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H. Allen

Answers Jacoby on Needle Trades

(August 1942)

The Readers of Labor Action Take the Floor ..., Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 35, 31 August 1942, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Dear Comrade Editor:

In his clear and valuable letter to the Editor (Labor Action, August 24), Brother Jacoby takes issue with, my article on the crisis in the needle trades (Labor Action, July 20) on one point, to wit: “There is no ‘law’ that says that garments are to be made only in the East. The industrialization of the South, in the last analysis, is to be welcomed by unionists, militants, class conscious workers.”

Jacoby contends that while this is abstractly correct, this industrialization is a conscious effort of military officials to break the Eastern industry and its unions and is not a natural or necessary expansion of the garment industry.

It is certainly necessary to expose the motive and aims, as our article did, of the Southern congressmen who have successfully exerted pressure on the Administration and connived with the Army officials to establish non-union Southern plants. But the establishment of these Southern factories is a fact. More Important, top; is the fact that thereby has been treated a mass of new, non-union factory workers. What is to be done about that? Tell them to get out of the factories? Nobody suggests such an absurdity.

Therefore, it is relatively unimportant, except as a matter of exposure of employer-governmental aims, HOW these Southern plants came into existence. When Northern employers imported Southern Negroes to work in the huge steel, meat packing and other industries, in the North, it also was relatively unimportant HOW the hitherto agricultural working Negroes got into the factories.

The basic task then became (and in a large measure still remains) for the unions to abandon (as the CIO unions in large part have) their own Jim Craw bars and to organize the Negro workers side by side with the whites into the unions in order to protect the existence of the unions and their standards.

The comparison is not only analagous; it is quite identical with the prime necessity today for the garment unions in the East to ORGANIZE THE SOUTHERN NEEDLE TRADES WORKERS to preserve their unions and their union standards. Every other immediate aim is also necessary, but in all important aspects these are real only in proportion to the degree and militancy with which an organizing campaign is recognized as the KEY to the crisis in the needle trades.

Therefore, what is necessary are the following:

  1. A militant class struggle policy by the unions; abandonment of the union officials’ policy of behind-the-scenes deals or seeking “favors” from the Administration, with the membership kept virtually in the dark.
  2. Membership meetings and MASS DEMONSTRATIONS to exert pressure for the workers’ demands – the maintenance of existing union standards, jobs, etc.
  4. An allied needle trades unions campaign to ORGANIZE THE SOUTHERN PLANTS.

The maintenance of the needle trades unions on solid foundations is the fundamental question at stake. That solid foundation is, menaced by and therefore contingent on what is done about the Southern non-union shops. The union standards – employment, wages, hours – flow from the state or degree of organization of the unions, as is of course obvious from the effects already on jobs, proposed lowering of wage standards, etc., in the East.

Unless the southern plants are successfully organized, the weakening of the needle trades unions will go on apace, and with it the destruction of the living standards of the workers.


H. Allen

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