it was inevitable that we should influence the honest elements in the Socialist Party who demanded and were successful in forcing the Socialist local in Dearborn to participate in the United Front with us, against the decision of the Wayne County Central Committee of the Socialist Party. From this moment on, the leaders of the Socialist Party began systematically to work for a break in the united front. One of them stated that if the united front in Dearborn was successful, it would mean a victory for the Communists and a defeat for the Socialist Party. And because of this the leaders pulled the Socialist Party out of the united front without even a vote of the membership and declared their indorsement of Bovill (the councilman who had defended the city administration controlled by Ford) as candidate for Mayor.

This withdrawal of the Socialist Party from the united front, weakened seriously its prestige, not only among the non-Party workers, but also among the majority of its own members.

While this united front movement which stirs the masses into action is built, it is necessary for us to guard very carefully against making serious blunders. Because the movement is naturally still so brittle, any serious error now would serve as an opening to smash the movement. ‘The Ford Company agents are busy working overtime to do this. They are carrying on house-to-house work telling workers that they will never get jobs if they identify them- selves with our movement, and are up to their old political tricks of giving the workers beer and even jobs for two or three weeks in the Ford plant to retard development of the anti-Ford movement.

Here we must say that we have not been sufficiently determined in the building of the Party, although there has been a considerable increase in Party members since the movement began. We were successful, however, in bringing forward and developing the Auto Workers Union as the leader of this mass movement. We now have three locals of the union with public headquarters in the city and two women’s auxiliaries, resulting in the strengthening of our work, thus creating a broader basis for our fight in the shop.

One outstanding lesson is clear for this movement. In situations such as exist in Dearborn, a one-company-controlled town, where the fiercest terror exists, it was possible for us to break through by establishing first a united front on one issue, then linking this up with other issues that developed until we established an anti-Ford political front in the broad united front for the city election.

The further development of this movement depends on our future activity. Our main task at this moment is the penetration of the Ford plant, utilizing the favorable base created by the movement outside of the shop to build additional groups inside, establishing the Auto Workers Union as the leader of the economic struggles of the workers within the plant.

Secondly, to carefully continue our work around every small issue which arises among the workers in the city.

Thirdly, to be alert to every move of the Ford agents who, under the guise of being anti-Ford, attempt to undermine the mass base of our movement, and capture its leadership.

Fourthly, to prepare the Party and non-Party workers for the steps now being planned by the Ford Company to smash this movement by the unleashing of a vicious and brutal terror; preparations for which have already been made in the Ford financing of the revival of the Ku Klux Klan and the organization of terror gangs to kidnap and beat up, and if necessary murder, leaders of the workers. In this connection the immediate broadening of our defense activities to protect our halls and leaders is necessary.

Fifthly, we must fight against the policy of the Ford Company to move away from Dearborn—a policy based on, firstly, getting away from his responsibility for feeding the unemployed Ford workers, and his fear of the rising revolutionary movement and, secondly, to find new sources of cheap labor power.

Such a movement cannot seriously be developed without a simultaneous development of local leading forces from among the workers, who must be the spokesmen and leaders of the movement.

The further success of our movement depends especially on the extent to which we consciously build the Party, drawing in new elements and developing a local leadership capable of leading the decisive mass battles which stand before us.

There were a number of journals with this name in the history of the movement. This ‘The Communist’ was the main theoretical journal of the Communist Party from 1927 until 1944. Its origins lie with the folding of The Liberator, Soviet Russia Pictorial, and Labor Herald together into Workers Monthly as the new unified Communist Party’s official cultural and discussion magazine in November, 1924. Workers Monthly became The Communist in March, 1927 and was also published monthly. The Communist contains the most thorough archive of the Communist Party’s positions and thinking during its run. The New Masses became the main cultural vehicle for the CP and the Communist, though it began with with more vibrancy and discussion, became increasingly an organ of Comintern and CP program. Over its run the tagline went from “A Theoretical Magazine for the Discussion of Revolutionary Problems” to “A Magazine of the Theory and Practice of Marxism-Leninism” to “A Marxist Magazine Devoted to Advancement of Democratic Thought and Action.” The aesthetic of the journal also changed dramatically over its years. Editors included Earl Browder, Alex Bittelman, Max Bedacht, and Bertram D. Wolfe.

PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/communist/v12n08-aug-1933-communist.pdf

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