Hal Draper

How to Break Strikes – Courtesy of
the War Department’s Experts

In the I.M.P. the Generals Have Worked Out a Rigid Dictatorship over Labor
That Makes Strike-Breaker Bergoff’s Activities Look Like the Work of an Amateur

(May 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 31, 9 May 1939, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Pearl (“I Break Strikes”) Bergoff is a piker compared with the United States Government. The War Department’s Industrial Mobilization Plan, approved by Roosevelt, includes among other things a blueprint for strike-breaking in time of war.

The War Department has figured out and incorporated a half-dozen and more ways in which strikes in wartime may be “legally” smashed, over and above the ordinary methods which the bosses’ government employs during peacetime.

As J. Ramsay MacDonald wrote in his book National Defense, the World War has established that “an efficient military camp must have an obedient workshop behind it.” The “planning experts” in the War Department do not rely on the advance promises of civil peace and servility which are made by Bill Green and John L. Lewis, knowing that these labor fakers may not be able to “deliver.” While the War Department proudly announces that it looks to the “patriotism” of industry to insure its cooperation, it obviously does not put any faith in the patriotism of the workers.

Control over labor will be in the hands of a War Labor Administrator appointed by the President. The I.M.P. specifies that he shall be “an outstanding industrial leader who is thoroughly familiar with the problems entering into the relationship of employer and employee and who is capable of dispassionate judgment in their solution.” (In a later revised version, this was edited to “an outstanding citizen ...”) The Administrator will dispassionately select his own aides. There will be a Labor Division of the War Industries Administration, with no labor representative on it, consisting solely of representatives of government departments and war boards.

Handpicked Labor Representation

The “labor representation” comes in the Advisory Council. Here labor will have the privilege of having five representatives to balance an equal number of the bosses’ men, with the Labor Administrator presiding in his officially dispassionate way. Just to make sure, the labor “representatives” are to be handpicked by the government. The Council will meet only on the call of the Administrator, from time to time. And when it meets, its job is to debate the problems assigned to it, such as collective bargaining, “measures to prevent grievances of employers or employees, whether actual or imaginary, from interfering with production,”wage and hour standards, etc. Since such debates take time, the Administrator has a perfect right to act meanwhile as he sees fit. Then if and when the Advisory Council comes to any decision, he can still act as he sees fit.

1. The strike-breaking ace of the I.M.P. is the “selective service” draft. Summed up, it requires that: men 18-45 register; a local board of “outstanding citizens” appointed by the governor sifts them and allocates some to the front; others are given a “deferred status” if classified as needed to work at home. The latter are called the “unorganized militia.” The War Department has stated that “a deferment once made is not final ... and any man can be reclassified and called when circumstances require.”

No “Free Agents” During War

Or as Bernard M. Baruch, the chief “theoretician” of the I.M.P., has put it:

“No matter what the grounds for your deferment may be, unless you are faithfully, continuously, and usefully employed in a capacity and for an enterprise determined by the Government to be essential to the prosecution of the war, your deferment will be cancelled and you will immediately be called for service with the colors.”

Baruch has added:

“... this does not say, however, that men not under military discipline are free agents in war. The Government cannot say, ‘Work here, work there,’ or ‘Work for Mr. A.’ But it can say – as it did say in 1918: ‘Work or fight!’ That principle was barely invoked, but it was and is capable of immense expansion ... The draft of men for industrial employment is not only impossible. It is wholly unnecessary. The work or fight method is a better way. It is compatible with our institutions and far more effective than any chain-gang: or impressment that could be invented.” (Baruch’s emphasis.)

2. The second method is the direct draft of labor – i.e., assigning members of the “unorganized militia” to work where they are told under military orders, and making them liable to court-martial if they do not. This is publicly rejected by Baruch in his statement above, but there is no doubt that it is part of the War Department’s perspective, to be used when necessary though avoided if possible. Secretary of War, Woodring was so indiscreet on one occasion as to confide to the press in a regular interview that the War Department will “favor a labor draft.” And the I.M.P. bills are carefully drawn up so as to permit this measure, even though it is not explicitly stated.

Publicly, the I.M.P. men are coy on the subject. An interviewer asked Assistant Secretary of War, Johnson: “How about conscripting labor?” He replied:

“No! But if the war became a ‘big war’ there is no doubt that some form of guidance would be put in effect. By that I simply mean that essential industries could not be permitted to languish because men preferred to loaf rather than work. That’s all.”

3. Side by side with this goes military supervision within the walls of the factory. The I.M.P. bills provide for the induction into government service of “all individuals in management or control of any industrial organization.” What this means is shown by the fact that the War Department has already quietly distributed more than 14,000 reserve army commissions to top-rank manufacturers, executives, bankers, etc.

4. This same provision can be interpreted also to apply to union leaders, who may be considered to be in control of an “industrial organization.” Even if over draft age, therefore, they may be forced to enter the government service, in order to integrate the trade union movement into the war machine.

5. The President can also by decree extend military control over all “industrial organizations” and individuals involved in “public service” industries. This is a provision which would especially effect the railroad unions.

6. In one little-known case in the World War, in a lumber strike in the Northwest, soldiers in uniform were used as scabs to take the place of strikers. There is nothing to prevent this from happening again, on a large scale if necessary.

7. Finally the President is empowered to issue any rules and regulations he sees fit to implement the general aims laid down in the bills. Violation of any such rule and regulation carries the same punishment as violation of the law itself: $100,000 fine and/or one year in jail. There are no limitations to this rule by decree.

Trade-unionists and workers who have heard the talk about the next crusade “to make the world safe for democracy” should remember the remark of Senator Lee, member of the Senate Military Affairs Committee:

“Colonel Taylor (American Legion agent – H.D.) is correct when he says that when our nation goes to war our form of government must become a dictatorship, with the President the Commander-in-Chief.”

Last updated on 17 January 2016