Images: Top: A Young image of Teacher Edward A. Gaskin
Courtesy of Mr. Anthony McClean, Editor of Dia de la Etnia Negra
Bottom: Image of President Jose Antonio Remon Cantera (left)
shortly before his assasination in 1955
Welcome back to our story of Edward Aston Gaskin, the Red Tank “Kid,” who took on a remarkable leadership role in fighting for the rights of Silver Roll workers.
“Not surprisingly, most of the dissidents of Local 713 assumed control of Local 900. Ed Gaskin became president in July. In August and September, Gaskin sent Newcomer long statements of Local 900’s expectations. He listed sixteen aspirations that summarized years of unsuccessful struggle: (1) a single wage scale that would erase the difference between U.S.-rate and local-rate employees and the end once and for all of the old Caribbean wage scale; (2) the U.S. minimum wage for local-rate employees; (3) automatic step increase in grade (as was done for U.S.-rate employees); (4) equal pay for equal work, by reclassifying jobs without regard to nationality or race of incumbent; (5) differential pay for night work; (6) seniority rules for reduction-in-force and rehiring; (7) regular grievance procedures to protect against over-bearing supervisors; (8) increase in disability relief, with a minimum of sixty dollars per month; (9) six months notification of permanent retirement; (10) quarters for retirees pending repatriation; (11) free outpatient medical care for dependents; (12) longer repayment schedules for major medical costs; (13) separate sick leave and vacation; (14) more and better housing; (15) payment by check; (16) elimination of racial segregation and discrimination.
Newcomer’s response chilled Gaskin and left little hope for improved labor-management relations. Point-by-point, the governor rejected the requests. Gaskin’s relations with the governor froze over when he took a trip to the U.S. and criticized canal treatment of local-rate employees. Upon his return, canal officials threatened Gaskin with reprimands. Gaskin, thirty-three at the time, stood by his statements. Gaskin and other Local 900 leaders drew their strength from emotions and experiences they had growing up in the Zone. They had suffered from poor schooling as children yet had enjoyed the intellectual stimulation of La Boca Normal.
When Panamanian President Remón opened treaty discussions with the Eisenhower administration, Ed Gaskin announced that Local 900 supported Remón’s efforts. Gaskin also reiterated the points rejected by Newcomer two years earlier. Gaskin raised the stakes by organizing a massive rally of Zone workers to hear President Remón speak about his efforts on their behalf in treaty negotiations. Gaskin then denounced the Zone administration in the strongest language yet.
Canal authorities would retaliate against Gaskin for his cooperation with Remón in the treaty talks. They viewed it as a violation of a long-standing policy that canal unions would refrain from dealing with Panamanian officials. They would encourage a breakaway group to form a new union. This became Local 907, a new rival organization.
Governor Seybold also set up civic councils in the non-U.S. neighborhoods to channel complaints and to rob Local 900 of the credit for securing improvements from treaty negotiations. Seybold then tightened the noose on Gaskin by denying him continued leave of absence for union work and forcing him to resign as school principal. As such, he was forced to drop union work and take a job with the canal electrical division. When Gaskin finally resigned in 1956, he was a broken man. His extraordinary talents and drive were crushed in a subtle betrayal and “wickedry” by canal officials.”
This story continues.