History of the Labor Movement in the United States - Vol. 4

By Philip S. Foner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 16
Akron and Detroit: Rubber and Auto

In August 1912, flushed with the victory at Lawrence, I.W.W. organizers addressed a mass meeting of rubber workers in Akron, Ohio. "If you are not satisfied with your conditions," Elizabeth Gurley Flynn told the rubber workers, "the I.W.W. will lead the war.... What was done in Lawrence textile mills may be done in Akron rubber shops."1 In an editorial headed, "This is not Lawrence, Mass.," the AkronPress warned the I.W.W. not to compare "this peaceful and law-abiding city of the Western Reserve," with its thousands of native American workers, with the "alien" city in Massachusetts, "where there are about 37 varieties of languages and as many workers." It went on to remind the Wobblies that "there are in Akron thousands of workingmen who are paying for Akron homes with wages paid by Akron industries.... These people are not interested in having a strike that will paralyze Akron industry and destroy the source of the city's continued prosperity."2

A few months after this smug editorial appeared, 20,000 rubber workers in the Akron plants, all but 1,500 native Americans, were out on strike under the leadership of the I.W.W.!


CONDITIONS IN THE RUBBER INDUSTRY

In 1913, Akron, the "Rubber Capital" of the world, was also one of the worst open-shop towns in the country; the rubber industry was completely open-shop. In 1903, the A.F. of L.'s Amalgamated Rubber Workers' Union of North America set up a local union in Akron and began an organizational drive. But the union was destroyed through the activity of spies sent into the organization by the rubber companies. The books containing the membership list was stolen from the secretary's room, and those workers whose names were on it were discharged and blacklisted. One of the blacklisted men even brought suit against the Diamond Rubber Co. for having placed his name on a blacklist because of his

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