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12 Released Trotskyists
Honored at Meeting

Fighters for Labor’s Rights Given Ovation at Mass Rally

(10 February 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 6, 10 February 1945, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

NEW YORK CITY, Feb. 2Over 800 unionists and other progressive fighters for civil liberties this evening jammed the Grand Ballroom of the Hotel Diplomat here to honor the 12 Minneapolis Labor Case defendants released last week after their 13 months behind Roosevelt’s prison bars.

Inspired by the imprisoned Trotskyist leaders’ courageous stand for labor’s rights, this Welcome Home Mass Meeting, sponsored by the Civil Rights Defense Committee, enthusiastically pledged to continue the struggle for repeal of the infamous Smith “Gag” Act under which the Socialist Workers Party leaders were the first labor victim’s. The demand was issued for an unconditional presidential pardon and restoration of their full citizenship rights, now denied the defendants because of their “felony” convictions.

Prolonged Ovation

A prolonged ovation was accorded to the three released prisoners who addressed the meeting, Albert Goldman, Farrell Dobbs and Felix Morrow, and to James P. Cannon, who was unable to attend because of illness but sent a stirring statement to the gathering.

The released Socialist Workers Party and Minneapolis Truckdrivers Local 544-00 leaders spoke with the fervor of the revolutionary socialist convictions for which they were railroaded to prison and which capitalist government persecution has only deepened. They issued a militant call to all labor to unite in unceasing struggle against capitalist reaction and in defense of the workers’ rights.

Outstanding labor and civil liberties leaders joined in greeting the returned Trotskyist fighters. The welcoming speakers included Osmund K. Fraenkel, counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union; James T. Farrell, noted novelist and Chairman of the Civil Rights Defense Committee; Benjamin S. McLaurin, International Field Organizer of the AFL Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and National Secretary of the Negro March on Washington Movement; and B.A. Gebiner, Assistant General Secretary of the Workmen’s Circle. George Novack, CRDC National Secretary, was the chairman.

At this mass meeting, all the 18 Trotskyists originally imprisoned, 6 of whom were released last October, demonstrated the front of solidarity they have maintained throughout their trial and imprisonment. Oscar Shoenfeld, Karl Kuehn and Al Russel, released last October from Danbury, Conn., prison, sat on the platform with their newly-released comrades from the Sandstone, Minn., penitentiary. A message of solidarity came from the other Minneapolis prisoners, Grace Carlson, Jake Cooper, Oscar Coover, Harry DeBoer, Vincent Dunne, Max Geldman, Clarence Hamel, Emil Hansen, Carlos Hudson, Ed Palmquist and Carl Skoglund.

Cannon’s Statement

In his statement read at the opening of the meeting, Comrade Cannon, founder of the American Trotskyist movement and SWP National Secretary, paid special tribute to Grace Carlson, sole woman among the defendants, who was separated from the rest of her comrades all alone at the women’s prison in Alderson, W.Va. She is affectionately called “The Senator” since the time in 1940 when she ran on the Minnesota SWP ticket for the U.S. Senate.

“Our hearts ached for our Senator there all alone with such a ‘hard way to go,’ as the convicts say. But she stood up and played her part and set us an example. We, are proud of our Senator. All the rest of us did the best we could and we hope you approve of the way we conducted ourselves,” Cannon declared.

“If I were to be present at the meeting, the thing I would like to say would be how deeply, how profoundly, I thank you for your solidarity, your kindness, your friendship.”

He also expressed his “heartfelt gratitude” to Roger Baldwin, National Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, who aided the CRDG’s defense campaign from the beginning of the case in June 1941.

Goldman’s Speech

Comrade Goldman, who made labor defense history as defense counsel in the Minneapolis trial where he was also a defendant spoke with his usual militancy. “Far be it from us to lay the least claim to a martyr’s crown. Imprisonment is a terrible thing under the best conditions.

“It is not, however, because of our treatment in prison that you and thousands of others have protested and are protesting. It is because of the fact that we were imprisoned for propagating ideas which we believe offer the only path to the liberation of mankind. Very few of those who supported us agree with our ideas, but they understand that to permit reactionary forces to imprison people for preaching ideas that have as their aim the achievement of true liberty and equality for all men is dangerous indeed for everyone who is dissatisfied with the world as it is.”

Calling for a continuation of the struggle against the Smith “Gag” Act, Goldman stated:

“Our agitation against it may not result in its immediate repeal but it will undoubtedly save many a potential labor victim. Let all agitation against the Smith law cease and prosecutors all over the country will be encouraged to use it. Our agitation against the Smith Act becomes part of pur struggle to preserve and extend democratic rights for the people. For we live in a period when those rights are constantly threatened.”

CRDC Role in Helping Prisoners

Farrell Dobbs, who as a young coal yard driver helped to organize and lead the great Minneapolis truckdrivers strikes in 1934 and rose to the position of SWP National Labor Secretary and then Editor of The Militant, told what it meant to the morale of the prisoners to know that the CRDC and its supporters were taking care of their dependent families.

He spoke with deep gratification of the “millions of trade union fighters [who] rallied to the defense of the 18 throughout our entire case and particularly when we were in prison and [who] rallied to the defense of Kelly Postal, Local 544-CIO secretary-treasurer, who was railroaded to jail by Tobin in the Minnesota courts. This defense movement has cut across political lines and organizational boundaries. Virtually all of the working-class parties have supported us – that is, all except the Stalinist betrayers of the working class. The oppressed Negro people sprang to our defense. And all liberal groups with the courage of their convictions lent us their support. Over 600 labor bodies have given their aid in this fight. They are so numerous it is impossible to name them all tonight and tell them how much we appreciate their support.”

Felix Morrow’s Speech

Felix Morrow, Editor of Fourth International magazine and one of the most notable revolutionary journalists, declared:

“We went to prison for – a party in which we have supreme faith – a trade union which had every right to exist – and a principle of workers’ liberties which every militant worker could understand if only our voices could reach him. And we reached millions of such workers. What is important is that several millions of workers learned to understand the principles involved in this case and learned what a threat to the labor movement is contained in the Smith Act and similar legislation.”

For the labor movement really to fight firmly against reaction. Comrade Morrow pointed out, “means for labor to stand up as a class, a class which recognizes its irreconcilable hostility to the capitalist class – on the economic front, on the political front, on the civil liberties front.” He concluded:

“We are confident that as we march together in battle after battle for labor’s rights, the very logic of those battles will weld together the kind of labor movement we believe necessary for ultimate victory.”

Noted Novelist Greets the 12

James T. Farrell greeted the return of the 12 in the name of the Civil Rights Defense Committee. He pointed out that the Minneapolis Labor case was not a mere “episode.” Describing the illusions about the case held by many liberals, their belief, doomed to disappointment, that the “liberal” Roosevelt or the “democratic” Supreme Court would reverse the convictions, Farrell warned: “On the basis of these facts, one needs to be ready for the future, ready in case other cases arise.” The defense of civil liberties, he said, “rests most strongly on the labor movement.” He called on the labor movement to start work now “for broader defense work and broader struggle ini the future.” Only a united front based on the labor movement “can systematically carry on a struggle against the Smith ‘Gag’ Act. Let us now say that we want no more Minneapolis cases, and let us work to make this slogan a fact,”

Farrell also pointed out that the Trotskyists were prosecuted because they “upheld Marxian views.” He showed how for nearly a hundred years all the agents of capitalism have been “refuting” Marxism. But despite the fact that “Marxism is one of the most refuted of all tendencies,” the ruling classes can only answer Marxism with repression, prison, murder. “And in this case, Marxism has been legally attacked in the United States. The expression of Marxian opinion has been held sufficient to send men to jail. I will not stress the irony of this situation.”

Fraenkel Speaks for ACLU

The counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, Osmund K. Fraenkel, who helped prepare the appeal for a hearing before the Supreme Court, described the legal aspects of the Minneapolis case and particularly the refusal of the Supreme Court on three occasions even to hear the case, although the Smith “Gag” Act directly violates the free speech amendment of the U.S. Constitution, “I sincerely hope the organizations affiliated with this case will succeed in wiping out the Smith Act,” Fraenkel said, for it places anyone in jeopardy “for expression of opinions shared by millions the world over and which may yet prove more correct than the opinions of those who sent these people to prison.”

Speaking on behalf of the most oppressed section of the population, the Negro people, Benjamin McLaurin brought greetings from “the largest international union of Negro workers in the world, the AFL Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and from the most radical organization of the Negro people in America, the March On Washington Movement.”

Labor Spokesmen Call for Support of CRDC

He showed the parallel between the persecution and frameups against the Negro people and the Minneapolis Labor Case.

“We realize what the Minneapolis case means, perhaps more than any other group on the American scene. Let us give support to the CRDC which has fought so heroically that the world might know the truth in this case.”

B.A. Gebiner greeted the meeting and “all the defendants in the case in the name of the Workmen’s Circle, the largest Jewish labor fraternal order in the United States.” Despite differences of political views, “these differences did not preclude participation in the fight for the liberation of our friends. A considerable number of our branches have given, and will give, moral and financial support to this fight.” The defense campaign for the 18, he said, has shown that “there are progressive and liberal-minded people who do not merely give lip service to civil liberties but are ready to fight for it.”

A high point of the meeting was the appeal made by George Novack for financial aid to Kelly Postal. The CRDC National Secretary described the ruthless persecution of the Local 544-CIO secretary-treasurer by AFL Teamsters Czar Daniel Tobin, the Minnesota government and the employers.

Kelly Postal, because of his militancy and devotion to union democracy, was first placed on trial in the Minneapolis Labor Case, but was one of 10 acquitted. Tobin’s agents cooked up charges of “embezzlement” against him, because he had carried out the mandate of the Local 544 members in transferring the local’s funds from the AFL to the CIO affiliation. One judge threw the case out of court. A more pliable judge was secured. Kelly was tried on a different but similar count based on identical “evidence,” framed and sent to prison for up to 5 years.

After serving more than a year, he was paroled as a result of the pressure brought to bear through the CRDC defense campaign. He was paroled to Seattle, where his wife, Mae, had moved. She was suffering from cancer. She had to return to Minneapolis for treatment, but the parole officers refused to permit Kelly to go. Mae was compelled to make the long, difficult journey back to Seattle to spend her last few weeks with her husband. She died several weeks ago. Kelly has been left a big burden of debt for his wife’s medical care, travel and funeral.

With a genuine demonstration of solidarity and generosity for a persecuted union brother, the mass meeting contributed $468 in the collection to aid Kelly Postal meet the debts accumulated because he was sent to prison for his loyalty to the labor movement.

Scores of telegrams and messages greeting the released Trotskyists were sent to the meeting. Among the Labor organizations and leaders expressing their solidarity were Irving Abramson, President of the New Jersey CIO; Thomas DeLorenzo, President of Brewster Aeronautical Local 365, CIO autoworkers; Peter Capitano, Representative of Local 160, AFL Ladies Garment Workers; Aron S. Gilmartin, Chairman of the Workers Defense League. From every part of the country, the branches of the Socialist Workers Party sent their pledges of solidarity.

Demonstrating the international solidarity of the working class, leading organizations of Mexican workers hailed the release of the American Trotskyist leaders. These included the Mexican section of the Fourth International; the Workers and Peasants Confederation; Union of Construction Workers of the, Federal District; Union of Tanning Industry Workers of the Federal District; Union of Construction Industry Workers, CTM; Libertarian Federation of Workers and Peasants; Union of Stage Employees (“Smima Club.”)

The meeting concluded with the adoption of a resolution calling on “the President of the United States to grant immediate and unconditional pardon and restore their civil rights to the 18 Socialist Workers Party and CIO members who were singled out for persecution and imprisonment under the Smith ‘Gag’ Act.”

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