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Harry Allen

Growth of Administration’s Anti-Labor Policy

1. From Agreement to Decree

(November 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 45, 9 November 1942, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Step by step the government has proceeded, in the name of “war necessity,” to handcuff labor into greater helplessness.

The Administration is not accomplishing this strangulation of labor’s living standards and labor unionism by quick, direct smashing blows, as carried through, for instance, by Hitler. In this country, such a method would have resulted in too great a social, industrial and political reverberation. The American ruling class has at least learned that lesson from fascism. Hence American capitalism has gone ahead more subtly with the development, from its viewpoint, of favorable objective circumstances, before resorting to government, decree and force.

The most recent and significant act of the government in enchaining labor was accomplished through President Roosevelt’s order of October 3, as contained in the Price Control Law. Roosevelt’s decree (1) virtually nullified labor’s right to strike; and (2) abolished, in fact, labor’s right to genuine collective bargaining. A new peak – its highest so far – in the evolution of government labor policy has thus been reached in the climb toward a complete authoritarian policy against labor.

A summary of the main steps and measures of government policy toward labor in the past period, particularly since America’s direct entry into the imperialist war, is necessary now so that the labor movement and the workers generally will awaken to their extreme danger. Labor must re-orient its course soon, before it is too late!

Labor’s standard of living must come down – that has been Roosevelt’s view since the United States joined the war. Therefore, in actuality, and by design, “wage stabilization” (which has today reached the stage of “frozen” wage scales generally) has at all times meant a consideration of the ways and means of driving the living standard down. Essentially, this end could be accomplished only if the workers could be prevailed upon, or compelled, not to struggle for their rights – specifically, not to strike and organize. The Administration has therefore proceeded on a direct offensive against the workers’ right to strike.

1. The government swiftly accomplished a major objective when it obtained a voluntary agreement with the officialdom of the CIO and AFL and their respective national affiliates to give up the weapon of the strike for the duration of the war. The leaderships of the various unions have worked with might and main to carry out the government’s desires. They have cracked down on those workers who have gone on strike to defend union and living conditions, despite government edicts and agreements of their leadership. The record of the official union leaderships, it can be flatly stated, has been almost consistently a record of betrayal and surrender of labor’s needs and rights. But “agreements” were only the beginning.

Government Breaks Strikes

2. Where agreement with the union officialdom failed to stop strikes in defense industries, the government soon showed its teeth through direct intervention of either the Army or Navy to break certain strikes: beginning with the Army’s intervention in the North American Aviation strike in Los Angeles, followed by similar strike-breaking actions by the Navy in Kearny, N.J., shipyards, Bayonne, N.J., and other places. All, of course, in the name of the “war emergency,” and, ironically enough, “class peace.”

3. Still another government goal was attained when the AFL arid CIO labor officialdom agreed to the establishment of labor - management committees. The labor-management committees have uniformly proved to be instruments in the hands of the bosses, as is shown by their record and by the resentment of rank and file workers against their operations. It is no wonder or accident that the EMPLOYEES hail the formation and development of this class collaboration medium as the greatest gain of the war to respect to employer-worker relations. And it is that, indeed, for their continuation and extension, both in numbers and scope of function, means the scuttling of bona fide labor union organization and functioning.

4. But the government is well aware that class collaboration instruments, in which the workers are in direct relation with the bosses, can blow up in face of the undoubted needs of the workers. Therefore, the government proceeded to establish several agencies for intervening in labor-employer issues and conflicts, notably the War Labor Board and its conciliation service.

A full examination of the record of the War Labor Board (not in place here) would show that WLB policy itself has evolved and expanded in many directions. An appeal board at first, mainly for consideration of wage and hour issues, the WLB quickly took over powers of deciding the degree and character of a union itself in a given plant. For example, union maintenance clauses; then “wage stabilization” rulings irrespective of the merit of the wage demand; and even penalization of unions for striking – all these are decisions not clearly established as WLB powers at the outset.

More precisely and significantly, from the worker’s standpoint, the evolution of the War Labor Board consistently has resulted in: (1) The lowering of labor’s living standards in accordance with the Administration’s outlook on wage standards; and (2) union “maintenance” by governmental sufferance or permission, instead of by active union functioning and demonstration of its own strength.

Decrees Nullify Workers’ Rights

5. However, powerful and influential as the WLB has proved, the Administration was still fearful of labor’s resentment and the possible outbreak of labor actions: strikes. Therefore, it took still another measure, far more meaningful than any hitherto, to hog-tie labor’s interests and needs.

By Roosevelt’s Executive Order, as enunciated in the general Price Control Order, the right to strike under any circumstances became a dead letter so far as government policy is concerned. Second, direct negotiations between the bosses and the workers in regard to wages, working and union conditions, etc., also became a dead letter. For any wage contracts arrived at through this customary procedure are VOID unless the government itself sanctions and approves the agreement!

Thus the institution of collective bargaining, already reeling from government blows and from the abandonment by the union leadership of the use of striking power, is formally buried – presumably only for the duration of the imperialist war.

Revive Fighting Policy!

But it must be further noted that when reactionary, anti-labor legislation (e.g., the Smith Bill) was introduced in Congress before Pearl Harbor it failed of enactment because of strong, vocal and militant opposition by organized labor, which recognized the deadly significance of such legislation. One year later, the bitter enemies of labor have achieved the same end through Roosevelt’s executive order.

Hence, by decree and dictatorial practices – in a process as yet far from completed – the Roosevelt Administration steadily and persistently marks out its course in relation to labor’s needs and demands ... In next week’s article we shall show how deeply and far-reaching government labor policy has developed in these directions; and the dire consequences of this policy to the labor movement unless the working class turns consciously to a militant policy of resistance.

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Last updated: 17 September 2014