Editorial Notes

Wage Cuts and Strikes

(August 1931)

Written: August 1931.
First Published: The Militant, Vol. IV No. 18, 8 August 1931, p. 4.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
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A speeding up of the wage cutting campaign on the one hand and the growth of the strike movement on the other are the two outstanding and related developments of the month in the domestic field. The letter of Secretary of Commerce Lamont to Representative Condon gave a powerful impetus to the drive against wage standards, and was no doubt so designed. The subsequent attempts of the White House to obscure the issue and “interpret” Lamont’s blunt declaration in justification of reductions by firms “in extremely difficult positions” are not to be taken seriously. We do not believe that Lamont spoke for himself alone, and certainly not as an opponent of Hoover’s attitude. It is more reasonable to conclude that his letter was put out as a “feeler” and a tip to the industrialists to go ahead everywhere, with full assurance of Governmental support.

They are doing so. And even more significant than the reductions already made are the wide-scale preparations for a bigger assault all along the line, and especially in the big industries. The steel workers will be one of the next points of attack, an attack which was already being prepared at the time of Farrell’s hypocritical speech against it a few weeks ago. The railroads are getting ready now. Stuart Chase, in his latest work, predicts a sweeping wage cut in the railroad industry. The application for an increase in freight rates is primarily, if not exclusively a filibuster to prepare the way for a drastic reduction of rail wages on the ground that the railroads are also in “extremely difficult positions” which, higher freight rates failing, can be relieved only by a cut in labor costs. The wage cuts so far recorded, heavy as they have been, are only the first experimental steps. The great offensive is yet to come, as all signs testify.

The defensive struggle of the workers is gaining momentum, although slowly and in a tentative fashion. There is nothing in the facts to sustain the blockheads who describe the situation as a “workers’ offensive”. The Department of Labor figures which, like the reports on unemployment are not to be taken at face value, give, nevertheless, an approximate picture for comparative purposes. 447 strikes and lockouts in the first six months of the year show an increase of nearly fifty per cent over the same period in 1930. But if we compare this with the 2,385 strikes in 1921 – also a crisis year – we can see that the labor movement is not yet standing on its feet. And the strike figures for 1919, when 3,630 wage conflicts were recorded, speak even more eloquently of the realities of the present situation.

Coal, steel and railroads were represented in the labor revolts of that year and constituted the heart of it. The present defensive movement of the workers is confined largely so far, to soft coal and textiles where the industry is the “sickest” and the pressure on the workers has been the heaviest. But the rate at which the struggles are developing in this sector and the militancy which characterizes them are promising signs of a genuine labor awakening.

The theory that the workers are not inclined to strike during periods of crisis and wide unemployment receives a certain confirmation from American labor and economic history, and is borne out within limits by the experience of the past two years. But the present situation is extraordinary in many respects, as has been pointed out before. It is quite false to construct a law to the effect that the workers will not strike during the crisis, as the Right wing has been inclined to do. The increase in strike struggles in recent weeks, and particularly the determined battles of the miners and textile workers, refute this dogma.

They argue rather for the idea that the workers in other industries, such as the railroads and steel mills, caught in the furious wage-cutting drive, will not wait for a revival to give their answer in terms of struggle. Our perspective of the coming months runs this way. From such a development will flow unbounded possibilities for the awakening of the labor movement and a sweeping advance of Communism.

Last updated on: 13.1.2013