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H. Allen

WLB Leaves Labor Holding the Bag

Shall We Rely on Direct Negotiations with the Boss
Through Collective Bargaining, or on the WLB?

(August 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 32, 10 August 1942, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

With increasing frequency disputes between the bosses and workers are being sent to the National War Labor Board. Many workers regard the board as a pro-labor instrument. Labor unions are often ready to certify their grievances to the War Labor Board and look forward hopefully to the outcome. But a brief examination of the operations of the War Labor Board shows the facts to be considerably different.

The Bosses’ Interest

The employers are today more and more willing to employ the board in settling disputes, because the results over a period of time are of major benefit to them. The eagerness of the bosses alone should be sufficient reason for the workers to be suspicious; but let us turn to the concrete evidence.

In a wage dispute between the Western Pennsylvania Motor Carriers Association and the Teamsters Union, AFL, in Pittsburgh, the operators insisted that the matter be turned over to the War Labor Board. The workers refused, on the ground that too much delay would result, and that many working conditions provided for in the tentative contract could not be made retroactive. (New York Times, June 22)

Labor unions are submitting grievances to the War Labor Board which require speedy settlement if the immediate interests of the workers (cost of living, union status, working conditions) are to be protected. WLB intervention means long delays before a decision is handed down. Meanwhile, the burden is carried by the workers, and profits for the bosses increase.

Collective bargaining conferences on the demand of the 157,000 steel workers in “Little Steel” (Republic, Youngstown, Inland and Bethlehem) for a $1.00 daily wage increase, union security and the cheek-Off took more than nine and a half months! Hearing the arguments of the Steel Workers Union and the steel operators before the panel of the WLB alone consumed four and a half months. Even after the panel of the WLB admitted the ability of the bosses to pay the $1.00 a day increase, the WLB voted a miserable 44 cents a day increase. (The meaning of the Steel and Remington Rand decisions has been discussed in previous issues of Labor ActionEditor)

Philip Murray, president of the CIO, had previously described the case as one of the “best classic examples” of “cooling off periods” and declared that the restraint and patience of the workers merited “special commendation.” (!) (New York Times, July 2)

The “cooling-off” periods have been and are being used by the employers and the government to make extensive propaganda against the workers’ demands, to which the capitalist press gives dramatic front page headlines. The Office of Price Administration blasted out proposals that the steel wage increases be limited to 5 per cent as ah “anti-inflationary” step (the same OPA whose “attitude” Harvey Brown, president of the International Association of Machinists Union, declares “perils the entire labor movement and the future of collective bargaining as an institution in this country.”)

A radio speech by Harold Smith, federal budget director and one of the President’s closest advisers, was headlined Ban on Wage Raises Demanded by Smith. (New York Times, July 2) A week later President Roosevelt was hailed by the press as opposed to the wage increase for Little Steel since it would increase the cost of living.

Labor Fields the Bag

Decisions of the War Labor Board are today generally compromised with loopholes for the bosses that leave the workers holding the bag. Take the decision of the War Labor Board on the Federal Shipbuilding & Drydock Co., Kearney, N.J., April 24, and the Ryan Aeronautical Co., San Diego, decision of June 18. The maintenance of union membership decision in both cases allows for a pre-enforcement period during which employers can use their notorious methods for intimidating workers from entering and into leaving the union. For union security, too, is not retroactive. How important this period is to the bosses was shown when Roger Lapham,

employer member of the WLB, who has always “resisted the inclusion of a union security clause,” stated (New York Times, June 18) with regard to the Ryan case:

“The case is noteworthy because for the first time it recognizes one of the main principles the employer members have contended for, since it makes it plain to any union member that he has 15 days to resign from the union if he does not want to be bound by the maintenance of membership clause.”

States Favor WLB Power

Then, too, the insatiable appetite of the imperialist war and the cry for “national unity,” in addition to preventing militant action by the workers, are used to nullify decisions of the WLB that appear favorable, to labor, as, for instance, the “forced savings” or “increased wages” in the form of War Bonds. Recently, moreover, it became apparent that the WLB is recognized by the ruling class to be a more feasible instrument for this kind of “war-propagandized” decision than even the state mediation board machinery. In Syracuse, Where the Machinists Union appealed to the state for mediation arbitration against the E.C. Stearns Co., Justice Cross of the New York Supreme Court favored the War Labor Board as against the state machinery, declaring:

“The War Labor Board has plenary power in carrying out that policy to take into consideration the essential interrelationships of military and civil requirements ... and any and all pertinent factors that bear upon the adjustment and stabilization of Wages.” (New York Times, July 5)

So useful have the National War Labor Boards proved to the employers and the government that Governor Green Of Illinois has decided to appoint a State War Labor Standards Board that would permit employers to violate state labor laws!

Curb Worker Militancy

Because of their faith in government intervention, unions are relaxing their vigilance even when the government steps in with obviously union-breaking methods. In the case of the textile workers’ strike at the Arkwright Corp., Fall River, Mass., the WLB authorized the hiring of scabs to break the strike for wage increases. The International Union aided this scabbery by repudiating the strike as “unauthorized.”

It is an unhealthy symptom in the labor movement when William H. Davis, chairman of the War Labor Board, can state (New York Times, May 10): “There has not been a single authorized strike since Pearl Harbor. Every time a wildcat walkout occurs, the WLB has found union officials to do all they can to end the stoppage.” That is, the union officials are curbing the workers in their efforts to protect their interests, their unions and their living standards.

Direct Negotiations Best

The inroads on the vitality of the labor unions made by the employers and governmental agencies have been many. The examples cited prove the need of once again insisting on direct collective bargaining, depending primarily on their economic and bargaining strength. Direct negotiations with the bosses, holding the strike weapon in reserve if that fails, is the procedure that workers must follow.

Consideration of strike action is always before the union and its members. Only when forced by external pressure which they cannot control or resist indefinitely should labor accept a third agency (WLB, mediation, arbitration, etc.) to resolve its struggles with the bosses. In each instance the unions should make it clear that they accept the intervention of a third agency only under pressure, with reluctance and distrust.

Such an attitude in itself favors them in any possible decision of the state or national boards. Thus the normal machinery of labor unionism can be maintained and strengthened; the vigilance of the unions will not be relaxed; intervention by the government will be more exceptional and will operate in each instance in such a way that the government agency will find itself forced at the very least to regard the workers’ strength as formidable.

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