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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 10, No. 6. May 28, 1947

Even Biologist Noticed U.S. Strikes

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Even Biologist Noticed U.S. Strikes

Recently you may have seen mention in the newspapers of a studio workers' strike in Hollywood; and you may even have come across a small Press Association paragraph to the effect that a Hollywood Union leader had been found in the desert, beaten up and left for dead. You have most likely thought no more of it if you did see the cable, neither did thousands of people in a country where beatings-up are two a penny, and murders are everyday occurrences. But in the eyes of many others it was an event of major importance. A Los Angeles University student described it as "one more incident in the attempt to break unionism for good in the States," because that man, Herb Sorrell, was left for dead by men "dressed in police uniform."

The story goes back ten or fifteen years to the time when the union came under the influence of unscrupulous leaders (with prison records) who betrayed the union (which was affiliated to the American Federation of Labour) to the employers, keeping the union in a subservient position for a number of years, and gradually depriving it of its powers. In opposition to these men, one of whom later returned to prison, arose the present striking union of which Sorrell is president.

The immediate cause of the strike is wageB trouble; the important issue is the struggle between the unions to gain official recognition as the true representative organization of the employees. During the strike the Los Angeles police force was increased and attacked the strikers with tear gas and batons. Luckily, one of the workers present was able to take a pictorial record of the incident which was later used us evidence that the police attack was unwarranted. A mass trial of more than a hundred strikers was held, but this was claimed to be unconstitutional. The claim was upheld, so the trials were carried on with only 35 on trial at a time. Meanwhile the strikers have their own dally newspaper and have been struggling hard to awaken the American public to an appreciation of their struggle lor justice.


The strike is costing the studios plenty; the technicoiour workers are out and an attempt to process several thousand feet of Him by inexperienced workers necessitated the shooting of most of the film a second time. All Hollywood theatres showing American films are picketed, but several theatres are showing British and French films for the benefit of those boycotting American ones. Priestley's "They Came to a City" was enjoying tremendous popularity when we were there.

A recent development in the strike was the bombing of a house belonging to an A. F. of L. unionist. For this several of the strikers were arrested and are being held for trial. They, however, assert that it was carried out by A. F. of L. men, who, they say, would not stop at murder, even of their own men, if it would help their case. In spite of all this the public 1B apathetic. An average comment on the Sorrell affair, "Yeah, they shore got him, didn't they."

One of Many

However, this was but one of the many strikes in California alone. In San Francisco most of the drugstores were closed down or picketted. The windows of the latter displayed notices to the effect' that "The Management thanks you for your continued support in the present emergency," and "Our employees are not on strike. These pickets are not members of our staff." Others, "Our staff has voted uguinst joining the Union—their wages are above union minimum." Meanwhile, I was assured, the pickets are quite happy; they receive two dollars an hour for standing outside the stores. There is no attempt to stop people entering; the pickets do not use force.

Strikers' Statement

Before we arrived the tramway employees had been on strike, and before we left the "radio announcers at all major stations in the city were out, with the usual pickets on duty. We even had the experience of seeing our hotel picketted during one lunch-hour, because Schwellenbach, the United States Secretary of Labour, was to address a group of business men there at luncheon. A line of pickets marched past with placards asking, "Schwellenbach, are you Secretary of Labour or Management?" I was particularly interested to see negroes in the picket line, One handed me a duplicated sheet, from which I quote in part: "Brother Unionists!

"The undersigned Trade Union members and the leaders call upon you to join them in a picket line to protect against labour being baited by the Secretary of Labour. . . . Schwellenbach is one of those 'liberals' who has betrayed the memory of Roosevelt. These liberals' rode to power on the coat tails of Roosevelt and the people's movement. . . . Schwellenbach has recommended that the employers have the right of 'free speech.' That means the Wagner Act shall be amended to permit the shipowners and all employers to intimidate the union members and dp anything they can to scare everybody out of the unions. Right now this is prohibited by the Wagner Act ... he raved and ranted that the unions should not have the right to elect anyone who might be suspected of being a Communist. As a matter of fact lie even called for outlawing the Communist Party. Union men know that anyone who fights milltantly for labour is labelled a "Red" by the employers and stooges in Congress. Labour knows that red-baiting will not bring down high prices, build houses for our veterans, will not keep the country from going into an economic tail spin. The unions must be preserved, labour baiting and red baiting is unAmerican. Schwellenbach is coming to speak in San Francisco today.... He will spew some more of his poison there. Join us in a protest."

This sheet is signed by ten union leaders—including one from the Brewery.

Also the Teachers

—I quote from a survey on the state of education in America taken from the New York "Times" (February 10, 1947).

Twelve major strikes have taken place since September, and many more are being threatened.

Teachers get an average of 37 dollars a week today. Two hundred thousand get less that twenty-five dollars weekly (sixty dollars a week is considered nearer a basic wage). Three hundred and fifty thousand teachers have left the American schools since 1940. One of every seven teachers today is serving on an emergency sub-standard certificate. Six thousand schools will be closed because of lack of teachers (there are nearly seventy thousand vacancies in the schools of the Nation today). Seventy-five thousand children will have no schooling during the year.

And what is the attitude of Americans in general towards this situation, towards unionism in general? Let me quote one, a man of University education and high intelligence:

"The employers use dirty tactics; the unions are fighting them and could be a terrific force for good—they liavo already done a lot towards improving conditions—hut they are indulging far too much in dirty politics, and in that respect are no whit removed from the people they arts opposing."

And that seems the general opinion of the average American, either that or they just don't care. "They shore got him, didn't they!"