Strike-Breaker Number One
The work: strike-breaking The scene: a courtroom in New York, where forty strike-breakers who took a disastrous jaunt to Georgia during the 1934 textile strike suing their boss, Pearl L. Bergoff, for back pay.
In no other country in the world could this scene have taken place, for the strike-breaking industry is wholly a product of American capitalism, and has been neither admired nor copied by foreigners. Historians who have painted pretty pictures of American industries and their leaders have given scant attention to this profession. Edward Levinson labor editor of the New York Post, at last exposes this industrial racket in ail its brutality in "I Break Strikes!"
Mr. Levinson's volume is both a biography and a history. It is the biography of Pear' L. Bergoff, the boy who outgrew his curls and girlish name to become the hated Red Demon--undisputed king of the strike-breakers and confidant of the masters of American industry. It is also a history of famous American labor wars, of the methods and activities of more than a hundred strike-breaking agencies, and of the legislation--and lack of legislation--connected with this most criminal of all legal professions.
In the frontispiece of "I Break Strikes!"* the reader comes face to face with nine "prison-pedigreed" strike-breakers, two of whom have been convicted of manslaughter. Complete police records for twenty of the most notorious of Mr. Bergoff's warriors are given in a special chapter devoted to his army. Among the men Bergoff took to Georgia were more than two dozen assorted criminals.
Pimp and pickpocket, thief and footpad, swindler and slugger, fence and fugitive, briber and usurer, blackmailer and extortionist, wire tapper and abductionist, gambler and gunman, dope fiend and rapist, murderer and madman, they have all placed their left hands on their hearts, raised their right hands in oath, and been sent forth to uphold law and order.
Strike-breakers are divided into two groups, nobles and "finks"--a term applied to the professional scab years ago by the Industrial Workers of the World. It is the nobles who attack strikers and attempt to stir them to violence, and who also protect the lowly finks and keep them from deserting when the job becomes too hazardous. In any large strike, quarters must be established for the strike-breaking army, and it is here that the noble gets his rake-off from the finks on cots, food, smokes, and amusements. While the agency robs the client, the nobles rob the finks. Two Bergoff aides have been killed in squabbles over crap-game spoils.
Violence and death travel with Bergoff. The first two of the fifty-four deaths that have marked his strike-breaking career occurred in his initial campaign against New York longshoremen in 1907. Two years later Bergoff was called to serve the Pressed Steel Car Company at McKee's Rocks, Pennsylvania. The town "became, for fifty-five days, an armed camp and a gory battlefield," writes Mr. Levinson. "Thousands of armed strikers slept, guns and clubs in hands, at plant gates," prepared to repel the invading strike-breakers. On one Bloody Sunday seven strikers and four opponents were killed. The next year Bergoff men were hired by the Philadelphia Rapid Transit to spy on its men and form a company union. When the expected walkout came, imported strike-breakers "rode the trolleys like wild men, killing sixteen men, women, and children in less than two mouths.'' A trolley strike is a "Christmas dinner" to finks, for it gives them free play "to steal the fares, short-change the customers, and operate the car on whichever street pays best." One street-car strike which turned out to be no Christmas dinner took place in Kansas City in 1917, when 5,000 citizens aided strikers in deporting the Bergoff men.
R. J. Coach, Cleveland's most famous strike-breaking chief, once observed: "There's more money in industry than there ever was in crime." With this statement Bergoff could hardly disagree, for by 1924 his firm had a $10,000,000 profit. "Breaking a strike is a costly affair for employer as well as worker," writes Mr. Levinson, "but a fabulously profitable enterprise for the strike-breaking agency. There are few other lines of endeavor in which a person with no special training, no credit or standing in the business world, and no investment whatever can gross from a hundred thousand to a million dollars in a month." The City of New York gave Bergoff $27,000 for a little job in 1907, and spent $136,000 in six days of the street cleaners' strike four years later. Three strikes--at McKee's Rocks, Bayonne, and Kansas City--netted Bergoff over $500,000. The 1916 transit strike in New York brought him $350,000. His banner year was 1920, when he received $712,602 from the Brooklyn Rapid Transit and $1,225,000 from the Erie Railroad. At least 50 per cent of these sums was clear profit.
Bergoff has seen service in more than 300 strikes in half the states of the Union. The Waldorf, Astor, and Plaza hotels have been among the elite of his clientele. All of them entertained prison graduates during the hotel and restaurant strikes of 1934. Another of the Red Demon's recent jobs was for the Warren Piece Dye Works in New Jersey, where his men represented themselves as NRA officials and advised the strikers that Uncle Sam didn't approve of their walkout.
In recounting the past history and present status of private detective and strike-breaking agencies, Mr. Levinson performs a distinct service to the American labor movement. Not since Sidney Howard wrote "The Labor Spy" more than a decade ago has the work of these agencies been described in such detail. In "I Break Strikes!" one finds an expose of the technique of Jim Farley (not Roosevelt's Jim), of the Pinkerton and Burns agencies, of Baldwin-Felts, of Mooney and Boland, and of a host of lesser lights. Here, too, is a graphic picture of the famous Ludlow, Colorado, massacre, in which twelve children and seven adults perished when soldiers and Baldwin-Felts guards, hired by Rockefeller's fuel company, set fire to the miners' tents.
While the strike-breaking field has been narrowed today by company unions, racketeers, and private espionage systems, there is not a large city in the country which does not have a host of agencies. Towering above Bergoff's other competitors is the Railway Audit and Inspection Company, which has scores of affiliates throughout the country and, according to Mr. Levinson, will handle most of the strike-breaking jobs of the future. This bureau "provides the most thorough strike-breaking system in the country, from spies to strike-breakers, to tear-gas bombs and Thompson sub-machine guns." It has served, among others, Consolidated Gas of New York, Brooklyn Edison, General Motors, Western Union, Chase National Bank, United States Steel, Kelvinator Refrigerator and Firestone Tire and Rubber Company.
Mr. Levinson has collected the evidence and presented the indictment against the strike-breakers. He shows that despite many government surveys there exists today no effective legislation aimed at the strike-breaking racket. Mr. Bergoff claims that if his business "is a nefarious business, then it is nefarious for business and industry" to hire him. When his detective license was revoked last month, he commented, "I don't give a damn about the license. I broke strikes for seventeen years without any license and I'll go on stronger than ever." There seems no question that the use of industrial spies, whether obtained through strikebreaking agencies or private espionage systems, is in violation of the Wagner industrial-disputes law. On motion of Julius Hochman, general manager of the Dress and Waistmakers' Union, International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, the recent A. F. of L. convention adopted a resolution calling for a federal investigation of strike-breaking and private detective agencies. Such an investigation is certainly in order.