Milk Shed Conference
May 11, 1933 — Milk Shed Conference, Philadelphia PA
Fellow farmers and workers. There are some farmers who do not know me quite as well as the workers, and especially the miners; I used to work with the miners and the miners are especially interested in Pennsylvania and Illinois, in the welfare of the farmers. And they have helped in all their struggles; they have backed them up in many of their struggles. But I have a right to be here as a farmers, because I am the wife of a dispossessed farmer, and the mother of a dispossessed farmer.
As you may know, I have come to this section from Iowa. I am the secretary of the Iowa Regional Committee for Action which is composed of the states of Montana, North and South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa. We find many farmers all over the country, and the workers, too, are interested in our struggles in Iowa. And we have learned many lessons from these struggles. We have learned that the big fellows who are very few in numbers, but who still have the power of the police, the power of the sheriffs and the courts to attack farmers when they organize in great numbers. We have learned there is one thing that the insurance companies and the bankers, the organized milk trusts and others, fear more than anything else, and that is the mass power of the farmer backed up by the mass power of the workers. Of course, we have other things to fear — many ignorant farmers who still thought they must not struggle very much though they still were sole and prime owners of their lands.
At a meeting of farmers in a schoolhouse out in Iowa, a young farmer got up and said — I am an independent farmer, I own my farm, and you said in your speech that the farmers today were slaves of the insurance companies and bankers. I am not a slave, I am an independent farmer. So I got up and asked him — do you own your farm? Yes. Have you got a mortgage on your land? He said yes. Have you go ta second mortgage? Yes. Well, by any chance you haven’t mortgage on your crops? Yes. Have you a mortgage on your cattle? Yes. Have you a mortgage on your machinery? Yes. I said, what in the heck do you own, anyway? He didn’t own anything. We had to break the illusion that the farmers owned the farms and land.
That first strike we had last fall — you’ve al heard about that strike in September, when the Governors cam to Sioux city to stop the strike? They had some misleaders in the Holiday Association. The rank and file farmers went way ahead of their leaders and the leaders got scared and called in the governors to stop the strike; ten state governors to stop them. They met I a big hotel with the leaders. And the farmers were not invited. But they went anyhow I the thousands. It was my first day in Iowa. I went out to the farmers, of course. I said, where are your leaders. I wanted to see if I could speak to them. One farmer said, we haven’t got ay leaders, they’re down with the governors. I said I wanted to speak to the leaders. They asked me if I could speak. They were just hungry to hear something form the farmers of the Dakotas. Not a single leader was there from that big organization to which I belong — the Holiday Association. We learned that lesson out in Iowa — that the farmers have got to tend to their own business.
We went to tow — there were the workers cheering us — backing us — and the governors were peeking out from the windows. They didn’t call the militia just then. The farmers went on by organized power — they didn’t wait. They went out in organized power. If a farmer was supposed to be evicted from the land — I don’t have to tell you about that. For instance, in Sioux City a tax sale was to take place — four months in succession, the first Monday of every month, the same sales were called over and over again and not one single bidder came to those sales because the farmers were there by the thousands. What would happen if they did bid? If a man dared to bid he would just suddenly find himself on the outside of the courthouse and he would not be able to bid.
In Le Mars, there is a strong organization of farmers — not force and violence: not at all. It is a strong disciplined organization — a strong body of farmers. When they went to the state capitol at Des Moines and demanded and secured a law against foreclosure of farmers until March, 1935, they thought they had won a great victory. But what happened? There was a law against foreclosures and evictions on the statute books, but it was left to the discretionary powers of the judges — that is where the judge comes in.
If the judge said a man must be foreclosed, or decided he is to be evicted, from his land and his property sold — the law was just like a scrap of paper. Here’s what started in Le Mars. The judge in Le Mars started the fashion for the others. And I think you all know which side the judges are on — are they on the side of the insurance companies and bankers, or on the side of the farmers — we all know that. The judge was visited by organized farmers. These farmers cannot be evicted here. We will see to it that they cannot be evicted. And the judge made the mistake of saying, this is my court — take off your hats. Take the cigarettes out of your mouths. And at the same time he was smoking a cigar. Well, they resented that. I just know by rumor that he was taken out of the court pretty quick and his dignity was spoiled. But at no time was his life in danger. He couldn’t swear those farmers wanted to lynch him. The farmers just said, get the rope but they never have had to use the rope yet, and this judge was not making a big fuss about it. But the powers that be — the governor of Iowa, who is in the hands absolutely of the milk trusts — in the power of the insurance companies — that governor sent soldiers out to protect this poor, little judge. I want to ask you. You have some workers here. You who have had struggles. I want to ask you if they called out the soldiers to protect any of the strikers in this country, in Pennsylvania, in this country that is red with the blood of the miners thrown out of their houses by Andy Mellon’s forces — did they protect the textile strikers in the South against the fact that some of the strikers had been murdered in cold blood? Never did thy protect the interests of the workers or farmers, but always those against whom we are fighting and organizing.
Well, protest telegrams started to come to the State House. Piles and piles of them and because of those telegrams because of this organized protest they are removing soldiers from Iowa. These people of Iowa believe not as most of you think, in force and violence. IN other words, I might say they believe more than any other bunch in discipline — standing together, shoulder to shoulder. Not fighting one another, but the other fellow who are keeping them down.
Last week Mill Reno got up in the [presence] of 2,000 farmer delegates from various organization, and advocate strike. The farmers are ready for a general strike. But he put some kick in int. He said, if the Congress passed the farm bill, then the farmers would not have to strike. They said in one paper in Washington: “In the Congress they defeated the amendment to the farm bill which called for the cost of production.
So the farmers have got their eyes opened, and if they strike they are going to strike not only for the cost of production, but for more than the cost of production, and they are going to strike as they have been striking all winter — for their homes, for their wives and children. We believe that the wives and children have the first mortgage on all our farms and we are going to strike for them. When they strike in Iowa they strike in the [same] way as they demonstrated — to keep the farmers from being evicted. They also believe in the picket lines; They should go on the highways. Some of the leaders said — strike in your own back yards. You do not want to strike against the poor cows — they did the best they could .Do the farmers carry the milk to market? No, they hire racketeers . .. so you see the importance of having regional committees of action, having all the states together and meeting as you are today. And they have the power of numbers to protect those pickets from going to prison. In the last strike they took 65 farmers strikers to a jail 200 miles away. What did we do to get those farmers out? We wen tup to the jail and we went around and around till we got that old sheriff dizzy, and then we went in there and said — you give us those 65 farmers, and they did. There they demonstrated the powers of numbers.
Some of you know we also have worker delegates here. That means that they also have learned the lesson from Iowa. When they had that strike did they pour the milk on the ground — no, the brought the milk to the shed and then the workers came down there and got the milk. Once I got a leaflet which said, come up and get a free lunch. And I always go for a free meal. There were 250 farmers in the headquarters of the unemployed in Sioux City. The wives of the unemployed, and the unemployed, had collected from the farmers pork chops and all kinds of food and had cooked nice lunches and given it to the farmers. And after lunch they aske md to tell the unemployed and farmers together, just exactly how we were organizing committees of action. I talked for just a few minutes. Then the leader of the unemployed got up and said — fellow farmers, we have helped you. We were down there this morning and backed you up. We want you to go up to that welfare workers with us and put back a worker on the welfare list. And then he asked, how many are with us? The farmers wen out with the unemployed. The supervisor said, now what is the matter with those farmers — they are always on the march. The farmers said they wanted the welfare people to take care of the unemployed better than they were; these workers were out of work — they have been paying taxes, and these people cannot buy our products because they have not any money, because they haven’t any jobs, and because they could not get any. If these workers are not put on the list by 9:30 the next morning, we will all be down at Mother Bloor’s meeting at the schoolhouse and we’ll have a bigger meeting and then come down here.
And so we are growing. Last fall we struck for cost of production. Now we are striking for more than cost of production. The consumers of milk and cream are terribly afraid that we are going to raise the price of their milk and cream. We want to raise what we get to something like what the big fellows get — we get 96¢ a cwt. out in Iowa. If we demand together, as we ought to do — we could organize and march like one mass. We do not even have to strike if we are organized strongly enough. The farmers cannot sell and the workers cannot buy — we must all work together.
If you see an old farmer who tells you you cannot do anything, you have got to get together with the big fellows, the leaders. Just listen to them, and they will tel you — of course a lawyer knows more than a poor farmer. And the poor judge — just think how the farmers spoiled the dignity of that old judge. Shedding crocodile tears for that old judge when thousands of children are starving.
I want to end with this story. An old fogy was walking, and he had to pass a cemetery. And he was afraid that the ghosts would start walking around, that the dead men would walk around. Sure enough the graves began to open and the dead men began to walk around. The funniest thing is that they thought they were alive — they laughed and talked with one another, and pointed a finger of scorn at the one live man.
Well, that is the way with the old man there. Those big fellows . . We are the national, county and township committees of action — and those big fellow are walking around like ghosts and they don’t even know it.
Source: Ella Reeve Bloor Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton MA.