by a postwar “red scare,” thousands of labor and social activists were arrested and deported, although evidence of specific links between ‘these individuals and either imperial Germany or the newlyestablished Soviet government in Russia was totally lacking. But it was the nature of the times that to simply express opposition to government policies, and particularly to oppose corporate policies which threatened the rights of working people, was considered “unpatriotic” and “subversive.” These conditions resulted in a violent antiunion campaign, the bitterness of which can be seen from the portion of the editorial of the Tulsa Daily World cited earlier. Adding to the post WWI decline of fortunes for labor in Oklahoma was the lengthening shadow of Jim Crow segregation. In 1910, over the objections of many of the state’s farmer and labor organizations, the Oklahoma legislature passed the “grandfather clause” which restricted the right to vote to those who could prove that their grandparents were registered voter’s. This move effectively disenfranchised about two-thirds of the black voters in the state in one stroke. Segregation both of the legislated and the informal variety grew, and relations between the races continued to deteriorate, climaxing in 1921 in the bloody riot in Tulsa’s northside. Under these conditions it became impossible to simply organize black workers or even have them participate in union meetings without eventually addressing the questions of discrimination in their social and political activities. Although a number of Oklahoma unionists fought for the union movement to make just such a commitment to blacks, a number did not, claiming such a move would unnecessarily alienate the state’s whites. Thus occurred a general reversal of the unions’ earlier antirestrictive policies, a development which in time converted the state’s black’poputial supporters of organized labor into a potential pool of strikebreakers. This shift was quickly seized upon by the state’s employers and throughout the 1920’s blacks were recruited as strikebreakers with sickening regularity. In response, some whites demanded that blacks be excluded from certain industries and in 1922 a black strikebreaker was lynched by white unionists during a packinghouse workers strike in Oklahoma City. This action helped turn public opinion against the strikers and the strike ended in complete failure. It signaled the end of union organizing efforts among Oklahoma City meatcutters for more than ten years. Another factor in Oklahoma labor’s decline during the inter-war period was its loss of political independence. Socialist opposition to America’s entry into the war resulted in the removal of the party’s elected officials and various other repressive measures. The state placed severe restrictions on the rights of registered Socialist voters and the Socialist press was heavily censored. In addition, many known Socialists found it impossible to find jobs, while others had their businesses boycotted. A number of Socialist labor organizers were deported from the state on the basis of their political beliefs and in the summer of 1917 an anti-war movement in eastern Oklahoma known as the “Green Corn Rebellion” \(composed of white, black, and Seminole sharecroppers and led by socialist orhoma National Guard. More than 400 of its members were arrested. By 1920 the Socialist Party was no longer a significant political force in Oklahoma. Labor and farmers reorganized their forces and in 1921 founded the Oklahoma Farmer-Labor Reconstruction League, modeled after the Non-Partisan League of North Dakota. Although the coalition succeeded in getting J. C. “Jack” Walton, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 1922, to pledge his support for the Reconstructionists’ program, their unwillingness to work outside the framework of the Democratic party proved fatal. Deprived of an independent political apparatus, the League could only function as one interest group among many, and eventually it was revealed that Walton, who had enjoyed the League’s support on the basis of his pro-labor stands while mayor of Oklahoma City, was in fact receiving payoffs from several prominent eastern Oklahoma oilmen. After 1926, the Farmer-Labor Reconstruction League was finished. Similar attempts at maintaining a political alliance between farmers and unionsts, such as the shortlived Farm-Labor League, likewise failed. A final ingredient in labor’s collapse during this period was the use of outright brutality and terror. Shortly following the incendiary Tulsa Daily World editorial, 18 oil worker organizers were kidnapped near Tulsa. While Tulsa County law enforcement officers looked on, the workers were beaten nearly to death with black snake whips and deported from the area. The criminals were never punished. Many of the anti-union terrorists were members of a secret organization known as the Knights of Liberty, which along with other “patriotic” organizations were often led and financed by some of the state’s leading industrialists. Labor organizers led the list of “subversives” these groups tried to suppress. Many members of the anti-union groups went on to join the Ku Klux Klan in the early 1920’s. Although widely known for its anti-minority and anti-Semite activities, Klansmen also took part in breaking up strikes and intimidating union members. During the 1923 strike by railway shopmen, many small businessmen and farmers in Oklahoma towns were forced by Klansmen to display pro-management signs intheir windows, while in neighboring Arkansas, two railway organizers were lynched by a KKK-led mob. Company-sponsored unions and employee associations also resorted to strong-arm tactics against legitimate labor organizations. In northeastern Oklahoma, lead and zinc miners faced repeated attacks by club-wielding thugs hired by the company and masquerading as unionists. As the 1920’s unrolled, the plight of the unions in Oklahoma steadily worsened. Under the guise of the “open shop plan” business promoted a wide range of antiunion activities. Cities such as Tulsa prominently featured promotional literature boasting of open shop conditions. In eastern Oklahoma, coal miners suffered a series of defeats and were forced to accept wage cuts in 1919 and 1924. One union district was faced with financial disaster as the result of the famous Coronado decision, which made all union members legally and financially responsible for the actions of any individual member. Although the verdict was appealed and eventually ruled unconstitutional, the case saddled the miners with immense legal fees. This, combined with declining production in the Oklahoma coalfields, spelled the effective end of UMWA activities in Oklahoma. Then came the Great Depression. In Oklahoma, unemployment reached 42 percent in 1933. Organizing efforts ground to a near halt. It was a bleak period, but from it came the development of the industrial union movement and the liberalization of the political climate symbolized by Franklin Roosevelt’s policies. By the mid-1930s, Oklahoma labor was on the upsurge. Union membership grew, including, for the first time, workers in the oil and gas industry. As a result of successful organizing campaigns at Sinclair, Phillips, and Champlain in 1934, Cities Service in 1937, and Mid Continent in 1938, many oil field and refinery workers joined union ranks. The unionization of farm laborers also revived and by 1936 the Southern Tenant THE TEXAS OBSERVER 17
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