‘Flying Squadrons in Connecticut’ by Walter Snow from the New Masses. Vol. 12 No. 12. September 18, 1934.

Windham picket line, 1934.
‘Flying Squadrons in Connecticut’ by Walter Snow from the New Masses. Vol. 12 No. 12. September 18, 1934.

WILLIMANTIC, CONN. Nowhere in Connecticut is a more fierce class war being waged than in this “Thread City” of 12,000 population.

With all roads leading into the Willimantic River Valley guarded by sub-machine guns fingered by State police, special deputy sheriffs and Motor Vehicle Department inspectors, ever since Thursday, Sept. 6, wave after wave of flying squadrons have swooped down in continually greater daily attacks. Held up each morning, thousands of militant textile strike pickets nevertheless manage to crash through the outlying battlefronts.

Scene of a bitter, year-long strike of 3,500 organized cotton thread workers in 1925 and of three smaller silk walk-outs in the past fourteen months, this city may soon leap into the front pages as the field of the next massacre.

The mobilized workers, hailing from scores of cities and towns in Connecticut and Rhode Island, promise to repeat their daily charges in ever greater tidal waves until they “pull” the last large textile plant to remain wide open in the two States-the Willimantic Mills of the American Thread Company, key center of the second largest concern in the trade.

This firm, with its Holyoke and Fall River, Mass., plants closed and with its smaller factories in Westerly, R. I., and Macon, Ga., reported virtually paralyzed, has daily flung back more brutal challenges of defiance. It is determined to centralize permanently most of its operations in Willimantic. During the past couple of days, it has increased its force from 1,700 to 2,000. It could employ 4,500.

Ten great mills rearing in threatening red brick, concrete and century-old stone above mouse-gray company houses on lower Main Street roar night and day. The poverty-imprisonment of 70 percent of their workers in those box-like structures or “private” homes owned by mill officials partly explains the reluctance to strike. Dispossessed during the 1925 walk-out, they were forced to live in swamp land tent colonies until snow-drifts piled high against shivering canvas. More than 1,000 scabs then were imported from Lowell and Fall River and hundreds of local “radicals,” as the Catholic and Congregational unionists were termed, were blacklisted.

Today 90 percent of the unwilling “scabs,” hundreds of them veterans of the 1925 struggle, want to walk out. But the Thread City is black with the State police of Connecticut’s Rooseveltian Democratic Governor, the whitehaired liberal Wilbur Cross, former Yale University dean. Armed cars with spotters visit the company houses. The National Guard has not been and probably won’t be called out. The thread magnates are grimly efficient strike-breakers: they know that many guardsmen are pickets.

On Monday, Sept. 10, two companies of National Guards were sent to nearby Danielson to cope with a picket line of 1,500 that attempted to close the shipping department of the virtually struck Powdrell and Alexander curtain plant. They had to be sent there because only eight State cops were on duty, all the rest of the troopers, except scattered handfuls, and all of the Windham County thugs being concentrated in and around Willimantic.

In windows over the six gates and the five unenclosed doors are the blued steel mouths of sub-machine guns, the raw beef cheeks of State and city police and the pasty faces of special deputy sheriffs and company thugs.

Outside surge two shouting lines of Irish, Polish, French-Canuck and Yankee pickets. Only on Thursday, Sept. 6, were the out-o-f-town flying squadrons almost completely repulsed. Hundreds of mobilized pickets were driven back on Friday, but some 1,500 got through, the majority of them hours late for the 7 a.m. whistle. They joined 600 local strikers, who on Sept. 5 had completely shut down the affiliated Kobe Silk and Corn Spining plants.

This first outside wave to enter the town tramped the streets all day and night in a savage downpour. They kept most of the “loyal employes” from going out to lunch.

Nearly 1,000 invading pickets were routed on Monday, Sept. 10 on the four main highways leading to the city, but more than 2,000 finally surged through. The first repulsement, Thursday’s, was due to the vehicle inspectors, who discovered a never-before enforced State law barring passengers from riding in trucks. Since then only potato trucks enter the town and they rumble over bumpy dirt roads until lifted burlap sacks eventually disclose the prone bodies of pickets.

It is impossible to enter Willimantic nowadays with a single cracked headlight glass or a slightly dim bulb even at high noon. A sixth person cannot ride in a five-passenger car. And a partially worn tire likewise means a summons. When the motorcade of which I was a member was halted at Sherman’s Corner, seven miles north of Willimantic on the Putnam-Providence road, an hour elapsed before half of the flivvers got through and the buses were not tested until later. “Offenders” had to turn back: unless they wished to walk.

“We’ll start at 3 a.m. tomorrow,” murmured a Putnam striker, who had participated in an earlier walk-out led by the National Textile Workers. “Gotta wise these U.T.W. officers up to a few things.”

“I hope they bring 4,000 into town,” a “loyal” swift spooler, with whom I worked before the 1925 strike, later told me. “This overtime won’t last. For months before Labor Day I never averaged more than 15 hours a week, making just $6 or $7, and operating a machine and a half, thirty spindles. Years ago I could sometimes earn $30 on one machine.”

The New Masses was the continuation of Workers Monthly which began publishing in 1924 as a merger of the ‘Liberator’, the Trade Union Educational League magazine ‘Labor Herald’, and Friends of Soviet Russia’s monthly ‘Soviet Russia Pictorial’ as an explicitly Communist Party publication, but drawing in a wide range of contributors and sympathizers. In 1927 Workers Monthly ceased and The New Masses began. A major left cultural magazine of the late 1920s and early 1940s, the early editors of The New Masses included Hugo Gellert, John F. Sloan, Max Eastman, Mike Gold, and Joseph Freeman. Writers included William Carlos Williams, Theodore Dreiser, John Dos Passos, Upton Sinclair, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Dorothy Parker, Dorothy Day, John Breecher, Langston Hughes, Eugene O’Neill, Rex Stout and Ernest Hemingway. Artists included Hugo Gellert, Stuart Davis, Boardman Robinson, Wanda Gag, William Gropper and Otto Soglow. Over time, the New Masses became narrower politically and the articles more commentary than comment. However, particularly in it first years, New Masses was the epitome of the era’s finest revolutionary cultural and artistic traditions.

PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/new-masses/1934/v12n12-sep-18-1934-NM.pdf

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