Martin Abern Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

H. Allen

Aircraft Workers Want a Wage Raise!

(August 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 31, 3 August 1942, pp. 3 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Aircraft workers are indignant at the runaround which their legitimate grievances and demands have been receiving from employers and the government. Four months ago, in the “Equality of Sacrifice” program of the UAW-CIO, it was stated that “in industries where sub-standard wages (less than $1.00 an hour) exist, wages shall be increased to insure a decent standard of living,”

Well, a large part of the 1,250,0000 workers now at work in aircraft, or expecting to be in the near future, are making less than $1.00 an hour, while living costs increase and profits climb enormously. Therefore, the CIO and AFL have presented joint demands for wage increases. These include increasing the present 60 cents an hour minimum to 95 cents an hour for the lower paid workers; and increasing the minimum for skilled workers from $1.52 to $1.60.

Aims at Job Freezing

Unwilling to permit the negotiations to take the normal channel of collective bargaining, the government entered into the picture by calling a conference of the workers, employers and government in Los Angeles, July 9. The conference was called “to prevent possible migration of employees from one plant to another, or to other industries” where wages are higher. (New York Times, July 10)

In other words, the government, by its own admission, called the joint government-labor-management conference to freeze aircraft labor to their present sub-standard jobs.

Paul Porter, wage stabilization director of the War Production Board, was appointed chairman of the conference. His title alone would indicate that he is interested in freezing wages, but as additional evidence there are his own words, after the conference opened, to the effect that “the President’s seven-point program obviously rules out the Ford Willow Run (Detroit plant) wage rate as applied here” (Pacific Coast), because it “would unstabilize employee relation in other war and essential industries, especially on the Pacific Coast.”

Need Wage Increase

Clearly, by “unstabilizing” employee relations, Porter means that if workers in one industry get their just raise, workers in other industries who need a raise will also want one. But that is to the interest of all workers and though stated by Porter as a threat, it should be interpreted by aircraft workers differently; namely, that they can assist in giving a much-needed boost to the wage levels of their fellow workers who sweat away at sub-standard wages.

The three-cornered conference opened on July 9. Two days later the airplane manufacturers called upon the Office of Price Administration to propose a stabilized wage scale. Obviously the manufacturers know that the OPA bread is buttered on their side.

The OPA is headed by Leon Henderson, who is rapidly getting himself a well-earned reputation for interpreting “equality of sacrifice” to mean “give it to labor in the neck.” The OPA recently tried to put a spoke in the wheel of the wage demands of the steel workers then pending before the War Labor Board by declaring that the steel workers’ increases should be limited to 5 per cent. And the same OPA has been assailed by representatives of the Steel Workers Union, the machinists and others unions as an agency whose efforts endanger the entire system of collective bargaining processes.

Stalemates Workers’ Demands

On July 16 the aircraft conference came to a stalemate – and recessed. The excuse given by the manufacturers was that “divergent views” in the government agencies made it impossible to agree. Then why did the manufacturers call in divergent government agencies? Others say that “too great wage increase demands” made it impossible to come to a solution. Here we have the real crux of the problem. The aircraft workers need and demand higher wages. The employers deny that they need these increases.

The employers arbitrarily have taken a limited time period of one month (the month of May) to declare that the average weekly wage of the aircraft worker in that period, was $46.75, or an hourly rate of 95.6 cents. If this is so, what are the manufacturers blustering about? The aircraft workers are demanding a 95 cent minimum. By the manufacturers’ own figures, the demand of the aircraft workers for a Wage increase would really he a wage cut!

The truth or facts are elsewhere. Significantly enough, the employers do not cite weekly and hourly wages over a longer period of time – the past year or even the last six months. Is it because the average weekly rate over a longer period would conclusively show sub-standard Wages and, with increased living costs, a low living standard? If and when the wage rates of the past period are made available, it is safe to predict this will prove to be the case.

The aircraft workers are obviously pressing on their representatives, the union officials, for action, wondering why “equality of sacrifice” must mean only workers’ sacrifice. As the UAW-CIO statement on the parleys admitted: “The UAW-CIO views with alarm the reaction of the workers” if the conference does not provide the necessary relief. That is another way of saying that the aircraft workers are sore and demand the raises to which they are entitled; that they can stand so much and no more, or else must consider more drastic action on their part to achieve their demands. No wonder “STRIKE” is in their minds more and more as the only road to take.

The aircraft workers cannot wait around while government agencies make up their minds upon some way to save President Roosevelt’s face (which was supposed to be turned toward labor) while actually at the same time freezing the workers’ wages. Even now, during the recess, one Administration group is reported “favoring a law by Congress to freeze for a period of 90 days all wages over 50 or 60 cents an hour” while the Administration and Congress “observe” the movement of living costs. Then the wage question would be “restudied” and a decision would emerge in due course.

Martin Abern Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 31.12.2013