Monday, November 26, 2012

William Z Foster's speech to the Intercollegiate Socialist Society

In the 'Socialist Review', the publication for the ISS, the following is written. (November 1920, page 185)

The I.S.S. Convention
While every session of the Eleventh Annual Convention of the Intercollegiate Socialist Society, held in New York City on December 29th and 30th, 1919, was filled with vital discussion, the big dinner, devoted to a symposium on "The American Labor Revolt: Its Meaning," and attended by some 400 collegians, elicited, in the nature of the case, the greatest public attention. William Z. Foster, Secretary of the Committee for Organizing Iron and Steel Workers, the chief speaker of the occasion, gripped the audience with a thrilling story of heroic sacrifice and of the developing solidarity of labor as witnessed in the steel industry. Foster first told of the organization of the meat packing industry during the war, and the beginning, on August 1, 1918, of the campaign for the unionization of the steel workers.

William Z. Foster

"I have no patience with the radical who says that nothing can be accomplished through the regular trade union movement. The fault is not with the trade unions, but with the radical. The movement is shrieking for able men and if a radical has constructive ideas, the trade unionist will pick up these ideas and put them over. I know from experience of what I am talking.

"Formerly the union organizers used to begin their work among the steel men by organizing those of one craft in one locality. Their activities would be discovered and the men in the union would be promptly discharged. This happened over and over again. I proposed to start with the organization of all crafts in all localities. If we had entered on a big campaign along these lines at that time we would have been thoroughly organized before the armistice was declared. The suggestion seemed too great a departure for the unions to make. So we employed only a few organizers and started them in the Chicago district, and the men in Gary and Indiana Harbor came in by the thousands.

"We then went to Pittsburgh. We had to fight everyone in the town. Pittsburgh is a company owned town from top to bottom. The press, the banks, and other institutions-all are controlled by the interests, with the United States Steel Corporation the boss on the job.

"For weeks we tried to obtain permission to address peaceful meetings. We couldn't get results. Finally we decided to establish free speech ourselves. We went to McKeesport and asked the Mayor for the privilege of holding a meeting. He refused us our constitutional rights. We decided to defy the local authorities. We put up huge posters announcing the meeting, urging all who believed in sixteenth-century absolutism to stay away and those who believed in President Wilson's democracy to attend. The Mayor backed up and we held the meeting.

"We took the fight into Duquesne. We asked the Mayor for a permit to speak. Rabbi Wise was scheduled as the principal speaker. The Mayor of this town was not only mayor, but judge, one of the chief bankers, a president of the local steel mill, etc. He told us that Jesus Christ couldn't speak in Duquesne for the A.F. of L. We leased a lot, and one by one Mother Jones, another organizer, and myself were arrested as we began to speak and were fined $100 and costs. Still another organizer, hearing of the meeting, and entering the police station to pay the fines of those arrested was also hauled in.

"In those localities the deputy sheriffs, the company police, the private detectives, the city police, and the state police all cooperate against the men. Time and again workers have been arrested and fined $50 and costs for merely being found on strike!"

Mr Foster described the commissary department of the strike committee, and declared that, instead of the strike causing the United States Steel Corporation a loss of $20,000,000 the pre strike-calculation of the officials, it had resulted in a loss of $400 000,000. He felt that the eight-hour day would be won as a result of the strike.

William Z. Foster was a communist, an organizer, and a writer. More general information about him here. He would go on to write the book "Toward Soviet America".

The ISS was founded in 1905 by many Fabian-minded radicals. The ISS would go on to re-name itself LID, the League for Industrial Democracy. The LID's student wing would later on re-name itself SDS, the Students for a Democratic Society.

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