From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 36, 7 September 1932, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
When 10,000 Pittsburgh building trades workers struck over the wage scale Donald M. Nelson, chairman of of the War Production Board, threatened “drastic action” against workers undertaking an “unpatriotic strike” unless the strike was ended immediately. AFL international union officials denounced the strike as “unauthorized.” Local union officials stated ominously that unless the men returned to work at once, “their cards could be lifted.”
When Colorado coal miners, temporarily unemployed, marked time pending a pick-up in their trade, the Colorado Industrial Commission, through its unemployment compensation division, cut off unemployment compensation in order to force coal miners into the METAL mines. When workers at the propellor plant of the Curtiss-Wright Corp., Beaver, Pa., struck over the issues of a wage increase, the union shop and dues check-off, the Beaver draft board threatened to reclassify deferred workers and actually suspended some deferments already granted.
When 1,000 American Magnesium Corp. workers, Buffalo, N.Y., struck over a wage issue, Army officials summoned the men, to return to work; William H. Davis, chairman of the War Labor Board, denounced the strike as a “contribution” to enemies of the United States; union officials labeled the strike “unauthorized” and urged the men to return, to work.
In each of their efforts to maintain their living and working conditions by militant action, workers are more and more confronted with a triumvirate of opponents: (1) direct pressure and attacks from the bosses; (2) threats and denunciations from the government – local, state and national; and (3) criticism and opposition, instead of cooperation, from a supine, yielding union leadership. Yet, obviously, workers don’t just walk off their jobs or strike or slow down just for the fun of it. They need their jobs to live, and if they strike, it is for very good reasons.
But the three-headed combination against them – the bosses, government and weak-kneed, kowtowing union officials – is a tough one to beat. Of course, the workers don’t fancy attacks upon them by employers as they observe the huge war profits and watch Congress protect the interests of the money bags. However, they expect the bosses to oppose them and to gouge them for every possible nickel of profit.
But the government – isn’t it “neutral”? Isn’t it a friend of labor? This is the notion that is fast being dissipated as more and more workers find one government, institution, or another – in the name of “national defense,” “patriotism” and “national unity” – chiding, attacking, striking or petitioning workers. When these efforts fail to deter workers from fighting for their rights, then the government steps in with threats of forced labor, “draft reclassification,” etc.
For example, on the Pacific Coast, in the Bay Area shipyards, “loafers” are being “weeded out” and their names are being “sent to their draft boards for reclassification” (New York Times, August 13). Shipyard employers and Navy officials, presumably with the aid of “conscientious workers” and some union stewards, are collaborating in this big game hunt against the “loafers,” who are all too often workers standing up for their rights and objecting to the ruthless speed-up and exploitation.
And then there’s the case in Denver, Colo. (at Lowry Field Airport), where truck drivers demanded pay for a period when a loading machine broke down, the delay obviously being the responsibility of the employer.. Resuming work, the men slowed down the speed of their trucks to enforce the demand for lost-time payment. A Denver city official demanded that the Denver Rationing. Board immediately recall all tires issued to the truck drivers; at the same time advising the contractors tor cut these men from lists of future “defense” jobs (New York World-Telegram, August 7). The report laconically closes with the statement that “the slowdown stopped at once.”
To clinch the argument, there is the case of the Bayonne, N.J., workers of the General Cable Corp., whose demand for a ten cents an hour increase was denied by the War Labor Board. They then struck over the heads of the union officials. “Unauthorized strike,” said the officials. The government (Roosevelt) stepped in then and broke the strike by turning the plant over to the direction of the Navy, in the interests of “war production” – and, naturally the preservation of the company’s interests.
Yet the cause of the Bayonne workers’ strike was simple enough. The men weren’t earning enough to live decently. One strike leader said:
“The Army will get us pretty soon, anyway. I’m going in the Navy soon, myself. Well, we want all that’s coming to us while we’re still here.”
“Sure,” growled some of the husky young fellow’s standing near him.
And whose interests are some union officials serving? Union officials; in the instances cited, as well as many more that could be given (for example, Arkwright Textile Co., Fall River, Mass., strike; Bigelow-Sanford Co., Amsterdam, N.Y. carpet workers’ strike), have been either stupid or weak or worse in labeling these strikes “unauthorized.” Such characterization enables the bosses and the government agencies to jeer at the militant workers, to gloat over the weakness of the union, to appeal to the less resolute workers to return to work, to authorize scabs- – and in all too short a time to break the strike.
And then there’s the direct strike-breaking, action in San Francisco of Dewey Mead, business agent of Painters Local 1158, who ordered thirty, union painters to scab against fellow painters of San Rafael Local No. 83 who were out on strike on a federal housing project in a dispute “over violation of safety rules.”
“When the United States government,” said Mead in “justification,” “asks me for men, I’m going to send them.”
It is clear, that a general extension of Mead’s theory – “You can’t strike against the government” – can only result in destroying any possibility for labor to maintain its rights and gains and its union organizations as fighting organs against exploitation. For more and more the government is not only intervening against labor in employer-worker disputes, but is actually itself entering the field of production as a boss.
Indeed, the labor bureaucrats always do their utmost to show how safe and indispensable they are to the ruling class and the government of bourgeois democracy. In wartime, they outdo themselves in groveling before the government and betraying the workers. Yet the unions today, more than ever, must assert their class independence, from the bosses and the government; and insist on their democratic rights to carry through strikes, for their protection.
In this period of capitalist decline, the unions (1) either become subordinate to the interests of the capitalist class and scuttle their own future or (2) they raise themselves to a class conscious understanding of their role and endeavor to develop themselves into bodies working toward a revolutionary transformation of society, together with other, working: class organizations – political, cooperative, etc. There is no middle ground.
The workers have already made too many concessions – official, abandonment of the right to strike, wage concessions, overtime pay, etc. But when, in order to maintain a half-decent living standard and working conditions, workers; find themselves forced, to strike, they must be able to count on the support of their union officials, and not their strike-breaking opposition. If this isn’t the case, these union officials must be gotten rid of and replaced by militant leaders,
The triumvirate against the workers must be broken up. The first task is within the ranks of labor: namely, the demand of the rank and file that the union officials work for THEM – and not the bosses – and cease acting in concert with the bosses and the government against the ranks of the workers.
Last updated: 7.1.2014