Max Shachtman

FDR for Any Anti-Labor Bill

(February 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 7, 14 February 1944, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The story of a bitter meeting between President Roosevelt and Philip Murray, president of the CIO, which revealed the determination of Roosevelt to draw the chains tighter around the neck of the labor movement and the lack of determination of Murray to fight back was made public last week in the pages of the New York Post.

The article was written by Victor Riesel, labor editor of the Post, in its February 1 issue. Riesel is in close and intimate contact with the Murray leadership of the CIO and, like his paper, is himself a supporter of Roosevelt. There is every ground for accepting the authenticity of the the Riesel account in every respect.

In his article, Riesel writes:

A bitter feud between President Roosevelt and CIO Leader Philip Murray is embarrassing Sidney Hillman, CIO political boss, and his new left wing allies.
Murray’s fight with the President began the morning after Mr. Roosevelt called for a labor draft law. William Green, AFL head, and Murray were in the President’s study listening to him complain vehemently about labor’s attitude toward the national service proposal.
The President, according to reports, sharply attacked Murray for calling the proposal “quack medicine” an obvious reference to the President’s use of the term, “Dr. Win-the-War.”
Murray then asked Mr. Roosevelt:
“Do you expect to get a realistic tax program?”
The President said no.
“Do you expect to get a good subsidy program?”
Mr. Roosevelt said no.
“In such a case,” Murray asked, “would you sign a national service bill if Congress passed it?”
The President said he would sign it.
Murray grew red-faced while Bill Green fidgeted.
“Suppose Congress were to pass a severe Smith anti-strike bill instead of a national service law ...” Murray queried.
The President said he would sign that, too.
Murray then said he would tour the country and speak in opposition to the President’s proposal. Mr. Roosevelt declared that Murray did not speak for the CIO. The President then waved a telegram which endorsed his views.
It was signed by a prominent left wing CIO leader.
Murray saw red in more ways than one – and left shortly after.

There is the eloquent story of the meeting between the President and the two outstanding leaders of the organized labor movement over the most vital questions facing the American working class at this moment – taxes, the cost of living and the proposed slave act.

Roosevelt owes his high office, three times in a row, to the millions of votes mobilized for him in every campaign by the leaders of the trade unions. He counts upon those votes for success in his coming campaign for a fourth term. Neither he nor his party can hope to retain control of the legislative and executive branches of the government without them.

The Baron and Boss

Yet when the official spokesmen of the labor movement come before him in the most friendly and docile way to discuss problems which are of the most urgent importance to the working class, he treats them with the contempt a feudal baron showed his serfs, or a powerful political boss shows a whining ward-heeler.

The recent White House meeting is not the first time that Roosevelt has acted toward labor and its opinions and demands with this confident contempt. Murray, Lewis and Green have been treated by Roosevelt as butlers or beggars a dozen times before.

But there has never been a case of Roosevelt speaking that way to the representatives of big business, of the profit-swollen monopolists. When THEY come to Washington, they soon appear as the bosses of the War Production Board, as the heads of this department or that one, as the spokesmen and directors of one branch of the government after another. When THEY come to Washington, they get exactly what they want, or close to what they want, or else they go back and fight openly for their maximum demands.

The labor leaders get kicked around the way you would not ordinarily treat a dog.

Why? Why does Roosevelt express himself toward them with such contempt?

Because he feels that the labor LEADERS are “IN THE BAG.”

Because he feels that no matter what he says to them, or what he does to them and to the men and women they represent, these labor leaders will continue to come back with their tails between their legs and the offer of political support always in their paws.

Because he feels that although “Murray grew red-faced while Bill Green fidgeted,” he has little to worry about from them. Murray’s face has grown red before, but he still asks labor to vote for Roosevelt. Green has fidgeted before and will fidget again, but he will also continue to try corralling labor support for Roosevelt.

Because he feels that he can rely solidly on the so-called “left wing” labor leaders, who are not left wing in any sense whatsoever, but rather the most reactionary wing of the American labor movement. This particular branch of the American labor leadership is composed of the Communist Party gang – Curran, Bridges, Quill & Co. – who are ready to hogtie and gag the labor movement and deliver it helpless to the Roosevelt machine because such a policy happens right now to serve the interests of the Stalin regime in Russia.

Murray can attack these union-busters at a national CIO meeting for five hours or fifty hours – it makes little difference. He offers no real alternative to their consistent and determined policy of crippling and paralyzing the labor movement; so that it may be dealt the heaviest blows that capitalist reaction can deliver without being able to fight back. All Murray does is , “grow red-faced.” All Bill Green does is “fidget.”

Like Voting Cattle

They do not call upon the powerful labor movement to fight back the capitalist attack in an organized and militant way. They do not call upon labor to fight seriously and resolutely for its legitimate demands and for the rectification of its countless grievances. They do not tell the workers what Roosevelt’s real plans are against the labor movement. Instead, they “reiterate” their no-strike pledge and send their Hillmans all over the land to drive labor into the Roosevelt political column like so much voting cattle.

If labor is to acquire the respect: of others and its own self-respect, if labor is to gain its objectives and not be trampled on like dirt on the street, it must put the fear of its great strength into the hearts of its enemies and of its self-styled “friends.”

Labor must regain the right to strike which was stolen from it!

Labor must establish its political independence and thereby its political power!

Taxes are on the increase, the cost of living is on the increase, but wages are not at all keeping pace. Capitalist profits, the greatest in all history, continue, to rise, in spite of taxes.

Wherever labor has insisted, on its RIGHT TO STRIKE, it has achieved its demands, in whole or in part. Wherever it has bowed down to the ground, it has been kicked in the teeth.

Now, in addition to everything else, Roosevelt, the “friend of labor,” says he will sign not only the labor slave act, but even “a severe Smith anti-strike law.” He is not afraid of labor’s power to stop him, because up to now that power has been used to bring him to office and keep him there.

The capitalists and their government would sing a different tune if they had a really independent labor movement to deal with, particularly on the political field.

The first step in that direction, whether Murray and Green want it or not, is the organization by the American unions of an Independent Labor Party, with its own platform and its own candidates for office. The workers of this country cannot afford merely to “grow red-faced” or to “fidget.” They must act immediately to save themselves and their labor movement.

Restore the right to strike, the right to enforce labor’s demands by organized action!

Organize a national Independent Labor party, completely free of the capitalist politicians, the capitalist parties and the capitalist programs!

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