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Harry Allen

Strike Figures Prove That Labor in U.S.
Is Ready to Fight for Its Union Rights

(September 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 39, 28 September 1942, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).


of Strikes




Days Lost

































The report of the War Labor Board on strikes in war industries exclusively during the first seven months of 1942 are [sic!] informative and revealing, not only for labor’s future efforts and aims, but also as indicative of the future efforts and aims of the employers and the Administration.

A significant feature of the figures published in an adjoining “box” is that 300,000 workers disregarded the “no strike” agreement of the Administration and the union officialdom and struck to protect their interests.

The Administration, attempts to minimize the importance of these strikes by simple arithmetic, declaring that less than 3 per cent (or an average of eight out of every 10,000 workers) of the total, number of workers employed in these industries went on strike.

Nevertheless, the evidence shows that the Administration, while continuing to pooh-pooh the strike figures, prepares to and is ready to crack down on every manifestation of labor struggle and militancy.

Why does the Administration have this two-faced attitude? First, it wants to give every worker the feeling that he is isolated, that his grievances are exceptional, and that his militancy would arouse no support. But more important is the fact that the Administration heeds the judgment of the National Association of Manufacturers and other employers to these matters.

The National Association of Manufacturers speaks out more plainly on the meaning of the “wildcat” and “outlaw” strikes. The employing class is very much aware of the strength and power residing in labor’s hands should the latter become conscious thereof and choose to use it. The NAM points out that “Less than 1 per cent of American labor [because of its strategic place in industry – H.A.] could effectively halt production of virtually every tank and plane under construction today.” Employers and boss commentators from every side describe these strikes as evidence of a worsening situation on the labor front and the general disintegration of the “spirit of unity.”

The Administration policy of minimizing the strikes only confuses the public mind, complains the NAM. “The walkouts,” declares the official NAM statement on the subject, “serve to emphasize the growing rebelliousness of labor minorities which continue to ignore the appeals of both union leaders and the War Labor Board.”

Correct on both counts. The manufacturers recognize that increasing numbers of workers are unwilling any longer to surrender their interests and are conducting strikes – that is, pursuing the class struggle.

So the government in its own way takes heed of the warnings of the NAM and big business interests generally, in respect to labor’s small but growing resistance and militancy. Threats of “drastic action ... even to the application of the laws of treason, if necessary” (spokesman of the War Labor Board) take on flesh and blood. Further, the “benevolent” Roosevelt Administration, the “friend of labor,” has now clearly indicated its policy which is more and more quickly becoming a reality, namely:

  1. Freezing labor to its jobs.
  2. Freezing wages.
  3. Reclassifying draftees who resist boss victimization.
  4. Nullifying collective bargaining agreements by executive order (e.g., premium pay) or by War Labor Board decision.

To counteract, if possible, the growth of strikes, labor officials demand greater representation in the government administration (on the various government boards), hoping this will give them prestige with the ranks. They hope that such recognition or “prestige” of labor will compensate for lack of gains or even losses. Instead of pursuing a policy of demonstrating labor’s very real independent power, they thus act as servants of the ruling class rather than as representatives of the working class.

When 300,000 workers strike in war industries – with all the dangers of discrimination, black-listing, job loss, draft reclassification, and despite tremendous pressure and overt threats from the government, the bosses and a weak union officialdom – this is concrete and positive evidence that a growing section of labor is looking first to labor’s interests and needs.

The ranks understand very well that the bosses have taken advantage of the “no strike” pledge to bear down on them. Local union leaders, being closer to the ranks and their wishes, have often gone along with the strike decisions of the ranks over the heads of the international union officials. The government and the employers suspect the militancy of the local leaders and will stop at nothing to forestall it. Recently, for example, two CIO local auto union leaders (committee-men) were barred from a plant at Flint, Mich., and taken off the picket line by Army officials in order to investigate their “loyalty.” (New York Times, August 30) In still another case (Western Cartridge Co., Alton, Ill.), a local union president was suspended for entering a restricted area of the plant, causing a strike which even William Green, AFL president, described as due to the “arbitrary anti-union tactics” of the company.

The conclusions one must draw from the strikes of the past months are:

  1. The sentiment of the ranks against the “no strike” policy will become larger and sharper, even though repressive measures or legislation may hinder actual strikes.
  2. Those who stand in the way of a return of labor to a militant policy will be regarded with increasing suspicion by the ranks as either enemies or agents of the bosses within labor’s house.
  3. The rank and file will give more consideration to house cleaning, with the object of obtaining better, more militant leadership.

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