1920s >> 1922 >> no-213-may-1922

Under the Iron Heel

During the Big War, on one occasion when a crowd was dispersed in Turin for demanding bread, by the simple expedient of dropping bombs on them from airplanes, the present writer gave it as his opinion that this method would be resorted to in future disputes between the oppressors and the oppressed, and that this occasion marked its introduction as a permanent feature under capitalism. Events since then have fully born out that statement.

Wherever we turn—India, Egypt, Africa, in fact, any place where “rebellion” is in progress—there you will find this latest instrument of slaughter freely used. So far, this method has not been employed in this country, but it is not too much to say that if the capitalist class take it into their heads that this method is the best and most effective for producing “order,” its introduction will not be long delayed. A few mass meetings of the out-of-works and strikers, and the unemployment problem would be solved!

Its use on the Rand, where hundreds of Trade Unionists were in the midst of a trade dispute which had developed into a test of violence, is sufficiently recent to be remembered.

However justifiably workers may have acted in taking any particular line, the point to be remembered is that the master class is determined to smash up such efforts, and will not scruple to use any means to effect that end.

The writer has been asked his opinion regarding the scenes depicted in the novel by Upton Sinclair, “King Coal,” as to whether they were, or were not, exaggerated. Readers of that book will remember that Mr. Sinclair describes the system supposed to be in operation in the mining districts of the Western States, where hired thugs, spies, and other evils are employed by the capitalists against the workers. I gave it as my opinion that these evils were in way exaggerated, and the recent reports from the States conform the correctness of that opinion.

The mine owners in West Virginia seem determined to stamp out the movement for organising the workers into the United Mine Workers’ Union. More than 45,000 miners are already enrolled in this Union, and the organisers were determined to get another 45,000 non-unionists in. These are mostly located in the Logan and Mingo counties, where, it seems, the mine owners are in complete command of the county administration, with the sheriffs also in their pay. As most of the houses tenanted by the miners are owned by the companies, naturally the first thing the latter did was to threaten with eviction every man joining the Union.

This they did, utilising for the purpose detectives of the Baldwin-Felt Agency, who are notorious gunmen. Fights were the result, with the loss of life on both sides. On one occasion, during a march of Union men, they were met by troops and mine guards, which resulted in a battle in the mountains lasting for days.

Whenever things are not lively enough for the gunmen, they proceed to “shoot up” a town or two in order to strike terror into the hearts of the miners and their families. The State Attorney-General himself admits that the mine owners hold the entire machinery of administration in their grip, so that the miners in their quest for “justice” find themselves “up against it” at every turn. The latest reports show that efforts are being made to have the United Mine Workers declared an illegal association! (“Manchester Guardian,” 28/10/21.)

Another account, taken from the “Toiler” (New York), says: –

    “The mines, stores, churches, schools, hospitals, homes, Press, and the entire governmental machinery are owned outright by the coal barons. The salaries of deputy sheriffs are paid by the operators, and the State Constabulary is picked from lists prepared by them. All the mining area is under the domination of the Baldwin-Felt Detective Agency’s gunmen and murderers. These armed guards watch the pay rolls, collect rents, evict workers, run miners out of town, and serve as general thugs and hangmen for the capitalists. The workers are robbed going and coming . . . any defiance of this system of slavery, any sign of workers’ resistance, is met with club, bayonet, and machine gun . . . Finally, Harding was appealed to for a conference. In reply to this appeal came Federal troops, aeroplanes, gas bombs, and machine-guns to crush the workers.” (Quoted from the Worker, Brisbane, 2/2/22.)

Very similar to this was the way in which the workers were treated during the recent strike in the San Joaquin oilfields of California. After striking against the reduction of a dollar a day and the abolition of the Arbitration Board, they found themselves against a very formidable and well-organised resistance. The strikers themselves formed a body of pickets, whose business it was to see that no strike breakers were brought into the district, and at the same time to prevent any disorder taking place, so that a straight fight on principle could be waged. This, however, was futile. Guards were rushed in and the Press made the most of the affair—in the interests of the bosses, of course. Like the West Virginia coal owners, the oil companies had their hired thugs and spies, who conducted their operations clandestinely. Appeals to the Government were useless, and the strikers soon found themselves down and out, with the result that the strike collapsed and the men decided to return to work without having secured any advantage. When they offered to return, however, they were informed that they were not needed. It was then discovered that a very elaborate system of blacklisting had been prepared during their absence. Each company apparently possessed full particulars of every applicant for work, and on every occasion he was turned away. This soon had the effect of creating a large body of moneyless, jobless men. To make matters worse, the strikers soon discovered that the names on the black list had been circulated by the companies among the traders of the town, so that it was an impossibility to obtain credit. As in most disputes, the Press endeavoured to show that the trouble was due to the agitation set up by the Bolsheviks, Socialists, and what not. Raids made on the homes of individuals resulted in the finding of quantities of seditious literature, which, as is usual in such case, had been carefully concealed beforehand by the “finders.” These facts I have taken from “The Golden Age,” Brooklyn, N.Y. (15/2/22).

Altogether, what has been reported lately from the various industrial centres of America leads me to believe that what Sinclair was rather under-estimated, if anything.

One needn’t be surprised, of course, at any of these things. They are not confined to America. The same class is in possession everywhere, and everywhere its methods are the same. It follows that there is only one cure—Socialism.

Tom Sala

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