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Fourth International, May-June 1951


World in Review

Labor Leaders’ Return to Washington Window-Dressing


From Fourth International, Vol.12 No.3, May-June 1951, pp.68-69.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


When the labor leaders walked out of Truman’s mobilization setup on Feb. 28, they vowed never again to serve as “window dressing” for the “Big Business dominated” war program. But by April 30 they had accepted a rotten compromise and were back in the fold.

Even in the statement issued by the United Labor Policy Committee announcing their return to the government agencies, there is little to justify their decision to make peace with the administration.

“In the two months since labor withdrew from defense posts, a significant change of attitudes has taken place in Washington. Considerable progress has been made in correcting unjust and unworkable procedures, but much remains to be done,” the statement reads.

The ULPC hastens to add:

“We do not want to give the impression that the United Labor Policy Committee is now satisfied with all defense policies or programs. On the contrary, further fundamental improvements are imperative. The cards are still stacked against the consuming public.”

The major demands made on Feb. 28 by the ULPC as the basis for the return of the union leaders to government posts were these:

  1. Genuine price control.
  2. An end to the wage-freeze.
  3. Tax the rich instead of the poor.
  4. Stop runaway rents.
  5. An adequate low-cost housing program.
  6. Stop control of Washington government agencies by Big Business.
  7. Check profiteering.
  8. A strong Federal FEPC law.
  9. Participation of labor in the mobilization program as “full partners.”
  10. A wage stabilization board that could handle labor disputes as well as economic matters.

All the labor spokesmen gave far more weight to the first 8 points than to the last two. And their union publications laid more stress on the economic demands than upon the organizational demands.

But they finally settled for nothing more than some meager concessions on the last two points.

The April 30 statement of the ULPC read,

“The creation of the National Advisory Board on Mobilization Policy has made it possible for representatives of the general public, labor and agriculture – as well as business – to participate in major policy-making at the top level ...”

They neglected to point out that this newly constituted board is headed by the same Big Business chief Charles E. Wilson, whose domineering attitude toward the labor leaders and open support of the interests of the big corporations was one of the major grievances of the union heads in their split from the government agencies.

The truth is that the new mobilization board differs from its predecessor in only one respect; it is empowered to report directly to Truman. Thus the basic change in the powers of the labor leaders was that they are now “granted” an audience by Truman, whereas before the revolt they couldn’t get his ear. They can now “advise” at will. But this is a far cry from their demand to be treated as “full partners.”

On the question of the authority of the Wage Stabilization Board, the ULPC got another “concession.” They had demanded that the board be empowered to handle and make binding decisions on all matters of “contractual relations.” This would enable the labor movement to force through a policy at the level of the top administration to authorize and enforce union shop, check-off contracts in all basic industry and to place matters of union security and stability before a Truman-appointed body for decision.

This, they hoped, would bring a return to the Fxoosevelt War Labor Board days when check-off agreements were ordered by the WLB, as a sop to the union bureaucrats in exchange for their consent to the wage-freeze.

But the new WSB has no real power to order union security in contracts. It can only “advise” on matters involving labor disputes. This slight concession, agreed to by Truman, is all the ULPC got. Everything else remains as before.

Why did the labor bureaucracy settle for such insignificant handouts?

The miserable compromise serves to clarify the original motives behind the union leaders’ angry walkout.

It is now clear that the labor leadership was strongly impelled to fight for more recognition and reward for their services in supporting the adminstration as the representatives of 16,000,000 organized workers. They have become tar more conscious of their political power, especially since the 1948 presidential election in which labor’s vote was decisive. These men who felt they were entitled to play an important role in government, were treated too much like flunkeys. Their protest was not directed toward an independent course, but toward fuller, more formal acceptance in the coalition with the Democratic administration.

To a labor bureaucracy which has begun to understand the power of the organizations upon which they rest, “recognition” of this type is of prime importance. They want to be “accepted” as men of stature, as “statesmen,” politically and socially equal to the capitalist masters who actually run the government.

Yet they have not achieved even this limited objective through the compromise. They now have the right to talk to Truman directly as members of the National Mobilization Advisory Board. But they have been given no additional powers, and the board itself is still dominated by Big Business.

In order to fulfill their ambition to rise as national political figures, the labor bureaucrats must maintain the union base from which they draw their power. That was the basic motive behind their demand that the WSB handle contractual matters and lay the groundwork for a government policy insuring the existence and opportunity for growth of the union movement. But they received little but a gesture on this demand.

This two-month revolt, ending in an abject capitulation, adds to an understanding of the US labor bureaucracy. It wants more political power and it wants to safeguard the union base; but it is politically stultified and still strongly tied to the capitalist political machines.

However, things are not quite the same as before the walkout. The sharp break with Truman’s domestic policies, and the heated statements and publicity going with them, have left an indelible mark on the labor movement and upon the American political scene. The walkout undoubtedly served to further undermine the workers’ confidence (if you can any longer call it that) in the Truman administration, already badly shaken by the anti-war sentiments brought on by the Korean debacle.

Some union bureaucrats, especially the social-democratic types around David Dubinsky, head of the International Ladies Garment Workers, and Jacob Potofsky, president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, are speaking more and more about a labor party. The sentiment for independent labor political action is simmering throughout the labor movement. This was clearly shown at the CIO-United Automobile Workers convention of April 1 to 6, where even President Walter Reuther, in the act of sidetracking a labor party resolution, had to pay lip service to the labor party proposal demanded by the most forward-looking delegates.

The labor leaders had a choice between two roads after Feb. 28. They could move either toward independent politics along labor party lines or back into the coalition with Truman as “window dressing.” Given two minor concessions, aimed at appeasing their bureaucratic aspirations but shunting aside the needs of the workers, they chose the road of retreat.

As the heavy costs of the military program, imposed upon the low income layers of the population, begin to make their full effects felt, these labor party sentiments now simmering will come to a boil. Neither the workers’ dissatisfaction with the increasing economic burdens of the war program, nor the impulsion of the union bureaucrats toward more political power, will be halted by the surrender of the labor leadership on April 30. All signs point toward the development of a deeper and far more explosive labor crisis in the not too distant future.

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