‘The Street Car Strike at Columbus, Ohio’ by Eber F. Heston from the International Socialist Review. Vol. 11 No. 3. September, 1910.

Many Midwestern cities and towns got their first taste of militant unionism during strikes of streetcar workers between 1890 and 1920. Here is a participant’s report on the three-month long Columbus, Ohio Amalgamated Association of Street and Electric Railway Employees strike. Car drivers worked for 19–20 cents an hour, 60–65 hours per week, for years without a day off. Beginning in July 24, 1910, scabs (paid twice the rate of striking workers), the National Guard, mass arrests, and at least one strikers’ death over months of conflict. The strike ended the month following this article in defeat on October 18th.

‘The Street Car Strike at Columbus, Ohio’ by Eber F. Heston from the International Socialist Review. Vol. 11 No. 3. September, 1910.

AFTER a brief struggle of a week’s duration against the intolerable and slavish conditions prevailing in connection with their relations with the Columbus Railway & Light Co., the employees, who had recently organized Local 538 of the A.A. of S. & E.R.E. of A., came to an agreement on May 4th, 1910, with the company, whereby, among other concessions granted, there was to be no discrimination between employees because of membership in any union, But the agreement was no sooner made, than the company immediately began to seek ways and means of breaking it and disrupting the union. Among other things, they began to convert Milo Barns into what is now popularly known as Ft. Stewart in honor (?) of General Manager Stewart. They began to discriminate in. the treatment of the men ruthlessly discharging many without cause, sending thugs, thieves, spies and strong-arm-men among them to browbeat and intimidate them, hoping thereby to disrupt the union. Although the men were beaten unmercifully by these thugs, insulted by detectives and mistreated by the officials of the company, they hung together valiantly and did everything possible to strengthen their position before the public.

On June 20th, the carmen charged discrimination against the union men on the part of the company, but the company, however, does nothing but deny the contentions of the men, making false statements in order to fortify its position, whereupon, the men unanimously vote to strike leaving the time for it to go into effect with the executive board.

‘Gatling Gun Protection for the Scabs’

On the 22nd of June, the boys offered to arbitrate their differences but the company refused. About this time the big business interests of the city were about to hold an industrial exposition. Some three hundred of them petitioned the boys to refrain from putting the strike into effect until after the exposition. The minority maintained that the men should strike at once regardless of these interests, stating that no matter what they may say for or against Manager Stewart, these business men were his natural friends; but, that since groups of men follow their material interests, that, if the strike was put into effect at once, they seeing their own interests in jeopardy, would certainly be more inclined to bring pressure to bear upon Stewart then, than later, The majority desired to defer action in order to capture public sentiment. But the same business interests represented by the Chamber of Commerce gave the State Board of Arbitration formal notice of a strike pending, whereupon the board, an obedient tool of capitalistic interests, asserts its power to probe the situation and began June 24th, for the first time in its history, a compulsory hearing.

This hearing, in my opinion, was a farce pure and simple and was only beneficial, in that it afforded a means of placing the carmen’s wrongs before the people. The board, itself, allowed evidence to be given and construed in such a way that black appeared white and white, black in favor of the company, yet while this was the case, enough truth came to the ears of the public to overwhelmingly convict the company of discrimination and many other abuses against the union men. The board, with the aid of the company’s lawyers endeavored to get each of the men, by means of leading questions and other unfair methods, to construe all relations with the company, its officials, agents and so forth, as such, that the public might be lead to believe that there was no intimidation on the part of the company with the individual, personally, who was being questioned.

In one instance one man admitted no intimidation to himself, personally, when in fact he had been nearly killed by one of the company’s thugs. One witness objected to these methods in questioning witnesses and was given to understand that those methods were perfectly proper and the witness left the stand with the absolute knowledge that the board was but a tool of the corporation interests. During the hearing, the Railway & Light Company admits the importation of strike breakers but the hearing goes merrily on, enabling the company to train men for breaking the proposed strike.

‘Some One threw Beans and Rice’

On July 11th the carmen appealed to Gov. Harmon to invoke the law. Nothing doing. On July 20th the hearing was stopped in hopes of a peace conference, but it seems to be a play on the part of the company for more time, as on the 22nd the company refuses to renew negotiations.

On July 23rd a mass meeting was called in which the men voted to go on strike at 4 A.M.

On July 25th, 17 out of 122 cars were operated with automobile protection. There was some rioting in which sixty-one arrests were made. At this time the arbitration board rendered its decision which found discrimination on the part of the company, but it clothed the findings in such language that the company may be able to secure a more or less victory based upon this decision. It was, of course, absolutely impossible for this board to have rendered a decision showing no discrimination, for in face of the overwhelming evidence, it would defeat the purpose of the board, viz. to deceive the carmen and the public as to its real objects and aims in protecting capital from the onward march of the labor movement.

July 26th finds the rioting increasing and non-union men firing into the crowds inciting violence in order to secure the militia and on the next day Mayor Marshall, a pretended friend of the carmen when appealing for their votes but now a willing tool of corporation interests, called, in obedience to their demands, on the sheriffs for assistance, also ordering troops. All cars were ordered stopped by his orders for a day and a half awaiting the arrival and distribution of troops and July 29th at 4:30 P.M. cars again were started protected at each street corner with troops. The rioting, however, continued and the next day reinforcements composed of two regiments were ordered to Columbus.

On Sunday July 31st, there was held a huge mass meeting on the steps of the State Capitol Building, under the auspices of the Central Labor Federation. At this meeting, addresses were made by the National Organizer, Fred Fay, of the carmen’s union, Attorney Bope, counsel for the union, James Henderson, a Socialist speaker, Secretary Savage of the State organization of the U.M.W.A. and others. This meeting was a success, and was attended with no violence.

On August 1st, Governor Harmon brought a proposition to the men from the company, stating that the company was willing to make terms with the men provided they throw away their buttons, the emblem of their membership in a union, Business Agent Miller, for the men, replied that this would never be done, whereupon, Governor Harmon remarked, “Why! you are farther apart than I thought you were,” thus disclosing his interests in the welfare of the corporation, There will be many Harmon buttons thrown away this fall, judging from the socialist sentiment developing among the boys.

On August 2nd, the Chamber of Commerce, that august body, that union of business men which has for one of its main objects the exploitation of labor, began to seek a means of peace. It is a notable fact that in one of the meetings that the Mayor was severely criticised for the manner in which he was controlling the situation and that he had remarked in the course of an address before that body, that he had risked his life in order to save the property of Columbus Railway & Light Co. While at the same time to the union leaders, he appeared as their friend in the controversy.

Cyrus Huling of this body, which had been so anxious for the strike to be deferred until after the exposition, offered a resolution demanding that the city be ruled with an iron hand. Rev. Washington Gladden, who would have labor believe that he is labor’s friend, seconded this resolution. He who preaches a sermon on the Prince of Peace, advocated the iron rule of a Czar. What does this rule mean? It means that labor must be crushed by Russian tactics. It means that as Gen. Speaks, one of the officers in command, interprets it, that a citizen must be arrested on the slightest pretext, innocent or otherwise. It means that if your wife should forget herself to the extent of calling a scab, a scab, she is subject to arrest. Dr. Gladden is one of those, who are always active in negotiating peace, but always trying to get the men to concede something. It is time that we, as laborers, know this man as he really is, a tool of the corporation interests. Dr. W.O. Thompson, President of the O.S.U., one of the chief negotiators for a settlement of the last strike, declared in a sermon given at the Broad St. M.E. Church, that the people should hold themselves in conformity with the constituted authorities and held that sentiment and passion or acts begotten by them becloud and distort judgment and render it of little value. When we remember this man, acting with Dr. Glidden in the settlement of our last strike, using the influence of his official position, as the head of one of the largest institutions of learning in the land, defending the iron rule instigated and made necessary by the vested interests who rob labor of the major portion of labor’s creation, we cannot but feel that there must be some truth in the Socialist contention that our colleges are subsidized and that the sources of information are no longer dependable. May the social revolution which is in the process of formation drive such useless appendages to society to the wall, is the wish of all liberty loving citizens.

Workers of Columbus, it is now up to you to decide what you shall do with your property commonly known as the Columbus Railway & Light Company. Legally, it is true, that certain wealthy individuals living in Philadelphia and elsewhere own a big portion of our streets, but in reality labor has produced everything of value in connection with this corporation, Every rail manufactured and laid, every spike driven, every tie placed in position, every wheel rolled and every ticket taken, represents the blood and sweat of suffering labor and the so-called capital invested, represents the accumulated surplus above the laborer’s wage, which he created but did not receive. If labor creates this and did not receive it, manifestly, labor has been robbed of the results of that much of his labor. Hence, the corporation known as the Columbus Railway & Light Co is entirely labor‘s creation, every job and tittle. And since this is the case, it is deplorable that we have given over our streets to a few Philadelphia millionaires with which to grind and browbeat their employees who have asserted their manhood to the extent of demanding a slightly greater portion of what they produce, It is up to the people of Columbus, who have been insulted and shot down by hired assassins of this soulless corporation, to decide by their votes whether such unjust conditions shall prevail. Above all do not scab at the polls. Vote the Socialist ticket, take possession of your streets, own and control them in your own interests. Own your own job and work will be a pleasure; hours will be short; remuneration will be sufficient to supply generously all the needs of life. Your grievances will pass away; cars will be kept in a sanitary condition; “refrigerators” will pass away into the past history; crowded cars will be unknown; ample service during rush hours can and will be provided. Your fares, can be taken in a quiet and gentlemanly way by a quiet, unruffled, calm and dignified conductor, who is prepared at all times to answer all questions. The motormen, no longer performing the service for three or four cars, can stop and start cars gently. Thus accidents will pass away into the ridiculous department of History. Vote the Socialist ticket and rule the disposition of labor’s creation. Some of the signs of a new approaching era are seen in the fact that the 6th Regiment contributed $500.00 towards the support of the men, showing that when we are ready to capture the reins of government, we need fear nothing from that score. The soldiers wore “United We Walk” buttons and were on the whole in sympathy with the carmen. The people have nobly walked long weary miles to and from work in order to achieve labor’s victory. The unions have been with us without regard to any affiliations. It is a fine spirit expressed by the Brotherhood of Railway Trainmen, an organization not affiliated with the American Federation of Labor, when this class-conscious body contributed $500.00 to the cause, bespeaking the coming solidarity of labor in its future battles.

‘There are many Union Men Troopers’

On August 9th, the last regiment of troops was removed. The special police and the regular force are to police the city while the sheriff has deputized his assistants to police the lines outside the city. The rank and file of the regular police are with the carmen. They have their own troubles, since Mayor Marshall vetoed the ordinance giving them an eight hour day. The Mayor claimed that the city must economize but he permitted his own salary to be raised without protest. But since the company is offering a reward of $200.00 for the arrest and conviction of offenders against its property, the boys can expect many false arrests and arrests for minor offenses at the hands of the special officers many of whom belong to the riff raff of the country.

As this article goes to press, the strike committee have proposed to submit their demands to the State Board of Arbitration but the company remains unmoved from its former position. These demands include absolute recognition of the union, an arbitration clause by which all future differences are to be settled by arbitration and a wage scale of 25 cents an hour for the first years service and 27 cents an hour thereafter. Fifty-six policemen have refused to ride the cars and. will be dismissed. The sheriff has deputized fifty strike breakers and the Governor has again ordered the troops out. not to protect the striking citizens but to aid the professional strike-breaking thugs. How this government of, for, and by the capitalists loves to protect the workers when they demand a little more prosperity.

The International Socialist Review (ISR) was published monthly in Chicago from 1900 until 1918 by Charles H. Kerr and critically loyal to the Socialist Party of America. It is one of the essential publications in U.S. left history. During the editorship of A.M. Simons it was largely theoretical and moderate. In 1908, Charles H. Kerr took over as editor with strong influence from Mary E Marcy. The magazine became the foremost proponent of the SP’s left wing growing to tens of thousands of subscribers. It remained revolutionary in outlook and anti-militarist during World War One. It liberally used photographs and images, with news, theory, arts and organizing in its pages. It articles, reports and essays are an invaluable record of the U.S. class struggle and the development of Marxism in the decades before the Soviet experience. It was closed down in government repression in 1918.

PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/isr/v11n03-sep-1910-ISR-gog-Corn-OCR.pdf

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