James P. Cannon


Strike the Hotels!

(30 December 1933)

Written: December 1933.
Source: The Militant, Vol. VI No. 57, 30 December 1933, p. 4.
Original bound volumes of The Militant and microfilm provided by the Holt Labor Library, San Francisco, California.
Transcription\HTML Markup: Andrew Pollack.
Proofread: Einde O’Callaghan (February 2016).

One of the bright spots in the rising labor movement is the sensational rise of the Amalgamated Food Workers and its militant challenge to the big New York hotels, which have been completely unorganized and immune to “labor troubles” for many years. Within the space of a few months’ time, thanks to the strong sentiment for organization in the ranks of the fiercely exploited workers and a competent leadership in the union, the Amalgamated has bounded forward to a commanding position in the situation and is the indicated medium for the organization of a general strike to smash the infamous NRA code and enforce the workers’ demands.

The action of the union in putting the preparation of the general strike now definitely on the agenda, after the arduous preliminary work in spreading the message of unionism and gathering the forces of the workers together, raises the prospect of a battle that can mean much for the labor movement in general as well as for the workers directly involved. Shut off from unionism for so many years, the biggest industry in New York – for that is what the hotel and restaurant business is – remained a stronghold of superexploitation which helped to depress the standards and undermine the organizations of all the other workers.

In invading this field and establishing the firm basis of a union there the Amalgamated Food Workers has rendered a signal service to the whole movement of organized labor. In the projected strike it will be entitled to solidarity and support, which are needed to ensure success.

* * * *

To wrest concessions from the big New York hotels is no small undertaking. It cannot be accomplished without a real battle, and the battle cannot get a good start without serious preparation and a fair basis of organization beforehand. In proceeding from this point of view, and in moving step by step along a consistent line – gathering forces, building up the union, popularizing the idea of general strike action instead of reliance on the NRA – the Amalgamated has already stamped itself in the minds of thousands of discontented hotel slaves as an organization that means business, not bluff and ballyhoo. The steady stream of new recruits into the union bears testimony to this. These demonstrations of confidence in the union presage a widespread response to the strike call when it goes out.

The challenge to the NRA code and the hotel magnates in whose interest it was drawn up leads with iron necessity to a strike. There is no other way but by a show of strength to convince these people who refuse to hear or heed the bitter grievances of the workers. The demands gained and the organization established in this way will be all the more secure. There will be no ground for the illusion that anybody gave the workers anything. It will be clear that everything gained is the result of organized struggle and it will not be easy to take the gains away again.

* * * *

The general strike of the New York hotels will be an undisguised fight between capital and labor under modern conditions. The New York hotels are not one-horse concerns – they represent a huge concentration of capital closely tied up with the banks, and in some cases directly controlled by them. This policy is antiunion from start to finish. The Amalgamated union, on the other hand, is a modern type of labor organization, industrial in form to include all workers in the industry, militant in policy and relying on its own strength.

The AFL unions in the industry have never tackled the big hotels; they have confined themselves to smaller units – little cafes, cafeterias, and night clubs – leaving the big and powerful concerns and the workers enslaved by them pretty much alone. Antiquated craft unionism demonstrates its inadequacy and the whole theory of the “partnership of capital and labor” goes to pieces when large-scale aggregations of capital are confronted.

The Amalgamated Food Workers arose as an independent industrial union in a field that was deserted and unoccupied, just as similar organizations must and will take shape in other big industries which the craft unions are unable or unwilling to organize. It is not a “dual” union but the legitimate organization to serve the needs of the workers. The foremost and fundamental task in preparation for the general strike is to build and strengthen the Amalgamated Food Workers.

* * * *

Concentration on this fundamental task of organizing the workers into the Amalgamated does not, of course, prevent cooperation with other unions in the industry and, in our opinion, the Executive Board of the Amalgamated was right in declaring its readiness to engage in joint actions with the AFL unions in case the latter are really prepared to act, that is, to call a strike of the workers under their jurisdiction. Such a proposition can very well remain as a standing attitude provided it does not lead to illusions among the members that some nebulous combination or instrument outside the hotel and restaurant workers’ branch of the Amalgamated can be the driving force; of a real strike. The Amalgamated itself is the driving force! It would be fatally wrong to shift attention from the fundamental task of organizing the unorganized hotel workers into the union to the field of negotiations, discussions, and recriminations with other organizations which have no basis in the hotels. The mechanism for a strike is first of all membership in a union. A hundred “joint committees” and “united front conferences” cannot be substituted for it.

* * * *

As the hotel and restaurant workers move toward a showdown with the rapacious exploiters who coin their lives into dollars, one warning cannot be repeated too often. That is: Put no faith in the NRA, distrust every move it makes, rely on your organized strength and the solidarity of your fellow workers alone!

There is no doubt that many hotel and restaurant workers believed in the NRA at first and expected that Roosevelt would really do something for them. They have reason to know better now. After the approval by the NRA of the shameless hotel and restaurant code – one of the very. worst of all, with its fifty-four-hour week and similar odious provisions in favor of the bosses – it should be clear to every thinking worker that no help can be expected from this quarter. Just the contrary. The whole NRA scheme was hatched to head off the independent action of the workers, fill them with false hopes, dampen down their militancy, and harness them for a long time to the old conditions. The proof of this, which has been amply provided already in the experience of the hotel and restaurant workers, is driving them to unionization and to concrete preparations for a strike. That is the only way to success in the struggle to improve conditions and make life more bearable for the cruelly exploited workers of the hotel and restaurant industry of New York.

Last updated on 8 February 2016