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Harry Allen

War Labor Board Devises
New Strike-Breaking Scheme

(October 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 40, 5 October 1942, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The War Labor Board has denied the union security clause or maintenance of membership to two locals of the Federal Union of Chemical Workers-AFL. The reason? Because these locals “struck in violation” of the national no-strike agreement of the AFL and CIO officialdom. In other words, the War Labor Board is now PENALIZING AND PUNISHING labor unions which employ their only real weapon – the strike – in fighting for their demands.

  1. The first case is of 700 workers in the Monsanto Chemical Co. and the New England Alcohol Co., Everett, Mass. These workers had won a wage increase, but the employers had refused to comply with the decision. Therefore, the gypped workers, deciding to use their last and only effective weapon, conducted a five-day strike to enforce demands for a union security clause and the stalled wage increase.
  2. In the case of the workers of the General Chemical Co., Buffalo, N.Y., the War Labor Board, after having the matter in its hands for OVER THREE MONTHS, scuttled the union maintenance demand of these workers. Why? Because the union engaged in a work stoppage of A FEW HOURS.

Workers Must Use Strength

In acting to punish strikers, the War Labor Board asserts that while it is in existence, workers have no “need or justification for strikes,” and, hence may not use economic pressure to obtain their demands ... or else!

But workers know very well, as many have learned from their own experiences with various government agencies and the bosses, that they must continue to employ economic force to achieve their ends. For in the final instance this is the only pressure they have to back up their demands. Neglect or failure to exercise the threat of this pressure – the strike – when workers feel it necessary, means that the workers lose out. In such cases, employer pressure, which is steady, real and persistent and is exerted on the government openly or behind closed doors, always wins out – modified only to the extent that the bosses and the government fear the workers will really exercise their economic strength.

Workers Are Slandered

In decreeing against workers who strike (e.g., the chemical workers), the War Labor Board claims that the workers are “irresponsible” and show the “wrong spirit” in striking. The cries of “national unity” and the “war emergency” are thus employed by the government and bosses to attack workers defending their interests. But further, the WLB slanders the workers. STRIKES ARE RARELY “IRRESPONSIBLE.” Workers don’t leave their jobs just for fun. Very strong grievances and very real economic needs compel workers to resort to strike action and then only when they cannot prevail upon adamant employers in any other manner.

Play Bosses’ Game

The “labor representatives” on the WLB concurred in these penalizing decisions against the unions. Their disgraceful behavior is the direct result of their general and fundamental role as members of government agencies. These trade union “representatives” or labor “leaders” want a passive membership which doesn’t “make trouble.” They are actually afraid of the ranks. In “transferring” their union activities to, or becoming a part of, the government apparatus, they more and more sell but the workers, except in so far as the rank and file constantly show their readiness to use their strength and pressure.

Those labor officials (in or out of the government agencies) who act as though the War Labor Board was labor’s “white hope,” are thus surrendering labor’s normal rights to government intervention and decree, which are becoming ever more severe and permanent in their application. For unions which lack the right of authority to use their power and strength when needed are unions in name only.

Although the War Labor Board in many instances has granted unions the “maintenance of membership” provision, this is hardly sufficient to maintain a strong labor union. And when the WLB, on one pretext or another, arbitrarily takes away even such crumbs of protection for labor, it is a further warning that workers must themselves protect their own interests.

How Build Strong Unions?

A stable union membership, confident and disciplined, can only be achieved by a membership which insists on its democratic and labor rights TODAY, in wartime – the right to strike, etc. – as before. Likewise, healthy unionism will strive to re-establish, on the economic front, genuine collective bargaining between the employers and workers – a condition which no longer exists in fact (as was pointed, out by a leading delegate to the recent convention of the Auto Workers Union) since labor gave up the right to strike.

The coal miners union showed the way to get what labor wants and must have – union conditions, the closed shop – only a readiness and determination to use its striking power. They demanded. Others listened and then gave in.

Until these lessons are learned, the WLB and other government agencies will continue their arbitrary and harsh decisions against workers.

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Last updated: 17 September 2014