From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 34, 24 August 1942, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
Government policy in awarding contracts to non-union (scab) industries has swelled the New York City unemployed to 400,000.
Priorities and lack of raw materials have thrown many hundreds of thousands out of jobs as war plants are closed or production curtailed for various periods of time.
The swift growth of unemployment does not, however, mean that total employment is not rising, and rising rapidly. Nevertheless, it is significant that despite that rise, unemployment is also going up. With priorities and scab contracts accounting for the greatest part of that unemployment, it is nevertheless worth noting that even the old time scourges, speed-up and rationalization, are adding to the unemployment lists – though, of course, not on the same scale as in the past.
So, for example, the New York World-Telegram reported that “production men have devised so many short cuts” that fifteen plants are now doing the jobs planned for twenty-five. What happens to the workers in the extra plants? They get it in the neck while they look for new jobs. The bosses, of course, reap the benefits of improved production.
Again – despite the peak employment of today, the question remains: what about regular jobs at decent wages and standards for those whom the war machine alternately sucks in for long and wearing work and then rejects?
The answer lies in the basic inefficiency of the boss system. Employers are ruthless in their quest for profit. They have no regard at all
for the lives of the workers. Despite the requirements of their own war production they are still unable to organize so as to provide constant production and employment. They still “organize” and “rationalize” workers out of jobs.
Efficiency and inefficiency, priorities due to scarcity and lack of planning – all are rooted in capitalist methods of production. But, above all, it needs to be emphasized and re-emphasized that a prime cause of unemployment in certain cities today is the deliberate policy of government and management to place work where labor is cheapest; that is, where labor is not unionized!
The attitude of numerous trade union, officials and the lamentation (in New York) of the American Labor Party are no solution. They have wailed and begged for a few crumbs of employment here and there.
ALP officials, expressing the prevailing opinion of union officialdom, say in effect: “We should not be penalized by the government’s efforts to find cheap labor ... or forced to worry about scab industries.” But what do they propose? Nothing that will do the jobless workers any real good. They collaborate with the Roosevelt Administration and its plans. And as in the case of some union leaders in the needle trades industries – offer wage cuts as a reward for work.
Do these officials consider a campaign to demand: NO GOVERNMENT CONTRACT WITHOUT A UNION CONTRACT? Do they undertake a campaign to organize the South and unorganized industries everywhere? Do they consider mass demonstrations and protests to demand adequate maintenance for workers displaced by priorities, conversion or speed-up? No! They rely instead upon a favor granted here and there by the government.
But the attitude of a group of 1,000 North Tarrytown, N.Y., auto workers points a way. “Members of the Local Chevrolet, General Motors, UAW-CIO staged a one-hour protest when a ten-day shutdown was announced July 10.” (New York Times, July 25.) Today more than ever, workers can demand and make every effort to achieve a number of improvements in their standards. They must first demand $1.00 an hour minimum pay with maintenance of union standards on hours, overtime, etc. Adequate lunch periods, paid vacations – these are in order for all workers.
These are needs of workers today, in the interest of their health, safety, living standards and absorption of the unemployed. These demands, made in the interests of the workers themselves, are quite different from the recent recommendation of eight government agencies that the maximum work week should be forty-eight hours, with one day a week rest; that there be a thirty-minute meal period and vacations. The government makes these recommendations in the interests only of efficient war production and not out of regard for the nerves, health, wear and tear on the workers.
A second vital and reasonable demand is: the increase of unemployment insurance rates, at the expense of the bosses and government, to maintain living standards. And third, where unemployment occurs as a result of improvement in technique of rationalization, the employers and the government shall guarantee work to the dispossessed workers at other jobs in the industry or in other industries (if the workers want them), for a period of years, at no less than the previous wage scale.
Today this is a legitimate and mandatory need, as is recognized in part in the pending merger between the Western Union and Postal Telegraph companies, which will throw out of work 5,000 of the 9,900 Postal Telegraph employees. The company maintains that a clause calling for employment for five years of workers employed before March 1941 “is too severe.” But the Union of Commercial Telegraphers AFL, correctly advocates that the companies and the government (in a bill to be enacted into law by Congress) shall “provide for the continued employment of all workers for seven years after any consolidation.” It is efforts and demands along this direction which will awaken workers (and the employers) to the fact that the needs of the workers stand before any speed-up developments, mergers, rationalization, etc.
Fourth, the benefits (not lay-offs or unemployment) of improved production, rationalization, ingenuity, etc., shall be passed on to the workers in some direct form or manner. The proposal of the president of the Commercial Telegraphers Union is in the right direction. In the specific instance, he proposes that a five-day, forty-hour week be guaranteed all employees in any merger; 50 per cent of the money saved through mechanization of any telegraph system shall be set aside for severance pay for employees dropped after the seven-year period; and that a government subsidy be provided, if necessary, to guarantee the labor-protecting provisions.
Yes, such demands are in the right direction – the protection of workers.
On the labor front directly, unionists must increase their cry for no government contracts without a union contract, as an aid against scab industries and lower living standards.
Employed or unemployed workers today feel more sharply the effects of capitalist conditions of life: on the job, in the home, at the front. They carry the load, as they always have. The bosses are the disorganizers of production as they are the disorganizers of the lives of the masses. The only real organizers of production can be the workers – but in their OWN, not the bosses’, interests. That means, finally, that the real rights and living standards of the workers can be achieved only when the workers, to the exclusion of the exploiters, have control of production.
Last updated: 31.12.2013