Monday, September 3, 2018

After the 1933 Spang-Chalfant strike violence, the immediate aftermath

This blog post is a continuation of the story of the October 5, 1933, Spang-Chalfant anti-strike violence in Ambridge PA. If you haven't yet read about it, I recommend you read my blog post telling the story, illustrated by a number of photos and a newsreel: "Ambridge 1933 anti-union strike violence at Spang-Chalfant." If you have already read it, consider re-reading it. It's a shocking and sad story appropriate for Labor Day.

Strikebreakers on patrol after ending the strike at Spang-Chalfant
AP photo
October 6, 1933

Here's the Associated Press description on the back of the above photo:
Guard Steel Property: Deputies Sheriff are shown patrolling the railroad lines beside an Ambridge, PA., steel plant, around which there has been sporadic warfare between pickets and officers for several days. Tear gas and rifle fire have been resorted to by officers to halt the activity of pickets. 
Since I first started researching the story of that strike, I have been struck by how the workers who were trying to unionize were not only beaten, shot, and teargassed by deputized strikebreakers, but also I've frequently been taken aback by the number of local officials who led, condoned, or were complicit in the violence against the strikers, including the Beaver County Sheriff Charles J. O'Loughlin, County Detective Robert Branyan, Ambridge Burgess P. J. Caul, and county District Attorney, A. B. de Castrique, as well as local police.

But the mistreatment of the workers, or those suspected of being union sympathizers, didn't stop when the strike did.

A 1995 article in the Buffalo Law Review * describes some of post-strike incidents:
The next day, three carloads of police patrolled the streets breaking up groups of three or more at gun point, even on the steps of their homes. Many were routinely searched. Police raided the offices of the strikers to arrest several leaders of the strike, carrying off records and cash, without warrants. Leaders spent days in jail until released on habeas corpus. More than twenty men were fired at Spang-Chalfant. 
"Injured men were also interrogated about their work before treatment."

"Police violently interfered with people going to the funeral of the man killed [Adam Petrasuski], and two women, Edith Brisker and May Ecker, were arrested when they tried to speak to the crowd."

The Law Review article also tells the story of how a community member not involved in the strike was not only shot by the deputies, but also mistreated by the very people who should have cared for him:
Abuse was not limited to pickets, a bread delivery man showed the extent of municipal control.
 I was near Twenty-fourth Street. There were no pickets or strikers there. A bunch of deputies, not among those who came in from the outside but from those who were inside shot at me. They were stationed on the railroad tracks. I did not know what for. I had no stick or anything. I was just watching from a distance what was happening when the fellows from the railroad tracks shot at me hitting me in the back. . . . 
 When I first came to the hospital I had to hang around in the waiting room. I was very sick, so I found a bench and lay down. Pretty soon someone came to me, I don't know whether he was a doctor or who, I was too sick to look up. He asked me "where you work?" I was too sick to reply. 
 The same evening Dr. F.C. Forcey who is on the staff of the Sewickley Valley hospital and who is also the company physician of the Spang-Chalfant Company said to me "You are a red." I said "sure, can't you see all the blood from my wounds." Then he said "You ought to be shot." 
 Then Dr. Boruku, the second day when he went to take the bandage off the wounds, asked me whether I cry. I said no. Then he tore the bandage off my arms, tearing the hair with it. "You must be tough," he said. Then when he started taking the bandage off my head he said "We're going to have fun now." He tried to tear it off. It hurt terribly, tears were rolling down my eyes, but I said nothing. He could not tear the head bandage off, so he took the scissors and cut my hair.
After I collect more information, I hope to write more about what happened in Ambridge in the aftermath of the 1933 strike. Until then, on this Labor Day, think about how people literally fought and died for the employment rights and benefits many U. S. workers have today.

* Casebeer, Kenneth (Winter, 1995) "Aliquippa: The Company Town and Contested Power in the Construction of Law," 43 Buffalo L. Rev. 617