Hal Draper

Labor Will Be Regimented
Under Mobilization Plan

(April 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 26, 21 April 1939, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The Industrial Mobilization Plan of the War Department, now resting in the files ready to be sprung on M-day, has the labor problem all figured out. As Colonel Harris of the War Department stated in discussing the Plan, “Labor is the greatest single element of cost” in wartime; and therefore expenses must be cut down, in order that once again the earnings of U.S. Steel may rise from $52 million to over $500 million, as they did from 1914 to 1918.

It has often been pointed out that workers’ wages rose sharply during the World War. Insofar as this is true, the War Department is determined that it shall not happen again. But even for the last war, this fact does not tell the whole story.

Real Wages Drop

  1. While the money earnings of all employed wage-earners rose by 63 per cent, their real wages (as compared with the rise in prices) rose by only 4 per cent.
  2. Even this figure is arrived at by considering all strata of wage-earners in one lump. Actually, the wages of the large mass of workers did not share this rise, but in most cases declined in comparison with the cost of living.

It is no wonder that the Secretary of Labor made the following report during the war years:

“With the exception of the sacrifices of the men in the armed service, the greatest sacrifices have come from those at the lower rung of the industrial ladder. Wage increases respond last to the needs of this class of labor, and their meager returns are hardly adequate, in view of the increased cost of living, to maintain their meager standard of life. It is upon them the war pressure has borne most severely ... Too often there is a glaring inconsistency between our democratic purposes in this war abroad and the autocratic conduct of those guiding industry at home.”

Will Fix Wages

This time the government intends to give “those guiding industry” a hand in keeping down wages. The Plan specifically provides for the fixing of wages by a government war board; or to use its own language, the projected Price-Control Commission (which incidentally will consist of industrialists, with no labor representation) has the right to the “formulation of policies and methods for the control of prices and profits, and for the stabilization of fair wages.”

It has been many times demonstrated, by the Nye Committee of the Senate and others, that wartime price-fixing by the government could not begin to be effective. Not so with wage-fixing, when any attempt by the workers to protect their interests will be met with military repression.

While the Plan clearly requires the fixing of wages, the M-day bills introduced in Congress attempt to gloss over this feature; but the men behind the I.M.P. are not so ambiguous. Colonel Taylor, American Legion agent in Washington and reputedly the author of the Sheppard-Hill M-day bill, testified as follows on its price-fixing provision: “I am suggesting, Mr. Chairman, that after the word ‘article’ the word ‘service’ be inserted, so that we shall very specifically know that this legislation shall apply to wages.” When a Senator asked, “You mean a clerk in a store should have his salary fixed?” Taylor replied, “Everything.”

Pretexts to Cut Wages

Colonel Harris reported to toe Nye Committee in 1934 that the N.R.A. labor administrators were to be used to fix maximum wages for workers.

Some of the pretexts whereby wages will be cut have already been indicated. One is the plea that since prices are being “controlled,” wages need not rise. Colonel Taylor can be’ cited here again because, being an unofficial representative of the War Department, he could afford to be franker on this delicate topic: “There is no question that during the world War the pay of workers was forced to follow the rise in the cost of living. But, with prices remaining stable, there would not be such a demand for higher wages.”

Another pretext will be the slogan of “equalizing the burdens of war” as between the soldiers at the front and civilians at home. This slogan is popular among the veterans as a protest against war profiteering, but with typical demagogy, Roosevelt turned its point in another direction. In December 1934, after announcing at a press conference that “The time has come to take the profits out of war,” Roosevelt went on to deplore the fact that “soldiers who enlisted or were drafted into service served the U.S. in a hazardous manner for $1 a day while munitions workers received possibly $10 a day.” (N.Y. Times)

In the same vein, about a week later, Colonel Harris complained that such a spread “wasn’t ethical,” neither of them mentioning the swollen salaries and war bonuses paid out to the patriotic presidents of DuPont, the Hercules Powder Co., etc. Conclusion? “Equalize the burdens” of the soldier and worker by bringing the latter’s wage nearer $1 a day too!

An American Legion organ summed up the plan casually in the following manner:

“This draft plan, as you know, proposes to draft all workers and all manufacturing plants into Government service, the same as it does the men in the army, nor would there be any high wages paid to the man who stays at home.”

Contracts Voided

The government intends to have an easier time with respect to other working conditions. All legislation on hours and conditions, as well as trade union agreements on these subjects, will merely be declared null and void. The I.M.P. actually states: “Many of these regulations and restrictions are expedient rather than necessary to the well-being of either the Nation or the workers. In a national emergency much of this expediency is lost and the operation of these regulations and restrictions should be suspended.” The restrictions are listed as those “issued by various authorized Federal and State agencies, by agreements with trade unions, and in other ways.”

In line with this, in 1934, the War Department was planning to include section 7a of the N.I.R.A. as one of the “restrictions” to be scrapped. “I would like to ask if the War Department has prepared a list of statutes to be suspended in the event of war,” inquired Senator Clark of the Nye committee. “Merely a tentative draft, not passed on or approved as yet,” replied Col. Harris. This will be a special board, the Legal Division, charged with the illegal task of suspending this selected list of laws and union contracts.

Profiteers Pleased

Among the first laws to be scrapped will be those dealing with women and child labor. There will be a Reserve Woman Power Division: “The specific mission of this division is to recommend methods for the recruiting, training, and infiltration of women, not gainfully employed, into industry, commerce, and auxiliary services,” – and not only in industry but also “for duty with the armed forces,” the Plan specifically states. There will be a Council of Minors to impress children below 18 into industry.

“What is the attitude of industry toward the plan?” an interviewer from the Nation’s Business asked Assistant. Secretary of War Johnson, who is in charge of the I.M.P.

“One of perfect cooperation,” Johnson replied. “So far as I know, one of perfect satisfaction ...”

Last updated on 17 January 2016