‘No Compromise-No Sellout!’ by Amy Schechter from Labor Unity. Vol. 2 No. 9. October, 1928.
The Left Wing New Bedford Textile Workers Union Fights The A.F. of L. Attempt to Sell Out the Textile Strike
THE clash between the labor traitors and the militant left wing appears in its sharpest and most dramatic form in the struggle of the New Bedford Textile Workers Union to halt the sellout that the United Textile Workers officials are trying to put across. After weeks of dickering with the mill- owners behind closed doors, today the Batty-Binns-Riviere combination running the United Textile Workers Union in New Bedford, with McMahon’s blessing, are openly bending every effort to rush through a strike sellout at Cotton Manufacturers’ Association orders. Throwing aside all pretenses, the bureaucrats of the Textile Council are openly taking their proper place among the hirelings of the bosses, lining up side by side with the police, press, Judges and businessmen “public” in the millowners’ strike-breaking drive.
Weeks ago for the majority of the New Bedford millowners it became imperative to end the strike. The amount of work that could be given out to mills in Fall River and other towns cannot resolve a situation tying up over half the spindles in the country’s fine cotton goods industry. The smaller mills were going under. Forced to cancel all orders as the strikers continued to show a solid front month after” month, liquidation or removal was indicated for a number of the smaller millmen.
Political considerations also made for strike settlement. Senator William Butler, Chairman of the National Committee of the Republican Party has the largest mill interests in New Bedford; and with election time drawing near it was not particularly healthy for the Republicans to have an acute strike situation going on where he could be seen to be largely responsible. Above all, the millowners wanted to hasten settlement before Batty had so completely lost prestige with the strikers and left wing influence reached such a point that he would no longer be able to deliver the goods when the time for sellout came.
From the beginning the manufacturers feared the leftward swing of the strikers. A. Talmage, New Bedford textile expert and correspondent for the national textile press, remarkably keen in his analysis of the textile situation, wrote as far back as last July:
“There is no question of the influence of these radical leaders over their followers while the strike is on. Some have been wondering how long it would take for these followers to be weaned away from their leaders, even if the manufacturers and Textile Council should come to an agreement…
“To put it more boldly still, both the conservative union leaders and the manufacturers realize now that due to the presence of such active and well organized radical leadership, the situation is getting more out of control with each successive week of idleness. . .
“If the strike continues for any considerable period, they can very well visualize a situation in which it will be useless for the millmen and the Textile Council to come to any agreement because of inability to get the bulk of operatives to accept the terms agreed upon…”
Officially the millowners have tried to ignore the existence of the New Bedford Textile Workers Union. Every time the Massachusetts State Board of Arbitration and Conciliation has come into the field to at- tempt strike settlement the T.M.C. leaders have been barred from the hearings. But actually, the bosses have been forced to acknowledge the T.M.C. as the leading factor in the situation, not only determining the course of its own members and the strikers still unorganised, but of Batty’s skilled craftsman membership as well, many of whom have left Batty and joined the T.M.C. ranks.
When the T.M.C. mass picketed the mills, Batty’s members overcame his violent objections, and forced him to make a gesture in the direction of mass picketing. When the T.M.C. threw a line of thousands round the Kilburn Mill where scabs were reported to be entering by night and maintained it for 36 hours, Batty’s members insisted on picketing alongside the T.M.C. despite Batty’s frantic pleadings with them to obey the police and go home to bed. When Batty referred arbitration on the 10% cut to his locals, in August, urging them to accept, his membership followed the lead of the T.M.C. which denounced arbitration as a sellout, unanimously voting it down, even the reserved British millworkers who form such a large part of his membership, participating in a rousing anti- arbitration demonstration at the polling places.
At the end of July, when the terror tactics instituted to break the solid strike front failed to accomplish their purpose — when mass arrests, black-jacking, clubbing on the line and in jail, savage sentences, deportation threats failed to drive the strikers back into the mills — the millowners turned to class collaboration tactics, seeking the aid of the U.T.W. bureaucrats to trick the strikers back into the mills. The yellow socialists who have been thronging round the Textile Council all through the strike, hoping to gain some prestige for their moribund organization by helping the labor fakers fight the militants and carry on a nice respectable strike endorsed by the Nation and all the liberals, gladly did their bit for the millowners. A lengthy appeal for class collaboration and “efficiency” in industry, appeared in the press, signed by Frank Manning, one of the leading Socialist lights, acting as “confidential secretary” to the council throughout the strike, and the U.T.W. officials.
Large doses of class collaboration propaganda were administered at Council meetings, and finally Batty openly submitted the so-called “Frieder” socialisation plan to the Manufacturers’ Association through the Citizens Mediation Committee. Previously he had gone to Governor Fuller, murderer of Sacco and Vanzetti, for aid in getting a hearing for the scheme.
Strict silence has been maintained regarding the details of the plan till the present moment by all parties concerned in putting across the sellout. Batty ‘s own members, demanding information from their officials have been refused.
The New Bedford Textile Workers Union, however, knew what the Frieder Plan meant and broad; cast its knowledge among the workers. Leonard P. Frieder, author of the Plan, is manager and vice-president of the National Spun Silk Company in New Bedford, and has spent years applying speedup to the textile industry. In his New Bedford mill weavers run 12 looms. In place of the 4 to 6 in other local silk mills, vicious speedup prevails throughout the plant, and pay is far below the average for the same work in other mills. The mill is 100% open shop, all suspected of union affiliation being fired.
The union launched a vigorous attack on the Plan, and on Batty’s attempt to sellout the strike on a basis which would mean a greater wage-cut than the 10% against which the millworkers had struck, and called upon the strikers to fight it to a finish.
The millowners replied by a violent campaign of vilification against the union. Preachers of all denominations exhorted the strikers to follow their “authorized leaders.” The Rotarians got on the job, a speaker declaring at their meeting that “taking up an alleyway and beating into insensibility was the best way of dealing with these” agitators. “Mudlarks,” “ragtag and bobtail,” “scum of the earth,” spluttered the Mercury, leading local millowners’ paper. The Evening Standard said:
“It is hardly necessary to suggest to the Textile Council that the vaporings of these radical agitators should be ignored. The community despises and distrusts them, and the authorized union leaders, in their handling of the situation, should proceed without reference to disturbers who have no regard to the welfare of the city…the cry of sellout is born of a desire to prevent a settlement of the strike…It is malicious and without foundation, and the public, we are certain, generally realizes the fact and looks to the Textile Council for such leadership as will insure a careful consideration of all proposals aimed at bringing the struggle to an end…”
On the night of September 7th, the Manufacturers Association held the first official meeting with Batty to discuss settlement on a speedup basis. The N.B.T.W.U. threw a picket line around the New Bedford Hotel where the conference was held. Scores of Batty s members gathered around, some participating, some sympathetically watching the demonstration.
The following day the marching feet of 20,000 strikers hammered out the “No Sellout—No Compromise,” slogan of the T.M.C. The great parade with its outpouring of enthusiasm, and its sure mass strength, was a sign of leftwing grip on the strike the millowners could not ignore any more than the A.F. of L. bankruptcy shown in the limp little craft-divided procession of Batty forces — well under a thousand — held the same day.
Everything indicated the need for rushing through the sellout, if Batty was to have anything to sell, or at least could still be used effectively to split the strikers’ ranks. To make the demand for the “Frieder Plan” appear a concession to the strikers, and give Batty a chance to make a belated gesture of militancy which might regain him the confidence of his members, the millowners began a shadow boxing display, demanding the 10% cut, in addition to the speedup, which Batty “unconditionally refused.” This shadow-boxing still continues, with the demand reduced to 5%, as this goes to press.
If the strike resistance is to continue despite the sellout, labor must back up the struggle with relief and defense. Next month 500 of the most militant T.M.C. members and all the organisers will be up for trial in the Superior Court in New Bedford. Massachusetts justice will do everything in its power to railroad at least the leaders and picket captains and strike committee members to prison.
A strong protest must be made by the whole working class of the country if the millworkers fighting to build a strong union in their industry are to be saved from serving the vicious sentences meted out by the millowners’ judge. With the left wing workers in other industries supporting the strike, the isolation into which the millowners will force the strikers after the sellout will be offset, and the strike will be won.
In 1924 Labor Herald was folded into Workers Monthly, an explicitly Party organ and in 1927 ‘Labor Unity’ became the organ of a now CP dominated TUEL. In 1929 and the turn towards Red Unions in the Third Period, TUEL was wound up and replaced by the Trade Union Unity League, a section of the Red International of Labor Unions (Profitern) and continued to publish Labor Unity until 1935. Labor Herald remains an important labor-orientated journal by revolutionaries in US left history and would be referenced by activists, along with TUEL, along after its heyday.
Link to a PDF: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/labor-unity/v2n09-w28-oct-1928-TUUL-labor-unity.pdf