File No. 812.504/95
Consul Dawson to the Secretary of State
Tampico , May 2, 1917 .
Sir: I have the honor to summarize the strike situation in this city as it has involved this office and the United States naval forces stationed here.
The strike began April 23 with a notice from the I. W. W. organization to the Cia. Mexicana de Petroleo El Aguila S. A. that unless its demands were met within twenty-four hours, which were to expire at 9 a.m. the following morning, they would take radical measures to enforce them. I have before me a copy of this notice and attach same hereto as an enclosure.2 The I.W.W. demands were 50% increase [Page 1022] in wages, the eight hour law (which is now guaranteed under the new Constitution which went into effect May 1), and payment of wages in Mexican gold or American money at the rate of exchange fixed by the Government.
The Aguila Company immediately advised the receipt of this notice to the presidente municipal of Tampico, and requested that steps be taken to protect its property. The British Consul in Tampico informed me also that he had made representations to the authorities. Notwithstanding said precautions, at the expiration of the twenty-four hours the strikers asserted control of the situation, and on the morning of the 25th of April when the English manager of the Aguila refinery, Mr. Coxen, and an American chief of department, a Mr. Emery, endeavored to enter the plant they were brutally assaulted from behind with a club. The manager escaped with a blow on the head through a cork helmet, and was simply knocked down. The American was more seriously injured being struck down with a club after receiving a severe cut with a knife on his right arm. He was unconscious for awhile, and I believe is still in the company’s hospital.
With the understanding that this was first of all a matter for the British Consul to handle, I took no part in the representations made. The following day, however, April 26, the laborers of the Pierce Oil Corporation (an American concern) struck, and after warning away all Mexican employees of the plant, about fifty of the active strikers went through the plant with clubs, and compelled all American employees to leave the premises. Then they picketed the plant and refused to permit any and all persons, managers or employees, to enter. They also prevented the master of the American steamship Mexicana and some of his crew from boarding that vessel.
Mr. M. H. Warren, general superintendent, demanded protection from the authorities and the presidente municipal sent policemen to preserve order. What occurred when these officers appeared is best shown by a written memorandum to me from the general superintendent as follows:
On the morning of April 26, 1917, about 11.30 a.m. the chief of police of Arbol Grande presented himself at this office with a number of policemen and presented an order to him signed by the chief of police of Tampico, or comandante, ordering him, with the two men who would deliver the order to him, to take four of his policemen and go to the Pierce Oil Corporation Refinery and show the order to the manager of said corporation, and for them to take charge of the policing of the property and to see that no work whatever was performed in the plant, and further that the Pierce Oil Corporation should dispense with the services of their chief watchman, Arturo Garcia, in order that there would be no conflict in authority as the municipal government would take charge of the policing of the property. The comandante of Tampico stated that his orders came from the Presidente Municipal.
By this act alone the authorities took possession of the plant on behalf and carrying out the wishes of the strikers. Mr. Warren thereupon protested to the military authorities of Tampico, seeing that he could get no satisfaction from the civil branch of the Government. The chief of the local garrison, who I believe is also the chief of arms (although I am without official knowledge of this fact), was persuaded to write a letter which Mr. Warren understood to be an order to the proper authority for placing him again in possession of his property, but which was really an order addressed to the strike [Page 1023] leaders (“A los CC. representantes de la huelga de los obreros de la Cia. Pierce Oil Corporation”), to permit six American chiefs of departments of the said company to enter the plant.
Having but a slight knowledge of the language, Mr. Warren left the office of the chief of arms satisfied that his right to protection was recognized; but on having the letter translated and finding that the chief of arms had by virtue thereof really recognized the authority of the strikers, and was merely conceding a restricted permit to Mr. Warren to use his own property by sufferance of the strikers, protested and sought my assistance in regaining the full possession of his property, as guaranteed by the Mexican Constitution.
I at once called on the chief of arms, and although it was about 11.30 in the morning, had to hunt all over the town for him. He was found eventually carousing in the Casino Tampiqueño. I politely laid the matter before him and for my pains was told in a half-leering manner, that Americans had no rights in the matter, which the Government or the strikers were bound to respect, and that the latter had perfect liberty to do as they pleased; furthermore that he would not afford the guaranties requested. It is unnecessary to consider the possibility of a misinterpretation of his attitude for the reason that his words and manner were categorical and constituted an emphatic denial.
I then consulted the senior United States naval officer present in these waters, Commander Symington of the U. S. S. Tacoma, as to what should be done. He counseled another effort under more favorable conditions the following morning. Consequently the following morning, April 27 at 11 a.m. I called on him at his hotel. The result of this interview was that he offered to give a written answer by three o’clock the same day.
After waiting in vain throughout the afternoon and night, and being informed that he had again been bulldozed by the I. W. W. into a second change of front in their favor, on the 28th instant I placed the whole matter in the hands of Commander Symington by formal communication (copy attached),2 and at the same time despatched a note (translation attached)2 to that effect to the chief of arms, in which I also requested an interview for Commander Symington at 11 a.m. the same morning.
It is my understanding that. Commander Symington transmitted to the Navy Department a full report of this incident and his part therein, hence I will not go into details more than to say that his interview was marked by that degree of candor and sincerity combined with blunt finality so necessary in dealing with Mexicans and especially with the semi-savage element in control here, an element which is not amenable to reason, logic or the dictates of decency and law; and as a result the chief of arms promised to send, and did send within a few hours, his written offer of guaranties, which I was informed was made effective at the plant of the Pierce Oil Corporation. He did it, however, only because he feared the consequences of a further refusal to do so.
I have [etc.]