This space is dedicated to the proposition that we need to know the history of the struggles on the left and of earlier progressive movements here and world-wide. If we can learn from the mistakes made in the past (as well as what went right) we can move forward in the future to create a more just and equitable society. We will be reviewing books, CDs, and movies we believe everyone needs to read, hear and look at as well as making commentary from time to time. Greg Green, site manager
Saturday, September 21, 2013
To While The Time By- The Roots Is The Toots-Mississippi John Hurt-Creole Belle
the past several years I have been running an occasional series in this space
of songs, mainly political protest songs, you know The Internationale, Union Maid, Which Side Are You On, Viva La Quince
Brigada, Universal Soldier, and such entitled Songs To While The Class Struggle By. This series which could
include some protest songs as well is centered on roots music as it has come
down the ages and formed the core of the American songbook. You will find the
odd, the eccentric, the forebears of later musical trends, and the just plain
amusing here. Listen up-Peter Paul Markin
***Out In The Be-Bop 1950s Night-When “Stewball” Stu Ruled The Highways
A YouTube film clip of Danny and The Juniors performing Rock And Roll Is Here To Stay to set the mood for this sketch.
The Golden Age Of American Rock ‘n’ Roll; The Follow-Up Hits, various artists, Ace Records, 1991 Scene: Brought to mind by the be-bop cover photograph of a “boss” two-toned 1950s Oldsmobile sitting in front of a car dealership just waiting to be driven off in the “golden age of the automobile” night.
“Stewball” Stu loved cars, loved 1950s classic “boss” cars, period. And on the very top of that heap was his cherry red ’57 Chevy. The flamed-out king hell dragon of the Mainiac highways, especially those back roads around his, our, hometown, Olde Saco, close by the sea. Not for him the new stuff, the new “boss” Mustang, Mustang Sally ride I am crazy for, or would be crazy for if, (1) I was older than my current no-driver, no legal driver fifteen, and (2) I had any kind of dough except the few bucks I grab doing this and that, mainly that.
And how do I know about Stewball’s preferences, prejudices if you want to put it that way? Well I, Joshua Lawrence Breslin, have been riding “shot-gun” to Stewball’s driver for the past several months, ever since I proved my metal, my Stu-worthy metal, when I “scrammed” a while back when Stu moved in on me and a hot date I had with a local Lolita and three was a crowd.
Ya, Stu and me are tight, tight as a nineteen year guy who is the king of the roads around here can be with a fifteen year old guy with no dough, no drivers’ license, no sister for him to drool over, and zero, maybe minus zero, mechanical skills to back him up. So you see me flaking out on that Lolita thing meant a lot to Stewball, although he is not a guy that you can figure something on, not easy figuring anyhow. [Hey, by the way, by the very big way, that Stewball moniker is strictly between you and me. Some of the guys that hung around his garage (really his bent out of shape trailer home rigged up with all kinds of automobile-fixing stuff all over the place) started to call him Stewball among ourselves after we observed, observed for the sixty-fifth time, Stu loaded before noon on some rotgut Southern Comfort that he swore kept him sober, unlike whiskey. Like I say don’t spread that around because Stu in one tough hombre. I once saw him chain-whip a guy just for kind of eyeing a Lolita (not the one I butted out on) that was sitting next to him in that cherry red Chevy at Jimmy Joe’s Diner, the one down on Route One, not the one over on Atlantic Avenue. Enough said, okay.]
Let me tell you about one time a few months back when Stu proved, for the umpteenth time (although my first time, first really seeing him in action glory time), why no one can come close to him as king of these roads around herr, and maybe any. It was a Friday night, an October Friday night, just starting to get to be defroster or car heater time so it had to be then. Stu, who lives over on Tobacco Road (I won’t tell you his real address because, like he says, what people don’t know is just fine with him and the girls all know where he is anyway. Ya, that’s a real Stu-ism) picked me up at my house on Albamarle Street (got that girls, Albamarle) like he always does, sometime between seven and eight, also as usual.
We then make the loop. First down Atlantic passed the Colonial Donut Shoppe (they serve other stuff there too) to see if there was a stray clover (A Stu-ism for a girl, origin unknown) or two looking to erase the gloomy, lonely night coming on. (I hoped two, two girls that is, because while I am glad, glad as hell, that I did right by Stu with that "hot" Lolita (and she was hot, maybe too hot for me then, not now) I don’t want to make a habit of it, being Stu’s “shot-gun,” or not. No dice. So off to Lanny’s Bowl-World over on Sea Street. Guess it is kind of early because no dice there either. Well, it’s off to “headquarters,” Jimmy Joe’s Diner on Main Street (really Route One but everybody local calls it Main).
Now Jimmy Joe’s has been Stu’s headquarters for so long that he has a “reserved” spot there. Yes, right in front just to the left on the entrance so that he can “scope” (Stu-ism) the scene (read: girls, Josh-ism). Jimmy Joe, the owner, felt that Stu was so good for business, Friday night hot teenage girls crowding the place looking for fast-driving guys and fast, or slow, driving guys, ready to, well you know I don’t have to draw you a diagram, business so he had no problem with the arrangement. Except this Friday night, this October Friday night, Stu’s reserved spot is occupied, occupied by a two-toned, low-riding 1956 Oldsmobile that even I can see had been worked on, worked hard on to create maximum horse-power in the minimum time. And inside that Oldsmobile sat one Duke McKay, a guy some of us had heard of, from down in Kittery near the New Hampshire border. So maybe Duke, not knowing the local rules, parked in that spot by accident. Ya that seems like the right answer.
No way though. Why? Because sitting right next old Duke, actually almost on top of him is that Lolita that I made way for to help Stu. Said Lolita (not her real name because she was, and is, as I write, uh, not “of age” so Lolita is a good enough moniker) looking very fine, very fine indeed, as Stu goes over to the Oldsmobile to give Duke the what for. I can almost hear the chains coming out.
But Stu must have had some kind of jinx on him, or Lolita put one on him, because all he did was make Duke a proposition. Beat Stu in a “chicken run” and the parking spot, Lolita, and the unofficial king of the road title were his. Lose, and he was gone (without chain-whipping I hoped) from Olde Saco, permanently, minus Lolita. Now I can see where this Lolita is worth getting a little steamed up about. But take it from me Stu, until just this minute, was strictly a love them or leave them guy (leave them to me, please). Duke, with eight million pounds of bravado, answered quickly like any true road-warrior does when challenged and just uttered, “On.” And we are off, although not before Lolita gives Stu some madness femme fatale look. A look, a pout really, which you couldn’t tell if she was in Stu’s corner or wanted to see him in hell. Girls, damn.
A chicken race, for the squares, is nothing but a race between two cars (usually two), two fast teenager-driven cars, done late at night or early in the morning out on some desolate road, sometimes straight, sometimes not. The idea is to get a fast start and keep the accelerator on the floor as long as possible before some flame-out. For Olde Saco runs they use the beach down at the Squaw Rock end since it is long, flat, and wide even at high tide, and the loser either winds up in the dunes or the ocean, usually the latter, ruining a perfectly good car but that is the way it is. Most importantly it is out of sight of the cops until too late.
So about two in the morning one could see a ’57 cherry red Chevy lining up, with me as a “second,” against a ’56 Oldsmobile, with Lolita as Duke’s “second.” Jimmy Joe’s son, Billy, acted as starter as usual. And they are off. Duke got an extremely fast start and was maybe thirty yards ahead of us and it looked like we done for when Stu opened up from somewhere and flat out “smoked” the side of Duke Olds sending his vehicle off into the ocean, soon to sputter in the roaring waves, and oblivion. Stu stopped the Chevy, backed up the several hundred yards to the vicinity of the distressed Oldsmobile, opened up the passenger side door and escorted Lolita, as nice as you please, to his king hell Chevy. And she was smiling, smiling very, well let’s put it this way, Stu’s got a big treat coming. And Josh? Well, Stu yells over “Hey, Josh, hope you find a ride home tonight.” But do you see what I mean about Stewball Stu being the king of the roads around here. What a guy.
***Out in the Be-Bop Night- Bo Diddley- Who Put The Rock In Rock 'n’ Roll?
A YouTube film clip of Bo Diddley performing his rock classic Bo Diddley.
Bo Diddley: Two On One, Bo Diddley, Chess Records, 1986
Well, there is no need to pussy foot around on this one. The question before the house is who put the rock in rock ‘n’ roll. And here in this Chess Records double CD, Bo Diddley unabashedly stakes his claim that was featured in a song by the same name, except, except it starts out with the answer. Yes, Bo Diddley put the rock in rock ‘n’ roll. And off his performance here as part of the 30th anniversary celebration of the tidal wave of rock that swept through the post-World War II teenage population in 1955 he has some “street cred” for that proposition.
Certainly there is no question that black music, in the early 1950s at least, previously confined to mainly black audiences down on the southern farms and small segregated towns and in the northern urban ghettos along with a ragtag coterie of “hip” whites is central to the mix that became classic 1950s rock ‘n’ roll. That is not to deny the other important thread commonly called rockabilly (although if you had scratched a rockabilly artist and asked him or her for a list of influences black gospel and rhythm and blues would be right at the top of their list, including Elvis’). But here let’s just go with the black influences. No question Ike Turner’s Rocket 88, Joe Turner’s Shake , Rattle and Roll and, I would add, Elmore James’ Look Yonder Wall are nothing but examples of R&B starting to break to a faster, more nuanced rock beat.
Enter one Bo Diddley. No only does he have the old country blues songbook down, and the post- World War II urbanization and electrification of those blues down, but he reaches back to the oldest traditions of black music, back before the American slavery plantations days, back to the Carib influences and even further back to earth mother African shores. In short, that “jungle music,” that “devil’s music” that every white mother and father (and not a few black ones as well), north and south was worried, no, frantically worried, would carry away their kids. Well, it did and we are none the worst for it.
Here is a little story from back in the 1950s days though that places old Bo’s claim in perspective and addresses the impact (and parental horror) that Bo and rock had on teenage (and late pre-teenage) kids, even all white “projects” kids like me and my boys. In years like 1955, ’56, ’57 every self-respecting teenage boy (or almost teenage boy), under the influence of television, tried, one way or another, to imitate Elvis. From dress, to sideburns, to swiveling hips, to sneer. Hell, I even bought a doo-wop comb to wear my hair like his. I should qualify that statement a little and say every self-respecting boy who was aware of girls. And, additionally, aware that if you wanted to get any place with them, any place at all, you had better be something like the second coming of Elvis.
Enter now, one eleven year old William James Bradley, “Billie”, my bosom buddy in old elementary school days. Billie was wild for girls way before I acknowledged their existence, or at least their charms. Billie decided, and rightly so I think, to try a different tack. Instead of forming the end of the line in the Elvis imitation department he decided to imitate Bo Diddley. At this time we are playing the song Bo Diddley and, I think, Who Do You Love? like crazy. Elvis bopped, no question. But Bo’s beat spoke to something more primordial, something connected, unconsciously to our way back ancestry. Even an old clumsy white boy like me could sway to the beat.
Of course that last sentence is nothing but a now time explanation for what drove us to the music. Then we didn’t know the roots of rock, or probably care, except our parents didn’t like it, and were sometimes willing to put the stop to our listening. Praise be for transistor radios (younger readers look that up on Wikipedia) to get around their madness.
But see, Billie also, at that time, did not know what Bo looked like. Nor did I. So his idea of imitating Bo was to set himself up as a sort of Buddy Holly look alike, complete with glasses and that single curled hair strand.
Billie, naturally, like I say, was nothing but a top-dog dancer, and wired into girl-dom like crazy. And they were starting to like him too. One night he showed up at a local church catholic, chaste, virginal priest-chaperoned dance with this faux Buddy Holly look. Some older guy meaning maybe sixteen or seventeen, wise to the rock scene well beyond our experiences, asked Billy what he was trying to do. Billie said, innocently, that he was something like the seventh son of the seventh son of Bo Diddley. This older guy laughed, laughed a big laugh and drew everyone’s attention to himself and Billie. Then he yelled out, yelled out for all the girls to hear “Billie boy here wants to be Bo Diddley, he wants to be nothing but a jungle bunny music N----r boy”. All goes quiet. Billie runs out, and I run after, out the back door. I couldn’t find him that night.
See, Billie and I were clueless about Bo’s race. We just thought it was all rock (read: white music) then and didn’t know much about the black part of it, or the south part, or the segregated part either. We did know though what the n----r part meant in our all-white housing project and here was the kicker. Next day Billie strutted into school looking like the seventh son of the seventh son of Elvis. But as he got to the end of that line I could see, and can see very clearly even now, that the steam has gone out of him. So when somebody asks you who put the rock in rock ‘n’ roll know that old Bo’s claim was right on track, and he had to clear some very high racial and social hurdles to make that claim. Just ask Billie.
***From The Annals Of The Class Struggle- From Art Preis's Labor's Giant Step, Chapter Four-"Three Strikes That Paved the Way" (The Great Minneapolis, Toledo and San Francisco Strikes of 1934)
From Art Preis's Labor's Giant Step, Chapter Four-Three Strikes That Paved the Way (The Great Minneapolis, Toledo and San Francisco Strikes of 1934)
The National Industrial Conference Board, in a survey of collective bargaining under the NRA, could boast in March 1934 of "the relatively small proportion of employees found to be dealing with employers through an organized labor union." At the same time, said the board, "Employee representation [company unions] appears to have made considerable progress" and "it is clear that individual bargaining has not in any way been eliminated by Section 7(a) of the Recovery Act."
In that same month, the American Federationist, organ of the top AFL leadership, complained: "In general there has been no increase in real wages...The codes will not safeguard real wages...The gov¬ernment monetary policy points toward diminishing real wages."
Worst of all, the wave of strikes following the enactment of NRA in June 1933 was ending in a series of defeats. Where the union leaders themselves did not rush the workers back on the job without gains—not even union recognition, the strikes were smashed by court injunctions and armed violence. Behind the legal restraining orders and the shotguns, rifles and machine guns of police, deputies and National Guardsmen, the scabs and strikebreakers were being herded into struck plants almost at will. It was at this stage, when strike after strike was being crushed, that the Toledo Electric Auto-Lite Company struggle blazed forth to illuminate the whole horizon of the American class struggle. The American workers were to be given an unforgettable lesson in how to confront all the agencies of the capitalist government — courts, labor boards and armed troops — and win.
Toledo, Ohio, an industrial city of about 275,000 population in 1934, is a glass and auto parts center. In June 1931, four Toledo banks had closed their doors. Some of the big local companies, including several suppliers to the auto industry, had secretly transferred their bank accounts to one big bank. These companies did not get caught in the crash.
But thousands of workers and small business men did. They lost their lives' savings. One out of every three persons in Toledo was thrown on relief, standing in lines for food handouts at a central commissary. In 1933, the Unemployed League, led by followers of A. J. Muste, head of the Conference for Progressive Labor Action (later the American Workers Party), had organized militant mass actions of the unemployed and won cash relief. The League made it a policy to call for unity of the unemployed and employed workers; it mobilized the unemployed not to scab, but to aid all strikes.
On February 23, 1934, the Toledo Auto-Lite workers, newly organized in AFL Federal Local 18384, went on strike. This was quickly ended by the AFL leaders with a truce agreement for negotiations through the Regional Labor Board of the National Labor Board, which had been set up under the NRA.
Refusing to be stalled further by the labor board or to submit to the special Auto Labor Board, which Roosevelt had setup in March to sidetrack pending auto strikes and which had upheld company un¬ionism, the Auto-Lite workers went on the picket lines again on April 13.
The company followed the usual first gambit in such a contest. It went to a friendly judge and got him to issue an injunction limiting picketing. The strike had begun to die .on its feet when a committee of Auto-Lite workers came to the Unemployed League and asked for aid. What happened then was described shortly thereafter by Louis F. Budenz, in the previously cited collection of articles, Challenge to the New Deal, edited by Alfred Bingham and Selden Rodman. This is the same Budenz who about a year later deserted to the Stalinists, served them for ten years and finally wound up as an informer for the FBI against radicals.
However, at the time of the Auto-Lite strike, Budenz was still an outstanding fighter for labor's rights and civil liberties. He had edited Labor Age during the Twenties and had led great battles against strikebreaking injunctions at Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Nazareth, Pennsylvania. It was he who suggested the tactic for breaking the injunction and he had addressed the thousands massed on the picket line after the injunction was smashed. While he was still uncorrupted, Budenz wrote about the Auto-Lite battle:
"The dynamic intervention of a revolutionary workers organization, the American Workers Party, seemed to have been required before that outcome [a union victory] could be achieved. The officials in the Federal Automobile Workers Union would have lost the strike if left to their own resources.
"The merit of this particular AFL union was that it did strike. The Electric Auto-Lite and its two affiliated companies, the Logan Gear and Bingham Stamping Co., were involved. But when the company resorted to the injunction, the union officers observed its terms. In less than three weeks, under protection of that court decree, the company had employed or otherwise secured 1800 strikebreakers in the Auto-Lite alone.
"That would have been the end, and another walkout of the workers would have gone into the wastebasket of labor history. The Lucas County Unemployed League, also enjoined, refused however to let the fight go in that way. Two of its officers, Ted Selander and Sam Pollock, [and several auto local members] wrote [May, 5, 1934] Judge R. R. Stuart, advising him that they would violate the injunction by encouraging mass picketing. They went out and did so. They were arrested, tried and released — the court warning them to picket no more. They answered by going directly from court, with all the strikers and unemployed league members who had been present, to the picket line. Through the mass trials, Selander and Pollock got out a message as to the nature of the capitalist courts. The picket line grew."
The unexampled letter sent by the local Unemployed League to Judge Stuart deserves to be preserved for posterity. It is an historic document that ranks in its way with the great declarations of human freedom more widely known and acclaimed. The letter read:
May 5,1934 His Honor Judge Stuart County Court House Toledo, Ohio Honorable Judge Stuart:
On Monday morning May 7, at the Auto-Lite plant, the Lucas County Unemployed League, in protest of the injunction issued by your court, will deliberately and specifically violate the in¬junction enjoining us from sympathetically picketing peacefully in support of the striking Auto Workers Federal Union. We sincerely believe that this court intervention, preventing us from picketing, is an abrogation of our democratic rights, contrary to our constitutional liberties and contravenes the spirit and the letter of Section 7a of the NRA.
Further, we believe that the spirit and intent of this arbitrary injunction is another specific example of an organized movement to curtail the rights of all workers to organize, strike and picket effectively.
Therefore, with full knowledge of the principles involved and the possible consequences, we openly and publicly violate an injunction which, in our opinion, is a suppressive and op¬pressive act against all workers.
Sincerely yours, Lucas County Unemployed League Anti-Injunction Committee Sam Pollock, Sec'y
By May 23, there were more than 10,000 on the picket lines. County deputies with tear gas guns were lined up on the plant roof. A strike picket, Miss Alma Hahn, had been struck on the head by a bolt hurled from a plant window and had been taken to the hospital. By the time 100 more cops arrived, the workers were tremendously incensed. Police began roughing up individual pickets pulled from the line. What happened when the cops tried to escort the scabs through the picket line at the shift-change was described by the Associated Press. "Piles of bricks and stones were assembled at strategic places and a wagonload of bricks was trundled to a point near the factory to provide further ammunition for the strikers... Suddenly a barrage of tear gas bombs was hurled from upper factory windows. At the same time, company employees armed with iron bars and clubs dragged a fire hose into the street and played water on the crowd. The strike sympathizers replied with bricks, as they choked from gas fumes and fell back."
But they retreated only to reform their ranks. The police charged and swung their clubs trying to clear a path for the scabs. The workers held their ground and fought back. Choked by the tear gas fired from inside the plant, it was the police who finally gave up the battle. Then the thousands of pickets laid siege to the plant, determined to maintain their picket line.
The workers improvised giant slingshots from inner tubes. They hurled whole bricks through the plant windows. The plant soon was without lights. The scabs cowered in the dark. The frightened deputies setup machine guns inside every entranceway. It was not until the arrival of 900 National Guardsmen, 15 hours later, that the scabs were finally released, looking a "sorry sight," as the press reported it.
Then followed one of the most amazing battles in U. S. labor history. "The Marines had landed" in the form of the National Guard but the situation was not "well in hand." With their bare fists and rocks, the workers fought a six-day pitched battle with the National Guard. They fought from rooftops, from behind billboards and came through alleys to flank the guardsmen. "The men in the mob shouted vile epithets at the troopers," complained the Associated Press, "and 'the women jeered them with suggestions that they ‘go home to mama and their paper dolls.'"
But the strikers and their thousands of sympathizers did more than shame the young National Guardsmen. They educated them and tried to win them over. Speakers stood on boxes in front of the troops and explained what the strike was about and the role the troops were playing as strikebreakers. World War I veterans put on their medals and spoke to the boys in uniform like "Dutch uncles." The women explained what the strike meant to their families. The press reported that some of the guardsmen just quit and went home. Others voiced sympathy with the workers. (A year later, when Toledo unionists went to Defiance, Ohio, to aid the Pressed Steel Company strike, they found that eight per cent of the strikers had been National Guardsmen serving in uniform in the Auto-Lite strike. That was where they learned the lesson of unionism.)
On May 24, the guardsmen fired point-blank into the Auto-Lite strikers ranks, killing two and wounding 25. But 6,000 workers returned at dusk to renew the battle. In the dark, they closed in on groups of guardsmen in the six-block martial law zone. The fury of the onslaught twice drove the troops back into the plant. At one stage, a group of troops threw their last tear gas and vomit gas bombs, then quickly picked up rocks to hurl at the strikers; the strikers recovered the last gas bombs thrown before they exploded, flinging them back at the troops. On Friday, May 31, the troops were speedily ordered withdrawn from the strike area when the company agreed to keep the plant closed. This had not been the usual one-way battle with the workers getting shot down and unable to defend themselves. Scores of guardsmen had been sent to the hospitals. They had become demoralized. By June 1, 98 out of 99 AFL local unions had voted for a general strike.
A monster rally on the evening of June 1 mobilized some 40,000 workers in the Lucas County Courthouse Square. There, however, the AFL leaders, frightened by this tremendous popular uprising, were silent about the general strike and instead assured the workers that Roosevelt would aid them.
By June 4, with the whole community seething with anger, the company capitulated and signed a six-month contract, including a5%wage increase with a 5% minimum above the auto industry code, naming Local 18384 as the exclusive bargaining agent in the struck plants. This was the first contract under the code that did not include "proportional representation" for company unions. /The path was opened for organization of the entire automobile industry. With the Auto-Lite victory under their belts, the Toledo auto workers were to organize 19 plants before the year was out and, before another 12 months, were to lead the first successful strike in a GM plant, the real beginning of the conquest of General Motors.
While the Auto-Lite strike was reaching its climax, the truck drivers of Minneapolis were waging the second of a series of three strikes which stand to this day as models for organization, strategy and incorruptible, militant leadership.
Minneapolis, with its twin city St. Paul, is the hub of Minnesota's wheat, lumber and iron ore areas. Transport—rail and truck—engages a relatively large number of workers. In early 1934, Minneapolis was a notoriously open-shop town. The Citizens Alliance, an organization of anti-union employers, ruled the city.
On February 7, 8 and 9, 1934, the Citizens Alliance got the first stunning blow that was to shatter its dominance. Within three days the union of coal yard workers, organized within General Drivers Local Union 574, AFL International Brotherhood of Teamsters, had paralyzed all the coal yards and won union recognition. The Minneapolis Labor Review, February 16, 1934, hailed "the masterly manner in which the struggle was conducted...there has never been a bet¬ter example of enthusiastic efficiency than displayed by the coal driver pickets."
The February 24,1934 Militant reported that Local 574 "displayed a well organized, mobile, fighting picket line that stormed over all opposition, closed 65 truck yards, 150 coal offices and swept the streets clear of scabs in the first three hours of the strike." The most painstaking and detailed preparation had gone into this strike. The organizers were a group of class-conscious socialists, Trotskyists who had been expelled from the Stalinized Communist Party in 1928, and workers sympathetic to the Trotskyist point of view. Soon their names were to ring throughout the whole northwest labor movement and make national headlines. They included the three Dunne brothers—Vincent, Grant and Miles—and Carl Skoglund, later to head 574.
"One of the outstanding features of the strike," the original Militant report stated, "was the Cruising Picket Squad. This idea came from the ranks and played a great role in the strike." This "cruising picket squad" was the original of the "flying squadrons" that were to become part of the standard picketing techniques of the great CIO strikes. The late Bill Brown, then president of 574, revealed another important aspect of the coal yards battle. "I wrote Daniel Tobin, international president of the union for an OK [to strike]. Two days after the strike was over, he wrote back that we couldn't strike. 'By that time we'd won and had a signed contract with increased pay."
The Dunne brothers, Skoglund and their associates proved to be a different and altogether superior breed of union leaders compared to the type represented by the craft-minded bureaucrats of the AFL who were content to build a little job-holding trust and settle down for life to collecting dues. After the first victory they set out to organize every truck driver and every inside warehouse worker in Minneapolis. A whirlwind organizing campaign had recruited 3,000 new members into Local 574 by May. On Tuesday, May 15, 1934, after the employers had refused even to deal with the union, the second truck drivers strike began. Now 5,000 strong, the organized drivers and warehousemen promptly massed at a large garage which served as strike headquarters. From there, fleets of pickets went rolling by trucks and cars to strategic points.
All trucking in the city was halted except for milk, ice and beer drivers who were organized and who operated with special union permits. The city was isolated from all truck traffic in or out by mass picketing. For the first time anywhere in connection with a labor struggle, the term "flying squads" was used — the May 26, 1934 Militant reported: "Flying squads of pickets toured the city."
The Local 574 leaders warned the membership over and over to place no reliance or hope in any government agents or agencies, including Floyd B. Olsen, the Farmer-Labor Party governor, and the National Labor Board. They preached reliance only on the mass picket lines and militant struggle against the employers.
From the start, the strike leaders summoned the whole working-class populace to their support. The very active unemployed organization responded at once. A 574 Women's Auxiliary, with a large membership, plunged into the strike, doing everything from secretarial work and mimeographing, to running the huge strike kitchen and manning picket trucks.
Some 700 of them marched in a mass demonstration to the Mayor’s office to demand the withdrawal of the "special" police. The march was led by Mrs. Grant Dunne, auxiliary president, and Mrs. Farrell Dobbs, auxiliary secretary and wife of a young coal driver who was a strike picket dispatcher. A decade later Farrell Dobbs became editor of The Militant and then national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party. The Citizens Alliance had called a mass meeting of small business men, junior executives and similar elements and steamed them up for an armed attack on the strikers. They were urged to become "special deputies" and strikebreakers.
They selected the City Market, where farm produce was brought, as the center of the struggle. The sheriff moved in deputies to convoy farm trucks in and out of the market square. The pickets were able to halt all but three trucks. Brutal terror was then the answer to the strikers.
"The Mayor doubled the police force, then tripled it," reported the May 26, 1934 Militant. "Gunmen were imported to get after the leaders of the strike. Determined attempts were made to break through the picket lines on Friday night and Saturday. Two hundred arrests were made... Saturday night the 'regulars' and 'special ' police rushed a truck load of women on the 'newspaper row' and beat them unmercifully, sending five to the hospital." The next day some 35,000 building trades workers declared a strike in sympathy with the truck drivers. The Central Labor Union voted its support. Workers, many from plants which weren't even organized, stayed off their jobs and flocked to join the pickets. On May 21 and 22 there was waged a two-day battle in the City Market that ended with the flight of the entire police force and special deputies in what was called by the strikers "The Battle of Deputies Run."
Word had come to the strike headquarters that the police and bosses were planning a "big offensive" to open the City Market to scab trucks on Monday and Tuesday. The strike leaders pulled in their forces from outlying areas and began concentrating them in the neighborhood of the market.
On Monday, a strong detachment of pickets was sent to the market. These pickets managed to wedge between the deputized business men and the police, isolating the "special deputies." One of the strikers, quoted in Charles Walker's American City, a stirring and generally reliable study of the Minneapolis struggle, described the ensuing battle:
"Then we called on the pickets from strike headquarters [reserve] who marched into the center of the market and encircled the police. They [the police] were put right in the center with no way out. At intervals we made sallies on them to separate a few. This kept up for a couple of hours, till finally they drew their guns. We had anticipated this would happen, and that then the pickets would be unable to fight them. You can't lick a gun with a club. The correlation of forces becomes a little unbalanced. So we picked out a striker, a big man and utterly fearless, and sent him in a truck with twenty-five pickets. He was instructed to drive right into the formation of cops and stop for nothing. We knew he'd do it. Down the street he came like a bat out of hell, with his horn honking sped into the market arena. The cops held up their hands for him to stop, but he kept on; they gave way and he was in the middle of them. The pickets jumped out on the cops. We figured by intermixing with the cops in hand-to-hand fighting, they would not use their guns because they would have to shoot cops as well as strikers. Cops don't like that. "Casualties for the day included for the strikers a broken collar bone, the cut-open skull of a picket who swung on a cop and hit a striker by mistake as the cop dodged, and a couple of broken, ribs. On the other side, roughly thirty cops were taken to the hospital." The strikers were victorious in another sense: no trucks moved.
The next day, the showdown came. The bosses' private army of 2,200 “special deputies,” plus virtually the entire police force, was mobilized in the market place to break the strike at its central point. A striker gave the following account in the June 2, 1934 Militant:
"A skeleton patrol was sent to patrol the market streets and to report any move to start delivery. Word quickly comes back; hundreds of special deputies, special police and harness bulls armed with clubs and guns, squad cars of police with sawed-off shot guns and vomiting gas. .A truck starts to move, but pickets jump to the running boards and demand that the scab driver stop. A hired slugger raises his club and slashes at a picket. Down the picket drops as if dead. The fight is on.'
"Phone rings at the concentration hall [Central Labor Union headquarters]: 'Send the reserves!' Orderly, but almost as if by magic, the hall is emptied. The pickets are deployed by their leaders to surround the police and sluggers. The police raise their riot guns but the workers ignore and rush through them. 'Chase out the hired sluggers,' is their battle cry. The cowardly sluggers take to their heels and run. The police and strikers use their clubs freely. Many casualties on both sides. The workers have captured the market!" Two of the "special deputies" who had volunteered to club strikers to death were killed themselves in the wild melee. One was Arthur Lyman, Citizens Alliance attorney and vice-president of the American Ball Company. The market was strewn with deputies' clubs and badges. The police disappeared.
The employers then agreed to move no trucks. On May 25 the strike was settled, with union recognition, no discrimination in re-hiring of striker sand arbitration of wages, which the employers had increased previously to forestall a strike and avoid dealing with the union.
An interesting sidelight of the second strike was a leaflet issued by the Communist Party denouncing the Dunne brothers and Skoglund as "traitors" and "agents of the bosses" and calling for "rank and file leaders," although the strike committee was composed entirely of 75 workers on the trucks.
A significant observation was made by Walker in American City: "Throughout, the nub and core of dispute was a matter of fundamental principle and strategy—for both sides—known as "recognition of the inside workers.'... To the employers, the 'banana men, the chicken pickers, and the pork picklers1 who worked inside their warehouses were outside the jurisdiction of a truck union. But why did they care so much? They cared because their inclusion meant that a kind of industrial union would be set up in the trucking industry of Minneapolis. Without the Inside workers, they would be dealing with a pure and simple craft union of truck drivers, weaker in bargaining power, easier to maneuver and smash. To the union, the issue of the 'inside workers' meant the same thing, a step toward industrial organization, a strong union..."
Not only the Minneapolis employers were disturbed by the industrial union implications of Local 574's campaign. AFL Teamsters President Daniel Tobin was no less upset by the Minneapolis truck drivers' victories. For he, too, was a bitter opponent of industrial unionism. He was to play a key part in the AFL in blocking an industrial union policy. Meanwhile, he openly joined with the Minneapolis employers in the next stage of the struggle.
The leaders of 574 put no trust in the employers to live up to the agreement in the second strike. They promptly began preparing the union for another battle in the event the bosses reneged. They gave the employers a month or so to comply with the pact. When the employers stalled, chiseled and ignored the union, the firm answer was a strike, called July 16, 1934.
One of the reasons the employers were emboldened to force the union's hand was a declaration by Tobin in the Teamsters magazine denouncing the Local 574 leaders as "radicals and Communists." This red baiting had no effect on the Minneapolis workers. On July 6 a parade of some 10,000 AFL members had proclaimed in advance their support of the coming strike. The meeting of business agents of the Building Trades Council denounced Tobin's red baiting and affirmed their support of 574. Only the bosses and their newspapers took the cue from Tobin and began screaming "Reds" and "Bloody Revolution."
The blood, however, was drawn by the other side. Police and employers deliberately planned to lure isolated picket trucks into an ambush and shoot down the unarmed workers without warning. This was to be a pretext for sending in the National Guard to break the strike.
The trap was sprung on the fifth day of the strike—"Bloody Friday," July 20. American City quotes a strike picket on what happened that day in the wholesale grocery district: "For two hours we stood around wondering what was up for there was no truck in sight. Then as two P.M. drew near a tensing of bodies and nervous shifting of feet and heads among the police indicated that ' something was up. We were right, for a few minutes later about one hundred more cops hove into view escorting a large yellow truck. The truck, without license plates and with the cab heavily wired, pulled up to the loading platform of the Slocum-Bergren Company. Here a few boxes were loaded on... At five past two the truck slowly pulled out... It turned down Sixth Avenue and then turned on Third Street toward Seventh Avenue. As it did a picket truck containing about ten pickets followed. As the picket truck drew near the convoy, the police without warning let loose a barrage of fire. Pickets fell from the trucks, others rushed up to pick up their wounded comrades; as they bent to pick up the injured, the police fired at them... One young worker received a full charge of buckshot in the back as he bent to pick up a wounded picket. "The rain of bullets then became a little heavier so I and three other pickets hopped a fence and walked to headquarters... Pickets by the dozens lying all over the floor with blood flowing from their wounds, more coming in and no place to put them. The doctor would treat one after another who urged him to treat others first.
“The Minneapolis papers printed hundreds of lies about what had happened but none was brazen enough to claim that the strikers had any weapons at all." This was substantially confirmed by the Governor's own investigating committee which, after the strike, found that the police had' planned the attack in advance and fired to kill on unarmed pickets.
One worker, Harry Ness, died shortly after the shooting. Another, John Belor, died a few days later in the hospital. Some 55 workers were wounded. Within 20 minutes of the massacre, the National Guard rolled into the area. It was their signal.
But if this terrorism was expected to smash the strike, the bosses got an unpleasant surprise.
All union-driven taxicabs, ice, beer and gasoline trucks, which had continued to operate by union permit, immediately went on strike. The police were cleared from all areas near the strike headquarters. Then, when Harry Ness was buried, the whole working class of Minneapolis turned out in an historic demonstration for his funeral. Some 40,000 inarched in the funeral cortege. They took over the streets. Not a cop was in sight. The workers themselves directed traffic.
Governor Olsen declared martial law. The military commanders began handing out "permits" for trucks to operate under the protection of the troops. Soon thousands of trucks were being manned by scabs and strikebreakers. The union did not take it lying down. The leaders gave an ultimatum to Olsen to withdraw the permits and to issue others only with the union's approval.
Then followed a war of attrition for several weeks. The strikers defied the troops and renewed their mobile picketing, keeping the military officials and cops on a merry-go-round. The guardsmen launched an attack in force on the Local 574 strike headquarters, arresting 100 members, including Bill Brown and the Dunne brothers, and throwing them into specially constructed military stockades. But the union rank and file, trained in democratic self-reliance, held firm and ran the strike as usual. So great was the outcry and protest—including another mass demonstration of 40,000 — that the union members and leaders were released in a few days.
Two of the tribe of Roosevelt's labor board mediators—"meditates" as the workers called them—were shipped into Minneapolis early in the strike. They were Father Haas, a Catholic priest, and E. H. Dunnigan. They had at once proposed a settlement based on some concessions to the workers which the bosses had flatly rejected. In the end, with the troops out in force —almost one soldier for every striker—Father Haas and Dunnigan tried to put over a watered-down version of their original proposals. When they went to sell the proposition to the rank-and-file Strike Committee of 100, they were subjected to such a devastating cross-examination that they were utterly routed. A new mediator was sent in and Father Haas had to retire to a sanitarium.
On August 22, after five weeks of the toughest battling against all the forces of the employers and government, the strikers won. The bosses capitulated and signed an agreement granting the union its main demands. This included the right to represent "inside workers," which the employers had threatened to fight to the bitter end as industrial unionism.
While the Minneapolis truck drivers were battling their way to victory, the San Francisco general strike—involving 125,000 workers at its peak — carried the American class struggle to new heights.
On May 9, 1934, from 10,000 to 15,000 West Coast members of the AFL International Longshoremen's Association went on an "unauthorized" strike. Soon the strike included 25,000 workers, many of them members of seamen's organizations who joined in sympathy. The original demands had been for a coast-wide agreement, union control of hiring halls and a closed shop. The strikers added demands for $1 .an hour instead of 85 cents and the 30-hour week instead of 48.
From the start, the strike was waged with great militancy. Frederick J. Lang, in his book Maritime A History and Program, wrote: "It was a real rank-and-file strike, with the 'leaders' swept along in the flood. It encountered every weapon then in the arsenal of the employers. The ship-owners hired their own thugs who tried to work the docks and man the ships. The city police of every port on the Coast were mobilized on the waterfronts to hunt down the strikers. The newspapers, launching a slander campaign against-the strikers, called on the citizenry to form vigilante committees to raid strike headquarters, the actual organization of this dirty work being entrusted to the American Legion and other 'patriotic' societies."
ILA President Joseph Ryan hastily flew into San Francisco from New York in an effort to squelch the strike. Over the heads of the strikers and their local leaders, he signed an agreement giving up the main demand—the union-controlled hiring hall. He was repudiated by the strikers in a coast-wide poll.
The chief strike leader was the then unknown Harry Bridges, He was under Stalinist influence but fortunately, at that time, did not adhere so closely to Communist Party policies as to carry out its line, of not working inside the "social fascist" AFL unions. Under the radicalizing effect of the depression, maritime workers were influenced by various political tendencies — Stalinist, IWW> (Industrial Workers of the World) and others—with the Stalinists playing the dominant role.
Ryan — a consort of ship-owners, stevedore bosses, gangsters and Tammany politicians, who 20 years later was to be dumped by these elements when he was no longer useful to them—tried to split the strike by making separate settlements in each port. He succeeded only in Seattle. AFL President William Green joined in denouncing the strike and yelling "reds" and "communists."
On July 5 the bosses tried to smash the strike by attacking its strategic center, San Francisco's waterfront, with calculated force and violence. At the "Battle of Rincon Hill" the police blasted away with tear gas, pistols and shotguns at the waterfront pickets. They killed Howard Sperry and Nick Bordoise and wounded 109 others. As in the third Minneapolis strike and the Toledo Auto-Lite battle, the deliberate massacres perpetrated by the police were the signal for sending in the National Guard.
The murder and wounding of strikers did not crush the workers. Instead, San Francisco labor answered with a tremendous counterattack—a general strike. For two days, the working class paralyzed the city. The workers took over many city functions, directing traffic and assuming other municipal tasks. On the third and fourth days, the general strike petered out when the AFL leaders, who were swept along in the first spontaneous protest against the killings, ordered an end to the stoppage.
The bosses and police, with the aid of organized vigilantes, vented their fear and hatred of the workers on the small radical organizations, not daring to hit directly at the unions. Thirty-five gangs of vigilantes, heavily armed, raided headquarters of Communist, IWW and Socialist groups. They smashed furniture, hurled typewriters and literature out the windows, beat up many defenseless workers. In some instances, the police who arrived after the vigilantes left completed the work of destruction. They jailed more than 300 persons.
After 11 weeks, the long shore strike was ended on July 31 with an agreement to arbitrate. It was a poor settlement, but the workers returned to the job in an organized body. Within a year, in job action after job action, they won the union hiring hall up and down the Coast. Their struggle gave impetus to maritime organization on the East Coast, leading in 1937 to establishment of the CIO National Maritime Union, and opened the way for organization of West Coast industrial labor.
Too little credit has been given to the Toledo, Minneapolis and San Francisco strikes for their effect on the subsequent industrial union movement, the CIO. But had these magnificent examples of labor struggle not occurred, in all likelihood the CIO would have been delayed or taken a different and less militant course.
It was these gigantic battles—all led by radicals—that convinced John L. Lewis that the American workers were determined to be organized and would follow the leadership that showed it meant business.
"Lewis watched the unrest and flare-ups of violence through the summer of 1934. He saw the Dunne brothers of Minneapolis lead a general strike of truck drivers into a virtual civil war. Blood ran in Minneapolis," wrote Alinsky in his John L. Lewis—An Unauthorized Biography.
"In San Francisco a general strike spearheaded by Harry Bridges' Longshoremen's Union paralyzed the great western city for four days.
"Before that year was out, seven hundred thousand workers had struck. Lewis could read the revolutionary handwriting on the walls of American industry. He knew that the workers were seething and aching to be organized so they could strike back. Everyone wanted to hit out, employer against worker and worker against employer and anyone else who they felt was not in their class. America was becoming more class conscious than at any time in its history..."
Of course, "civil war" was going on in towns and cities from coast to coast and blood was being spilled in scores of other places besides Minneapolis, Toledo and San Francisco. These latter cities were unique, however, in this: they showed how the workers could fight and win. They gave heart and hope to labor everywhere for the climactic struggle that was to build the CIO.
***Out In The Be-Bop 1950s Night- Storms Are On The Ocean- For Prescott Breslin
A YouTube film clip of June Carter Cash performing Storms Are On The Ocean one of Prescott Breslin’s favorite boyhood tunes.
Wildwood Flower, June Carter Cash, produced by John Carter Cash, Dualtone Music, 2003
Scene: Brought to mind by the song Storms Are On The Ocean performed by June Carter Cash on her Wildwood Flower album.
Prescott Breslin was beside himself on that snowy December day just before the Christmas of 1953. He had just heard, no more than heard, he had been told directly by Mr. John MacAdams, the owner’s son, that the James MacAdams & Son Textile Mill was closing its Maine operations in Olde Saco and moving to Lansing, North Carolina right across the border from his old boyhood hometown down in Harlan, Harlan, Kentucky, bloody Harlan of labor legend, song, and story right after the first of the new year. And the reason that the usually steady Prescott was beside himself at hearing that news was that he knew that Lansing back country, knew that the matter of a state border meant little down there as far as backwater ways went, knew it deep in his bones, and knew that come hell or high-water that he could not go back, not to that kind of defeat.
Prescott (not Pres, Scottie, or any such nickname, by the way, just dignified Prescott, one of his few vanities), left the mill at the closing of his shift, went across the street to Millie’s Diner, sat at the stooled-counter for singles, ordered a cup of coffee and a piece of Millie’s homemade pumpkin pie, and put a nickel in the counter jukebox, selecting the Carter Family’s Storms Are On The Ocean that Millie had ordered the jukebox man to insert just for Prescott and the other country boys (and occasionally girls), mainly boys, or rather men who worked the mills in town and sometimes needed a reminder of home, or something with their coffee and pie.
Hearing the sounds of southern home brought a semi-tear to Prescott's eye until he realized that he was in public, was at hang-out Millie’s where he had friends, and that Millie, thirty-something, but motherly-kind Millie was looking directly at him and he held it back with might and main. In a flash he thought, tear turning to grim smirk, how he had told his second son, Kendrick, just last year when he asked about the Marine Corps uniform hanging in a back closet in the two by four apartment that they still rented from the Olde Saco Housing Authority and naively asked him why he went to war. He had answered that he preferred, much preferred, taking his chances in some forsaken battlefield that finish his young life out in the hard-bitten coal mines of eastern Kentucky. And then, as the last words of Storms echoed in the half-empty diner, he thought, thought hard against the day that he could not turn back, never.
And just then came creeping in that one second of self-doubt, that flash of why the hell had he fallen for, and married, a Northern mill town girl (the sweet, reliable Delores, nee LeBlanc, met at the Starlight Ballroom over in Old Orchard Beach when he had been short-time stationed at the Portsmouth Naval Base down in New Hampshire), stayed up North after the war when he knew the mills were only a shade bit better that the mines, faced every kind of insult for being southern from the insular Mainiacs (they actually call themselves that with pride, the hicks, and it wasn’t really because he was from the south although that made him an easy target but because he was not born in Maine and could never be a Mainiac even if he lived there one hundred years), and had had three growing, incredibly fast growing boys, with Delores. He reached, suddenly, into his pocket, found a stray nickel, put it in the counter jukebox, and played the flip side of Storms, Anchored In Love. Yes, times will be tough since the MacAdams Mill was one of the few mills still around as they all headed south for cheaper labor, didn’t he know all about that from the mine struggles, jesus, but Delores, the three boys, and he would eke it out somehow. There was no going back, no way. ********* Carter Family - The Storms Are On The Ocean lyrics I'm going away to leave you love I'm going away for a while But I'll return to see you sometime If I go ten thousand miles
The storms are on the ocean The heavens may cease to be This world may lose it's motion love If I prove false to thee
Oh who will dress your pretty little feet And who will glove your hand Oh who will kiss your rosy red cheeks When I'm in a foreign land
Papa will dress my pretty little feet And Mama will glove my hand You may kiss my rosy red cheeks When you return again
Have you seen those mournful doves Flying from pine to pine A-mournin' for their own true love Just like I mourn for mine
I'll never go back on the ocean love I'll never go back on the sea I'll never go back on my blue-eyed girl 'Til she goes back on me
From The Pen Of Frank Jackman-with kudos
to Raymond Chandler
Old sailors, old tars who have
roamed all the seas, seven at last count, who have been in every port, been in
every port gin mill, whorehouse and greasy spoon, claim that the red wind, a wind
coming from the land means nothing but trouble, trouble with a big T. Their
take is this, and maybe they are right, that those red winds, the winds coming
out of some Santa Ana enclave make people jittery, make them nervous, make them
ready to do each and every thing they would not dream of doing in calmer times.
Yes do screwy foul things right up to murder if need be Philip Marlowe, the
tough old gumshoe, the seedy, has-been private eye, the shamus, found reason to
believe those old seadogs were on to something when the winds, the red winds,
no question, blew across the city of angels, disrupted the old time Los Angeles
night, his night, one October week back in 1939, back before the war made the
whole town crazy with or without winds.
Hell, who would have thought that
going out for a few cold ones, a few brews, to take the dust off the night at a
newly opened corner bar in the neighborhood, the old Bunker Hill neighborhood
where Marlowe called home would lead to murder. He had sat there minding his
own business nursing his second beer when Warden came in, came in looking for a
dame. No, not some bar girl or some street tart but an upscale woman looking
like something out of Vanity Fair and smelling, well, smelling of sandalwood if
anybody was asking, just a faint whiff of sandalwood just like it is supposed
to be applied. And for his efforts old brother Warden was waylaid and shot
point blank by a guy also nursing a few drinks at one of the tables.
Naturally, after the police, the
cops, in the person of one hard-nosed Homicide Detective Smythe who had no love
for private dicks as he called them, especially Marlowe since he had gotten his
nose bent out of shape in the Gilbert murder case, finished rumbling him up,
practically calling him the perpetrator, or in cahoots with the hard guy, our
boy Marlowe was up for anything that would shed like on what the hell had
happened before his eyes. See, not only did that lambster plug Warden but he
wanted to put two between the eyes of one Philip Marlowe (and the newly minted
bar owner too) to erase any witnesses to his dastardly deed. Marlowe, for
professional pride took umbrage at that notion, and at the intriguing idea that
some femme, some femme with that essence of sandalwood surrounding her was out in
the red wind night. And so our boy traced Warden’s movement back, finally
coming up with some clover.
This is the way it went down. This
Warden was nothing but a grifter, a ex-con with expensive habits, a dope thing.
He had landed in jail up in Oregon and did some time with Richard Baxter, yes,
the Richard Baxter who controlled the whole political machine on the sunny
slumming angels streets of the town. This Baxter, obviously did not want that
hard fact of hard time known around town, among the many other little things
that he wanted kept secret. Warden’s grift though was to get to Baxter through
his wife Lola, the woman of the sandalwood night. Baxter had picked her up on
the rebound after her true love bit the dust down Mexico way flying stuff in
and out. Warden, a resourceful sort in a crude way, stole a certain pearl
necklace of hers to grab some dough. In any case the pay-off to Warden was
dough, big dough, for the pearl necklace that this fly boy had given Lola as
sign of undying devotion. Lola was the woman Warden was looking to meet at the
bar before he died in a hail of bullets.
Lola, still without her necklace
after the aborted meet with Warden, then hired Philip to retrieve the item and
keep it on the hush. Naturally Marlowe’s code of honor required that he adhere
to that bargain, and find the necklace which he did. As well as a little
off-hand romance with the lovely lonely, ethereal Lola. Baxter, who had his
tentacles everywhere in his domain found out about Lola and the pearls, the
potential expose of his jail-bird time, and her little tryst with Marlowe and
was determined to do something about the matter.
Men like Richard Baxter do not get
where they wind up without walking over a pile of corpses and so he confronted
Lola and Philip in her bedroom one night, gun in hand. Somehow Lola diverted
Baxter’s attention long enough to let Marlowe to take a shot at him, a fatal
shot, taking a couple of slugs herself in the melee. She died in Philip’s arms
clutching that necklace. As for the necklace that old time fly boy love told
Lola it had been worth big dough. Philip found out it was glass, worthless.
Yes, Marlowe mused those navies were right, those dry res winds meant nothing
but trouble, trouble with a big T.
hat do you do when you’ve just been found guilty on 20 counts, including violating the Espionage Act of 1917, and sentenced to 35 years in the central military prison at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan.?
If you’re former Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, who helped leak more than 700,000 military and state department records—including video of an Apache helicopter gunship killing civilians and journalists—you have the biggest coming-out party in history.
“I am Chelsea Manning. I am female,” Manning wrote in a statement released to NBC’s Today show shortly after she was sentenced.
With those seven words, Manning transformed herself from someone who might be dismissed as a confused kid acting out (she had been showing signs before all this) or a possible shrinking violet (she apologized during the hearing for any harm she may have caused the U.S.) into a warrior princess now fighting for transparency within the military-industrial complex and LBGTQ rights.
Yes, by doubling down on her dissidence, Chelsea is now waving the stars and stripes as well as the rainbow flag, demanding a pardon, on moral grounds, outmaneuvering her persecutors, all the while becoming a new icon to the LBGTQ community—the very community she will be walking into with open arms as soon as she’s out of prison, which will be sooner than the scalp hunters expected or wanted.
In other words, Manning is crazy all right, crazy like a fox. She’s positioned herself at the center of a global platform—the newly renamed Private Manning Support Network—that raised the money for her legal defense and recently launched a crowdsourcing project to pay for her family in Wales to visit. Moreover, she may become just the second person in U.S. history to complete a gender transformation while incarcerated.
Chelsea Manning either hit a psychiatric wall or staged a breakdown while she was stationed in Iraq in 2009. Let’s say it’s the latter and that on May 7, when Army witnesses say they found her in the fetal position in a storage cupboard with a knife and the words “I want” carved into the vinyl chair she was sitting on, is when she began laying the groundwork for her master plan.
She rousted herself enough to punch intelligence analyst specialist Jihrleah Showman, a woman, in the face. For that, she was rewarded with a brigade psychiatrist recommending then-Private Bradley Manning be discharged for “occupational problem and adjustment disorder.” Manning’s supervisor promptly removed the bolt from her gun and relinquished her to supply-office duty. Oddly, her security clearance remained intact.
Maybe, as the story goes, Manning actually did come unglued behind a breakup with her boyfriend and subsequently leaked thousands of classified documents in a kind of adolescent tantrum. But a trail of breadcrumbs suggests other possibilities.
The trail starts when Manning, the son of a Navy veteran skilled in computer programming, showed up while on leave in January 2010 at a “hackerspace” in the basement of the computer science building at Boston University. According to leftist blog Empty Wheel, Manning was in Boston looking for encryption software and had already scraped massive amounts of data without being caught.
Manning met mathematician Eric Schmiedl while in Boston. She emailed Schmiedl on May 19, confessing that she was the source of the Baghdad airstrike video. Ten days before she contacted Schmiedl, Manning hit up gay novelist Jonathan Odell on Facebook, saying that she had been involved in some “very high-profile events, albeit as a nameless individual thus far” and wanted to talk to him.
In other words, her operation was already up and running and looking for distribution.
Working more as a smooth operator than a confused kid, Manning contacted high profile “gray hat” hacker Adrian Lamo on May 21, disclosing that she had set up Twitter and YouTube accounts under the name Breanna. Giving a digital birth to her female self, Manning wrote to Lamo, “I wouldn’t mind going to prison for the rest of my life, or being executed so much, if it wasn’t for the possibility of having pictures of me … plastered all over the world press … as [a] boy.”
Two days later, Lamo turned her in. Was Manning actually falling apart or setting up a gender-dysphoria defense knowing the leaks would be traced to her?
anning got into the military for the wrong reasons. On April 24, 2010, she sent an email to Master Sergeant Paul Adkins featuring an attached Warholian self-portrait of herself in a blond wig. “This is my problem. I’ve had signs of it for a very long time,” she wrote, as well as, “I thought a career in the military would get rid of it.”
Well, no. But maybe as she set about sabotaging her Army career while outing some of the military’s dirty secrets, she started to focus on what would “get rid of it,” and then some. Such as positioning herself as a hero by exposing the oppressive hetero-normative policies of the Department of Defense.
Contacting a high-profile hacker like Lamo, who had been arrested in 2003 after hacking The New York Times, Yahoo! and Microsoft, would clearly set off some big alarms. She knew most of the documents she leaked were not breaking news— the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners and misrepresentation of the civilian death toll in the Iraq War were well known by then. Though there were predictable headhunters, including Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) calling for the death penalty, even former Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Congress the leaks were “significantly overwrought, causing no serious damage, though embarrassing and awkward.”
There’s a chance Manning calculated prison might be a better place to “get rid of it” than the military. At least she wouldn’t have to participate in gunning down civilians and journalists in prison. Was this a case of moral conscience intersecting with self -interest?
Judge Denise Lind sentenced Manning to 35 years at Ft. Leavenworth with three-and-a-half years granted for time served and consideration for the abusive treatment she suffered in a Marine brig at Quantico. When measured against the 10 years given to Abu Ghraib’s sadistic shot caller, Charles Graner, who served six and a half, Manning’s sentence seems severe at first. It was, however, only 10 more years than Manning’s proposed plea and it was far less than the headhunters were howling for.
Manning’s lawyer, David Coombs, says Manning could be out in seven years on parole. He’s filed for a presidential pardon. Manning’s statement said, “If you deny my request for a pardon, I will serve my time knowing that sometimes you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society.”
Chelsea went to jail and everybody else went back to business as usual with the full impact of Manning’s leaks still unknown. The New York Times recently reported that some cables included in a trove of State Department messages leaked to WikiLeaks in 2010 included information about Syria’s procurement of deadly chemical weapons—very possibly part of Manning’s doc dump.
In her statement to the Today show, Manning said she wanted everyone to now “the real me.” And that she wanted to begin hormone therapy ASAP. The statement was signed “Chelsea E. Manning.”
The Army maintains it isn’t going to give Manning, who won’t be dishonorably discharged until her time is served, hormone therapy or any other special consideration. Coombs says he will file legal action to get the therapy. Meanwhile, the LGBTQ community has a new high-profile advocate for prison reform.
Either way, it all works in favor of Manning maneuvering her way out of the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan., so she can slip into something more comfortable, like a federal prison for her government-sponsored hormone replacement treatment and, presumably, gender reassignment surgery (GRS).
As the legal petitions pile up, at some point in the foreseeable future an accredited doctor is likely to certify Manning as transgender and she’ll begin hormone treatment somewhere in the federal prison system. Or, less likely, Ft. Leavenworth will begin to accommodate military personnel with gender dysphoria and provide them with hormone therapy.
Manning will ultimately be released from prison as Chelsea Manning, a trans-woman who has paid her debt to society. During her time in jail, the contributions her leaks made to transparency, public awareness and truth will continue to seep to the surface. The truth always comes out in time, like everything (and everyone) else.
organizations in the Network to Stop Drone Surveillance and Warfare
(NSDSW) are responding to a call by activists nationwide for a follow-on
campaign to the tremendously successful April Days of Action
CODEPINK, World Can't Wait, AFSC, Know Drones, No Drones Network,
and others have conferred and recommend:
There has been extraordinary public opposition to war as a
result of the Obama administration's proposal to attack Syria and continuing
question over whether Congress will authorize it. This has focused public
attention on the use of force and the cost of war.
The weeks ahead are a
perfect time for coordinated effort against war of all kinds, including drone
The fulcrum of the proposed November days will be the “Drones
Around the Globe: Proliferation and Resistance” summit being held in
Washington DC the weekend of November 16-17, 2013.
Organized by CODEPINK,Institute for Policy
Studies,The Nation Magazine, and
National Lawyers Guild (Georgetown Chapter), coordinated actions will compliment and support the
Friday, November 15:
protests at General Atomics in Washington, DC. We are calling for actions
around the country at other manufactures of drones.