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Coal Miner Railroaded to Jail
Under Smith-Connally Slave Law

William Patterson Is the First Militant Unionist
Victimized by Anti-Labor Act

(4 June 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 23, 9 June 1945, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

PITTSBURGH, Pa., June 4 – William Patterson, 40-year old union coal digger from tiny company-owned Daisytown, 50 miles south of here, is the first American worker to be imprisoned under the infamous Smith-Connally anti-strike law.

Last Saturday this loyal union man, who has spent the past 17 years toiling down in the dark and deadly dangers of Vesta No. 4, the world’s largest soft coal mine owned by Jones and Laughlin Steel Corp., was thrust into the county prison at Uniontown, Pa.

Snatched without warning from his wife and two children, he has been condemned to six months behind bars.

Thus Bill Patterson, a mine committeeman whom his fellow workers yesterday at Richeyville described as a “fighting fool for the men,” has become the first victim of the most vicious federal anti-labor law of modern times.

Today, he is an outstanding symbol of American capitalist class “justice.” The American ruling class and its government have selected him to serve as an “example” and “warning” to all American labor.

The Truth Revealed

The truth about William Patterson’s case has been buried in slanderous misrepresentations. Yesterday I visited Richeyville, near Patterson’s home, where Vesta No. 4 is located. I had the privilege of attending a meeting of his local union, Local 2399, United Mine Workers of America.

From the lips of the officers and members of his union, who are behind him to a man, I have secured the first authentic account of this unprecedented and historic case.

Seated around a table on the platform of the Richeyville recreation hall where the local meets, Steve Panak, Local 2399 president, John G. Harris, vice-president, John Peters, secretary-treasurer, and a score of other officers and members indignantly related the facts behind this frame-up.

They described step by step how the government, aided by the courts, which in this area are controlled by the billion-dollar steel trust and the powerful mine operators, deliberately set out to “get” Patterson and make an “example” of him.

Took the Rap

Over and over again, they emphasized: “He took the rap for us.” They made it clear that Bill Patterson could have been any one of a half million miners who today might be standing in his shoes – or will be tomorrow, if the employing class and government get away with this first imprisonment under the anti-strike law.

The fact that Patterson was sentenced to six months, instead of five years as the law permits, is due solely to the “cautious” approach of the government in this first test case. A “light” sentence – throwing a worker into jail unjustly for six months and depriving his family of his support – they figured would not be apt to arouse “too much” protest.

Patterson was quickly railroaded to prison last week on the technical charge of violating his probation, after the original conviction and suspended sentence imposed on him and 26 other union miners of this area in the August 1942 trial for alleged violation of the Smith-Connally Act. They had participated in the general mine strike of that summer which was used as the pretext for pushing through the anti-strike law. On the advice of their legal counsel, they had been persuaded not to contest the charge. The government secured a conviction and, above all, a precedent.

Then the government and steel and mine bosses lay in wait for their first victim. They found him in William Patterson, who had continued to act as an elected mine committeeman and to defend the interests of his brother unionists despite the suspended sentence hanging over his head.

Mine Walkout

Last February 12 and 13 there was a walkout at Vesta No. 4. I have the direct testimony of scores of union men that Patterson had no direct or personal responsibility for the strike. I was informed that on last Saturday over 600 of Patterson’s fellow workers had signed a petition stating they were prepared to swear and testify that Patterson could in no way have been responsible for the February walkout.

Subsequently, however, the District 5 UMW officials, for reasons of their own about which the local rank and file are very angry, informed Patterson that he had been suspended from his mine committee post. Local 2399 refused to accept Patterson’s resignation under pressure and the subsequent suspension. They felt so keenly about the injustice of this act against Patterson that on May 14 they went on strike for seven days in protest.

But this was the pretext the government had been seeking. The workers yesterday informed me that FBI agents had been in the area since the walkout in April in the fight for the new soft coal contract. Members of Local 2399 were questioned and asked to give “evidence” against Patterson. His probation officer, George O’Brien, had even approached some of the other workers who had been convicted in August 1943 and tried to pressure them into “talking” against Patterson. All the evidence points to a deliberate plot to “get” Patterson.

Patterson Arrested

Without any prior warning, on May 21, a federal marshal walked into Bill Patterson’s home in Daisytown, a few miles from Richeyville, and arrested him on the charge of Probation Officer O’Brien that he had “violated” his probation because of the February and May strikes. The only “crime” he committed was simply not to be a rat and a scab when the rest of the men walked out. He was whisked away to the Alleghany County Jail here in Pittsburgh and held under a $2,000 bond.

For three days, his union brothers worked desperately to raise bond to release him. Those who owned little homes were ready and willing to put them up as bond. But the court refused to accept property mortgaged or owned jointly in the name of husband and wife. Every bonding company they approached turned them down. Finally, from one source and another they scraped together the – for them – enormous sum of $1,000 cash, which the judge accepted as temporary bond.

On Friday, June 1, Patterson was brought for hearing before Federal Judge F.P. Schoonmaker here. From all first-hand accounts of the proceedings that I gathered from the workers who had gone to the hearing as witnesses on Patterson’s behalf – although they were never permitted to testify – it was a judicial farce. As one worker put it, “That judge had his mind all made up in advance. Bill never had a chance.”

“No Bearing”

There were 24 union men who gave up a day’s pay and travelled at their own expenses to Pittsburgh in an effort to bring the truth into the federal court. They were forced to sit in angry silence while the judge, prosecuting attorney and probation officer went through the legal hairsplitting necessary to rush Patterson off to jail “strictly according to the law.”

The probation officer claimed that the mere fact that Patterson had acted as mine committeeman while he was on proba

tion was “evidence” that he had “violated” his probation. Whether or not Patterson had any direct responsibility for the strikes, the judge ruled, had “no bearing” on the case. The fact that he had not scabbed, that he had stayed away from work, meant he was “guilty.” Of course, the judge stuck to the technicality that this was a case of probation “violation,” in order to avoid a hearing on the real issue – the original frame- up under the unconstitutional Smith-Connally anti-labor law.

When Premo Columbus, a former assistant U.S. attorney and Patterson’s defense counsel, pleaded with the judge to permit the testimony of the 24 witnesses on Patterson’s behalf, the judge just brushed the plea aside.

Patterson sought to defend himself and showed that it was impossible, even if he had been willing to do so, to go to work during a mine shutdown. One local union officer explained that:

“... he told how he couldn’t go to work, even if he wanted to. There was no coal-loader, no motorman, no brakemen, no shot-fer, no cutter.

“But the way they put it in court, even if the men went on strike, Bill had to work or go to jail. They said he had to be a scab. He was in a hell of a spot. They had him coming and going. He couldn’t stay out when there was a strike or he would be sent to the jug. But he couldn’t work even if he wanted to, so they knew they had him.”

Denied Cigarettes

As one final dirty piece of reprisal, the men told me, they wouldn’t even let his fellow workers slip him some cigarettes before they rushed him off to jail after the judge finally ended the farce and ordered his probation revoked. He was shipped almost immediately to the Uniontown prison, some 65 miles south of here, where he will serve his sentence.

The union local and Patterson’s union brothers are doing all in their power to aid him and his family, his wife Ruby, a 15-year old son and a 20-year old daughter. Yesterday the local meeting decided unanimously to continue the fight for Bill Patterson’s release and voted a special assessment to provide his family with the full amount each month he would have earned on the job, so his dependents will not want.

But the obligation to defend Bill Patterson and to see to it that there are no more victims of the Smith-Connally slave-labor bill must not rest alone on the shoulders of the fine, loyal members of Local 2399. Patterson is “taking the rap” for every militant union man in this country.

From all the facts I have gathered on the scene here, I do not hesitate to state that this case stinks to high heaven from start to finish. Far more than local forces have conspired in Patterson’s persecution and imprisonment. It represents a conspiracy on the part of the most powerful federal agencies backed by the greatest anti-labor corporations in the land.

Labor Must Protest

Only a storm of united labor protest will tear the veil from this rotten conspiracy and open the prison doors for Bill Patterson. Every labor organization in the country should adopt resolutions of protest to the federal government and send their immediate expressions of support to Local 2399, United Mine Workers, at Richeyville, Pa.

Elementary labor solidarity for a victimized union man demands such action. But even more, the elementary defense of the entire labor movement requires it. For if one militant miner can be persecuted and imprisoned under the vile anti-strike law without thunderous protest from all labor – what worker, what loyal union man fighting for labor’s rights, can say today that he won’t be next?

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