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Labor Action, 25 March 1946


Louis Konowal

Readers of Labor Action Take the Floor ...

How Can Workers Run the Factories?


From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 12, 25 March 1946, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Dear Editor:

I have your-paper which was given to me by one of your members at a strike meeting.

I was impressed by the cartoon on the front page, “If they can’t run them, we can!”

For some time I have been thinking along the same lines. Upon perusal of your paper I failed to find any article explaining this idea. The least you could do is to enlarge on the theory, not merely make threats. I think that the working class will make this step soon.

Can you enlighten me on this subject? How can it be done?


Yours for a social revolution,
Louis Konowal
Philadelphia, Pa.


Labor Action ran in conjunction with the steel and other strikes. “If they can’t run them, we can!” applies, however, not merely to the steel strike and auto companies but to all of big business, which engaged in a drive to smash union standards, lower wages and increase prices.

Workers control of production, for which Labor Action and the Workers Party stand, is also the logical implication of the United Auto Workers Union demand to open the books. The issuance of this cardinal demand in the UAW’S struggle with the General Motors Corporation was designed to expose the hollow argument of the corporations that they can’t pay a living wage, that they must have price “relief,” company “security.” (Oh, those poor, starving corporations!)

An examination of General Motors books would show that they could have paid the whole 30 per cent demand of the workers and still have made more than their pre-war average profits, not to speak of the government’s profit insurance given to corporations for their “sacrifices” in producing the weapons of mass murder.

If perchance the opening of a corporation’s books would show a genuine inability to pay without maintaining the profit standards to which the corporation is accustomed, the conclusion is the same: abolish profits and take industry out of the hands of those who are governed only by considerations of profit.

What is the meaning of workers’ control of production? First, it means the taking over not of a single industry, but of every plant of every branch of every industry, by democratically elected committees of workers. It means the wresting of the means of production, which are the livelihood of the vast majority of the population, from the absentee owners, the coupon clippers, the Sixty Families; the handful of monopolists who own and control this wealth through their appropriation of the labor of others. Workers’ control of production would be a step towards replacing economic dictatorship with economic democracy, towards transferring social wealth to the producers of that wealth, the workers.

That industry is transferrable to hands other than those it rests in now, is recognized. even by the official leaders of labor. Walter Reuther knew his threat – or rather, promise – of workers’ control was implicit in the slogan “Open the Books!” which he used, whether he intended to fight until it was realized or not, to squeeze a wage increase out of the GM corporation.

Even Philip Murray, CIO president, recognizes that it is not ordained by heaven that the capitalists manage industry until eternity. In the third day of the steel strike, the United Steel Workers Union urged seizure of $1 billion worth of Defense Plant Corporation steel facilities (N.Y. Times, Jan. 23). The union resolution declared:

The American Government owns over $1,000,000,000 worth of the most modern steel plant facilities now under control of the very corporations which have flouted the President's decision. These facilities should either be made available for private operation by individuals such as Henry J. Kaiser who, in the interest of the nation, has accepted the President’s wage decision for his steel employees, or should be operated by the Government until the steel corporations accept the President’s decision.”

While Murray is for practically anyone taking over the. plants except the workers he professes to represent, he is forced to recognize that at least “75 per cent of the Defense Plant Corporation’s facilities were sufficiently integrated to be taken over and operated by individuals not connected with the steel corporations engaged in the present dispute.” (N.Y. Times)

The limitations of nationalizing only one industry, or part of an industry, were shown in the objections made to. Murray’s proposal. For example, steel ingots were produced in an electric furnace owned by the DPC at Duquesne, but it would be necessary to roll these on Steel Corporation equipment before they could be shipped elsewhere. Needless to say, the privately-owned corporations would sabotage the invader in their field, whether it was Kaiser, the government or the workers.

We know how the present government would run the plants, too. We know that during the war the government seized plants only to continue operating them at. huge profits for the corporation owner’s (Montgomery Ward, for instance), while the striking workers were forced back to work. The present government obeys the orders of the capitalists whom it represents.

That is why we couple the slogan of workers’ control of production with the slogan for a workers’ government. Those who man the production lines of the country, who, together with their families and dependents, constitute the majority of the country, those who produce the wealth of the country but who are denied a say in the disposition of that wealth, those who are deprived of the fruits of their labor – they should run the country. A workers’ government would thus abolish the dictatorship of the bourgeois or capitalist class that now exists and replace it with the most democratic society in the world. This workers’ government would eventually eliminate all classes and rise to newer heights, to socialism.

Role of Labor Party

In order to achieve a workers’ government, the first immediate step to be taken by the labor movement is to make a complete break with capitalist politics. We have just witnessed how the results of the magnificent struggle on the picket lines have been robbed in Washington, on the political front. Labor is disfranchised politically when it has no party of its own, with a program in its own interests, but only chooses from among different capitalist candidates.

We call upon all readers of Labor Action, who share the sentiments of our reader, to join the Workers Party in the fight for a new, socialist society.

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