Labor; Civil Rights and Social Change

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Entry Category: Labor; Civil Rights and Social Change

Decatur Strike of 1951

In 1950, the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen of North America began organizing workers at poultry plants in northwestern Arkansas. The union’s regional organizer was James Gilker. A combat veteran of World War II, Gilker spoke of “tackling” and putting the “fear of God” into poultry companies. In one case, Gilker wrote with approval of strikers putting sugar into the gas tanks of company trucks. He also advocated for employing men who had been “involved in much violence and were tried for arson.” Although Gilker would switch sides in 1957 and begin representing poultry companies against the Amalgamated union, early in the decade he was motivated by an interest in “class struggle.” He described northwestern Arkansans as “loyal and …