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E. Lund

Sun Shipyard Guards Shoot Seven Negro Workers

(June 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 26, 28 June 1943, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

PHILADELPHIA – Seven workers were shot, one of them critically, when company guards fired into a crowd at the yards of the Sun Shipbuilding & Drydock Corp. last Wednesday. The outbreak was the result of a policy of brutality and intimidation used by the management in its fight against the CIO drive to organize the yards.

Although none of the wounded, all Negroes employed in the Jim Crow No. 4 Yard, were CIO members, the “treat ’em rough” attitude of the guards has been applied toward all employees. Among the wounded was even a prominent company union man and stooge for the management.

The guards, also all Negroes, are paid by the company but function as members of the Coast Guard. The latter held them under military arrest, pending an investigation. In an effort to protect them against the vengeance of the men, the Coast Guard has refused to make public the identity of the guards involved.

The story of how the shooting started follows two versions; one, that of the company and the Coast Guard, the other that of the union, Local 2 of the Shipbuilders, CIO.

The union story, authenticated by numerous workers who were eye witnesses, says that it started in the company cafeteria during lunch hour. A warning whistle blows at 12:25 and the men are supposed to be back on the job at 12:30. Several workers who were finishing their meal as the warning whistle blew were approached by several guards with a demand that they “get back on the job.” One of the workers replied that he was still on his own time and would finish eating. The guard proceeded to take his number, which is the usual procedure when reporting a worker for violating a rule.

The worker followed the guard and asked what he was being reported for. At this moment the captain of the guards pushed his way through the small group that had gathered during the argument and punched the worker. Soon a general scuffle ensued, during which someone threw a half-brick and struck a guard. The guards immediately pulled their automatic pistols and the crowd scattered. However, the guards opened fire and felled a number of persons.

Five workers were taken to the hospital and two were treated at the company dispensary for minor flesh wounds. Almost all of the wounds were in the back or the back of the legs, indicating they were running from the guards when shot.

Following the shooting the workers lined up against the fence and refused to work. Edward Abrams, popular CIO organizer in No. 4 Yard, attempted to speak to the men but was arrested and held in $3,000 bail on a charge of inciting to riot!

Though the men were persuaded to go back to the job, virtually no work was done for the rest of the shift.

The version of the stories given by the company and the Coast Guard say nothing about the cafeteria incident and claim it started when a guard challenged a worker who worked without an identification badge. None of the workers present can even guess how this story ever got started. It is pointed out that no one can get by the guards at the gates without a badge. Even should this have happened in the morning rush, it is impossible to believe that he could have worked all morning without being challenged by his leader, his foreman, or by one of the guards on the hourly visits to check all badges.

The intensive activity of the: CIO is continuing to enroll more and more members as the date of the NLRB election, June 30, rolls near. Union spokesmen feel that the brutality shown by the company guards in the shooting will help open the eyes of many Negro employees who have been taken in by the company union line that John Pew, the company president, Republican boss, and die-hard enemy of unionism, is really interested in the welfare and future of the race.

Negroes are more and more coming to understand that Pew really loves them as long as they are satisfied to keep their mouths shut and let Pew judge when they should have a raise or a promotion and, above all, join his company union.

But Negroes who stand up like men, think their own thoughts and speak them out, which means joining the CIO, are manhandled, laid off, fired, and generally pushed around by Pew management and guards.

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