Notebook of an Agitator

(7 December 1940)

Published: Socialist Appeal, Vol. 4 No. 49, 7 December 1940, p. 4.
Source: PDF supplied by the Riazanov Library Project.
Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
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Union Boy Gets Raise

Under the heading of “Trade Union Progress” or “Benefits of Organized Labor” we record the news that brother William Green was granted a wage increase by the AFL Convention from $12,000 to $20,000 per annum – and it is not Confederate money, either. Twenty grand is a nice piece of change any way you look at it, and the action of the convention shows what organized labor can do for a man who works neither with hand nor brain but only with the larynx.

Brother Green is not the only union boy who got something in his stocking a month before Christmas. Brother Meany, Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL, got raised from $10,000 to 18.000. And that, as the saying goes, ain’t hay. Green and Meany are still trailing behind John L. Lewis who is sacrificing his life for $25,000 per year from the coal miners. Lewis swears by the Bible, especially that page where it says “The laborer is worthy of his hire”; and he is also strong for the other scriptural injunction, “Thou shall not muzzle the oz that treadeth out the corn.” Lewis treads heavily, has a big muzzle and needs a lot of corn. But even he has been nosed out in the race for big money by Tobin who got raised from $20,000 to $30,000 per year at the recent convention of the big hearted teamsters.

Topping them all, is brother Jimmy Petrillo, head of the Musicians, who doubles up on two jobs, drawing down $20,000 as president of the Chicago local and $15,000 as International President – a total of 35 grand, and this of course doesn’t include expenses and birthday presents. These are only a few who stand out conspicuously by the extraordinary size of their honoraria. The unions are lousy with run-of-the-mill labor skates who struggle along on ten grand or so in regular salaries. Sidney Hillman, for example, puts up a poor mouth and does the best ha can on $12,500 per annum.

Who’s against these wage scales which enable the labor leaders to keep body and soul together and have a little spending money in their pockets at all times? Many appealing arguments can be made and have been made for providing the labor leaders with a standard of living to which the rank and file are not accustomed:

  1. It gives the workers a sense of vicarious satisfaction to see their servants living on the fat of the land – they feel rich by proxy.
  2. It is a form of insurance to flic unions against their representatives keeling over from malnutrition in the very midst of a conference with the bosses.
  3. It puts them on the same social plane as the bosses and frees them from inferiority complexes.
  4. It keeps them – or ought to keep them – from stealing from the union treasury.

Another important thing to remember is that Green got his raise without striking for it. In fact on the very day (or the day before) he opened his pay envelop and discovered eight thousand extra dollars peeping out at him, he was sounding off against strikes in “defense” industries in general, and the Vultee strike in particular.

On the same day (or the day after) he got his raise our hero pinned his ears back, oiled up his throat and gave out an oratorical and oracular pronouncement in favor of the “capitalist system.” And no doubt he meant it sincerely, insofar as he knew what he was talking about. He was speaking from a practical and personal standpoint. Green, of course, is hardly a profound student of the history and anatomy of social systems, their origins, development, decline and replacement by others. This couldn’t be expected of him. Since he quit coal mining 50 odd years ago his time has been pretty well taken up with preaching, praying, orating and drawing his pay check.

Green may not know much about the historical, philosophical and theoretical aspects of “the capitalist system, but he has got a damned good hunch about the practical side of the question. What he lacks in knowledge of the law of value and the automatic regulation of prices, he makes up in mother-wit and good old fashioned horse sense; and he figures that a system which makes it possible for a man to simply open his mouth, lean back on his haunches and bellow at regular intervals that “all is well,” and then find an annual check for twenty thousand in his hand --that is a first class system no matter what you call it.

So far, so good. The workers who pay the bill are not stingy, they might as well be broke as the way they are, the fat salaries make the labor leaders happy and may keep them from stealing, so what the hell?

What These Salaries Actually Do

The main hitch is that the ten-twenty-thirty thousand a year salaries for the labor leaders provide them a standard of living far removed from that of the rank and file of the workers. The leaders live like petty-bourgeoisie, and not so petty at that, and soon cease to think like the poverty-stricken masses who have the dubious blessing of capitalism interpreted to them in the shape of inadequate diet, restricted educational possibilities for their children, unemployment, eviction notices and the policeman’s club on the picket line.

Every once in a while this glaring contrast between the over-fed leaders and the under-fed masses is expressed in the most dramatic form. The concurrence of Green’s raise of salary to $20,000 per year and the strike of the Vultee workers against a wage scale of 50c per hour was such an occasion. The workers went on strike, said nuts to the threats and pleas that they keep slaving at the old rate “in the interests of national defense,” and inched up their pitiful wages to 62½ cents. Green denounces the strike, praised the system which exploits and enslaves the masses, and calmly drew down a hike on his pay check from twelve thousand to twenty thousand per year.

They were both right – in their way. Only, they were each speaking from opposite sides of the picket line. The Vultee strikers spoke for themselves – and for their oppressed class for whom “all” is not “well” by a long shot. Green spoke for himself – as an agent of the exploiting class operating in the labor movement. That is why they could not find a common language on the question of strikes.

There is a lesson in this coincidence. No doubt, Green deserves his twenty grand. But why should the workers pay it? That’s where the swindle comes in.

Last updated on 13 November 2020