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Labor-Management Committees

H. Allen

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

2) The Bosses’ Substitute for Genuine Unionism

(July 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 28, 13 July 1942, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In last week’s Labor Action article we showed how labor-management committees are against the IMMEDIATE interests of working people. These committees have been developed to make racehorses of workers, with reckless disregard for their health and for established union standards. They aim to prevent strike actions needed to improve working conditions and obtain wage increases in accord with the rising cost of living. Moreover, with the aid of such committees, employers are able to keep workers from seeking and obtaining jobs which pay higher wages or offer better working conditions. Labor turnover has already been reduced from 25 per cent a year in the last war to 4 per cent in the present war. (New York Times, June 7) This is a reduction due in no small part to the functioning of the labor-management committees – a sugar-coated technique for “freezing” workers to jobs paying less, without resort to the decree which Paul McNutt avowedly is ready to employ.

The imperialist war offers the ruling class a golden opportunity (in its opinion) to use “national defense” and “national unity” not only to hog-tie labor to the imperialist war chariot; but also to take away step by step, through the labor-management committee’s, labor’s hard-won gains.

The Bosses’ Pattern for the Future

But the employers and the government have also an ULTIMATE post-war objective for the labor-management committees. As Wendell Lund, director of the labor production division of the War Labor Board has admitted, the techniques of cooperation between labor and management developed during the war are to provide a pattern “for the same kind of teamwork and cooperation in the days of peace.” (New York Times, June 7)

Why do the bosses want “teamwork” in the post-war period. First, the bosses have demonstrated their utter incompetence to avoid chaos in their own economy. No more proof of this is needed than the periodic depressions, the periodic capitalist wars and the inability of the bosses to produce effectively even for their own war. On the other hand, labor has demonstrated its indispensability not only as labor power, but also in developing ideas for production. Suspecting its own impotence and incompetence and dispensability, and confronted with the ability of the working class, the capitalist class wants a reorganization of industry with the cooperation or collaboration of labor. The bosses want everything labor can give them – in productivity, efficiency, ideas, as long as this is not accompanied by any threats to or inroads on their continued control, management and ownership of production.

As Wendell Lund said (New York Times, June 7):

“The men along the conveyor belts, or cutting dies, or drilling for oil, are a great reservoir of creative and constructive production, ideas that we have, as yet, hardly begun to tap.” The bosses can’t even run their own system, so workers have been and are being encouraged to devise means for more efficient production. Today, the government steps in to assist the bosses to get these ideas for efficient production by a system of awards, certificates and citations of the War Production Board. But to make sure that using these, ideas of the workers does not constitute a threat to the bosses’ retaining management of production, these awards are restricted to plants which have voluntarily instituted labor-management committees.” (New York Times, June 16)

In other words, the bosses, with the aid of the government hope to continue their exploitation of workers by tapping their ideas within the frame-work of labor-management committees.

Bosses Want Safe Labor Movement

Second, and more important, labor has been developing its strength and militancy in organization, especially in the great strikes resulting in the formation of the powerful CIO industrial unions.

Knowing that a militant labor movement can play havoc with the political and imperialist designs of the ruling class, the problem of this class is and remains how to devitalize a living labor movement and make it “safe and sane” or impotent to stand up for its needs, its living standards and democratic rights. The labor-management committees are the most powerful organizational device thus far improvised by the bosses in the present period to achieve this end, and they have no intention of relinquishing or ignoring the device made palatable at present by the “exigencies” of war.

In the past the bosses could rely on the safe and conservative old-line AFL unions. But this did not resolve the class struggle issue in relation to the millions of workers engaged in the mass production industries who pressed for organization.

When the NRA came into existence, it gave a tremendous impetus to union organization by giving government sanction to organization. To divert this organization into safe channels and to prevent workers from organizing militant unions, the bosses attempted to foist company unions on the workers. Company unions grew like mushrooms in the beginning of the NRA period.

On the other hand, the Roosevelt Administration, recognizing that it was impossible to stem the pressure of the workers for their own organizations, tried to channelize the struggles and their organizations into safe channels by the utilization of all kinds of government intervention in labor disputes.

But the company union methods of the employers and the government intervention methods of the Roosevelt Administration – both class collaborationist in purpose – failed to stop the organization of labor into strong industrial unions which carried out militant struggles. As a result of the rise in the economic situation in 1935–37, providing jobs for millions after lean years of unemployment, the CIO came into existence and demonstrated its right to continued existence by militant fighting methods (strikes, mass picketing, sit-downs, etc.). With all the internal difficulties, multiplied several times over, the organization and concept of the CIO still remain the great achievement and hope of labor on the economic front.

Had not the imperialist war intervened, with the resulting capitulation of the trade union officialdom before the offensive of the bosses, the CIO unions would have increased further in strength and militancy. As indicated by Philip Murray, president of the CIO, at the CIO convention in 1941 at Detroit, it is conceivable that they would have entered the political field independently as a workers’ political movement.

The Bosses’ Offensive After the War

Fearing the revival of the militant working class movement in the post-war period, the bosses even now seek to strengthen the labor-management committees at the expense of the bona fide unions.

But, in the post-war period, with millions of workers no longer needed for war production, labor will find itself in a much weaker position economically to combat the bosses’ offensive – a task which is difficult enough under the most favorable conditions of relative shortage of labor, strong union organization and militant workers.

TODAY, labor must prepare for the future by being on its guard against any attempts to devitalize its organizations. This means, concretely, that militants in the unions continue to speak up at union meetings and conventions for the maintenance of union standards and indicate their distrust of and opposition to the anti-labor purposes and practices of the labor-management committees.

Maintain Bona Fide Unions

It is the bona fide unions which have gained the experience, the technique and developed the organizational machinery for best resolving the problems of workers in relation to the employers. Any and all encroachments, small or large, upon union prerogatives should be resisted. There is nothing in relation to wages, hours, etc., that cannot be better done by the union itself than by the machinery of labor-management committees. These labor-management committees are only a variation of company unionism, a deadly menace to union organization. Unions only maintain their strength by constant vigilance and struggle – strikes, etc. In abandoning their gains and rights, the unions become unavoidably weaker. The ranks, not feeling the daily effects and not seeing the daily evidences of union efforts, tend more and more to lose their confidence in the unions, which are actually their best weapons. The labor-management committees hasten the weakening of the union structure and organism. The employers like that; the workers shouldn’t – and they should do something about it.

Ranks Dubious of Committees

The labor union officialdom, almost entirely, has permitted itself to go along, sometimes skeptically and reluctantly, but nevertheless going along with the formation of labor-management committees in order to get “efficient production” for the “war for democracy.” The Stalinists also – as servants of the Kremlin – have fully supported and in many cases have been directly instrumental in the establishment of labor-management committees. But the rank and file workers are more than dubious of the labor-management set-up. Their experiences so far indicate that these committees are not in their – THE WORKERS’ – interests.

As the war itself proceeds, and the effects of labor-management committees on labor standards and the unions show themselves clearly, the ranks of labor will begin to shake their head’s in protest and will say:

Enough! Labor-management committees are committees of the bosses to manage the workers. Workers want no part of them. Workers will rely on our own organizations – our own labor unions.”

Worker Offensive Toward Worker Control

Today more and more workers are beginning to realize the need for workers to have a say in how production is carried on; to develop some control in and over production and eventually to take over full control. However, anyone who deludes himself or others that labor-management committees are a step toward workers’ control of production finds the answer in the manufacturers’ own statements to the contrary. A recent survey of manufacturers proved their satisfaction with these committees because they “in no way enable workers to take over management functions.” (New York Times)

Workers must achieve control of production through their own organizations – the unions, etc. (The relation of workers’ control of production to the capitalist system is not within the purview of this article, though decisive in the solution thereof.) In some cases, to protect their own immediate interests, unions have already gained the right to check the books of the bosses to ascertain profits, etc., and to make demands for wage adjustments and other improvements in working conditions accordingly.


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Last updated: 23.12.2013