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Labor-Management Committees

H. Allen

The “Labor-Management Committees”
– A Menace for Labor

1) Exposing a Scheme to Wreck Unions

(July 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 27, 6 July 1942, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Nine hundred labor-management committees have been established in the United States. Information already available shows that the employers are satisfied with the way the labor-management committees have worked; and that they hope to maintain such committees in the future. Union militants throughout the country, on the other hand, are beginning to recognize that such committees are actually hostile to the interests of the workers and require at least to be curbed.

Labor-management committees, in one form or another, are not new as anti-union weapons. The employers and the government are always anxious to “promote better understanding” (so they call it) between workers and themselves. But “understanding” between conflicting economic and class interests is not so easy to achieve except on the basis of capitulation by one or the other. In times of “national emergency” the bosses try to force the workers to give up their gains in the name of “national unity.”

Experience of British Labor

In Great Britain the British employers have managed to establish similar bodies called works councils. The purpose of these works councils was to stave off militant strike action by English labor. These “councils were tried after a law forbidding strikes failed, because jailed workers produce nothing.” (New York Times, April 20)

In one plant the management wanted to establish such a works council in 1937, when the plant was already 70 per cent organized. The management proposed that the workers’ representation on the council include representation from the 30 per cent non-union workers. The union correctly objected to this proposal as one which means going over its head and depriving it of its right to represent all the men in the plant.

The union realized, too, that a works council would undermine the attempt to organize all the men into the bona fide union, and would encourage disregard of the union by the unorganized workers. The company had to drop the proposal of the works council in the plant at that time.

Fined $50 for One Day’s Absence

However, because of the war pressure, there is now in effect in this plant a works council made up of ten from the company and ten from the workers, with alternating chairmen. The worker chairman, however, is always a “long-term employee.” This council has appointed a sub-committee which hears cases of absentee workers, made up of three from the management and two from the workers. The workers are obviously getting the worst end of this “promotion of better understanding” outfit. The importance of hearing cases of absentee workers under the present conditions of speed-up and long working hours is clear. How anxious the employers are to penalize workers for absence from their jobs is obvious from a case in England of a worker who was fined ten pounds, or almost $50 for one day’s absence from his work.

However, the works councils have not succeeded in preventing British labor from striking for its rights, as is demonstrated toy the figures on recent British strikes. British work day losses through strikes still amount to 2,122 every day. In 1940 there took place 850 strikes, involving 284,000 persons. In 1941, the second year of the war, the number of strikes increased to 1,162 and the number of persons involved to 334,800.

Despite the often crass desires of the British labor union officialdom to establish class collaboration – under the label of “national unity” – between the workers and the bosses, British workers still enter into open bitter conflict with the bosses to protect their interests. Such developments will increase in the future. In the United States, also, the class struggle, including resistance and opposition to the labor-management committees, will express itself probably even more sharply and militantly than has been the case in recent periods in Great Britain. The character and scope of the gigantic strikes of masses of workers in establishing the CIO unions lend weight to this prediction.

Labor Gets It in the Neck

Today the labor-management committees are regarded by big business and the government as the best means to establish the spirit of “national unity” during the “national emergency”; that is, the imperialist war. The employers and government maintain that the wide establishment of such committees is necessary to achieve “efficient production” of war goods, and to eliminate bottlenecks in production and in worker-boss relations.

In fact, labor gets it in the neck with such set-ups. Production is speeded up, without wage scales being correspondingly adjusted; work is harder; and working conditions more injurious to health. Labor-management committees will more and more try to chisel down union standards, established through long and bitter struggles by the workers.

How ready American employers are to use extreme measures to speed up production is indicated by their attitude to absentee workers. This is a problem which is becoming increasingly acute for workers as the work week becomes longer and fatigue sets in. Sharply symptomatic of the employers’ attitude is the declaration of W.S. Newell, president of the Todd-Bath Shipbuilding Co., Portland, Me. (New York Times, April 20) that his workers would either “work or fight in the shipyard or Navy”; and that “workers absent from work would be turned over to draft officials.” As in the case of British works councils, labor-management committees in the United States would serve as additional pressure on the workers for this kind of speed-up with its reckless regard for the health of the workers.

Corroding the Union Machinery

Equally important, in time more important, than the immediate practical consequences to labor, is the steady corrosion of the functioning of the legitimate trade unions by the labor-management committees. The employers will try to build up gradually the power of these committees by persistent and clever propaganda built around the “patriotic issue” of the war; by playing favorites among the workers; by the use of company stooges (potential scabs); and by the nursing of anti-union elements among the workers, Thus, they hope to devitalize the legitimate unions by ignoring the regular union machinery for the adjustment of grievances. In due course they will even try to replace the normal collective bargaining machinery of the unions. There will be an increase of company union practices, compulsory arbitration, and indirect intervention of the government agencies on the side of the employers.

If this is painting the picture blacker than is yet the case, it is because it is necessary to state clearly that this is the unavoidable logic of the labor-management committees unless labor consciously intervenes to prevent this development.

Some Union Leaders See Dangers

Some labor leaders are conscious of the danger to the very existence of the unions in the establishment of the labor-management committees, even though they now find it necessary to accept their formation. For example, the Auto Workers Union, while advising its locals to set up such committees, also advised and warned the workers not to place their regular union leaders – the shop stewards, grievance men and union executive board members – on the committees. They correctly feared that if this precaution was not taken, the result might be the relegation of the regular union and its machinery into a secondary position of subservience to the labor-management committees.

The action of the UAW, properly understood, is an implicit recognition that the labor-management committees are in actuality hostile to the interests of the workers and require, at the very minimum, to be curbed.

The UAW has grasped half the lesson. Many other unions, despite their past combats with the employers, are today too placidly accepting the institution of the labor-management committees. They hope that when the “national emergency” of the war is ended the unions will be able to return to their former status.

What is yet to be learned by the unions, in the course of the war itself, and in the post-war period, is that they must combat the labor-management committees as potentially and actually the deadly enemies of legitimate union organization. Indeed, labor in time, and at the first favorable opportunity, will have to see to it that the labor-management committees are removed from the scene, or the labor-management committees will destroy the unions.

Stack Cards Against Workers

Labor-management committees in actuality are weighted in all important aspects on the EMPLOYER side. The cards are stacked against the workers on these committees. Those unionists who mistakenly hope or believe that they can protect labor’s interests by serving and putting forward labor’s demands on these committees will find that the bosses have the upper hand on these committees and can easily side-track the demands of the workers.

An “employee representative” on a company union or “employer-employee council” was always recognized to be a stooge of the company. Today, too, “employee representatives” on the labor-management committees – who are placed there by the union or the workers as genuine union representatives – may find themselves unwillingly acting as stooges for the employers because of the employer pressure backed up by the “war emergency” pressure. Experience has shown that militants cannot successfully buck this set-up with workers’ demands, while functioning within the set-up itself. At best they can try to expose the workings of these committees, or get off such committees before they find themselves thoroughly discredited in the eyes of their fellow workers.

The only immediate answer and weapon of the labor unions to the encroachments of the labor-management committees is to refuse to yield any particle of union rights and privileges to these committees; and unconditional maintenance and development of the regular union machinery for purposes of collective bargaining and in the adjustment of the daily grievances in the plant through the shop stewards or other union machinery.

[In the next article we will deal with the labor-management committees as symbolizing the bosses’ pattern for the post-war period in worker-boss relations.]

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