From The Militant, Vol. IV No. 28 (Whole No. 87), 24 October 1931, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
40,000 applications have been filed for the nationwide examination for stenographer and typist, and in itself demonstrates the enormous unemployment and state of insecurity that prevails among the office workers and “white-collar” workers generally.
The official statement of the U.S. Civil Service Commission, says:
“Approximately 40,000 formal applications were filed with the United States Civil Service Commission at Washington for the stenographer and typist examinations ...
“This establishes a record for all time. In the same examinations held in 1030 for the departmental service, 8,546 applications were filed with the Commission, a record number at that time ...”
The Commission acknowledges that, “the greatly increased number of applicants is, without doubt, due to the general industrial depression”, and also admits that this huge increase of applicants for Civil Service jobs is to be met with [line missing] in other classes of positions.
The vast numbers of unemployed or poorly paid office workers vaguely believe and hope that a Civil Service job, “working for the government”, will bring a large degree of economic security, permanent employment, and that their worries will then be over. It is a pitiful hope and illusion; for capitalist government, no less than its bosses, the private proprietors of industries, lands and banks, must face by and large the problems posed by an economic crisis, political instability, etc. Budgets must be balanced, taxes arranged – according to the requirements of the employers, the rulers of the land. Employees, whether of a local, state or national government, or employees of a private capitalist, remain economically – wage slaves. When “times are hard”, the government employee, like any other worker, is also hit by layoffs, increase of working hours, wage-cuts, etc.
But so strong is the illusion of government, jobs, Civil Service appointments, etc., that between the year 1930 and 1931, an increase of approximately 450% in the number of applicants for stenographer and typist jobs, is recorded. And 1930, with its 8,546 was already a record year for applications. To cap it all, the U.S. Civil Service Commission does not mention the number of jobs actually open for the 40,000 applications. By the tens of thousands, the applicants are to fall by the wayside, and left to ponder their future fate, lack of jobs and security under capitalism.
It might be thought, further, that these stenographic and typist jobs, for which 40,000 humans swarm in desperation, paid handsome wages. Yet the wage for the highest paid stenographic position is $31.00 per week and the low is $24.00. And in this mad plunge of applicants for $24.00 and $31.00 a week jobs, the race is not merely to the swiftest. With an unconscious sense of humor or irony, the Civil Service Commission announces with dignity that “Recently ... it has improved its test for stenographers and typists for the Government Service.” For in addition to the ability to take dictation and to transcribe notes, “such an employee should have good judgment ... more knowledge of the English language, etc.” All for $24.00 and $31.00 a week, and the right to “work for the government”.
It is known to all and sundry that the U.S. Government, and its official spokesman, President Hoover, have professed great concern about the unemployed, and have even called upon the captains of industry not to lay off workers or to cut wages. It has however been amply proved that neither Hoover,
the government nor the bosses were serious about such statements; and the employers have, from the day of Hoover’s statement, continuously cut wages, increased hours of labor, and laid off workers, so that some 10,000,000 are today unemployed in the United States. U.S. Government Increases Hours Now the government adds its bit, and we quote, for the benefit of the stenographic and typist applicants, postal workers and any others who may read, a statement of the Post Office Department.
“Because of the greatly increased deposits, all employees in the postal savings division are required to work eight and one-half hours a day, an increase of one-half hour over the regular Federal workday. This extra work will not involve any salary increase. The Department found it necessary to hire more men, or to require overtime work of present employees, and decides upon the latter course.”
Capitalist government and employers set their course by the dollar sign or requirements of capitalist economy, and not by those of the worker.
The office worker or “white-collar” employee, unquestionably in the past and largely yet in the present, is affected by the ideas of the capitalist class, particularly of the middle class. Actually feeble in an economic sense, he has endeavored to ape the class he aspired to. The viewpoint of the office-worker has been slow to change. But low wages, unemployment on a tremendous scale among office workers, inability to pretend even to “keep up with the Joneses”, are driving the office worker, very slowly as yet, toward a common economic and ideologic position with the rest of labor.
There are no special and final reasons that prevent the organization of the “white-collar” workers into militant labor unions. European countries have witnessed them. The United States need not be exempt from progress in this field. It is folly to surrender all the millions of extremely low-paid office workers to the existing capitalist movements or to potential Fascist movements, or to liberal and social-democratic ideologists. While there are obvious limitations in approaching and winning such elements, the policy of virtually ignoring them is patently wrong. The American Federation of Labor has only played about with the question of organizing the office workers, and its federal labor unions have been made up to a large extent of civil service employees. These should be reached by all means also. But hitherto the other millions of office workers have been passed by. The Left wing has made sporadic efforts of organization and has gotten mostly office help employed by unions.
The task of organization of this wide field of workers is basically the same as with the industrial workers, with all due advantages as are already known in the organization of the latter. The appeal must be broad and on elemental economic and class issues. Sectarian appeal will not work. Yet the only efforts able to succeed will have to be exerted by the militant and Left wing workers and organizations.
Last updated: 4.2.2013