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Reply #15: My mother taught me about Coughlin -- and a whole lot more [View All]

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starroute Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Nov-25-08 01:41 AM
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15. My mother taught me about Coughlin -- and a whole lot more
My mother was no good at traditional bedtime stories, so she would put me to sleep by telling me about the history of the 1920's and 30's as she remembered it. She was 16 when Roosevelt was elected and had been thinking about becoming a communist (except that she balked at the part about getting up early on Sunday mornings to sell the Daily Worker on street corners), but Roosevelt won her over.

So she would tell me stories about the New Deal, and the terrible, terrible names people used to call Eleanor Roosevelt, and how she cried when the NRA was struck down by the Supreme Court. And she would tell me about how the German Bund used to hold rallies and about how Father Coughlin would get the haters whipped up with his radio show.

She also told me about reading George Seldes to find out the stuff the New York Times was suppressing because they didn't want to get their advertisers annoyed. For example, during the Spanish Civil War, the Times would always point out that the Loyalists were backed by the Soviet Union but never mentioned that Franco's forces were supported by fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.

There may have been something like 13 daily papers in New York City in those days, but you still had to go to someone like George Seldes to learn the truth. My father told me just a couple of years ago that during the McCarthy era he and my mother were terrified that the House Un-American Activities Committee would get their hands on the mailing list for Seldes' newsletter and they'd be in real trouble.

That never happened, but I sometimes think it may explain why I tend to be on the tinfoil side of things today. The early 50's were a pretty nutsy time to be a little kid, especially since none of the grownups ever talked about this stuff to you directly.

The left in this country has a long, sad history of persecution and resistance, running from the Haymarket Riot through Cointelpro, but very few of us have ever learned more than snatches of it. I keep thinking it's time to reclaim that history and remind ourselves of who our real heroes are.

Actually, things being what they are, it might not hurt to start with a little of the history of the UAW:

http://www.uawlocal1999.org/UAWHistory/default.asp

The leadership of the UAW knew that if the automobile industry was to be organized, General Motors would have to be organized. On December 28, 1936, workers struck the Cleveland Fisher Body plant, a key plant which supplied the tops for nearly all GM cars. On December 30, 1936, at Flint Fisher Body, GM tried to move important dies to weaker union areas, but the Flint workers went on a sit-down strike. This was the action that triggered the General Motors sit-down strike of 1937. Within a few days, workers from other GM plants all over the country struck. By January 13, 1937, over 112,000 of the companys 150,000 production workers were on strike.

The UAW made eight demands, one of which was to recognize the UAW as the sole bargaining representative. General Motors refused to consider any of the demands and took their case to court. They obtained an injunction ordering the strikers out of the plants. When it was discovered that the issuing judge owned a large amount of General Motors stock, the writ became unenforceable. Then it was decided to starve out the Flint sit-downers. This effort precipitated a battle between police and women, who had each day for almost a month brought food to their men and were determined that they should not be stopped. The police started shooting tear gas through the windows while the women were passing food to their men. The men inside the plant started to fight back with water from heavy fire hoses and steel hinges. At one point, police were firing point blank into the crowd that included women. Union sympathizers retaliated with stones, lumps of coal, steel hinges, and milk bottles. The strikers held their ground. The wind changed direction and blew the tear gas back into the police and after two hours the police retreated.

This conflict, in which 14 fell from gunshot wounds, was later called The Battle of Bulls Run. After this conflict, each day rumors that Governor Murphy had ordered the troops to clear the plants were circulated. Each day proved the rumors were wrong but the Governor was under much pressure to send in troops. In a telegram to Governor Murphy, the sit-downers told the Governor they had decided to stay in the plant and if this resulted in an attempt to eject them, their deaths would be his responsibility.

Brothers Walter, Roy, and Victor Reuther were all union leaders that helped facilitate these sit-down strikes. Finally, on February 11, 1937, a one-page contract was agreed upon by GM and the UAW. Without the help of President Roosevelt and the cooperation of Governor Murphy, there would have been more bloodshed and we would not have had a union at General Motors. After General Motors surrendered, the rest of the auto industry was soon to follow.

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