Paul Temple

Our Battle Line Is the Picket Line

(March 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 12, 24 March 1941, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

“When is a strike unnecessary?” asked Bill right off as soon as he spotted Larry on Sunday.

LARRY: Who d’you think I am – the Quiz Kids?

BILL: Well, I got that question from your leader, Franklin D.

LARRY: What the hell – is he on Information Please, too?

BILL: No, he made a speech last night. He told us we’ve got to stop “unnecessary strikes of workers.” So I got to thinking —

LARRY: You know what he means. And he’s right, too. In these times, a union that’s working on defense shouldn’t strike. Unless it’s absolutely got to. It slows down production.

BILL: Come on now. Larry, you’re a union man yourself. Did you ever hear of a legitimate union that calls strikes just for the hell of it?

LARRY: There’s racketeering unions, too.

BILL: Sure, but Roosevelt wasn’t thinking about racketeers when he broadcast that speech to the world. I’ll tell you what he was thinking about – Bethlehem and Vultee and Ryan Aircraft and those strikes. THAT’S what’s on his mind.

LARRY: You’ve just got your axe out for him. What’s wrong with warning against unnecessary strikes, especially now? I’m against ’em, too.

BILL: Who isn’t? And against “unnecessary” measles, war and politicians besides. BUT WE DON’T NEED ROOSEVELT TO TELL US NOT TO GO OUT ON UNNECESSARY STRIKES. A man doesn’t go out on the picket line and live on the soup kitchen and take the chance of losing his job without thinking twice about it.

What Roosevelt Had on His Mind

LARRY: Well, Roosevelt must have had some-thing in his mind when he said that.

BILL: I’ll say he did! He wanted to stir the public up against strikers. He wanted to give the impression that when a union puts up a stiff fight for workers’ rights that’s sabotaging defense.

LARRY: There you go! Don’t you think that’s a bit too strong, hey?

BILL: Not a bit. That’s also why he hooked together the words “deliberate sabotage” in the same sentence with “unnecessary strikes,” five words after. Look at it this way: Suppose Roosevelt went and sent out a blast over the air about “unnecessarily high wages.” Wouldn’t that give the impression that there’s a lot of wages that are too high and ought to be scaled down? Same thing here. There hasn’t been a strike in the war industries that was “unnecessary” FOR THE WORKERS – you know that and Roosevelt knows that. So what’s the point of raising a row about it unless it’s to get a hand-hold for the purpose of clamping down on NECESSARY strikes?

LARRY: I still think you’re making too much of two little words. The whole point is, the unions and management have got to try to settle everything by negotiation before it comes to a strike.

BILL: Sure, negotiate. But negotiation with a company is like diplomacy with Hitler. You can talk big around the table only if the other guy knows you’ve got a big stick behind you. That’s why Wall Street wants a big army and navy so they can “negotiate” Hitler out of South America. OUR big stick is the strike. As soon as we give up the right to strike, the boss can kick us in the teeth and forget about it.

LARRY: Don’t take on. nobody’s giving up the right to strike.

BILL: Is that so? Didn’t Bill Green of the AFL promise no strikes in the war industries.

LARRY: That’s just Bill Green.

BILL: Isn’t Roosevelt always talking about the great democracy of England and how we’ve got to follow her example? Well, they’ve abolished the right to strike in England and substituted compulsory arbitration. And those “two little words” mean Roosevelt’s moving that way, too.

The Picket Line Is Our Front Line

LARRY: When it comes to war, some rights have got to go, and maybe compulsory arbitration has to come in.

BILL: That’s just the idea Roosevelt is trying to stir up now. Look where it leaves us. Suppose a union organiser goes to the boss to “negotiate.” He says:

Please, Mr. Boss, your profits are going through the ceiling; prices are umpteen per cent higher; and yon can’t buy pork chops for a family on $25 a week. How about a raise?”

“Well,” says the boss, “why don’t you try spare ribs?”

“The American way of life,” says the organiser, “demands pork chops. All the men want is a little cut out of your extra profits.”

“Sorry,” says the boss, “you’ve got to consider my family, too. My little Oswald might be drafted and he’d need an extra car and a valet.”

“Are you hinting you’re against a raise for the men?” says the organizer.

“Well, I’m not for it,” says the boss. “What are you going to do about it? You know, you can’t strike. That’s unpatriotic.”

“The men’ll be awful mad at you,” says the organizer.

“That’s cheaper than a strike,” says the boss.

“We’ll thumb our noses at your picture in the plant,” says the organizer.

“As long as it’s not on company time,” says the boss.

“We’ll write a letter to Roosevelt and complain,” says the organizer in desperation.

“No use.” says the boss, “all strikes are ‘UNNECESSARY’ now, so go back to your boys and tell ’em not to be fifth columnists ...”

Get this, Larry: the word “boss” means a dictator. And as long as we spend our working lives under dictators, our fight for democracy is on the picket line.

Last updated on 5.12.2012