Trade Unions Urged
to Start Military Training
Under Its Control

(13 July 1940)

Source: Socialist Appeal, Vol. IV No. 28, 13 July 1940, p. 2.
Transcription/Editing/HTML Markup: 2020 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: George Novack Internet Archive 2020; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.

(The following letter urging the trade unions to undertake military training is a proposal with which we are fully in agreement. We welcome letters from workers commenting on its proposals – Editor.)


Two weeks ago a Major from the War Department spoke before the American Legion Post in the town near here where I live and urged them to form a Home Guard to defend this locality against potential enemies and invaders. According to this Army spokesman, the War Department was making the same request of veteran’s organizations all over the country.

This week another meeting is going to be held to launch the organization of a Home Guard under the direction of the local Legion Post. One of the leading Legionnaires is acting as recruiting officer.

This Home Guard has already become the pet project of the members of the Legion here. This creates a very serious situation. Most of the Legion officers are the worst type of reactionaries, small business men who vote Republican, labor-haters. Now these men are organizing an armed group which is going to function legally and openly in our midst with government aid and blessing and with public approval.

In the last World War we had a Defense unit like this one here. It bold regular weekly meetings, drilled in a local hall, and rehearsed such emergency activities as guarding railroad bridges, etc. Like the other Home Guards, it was never called on for any serious defense work. But in many places, if you will remember, these local Defense groups were instrumental in organizing and leading armed mobs which terrorized “labor agitators, wobblies, and reds,” and even lynched workers.

It’s impossible to prevent the formation of these Home Guards. The forces bphind the movement are too powerful and they are being sold to the people as purely defense bodies. The workers are taken in by this argument and don’t always recognize what a threat to themselves these Home Guards may be. One veteran said to me: “I wouldn’t go over there again to fight, but what’s wrong with being ready to defend ourselves here against the Fascists?”

There ought to be some way of warning the workers against the potential danger represented by these Legion-controlled groups and at the same time preparing them to protect themselves against Fascist elements at home and abroad. Is there any reason why local unions can’t take advantage of the present defense drive for this purpose? Why should organized workers leave the job of defending their lives and their homes entirely to people who have shown themselves to be hostile to labor in the past?

Why can’t local unions have their own Home Defense Guards? Trade unions have as much legal right to form defense units and have military training camps and rifle clubs as veterans’ organizations. The American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars are not government bodies but independent voluntary organizations. Unions of workers ought to have the same privileges as unions of veterans.

It’s easy to see why the War Department deliberately places this defense movement in charge of the Legion Posts. It is not so much because these are veterans’ organizations but because in most: places they are composed and controlled by super-patriotic reactionaries.

Instead of permitting the Legionnaires to monopolize this defense movement, the trade unions ought to take the initiative in setting up defense units under their own auspices. They should ask the government for the same kind of aid as the Legion Posts are being given. They should obtain arms and equipment, training camps, drilling halls, and technical assistance from the War Department.

If any corporation should try to use the Legionnaires’ Home Guards against the workers in a strike situation, the unions would have reliable units of their own to defend their rights. But in that case the bosses wouldn’t be so likely to try it.

This idea could be adopted on a state and national scale. Last week eight hundred men from this district went to Plattsburgh, New York, for a month of military training. There’s not a worker in the lot. In the first place, the War Department has specifically designated Plattsburgh as “the business-men’s camp.” And in the second place, what worker can afford to pay the government for a month’s military training, as these men are doing?

Here are big business men training themselves, with the aid and encouragement of the War Department, to become officers in their private training camps. These class-conscious big shots want to be in a position to order the workers about when they get them in the army just as they boss them during peace time. Why should the workers allow them to get away with this?

How about some Workers’ Plattsburghs? The workers have the same right to officers’ training camps as business and professional men. Just as local unions and City Centrals ought to form their Defense Guards, so the state bodies and national unions should have officers’ training schools and camps where their members can learn how to handle modern military and mechanized equipment under the direction of their own organizations. The War Department, I notice, has announced plans for more training camps for mature men during September. Why can’t the trade unions take over some of them?

I realize that these suggestions may offend the anti-war feelings of many workers. I know that the working people are going to get an even worse deal in this rotten war than they got in the last, and that they can’t expect anything better from their bosses now. But this proposal is not pro-war at all.

We have to be realistic about the situation. Here are reactionaries organizing local forces, here are business executives training themselves for officers’ positions. The workers would be foolish to ignore these activities. At least they can use them for their own benefit by training themselves for the inevitable conflicts. Whether they’ll have to fight for their bosses tomorrow or for themselves the day after, they’ll need the best military training.

The workers ought to take a tip from the big shots and the local reactionaries, who are getting ready for the coming war in their own way and in their own interests. The organized workers should do the same thing and not leave the defense of their interests in the hands of their worst enemies.

I’d like to know what you think about these ideas.

Bridgeport, Conn.



Last updated on: 24 May 2020