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Mary Heaton Vorse
Chief of Police M. F. Rielly of Bayonne will tell you that Bayonne is quiet, and Director of Public Safety Wilson will say that the situation is well in hand. While I was listening to these reassuring statements, the groups of people on the street corners grew larger; there was a little apprehensive flutter in the crowd. Every face turned in one direction. Two motorcycle officers appeared. Around the corner came Captain Edward Griffen in a pale gray suit, with a checked hat. He held a rifle tenderly in his arms. After him followed four detectives, also with rifles. Behind them marched thirty-six deputies, dressed in their new uniforms and swinging their new, pale yellow riot clubs. After them, more armed and ununiformed detectives. Then came the patrol wagon, and in it were huddled three haggard, boyish looking prisoners. After them were fifty deputized firemen.
The miserable little prisoners were being brought to judgement for carrying concealed weapons. After the firemen again came more detectives. One of them, Robert Russell, pointed his gun suggestively at the crowd and cried:
"Get along there! Get alond down the street!"
He ran up to the dark little huddled group at the corner and pointed the gun at them, at which the women shrank back, frightened. The procession swung along, and the one began to realize why it was that quiet was regained in Bayonne.
Meantime the crowd at the street corner had been lined up in two rows by two officers, who searched them rapidly for concealed weapons.
"Sometimes," the commissioner of public safety explained, "they follow their friends up, and we dont want any more trouble."
So, after three days of warfare, Bayonne is quiet, but it is an unnatural quiet. For fear and suspense are in the air. Every one is afraid of every one else. The people outside of the strike district are terribly afraid of the strikers-how afraid is measured by the exclamation of a young woman of whom we asked the way to the strike district.
"Oh!" she cried. "You musn't go down there--you'll surely get shot."
Even the reporters, when you ask where the strike headquarters are, exclaim:
"Keep as far away from there as you can. You'll get all the news you want at Police Headquarters, where you'll be sent."
So after a short time in Bayonne, you realize the feeling of disquiet has deepened, and you realize that you are in a terrorized city, and that fear is in the very air that you breathe.
After the accounts of riot and bloodshed, after the warnings one has received concerning the violent character of the strikers, it was very strange to go through the silent, desolate streets. Life, temporarily, seems to have stopped. There seems to be some strange and mournful holiday-the saloons are closed, on each corner stands a dark group of strikers talking to one another in low tones. All up the street are more little groups of strikers. On the side streets women and children mingle with the men. On Broadway and the avenues E and F, the strom centres of the strike district, there are few women to be seen. And everywhere, wherever you go, you find the same atmosphere of fear and suspense.
The people are ready to scurry to their homes when the deputized police and the detectives with shotguns and rifles march imposingly past. They run to their houses and there they hide. For men and women have been shot while standing in their windows. Any one standing in a window is suspected of being a sniper, so the police shoot first, to keep from being shot themselves. But you can't be long in bayonne or talk much with the men and women on the streets without feeling that the police have been very clever about shooting first. This deputed force of police includes not only the fire companies, but the city officials; inspectors of all kinds have been put into uniforms and have been called upon to perform the perilous duty of policing a town filled with 10,000 unorganized strikers.
It is no wonder that they, too, are afraid and that they turn uneasy faces toward the side streets as they pass them, fearing stray shots from back alleys or housetops. Up to this time, however only about fifteen persons have been arrested for carrying concealed weapons, although all last night the town was patrolled and every passer-by searched and scores of homes have been invaded in the hunt got concealed weapons.
So, though the streets are quiet, every one is on the defensive; every one seems to be waiting apprehensively for something to happen. The strike district from the Hook to Avenue C is full of these groups of anxious people. Something strange is in the air. Calamity seems to threaten. The quiet is not the quiet of Sunday, but rather of a witch's Sabbath.
In three days the stike has been a bloody harvest; there have been three deaths and a hospital full of wounded. Several are said to be dying; the number of minor wounds is not known, but after each conflict with the police many men have been seen limping away.
Severe beating of the strikers are usual. There have been besides thirty or forty arrests, the wrecking of saloons-now by the police for the alleged breaking of the ordinance against selling drink, and now by the strikers.
Last night Mydosh's Hall, where the strikers were holding a meeting, was raided. Many arrests followed, seven men were said to have been wounded, and the hall was closed. The right of free speech and of assembly have been temporarily denied to the strikers. These extreme measures were considered necessary by the authoritites for the preserving of order. The stirkers' point of view is different.
The mournful little groups of huddled people seem glad to talk to you, especially the women, and their talk is about one thing-and that is shooting. In broken English one old Polish women explained to us:
"Why should they at the windows shoot? You must go and hide when you go to your house. You must not go near your window--no! The men will shoot-and maybe you die, like that Sophie Torach down the street. That Sohpie Torach, she should get married this Saturday, but she stands at the window and the police walk by, and a bullet comes through her head--and she is dead!"
Wherever you go, in whatever group you find yourself, the story is repeated with ghastly and unvarying monotony. One story is of a woman with a child in her arms who has been hit; in another street an old man has been hit; in another place yet, they'll tell how a neighbor dodged just in time to escape being struck, and hey point to a hole in the window. One sees many suggestive bullet holes as one walks up and down the strike district.
This strike came suddenly, but it is said that discontent has been growing for a long time and that the company has for a long time been expecting trouble. The strikers are asking for an increase of 30 per cent for those who make under $2 and of 10 per cent for those who make $3. They contend that they can't live as well now on that they make as they could a few years ago when wages were less. Other industries in Bayonne have shorter hours and pat higher wages. And the wives of there better paid workers have made the women of the Standard Oil employess discontented.
"We should like to dress our children hyst as well as those others do," they tell you.
The personality of George W. Hennessy, superintedent of the Standard Oil, is said to have helped to create the general atmosphere of discontent by his methods. Since the walkout he is said to have refused to listen to any of the representatives of the strikers. And, finally, the recent publication of the Standard Oil Company's profits for the year brought the crisis, and the men, unorganized and without leaders, struck.
As to why the conflict has been so bitter, there have been many contirutory factors. I is asserted that the strikers have been blamed for the actions of toughs and gangsters. In fact, all of the disorderly element has seized upon this time as an excuse to make trouble; and the strikers have been naturally blamed for everything that has occured, and having suffered accordingly.
The strikers, while they are silent and subdued, are both resolute and bitter--bitter toward the police for what they consider unjustifiable severity. They repeat over and over again:
"They had no right to shoot at our windows; they had no right to shoot at crowds where there were women."
They are bitter against the company that will not give them a fair hearing; and it is the opinion of the strikers' attorney, J. H. Dougherty, that had the strikers' representatives been received by Mr. Hennessy the trouble might have been averted. They are also bitter against the press, which they feel has not tried to find out their side, which has magnified their violence and overlooked the violence of the police. They have offered to co-operate with the director of public safety in keeping order and to patrol their own streets. And this offer has been refused, and at present they cannot congregate to discuss their affairs. Early next week Mr. Dougherty is going to New York with the strike representatives to present their demands at John D. Rockefeller's main office. He looks forward hopefully to settling the difficulties this way.