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GIs Strike In Berlin: Multi-Racial Unity Forged
Following on the heels of a rapidly escalating struggle against military haircut regulations, 27 Black, White, and Chicano soldiers of C Battery, 94th Artillery, Berlin Brigade, went out on strike on November 25th. Their action came as a solidarity action for Black haircut resister Rufus Thompson and in protest against steadily worsening working and living conditions in their battery. At 8 AM on the 25th, they refused to fall out for formation and assembled in the snack bar. When their battery commander, Cpt Louis Trevathan, arrived on the scene at about 8:30, they presented him with a list of 15 demands and a statement about their reasons for striking. After reading through the statement and demands, Trevathan looked at the men and asked, "Okay, so what's the problem?"
During the course of the morning, one of the battery officers, LT Linski, read the men the mutiny act and said they could all be hanged. Shortly thereafter about 7 men decided to go back to work. One of the remaining 20 commented later, "I've already been hanging around here long enough. I just hope they use a new rope when they hang us this time." Unknown to the strikers at the time, a bus load of MP's had been put on alert to move in on them and six carloads of MP's were waiting at a nearby NCO club as a back-up force. Charges were being drawn up and a lawyer from JAG (military lawyer), Cpt Carl Meyer had been called to the Battery to read the strikers their rights. However, by the time he got there he was told that he was no longer needed. By no the press had picked up word of the strike and that, combined with the resoluteness of the strikers not to return to work forced the brass to back down.
The men were ordered to return to their rooms at about 11:15, where NCOs kept watch on them. They were even escorted to the latrine and brought their lunch in the barracks to keep them isolated from the rest of the battery and from the rest of McNair Barracks. They were still on strike. The command, on the other hand, were putting out a story throughout the day that the men had gone back to work. The GI Counseling Center (a GI project near McNair), which was in contact with the strikers after they returned to their rooms, was able to set the lie straight and give the press the true story.
Around 1 PM the now 17 remaining strikers, were told that an "Investigating Board" had been set up by the brigade to hear their grievances and demands. To this the GI's responded by each going in and reading their statement:
Rufus Thompson, the only Black GI involved in the haircut struggle in Berlin, has been pressured and threatened to make him end his involvement in the struggle. This has been a racist tactic by the Brass to make the struggle an all-white, segregated movement. He resisted, so they dropped all charges in order to kick him out of Berlin and remove him from the support he has here.
We have come to the last possible action on our part to change the conditions under which we work and live. We are human. We have minds to think with, but out thoughts and feelings are constantly abused by our "superiors." We are tired of being abused. We are tired of being ignored. We will make ourselves heard one way or another.
We have tried every avenue of approach to this problem and gone through almost every channel. These avenues and channels are too slow and unreliable, we have discovered. First we turned around and asked our commander what was going on--no answer from him. We asked him to stop or at least try to stop manipulation of EM's in our unit. He ignored us, probably because he is the main manipulator. We tried JAG, but we found out that they were making deals behind our backs, so we couldn't trust them. We couldn't contact Congress since the communication between here and Congress is very slow and very, very poor for the EM's. We have only one alternative. The alternative is to STRIKE!"
Now the strikers face military punishment and several were being court martialed (Winter Soldier has not head the outcome of these trials yet), but the demands they have raised are being taken up by others throughout the Berlin Brigade. These demands go way beyond haircuts. Beside the demand that SP/4 Thompson not be transferred and all charges against him be dropped, the demands include: there be no transfers in the unit without the knowledge and approval of the men in it; a Morale and a Race Relations Council be set up whose members would be elected by the EM themselves and not appointed; days off be given out by the section chiefs to their own section; there be only one inspection a week and only one standby inspection every other week; there be more privacy in EM's rooms (room arrangements, posters, etc); EM be able to lock their doors when sleeping; all married personnel have means of getting housing and transportation for their families, and that all personnel involved in the protest not be prosecuted. They also had demands around EM removing leadership they felt to be unfit or racist.
The men of C/94th are tight. Blacks, Whites, and Chicanos are standing together. And it is this unity that has been one of the basic keys to their strength and success; a fact that has not gone unnoticed by the Brass which is doing all it can to try and divide them. The unity shown by the EM has defeated the Brass and the militance of the men is spreading throughout the military. Hair reg struggles have started in Hawaii and Okinawa and over 1200 Berlin GI's signed a petition to end the regulations. The day following the strike, a sister unit of C/94th refused to come to attention at morning formation. This type of militance has the Brass on the run and the GI's will not be defeated.