|The Journal for MultiMediaHistory
Volume 1 Number 1 ~ Fall 1998
Thomas J. Kriger
Source: Watertown Daily Times, August 10, 1939.
DFU opponents were quick to attack the expanding strike movement. Charles Baldwin, executive secretary of the Milk Producers Bargaining Agency, raised charges similar to those made during the 1937 DFU strike. As the DFU strike began he declared that farm families were "guarding [their] homes tonight in fear of armed invaders." He also stated that the DFU "is an out and out CIO Communist movement." New York State Health Commissioner John L. Rice reported the DFU strike "was insignificant after its first day." Henry Rathbun, vice-president of the Dairymen's League, declared that the DLCA was short only two percent of their normal deliveries; he attributed the shortages to "threats, intimidation and fear of CIO brutality." The Watertown Times, however, estimated that the union had cut the New York City fluid milk supply by thirty percent after one day of picketing.
By the strike's third day, the DFU had tightened its grip on the New York City milk supply with only scattered incidents of violence. The union's ability to quickly accomplish this goal was due to two important factors. First, discontent ran so deep among the "rank and file" in 1939 that many farmers who were not DFU members joined the strike either by refusing to deliver their product or by arranging for DFU pickets to dump their milk. By citing the possibility of violence, for example, many league and Sheffield co-op member-farmers could contribute to the DFU strike movement and yet offer at least the appearance of trying to fulfill their contractual obligations. Second, sympathetic public opinion in the strike region and DFU allies such organized labor proved important in completing the union boycott of upstate milk plants. Union leaders such as the United Mine Workers' John L. Lewis sent telegrams of support, while the Transport Workers Union dispatched an organizer to help Archie Wright.
In the northern New York union stronghold of St. Lawrence County, DFU pickets quickly dried up most of the local plants that shipped milk to New York Citysuch as the Dairymen's League plant in Canton. Nevertheless, one important plant remained open: the Sheffield Farms plant in Heuvelton, New York, home of DFU Chairmen Archie Wright. The pictures that accompany this article were taken in Canton and Heuvelton during the DFU's historic struggle in 1939. Together they offer a compelling portrait of the desperation of the DFU's small farmer-members, as well as the depth of support for the DFU in local communities. One set of pictures was taken on the picket lines and streets surrounding the Sheffield Farms plant in Canton; the second set was taken in and around the nearby small town of Heuvelton, where after three days of unsuccessful picketing the DFU massed hundreds of its members and their supporters in one final effort to complete the union's blockade. The oral histories that accompany these pictures are the voices of actual participants. Some were DFU members and organizers; others were DFU opponents or members of the communities in which these strikes took place.
Three Farmers Recall the 1939 Strike and the Dairy Farmers Union.
Playing time: 3 minutes, 4 seconds.
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In the first of the following two photographs,
four DFU farmers wait patiently while on picket duty near Heuvelton. The
second photograph shows the outcome of their encounter with a non-striking
farmer who was trying to sneak a few cans of milk into the Sheffield Farms
plant by car.
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The DFU had greater success in closing the Sheffield Farms and Dairymen's League milk plants in Canton, primarily because Wright and the union were able to mobilize larger numbers of pickets for duty on Canton's wide, tree-lined streets.
In order to prevent angry non-strikers from simply
crashing through their picket lines, DFU farmers often added an additional
line of defense. These planks embedded with large nails were usually enough
to stop even the most determined union opponent.
Another DFU tactic, which was borrowed from the CIO, was to organize "flying squadrons" of Union members who patrolled country roads in search of non-striking farmers attempting to deliver their milk. These road patrols usually consisted of a large stake-rack truck filled with DFU member-farmers.
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Women played an essential role in the DFU effort, serving as union officers and, more importantly, as union pickets. The DFU Journal for 1939-1940 claimed that:
| Dairy Strike: Part I
||Dairy Strike: Part III
| Dairy Strike: Part II
||Dairy Strike: Part IV |
Notes for Part II:
27. United States v. Rock Royal Co-op., Inc. et al,
Federal Supp. 26 (Dist. Court, N.D. New York 1939). [Return
28. Watertown Daily Times, 10 August 1939,
3. [Return to text]
29. New York Times, 16 August 1939, 25; 17
August, 1939, 42. [Return
30. New York Times, 15 August 1939, 1. [Return
31. Watertown Daily Times, 15 August 1939,
18. [Return to text]
32. The Union Farmer, 25 September 1939, 1;
Lowell K. Dyson, Red Harvest (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press,
1982), 172-3. [Return
33. Dairy Farmers Union Journal 1939-1940,
34. Ogdensburg Journal, 21 August 1939, 1.
35. Jefferson County Journal, 23 August 1939,
27. United States v. Rock Royal Co-op., Inc. et al, Federal Supp. 26 (Dist. Court, N.D. New York 1939). [Return to text]
28. Watertown Daily Times, 10 August 1939, 3. [Return to text]
29. New York Times, 16 August 1939, 25; 17 August, 1939, 42. [Return to text]
30. New York Times, 15 August 1939, 1. [Return to text]
31. Watertown Daily Times, 15 August 1939, 18. [Return to text]
32. The Union Farmer, 25 September 1939, 1; Lowell K. Dyson, Red Harvest (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1982), 172-3. [Return to text]
33. Dairy Farmers Union Journal 1939-1940, 3. [Return to text]
34. Ogdensburg Journal, 21 August 1939, 1. [Return to text]
35. Jefferson County Journal, 23 August 1939, 1. [Return to text]