A detailed report on a Young Communist League conference of activists with a focus on young workers of East Ohio and West Pennsylvania, including many miners. Held in Bellaire, Ohio at the city’s old Bohemian Social Hall in February, 1926 the main organizer was George Papcun.
‘The Communist Youth Conference in East Ohio’ from Workers Monthly. Vol. 5 No. 6. April, 1926.
A NEW phenomenon is manifest in these Unit- ed States—a new force which is destined to become a tremendous factor in making the history of the succeeding years. America feels for the first time the influence of a fast developing movement of the working youth. Isolated rumblings of dissatisfaction—small strikes, demands upon the union for organization, mass demonstrations, have increased so rapidly within the past few years that they are now considered ordinary events of the day.
The Revolt of the Proletarian Youth.
The proletarian and even bourgeois youth in the high schools and colleges, driven by stark necessity, have been organizing in school strikes with ever greater frequency against militarism, against all sorts of specialized systems of handing out capitalist dope, against religious teaching, etc., etc.
With the tremendous trustification of industry comes the inevitable—a corresponding increase in the use of child labor. This adds another cloud to the already too dark picture.
These conditions are not peculiar to any special territory or industry but are the general rule thruout all of industry with the confines of American borders. The increasing discrimination against the working youth on the economic field and the continued militarization of the youth generally which is inevitable with the developing imperialistic epoch brings with it the natural anti-thesis—a revolt, mild tho it yet is.
The East Ohio Youth Conference.
It was these circumstances that influenced the Young Workers’ (Communist) League to initiate the organization of a youth conference in East Ohio, the beginning of a series of youth conferences which are to be held thruout the country—a bold attempt to rally the working youth but one which met response.
The Immediate Demands of the Conference.
Our first task in beginning to work in the territory where incidentally we had very weak league connections, was that of picking a set of immediate demands which when connected with the general struggle of the whole working class would serve as a rallying point for the young workers in that territory.
A word on how these demands were drawn up would be of interest, since the results warrant that similar methods should be followed in the future. Questionnaires were sent out to comrades and sympathizers in the field who knew of the actual conditions of the youth there thru having worked with them. These comrades helped materially to estimate the psychological level of the workers, their specific economic grievances, and the language that is necessary to approach them. This is far in advance of our previous method of arriving at a program of demands solely by reading statistical information and attempting to apply a general theory to this. We must confess that in many cases the wording of the demands were incomprehensible; even to our most experienced organizers because of their local jargon. Yet this was the language most comprehensible in the region and therefore, most necessary, and as the results showed—most effective.
The capitalist offensive in this section is extremely brutal; made so by the great economic whip it wields—the unemployed bituminous miners. The more brutal the offensive of capitalism the more energetically must we raise partial demands as the rallying points for the struggle of the masses of young workers. This we did. We list them for illustration:
For All Young Workers.
- A six-hour day, five-day week, with no night work or overtime. Exception to be made only in case of emergencies in the mines, said emergency to be understood as when mine would be unable to work next day. Overtime must be paid at time and a half rate.
- Establishment of work school for young workers, to be financed by the bosses and supervised by the unions.
- Two weeks vacation with pay each year for all young workers under 18 years of age.
For All Young Miners.
- All tracks, roadways and manholes to be kept clean; timbering and wiring to be kept in shape to avoid accidents. No loader to be responsible for this work but it should be done by day men.
- Equal wages for trappers, couplers, greasers, car cleaners or slate pickers, to correspond with adult company hands, either inside or outside.
- Abolition of the tonnage system and institution of straight day wages and weekly pay.
- A minimum wage of $7.50 for all workers in the mines, if thru no cause of their own, they do not receive a full days work.
- Wash houses and individual towels to be sup- plied free by company.
- Provision by company of pit clothes whenever necessary.
- Unemployment benefits to be paid during shut- downs at prevailing union wages from special funds o be established by setting aside part of profits of coal operators, this fund to be supervised by local union of U.M.W.A.
- Two rooms for two miners in machine work in room and pillar.
- Men to be transported to and from work when entry is over half mile long.
- All tools, powder and implements necessary shall be furnished free by the company.
- From the U.M.W.A. we want that for all young workers under 21 years of age the initiation fees and dues be one half of the regular amount and full rights and benefits be given.
- The central labor bodies and local unions must energetically undertake the organization of the unorganized young workers.
- Abolition of the automatic penalty clause.
- Free the Moundsville Prisoners and Domenick Ventureta.
- For a Labor Party.
- For World Trade Union Unity.
The Problem of Arousing the Young Workers.
The second problem arose over the manner in which the young workers were to be aroused to respond to these demands. The region is an open shop one with particular lack of organization, as is the general rule, among the young workers. Our League organization consisted of merely a few scattered connections, and the bosses and reactionary union leaders of the worst type. We had therefore, to approach the workers as outsiders. This we did. And the results, because of our mistakes and achievements taught us much.
Our aim was to get delegates directly from the shops and mines. In this region tho it is industrial, the towns are very small, generally built around a mine or some kind of a factory. It therefore, suited our purpose to carry on a period of agitation in the town in this manner making connections with the workers and then arrange for shop and pit meetings for actual election of delegates. In arranging for these preliminary agitational meetings we almost met our nemesis. The thing that is too common in the rest of our movement, namely, the failure of speakers to keep their dates, here proved almost fatal. The response to our call was so enthusiastic that in many localities the meeting halls were packed with young workers—the whole town sometimes turned out. And when the announced speaker, the only one, failed to show up it made the indecisive elements, the bulk of the attendance at this early stage of the game very suspicious of our work. It was only with greatest difficulty that we succeeded in re-establishing the prestige of our organization in these places. These young workers felt that there was something wrong with our trying to organize them for their own demands. ‘Too good to be true” many of them said, and the weak elements were only too ready to say, “I told you so!”’ when the packed meetings found no speaker.
The second great difficulty in arranging these meetings was one already mentioned—the ab- solute lack of a League organization. Even what Party organization we had was very weak and was almost entirely unable to reach the youth elements among the workers. The method which had to be pursued by our organizers therefore was the only possible manner in which an organizer from outside territory could reach them; in the places where they congregate after working hours, in pool rooms, ice cream parlors and similar hangouts. The very fact that our organizer was forced to resort to this method of making the most elementary contacts shows the almost imperative necessity of first having a well-organized network of Young Workers’ (Communist) League nuclei which could be used as a basis for the organization of our future conferences. If we have no contacts in certain territory we must first send in organizers to build league units for a period of a few months and then begin the work for the conference. With nuclei acting as driving forces in the factories and mines greater numbers by far might have been reached.
Distribution of Leaflets and Young Workers.
We distributed approximately ten thousand leaflets and nine hundred Young Workers of three different issues, all popularizing the im- mediate demands of the conference and “incidentally” giving the struggle the broader aspect of class against class.
The Results of the East Ohio Conference.
Now in view of the difficulties that we were faced with and the energies that were expended —what were the results? The answer can only be half given here. That is, we can list the organizational results, and these were considerable. But in addition we gained in understanding of mass work, we have learned, to a small degree to be sure, to feel the pulse of the masses, and we have developed better organizers for our future work.
The Delegates to the Conference.
First, let us examine the delegates: Some of the strategically located mines had meetings at which delegates were elected. Several hundred young workers on strike for organization in the Bellaire Glass works had two of their number, a tin shop, a steel mill, the Wheeling Can Co., workers elected delegates, a delegate from a local mine union in Avella who acted fraternally and even a delegate elected by local high school students.
This represents the conference in delegates. We would like to give the detailed list, but cannot do so for obvious reasons. For the first time we had the heart of the masses—masses which we had never before reached, come together to discuss their youth problems. Almost none of the delegates had ever been in the Young Workers’ (Communist) League. The actual conference separated from the text of the entire territory might be deceptive in that one could not get a real picture of the strength that it represented. The entire region was alive with discussion of the purpose and the immediate demands set forth by the League. This in itself gave much greater strength to the conference in that it directed the attention of the workers, especially the young workers towards it.
Reports on Condition in Industry.
The conference itself showed that almost every delegate was a young worker in heavy industry. Before the conference, we discussed whether it would be possible to have every delegate report on the conditions in his own industry and their relation to the general struggle of the workers. This was at first rejected because of the opinion of some of the comrades that the workers would not understand this sufficiently to be able to discuss it before the conference. However, when the discussion was opened on the floor immediately following the political report, almost every representative gave a full and remarkably clear (considering their backwardness) analysis of the situation in each of their situation in each of their industries. Here again, there was very little that could be added to the demands that had already been drawn up in the manner first suggested, which again justified the method that was followed in drawing up our original program.
The Building of the League.
What has the conference accomplished for us? In the first place, where we had not a single unit in the entire district; after the six weeks to two months’ work spent on the conference we now have four units in separate towns organized on the new basis—this is, shop nuclei.
Youth Conference Groups.
In addition, we have adopted the policy of organizing temporary youth conference groups where it would have been impossible to organize sections of the Young Workers’ League to take up the demands of the conference to carry on the fight for them in the local unions, in the mines, shops, etc. If we had decided that we have the conference “entrust the Young Workers’ League with carrying out its decisions,” it would have meant that we are to leave no organizational remnants after the conference was over except that of Young Workers’ League units. This would have narrowed the basis of our activities considerably. On this point, the thesis of the Young Communist International says as follows:
“The conferences of the working class youth must be regarded as an important means for the mobilization of the masses of the working youth for the struggle of the Y.C.L. The ground for the calling of such conferences will be created by the growth of the shop nuclei movement, and the necessary preparatory work will be carried out by the nuclei which will propagate the necessary demands in the shops. The shop meetings of the working class youth called by our nuclei will take up their attitude and choose their delegates for these conferences, which will be called either on the basis of industry, or district. Th shop nuclei must take care that the voting of the delegates takes place in such a manner that the conference will represent the greatest possible participation of the broad masses of the working youth. As far as possible special conferences of the shop nuclei of the Y.C.L. should be called before the calling of such conferences of the working youth, for the purpose of preparing these latter.
“The decisions of the conferences must afterwards be persistently propagated in the shops and used to the full. UNDER LEGAL CONDITIONS, NO SPECIAL “COMMITTEES”, ETC., SHOULD BE FORMED BY THESE CONFERENCES, BUT THEY SHOULD GIVE THE Y.C.L. AS THE MASS ORGANIZATION OF THE WORKING CLASS YOUTH, THE TASK OF PUTTING THE DECISIONS INTO OPERATION. The reporting and the propagating of the decisions in the shops thru the shop nuclei belongs above all to this work.” (Emphasis ours— S.A.D.).
However, in organizing the conference, the premise for the conclusion that “no special committees should be formed by these conferences but should give the Y.C.L. as the mass organization of the working class youth, the task of putting the decisions into operation” was missing; we had to look for a different organizational means with which to carry out these decisions. In the first place, our conference, different from that which the Y.C.L. speaks of, was not created by the growth of the shop nuclei movement. In other’ words, rather than the conference being the result of a growing organization of the League, the League was the result of our work in the conference. Besides, tho our organization was legal so far as the state was concerned, we were illegal so far as the trade union movement in that territory was concerned.
It was impossible therefore to approach these unions under the banner of the League and expect that they would respond to demands which we would make in the name of these workers.
We therefore, changed our original decision that the conference entrusts the League with the carrying out of its decisions to read that the conference recognizes the role of the League and calls upon it “to help defend and fight for the realization of our demands.” This allowed for the organization of youth conference groups to carry on the fight where it was impossible to organize League branches, and gave the assurance that the demands would not die a natural death after the actual conference was over but would be carried to the masses either by the League or the conference groups. The attitude of the young workers in the region to the League already assures that we will get full organizational benefit from the work without holding the conference so close to our bosoms that we strangle it.
The Significance of Our Struggle for Immediate Demands.
The better the League understands how to lead the masses of the working youth in these struggles and how to deepen and broaden these struggles thru the setting up of concrete demands arising out of the existing situation, the more will the masses of the working youth have confidence in the Communist youth organization. We must make partial demands the lever for the struggle for the complete revolutionary transformation and a means for the destruction of the capitalist system. The struggle for partial demands (for obvious and necessary minimum demands) must lead in the present period of the decay of capitalist economy to the bitterest struggles between the workers an. bosses and in the measure that the struggle for partial demands embraces ever larger masses of workers and sets them in movement, in the Same measure will it lead them to an understanding that the struggle for partial demands leads to the final struggle.
In East Ohio, even as in the rest of the country, the pauperization of the youth is hard reality. Yet, and again as everywhere else, they are discriminated against in every possible manner by organized labor, to the point where a union is called by these young workers “job trusts.” *
The Young Workers (Communist) League cannot reach the masses in the same way that the Party can for the young workers are hardly organized at all. We must find new forms. And we have!
* The example of Bellaire Glass Works where two young workers went on strike demanding that the union organize them, is a case in point. The union adult workers, typically labor aristocrats, are very closely organized and refuse to admit the young workers. To date they are not yet in the union.
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