Organized labor, the power that helped fuel SE Texas
Last updated 8/31/2021 at 9:03pm
From the 40s to the 60s organized labor was the most potent political and economic force in Southeast Texas. Jefferson and Orange Counties had the highest per capita income in the state, wonderful school districts and everyone seemed to be prospering. At the time it was difficult, if not impossible, for someone politically inclined to win election without labor support.
Even with the benefits, Labor was not without its crises at the time. Critical times in the area included the Firestone strike in Orange in the 60s and the Texaco strike in Port Arthur in the 50s. The Texaco dispute divided citizens of Port Arthur and even to the extent of division within families. With almost 5,000 workers idle pursuant to the strike, the Port Arthur economy suffered. Luckily, the strike was settled and peace restored; Texaco went on to furnish some of the better jobs
throughout the state of Texas.
In Orange, the Firestone strike caused great concern in the area. There were numerous incidents throughout the county, but primarily at the Firestone gate. The most memorable incident occurred when there was an attempt to blow up a major pipeline crossing Orange County and leading to chemical row. Some of the strikers obtained a supply of dynamite and decided that it would be a good idea to blow up the pipeline they thought supplied most of the chemicals for the plants on
chemical row. Fortunately for the county, and unfortunately for the strikers, they knew little about how to manage explosives. They placed a large supply of dynamite under the pipeline but neglected to enclose the explosion. Although the dynamite did explode with great force and a lot of noise, it only managed to blow a large hole in the ground under the pipeline.
Nonetheless, the papers opined that it could have blown up most of Orange County. The Texas Rangers discovered the suspects were active union members on strike at Firestone. By capturing a
girlfriend of one of the strikers and threatening to take away custody of her children, they received a confession from the young lady which included about four members of the Firestone union. They were arrested and indicted and their trial scheduled. It fell my lot to represent these four gentlemen who pledged to me they would no longer engage in any discriminatory or illegal conduct. I managed
to find a technical part of the criminal code which provided that you could not rely on a confession of a co-conspirator or one who was abetting the crime alone. The young lady's confession was the total basis of the indictment.
The district attorney was required, upon my motion, to dismiss all charges. The outrage about allowing these four gentlemen to go free extended to me; Shortly after the trial, I received more than one threatening note telling me that I would be killed the next time I traversed the Orange bridge going into Orange County.
In spite of some bitter disputes, labor has made life better for us all in Southeast Texas. It has made the workplace safer, wages better and stopped abusive practices like child labor. Labor has also helped improve our environment. By enhancing the middle class our democracy is the envy of the world.
We should commemorate, not only labor for what it has meant to us all throughout this nation, but not fail to remember and revere some of the great local labor leaders who made it happen. Some were Teddy Bear Cox who led the Building Trades Union locally, Frank Arnaud and Nelson Edgerly of the Industrial Workers, Harvie Parket, L.L. Roberts and Emmet Shepherd of the OCAW.
These gentlemen helped make life better for us all.