Martin Abern Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Harry Allen

Growth of Administration’s Anti-Labor Policy

2. Putting the Handcuffs on Labor

(November 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 46, 16 November 1942, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In last week’s article we described several stages in the evolution of government policy toward labor – labor’s “voluntary” agreement not to strike; the government’s strikebreaking intervention in several important strikes; the establishment of the class collaboration machinery of labor-management committees; the role of the War Labor Board; and, finally, Roosevelt’s decree of October 3, nullifying, in actuality, labor’s right both to strike and to collective bargaining.

All these developments show clearly an evolution toward government by decree and other dictatorial practices in relation to labor. What follows below strongly confirms the basic direction of government labor policy.

Veto Power Hits Labor

1. In the execution of Roosevelt’s order, special roles and authority are assigned to several government agencies and persons, including the veto power by one agency over another in employer-labor agreements and decisions. In other words, the government today not only assumes the power to approve or nullify any direct agreement arrived at by collective bargaining between the employers and the workers; but, further, one government department or agent (WLB, OPA, Byrnes) is able to invalidate the decision of another, thus again leaving negotiations on labor standards hanging in mid-air or altogether washed up.

From sad experience in the past, the workers know that when many hands (conciliators, mediators, arbitrators, etc.) meddle in the pie, they lose even the crust. Checks and balances by government agencies operate in the interests of the employers.

2. But the run-around for labor doesn’t stop here. Even if both these powerful agencies – WLB and OPA – approve a given company-worker accord, then James F. Byrnes, director of Economic Stabilization – has the authority to say “NO!” – in the name of preventing inflation. Thus, even apart from Byrne’s anti-labor record and attitude, it is clear that labor’s immediate interests and needs have fallen into the hands of one man with dictatorial powers whose only concern is the advancement of imperialist war objectives.

Throttle Labor

3. What, further, is the meaning of the dictatorial trend in government-worker relations for the immediate period and after the war?

Hitlerism (Nazism) is rule by complete totalitarian and dictatorial means, both in peace and wartime. Its policy is clear, and labor is able to recognize it as its enemy without any doubt.

On the other hand, the Roosevelt Administration – the erstwhile “New Deal,” “friend of labor” and proponent of “democracy” – evolves its course gradually but surely. Yet already it has plainly declared: this is total war, and total war justifies any measures.

Will labor’s rights be restored after the war? No responsible imperialist spokesmen are categoric, even in words, about this, because they know better. On the contrary, all authoritative and qualified authorities admit that the economic controls established during the present war will be continued after the war as an economic necessity for imperialist survival and functioning. Old-style (laissez-faire) democratic capitalism economy is over. So is old-style politics or government.

Political conceptions and methods in time always fall into line with economic trends. Developments point and lead toward a greater administrative and military bureaucracy in the post-war period, if imperialism still rules.

4. Part and parcel of these developments are the signs and demands for an even greater curbing of labor and labor unionism NOW AND AFTER THE WAR, both by outspoken reactionary elements and by Administration supporters.

Especially flagrant are the attempts of certain elements to depict every legitimate effort of labor struggle as criminal. For example, Roane Waring, national commander of the American Legion – an organization of great influence in powerful, conservative quarters – declares that, if he had the power, “he would shoot” a worker who goes on strike now. Such a person, in the Legion’s eyes, “is a criminal, a saboteur, a traitor – and as such should face the consequences.”

“‘Treason’ is the word for strikes,” is the bald statement of the New York Daily Mirror (editorial, October 19). Its label for AFL workers who struck the Western Cartridge Plant, Alton, Ill., is “Outlaws!”; for the workers who went on strike at the General Cable Corp., Bayonne, N.J., its cry is “Hoodlums!”

These criminal terms used against these and other workers who have and will stand up in the future for their needs and rights are the psychological foundation which the American Legion, the Daily Mirror et al. are laying up for today’s and tomorrow’s legal and extra-legal (vigilantism, etc.) activities against workers and their organizations.

Liberals, optimists, Stalinists and labor bureaucrats pretend that these extreme and strong declarations are not really representative of the views and aims of the ruling class. This is shown by their persistent pleas for rebuke and castigation of such elements by the Administration. They even protest that no less a person than Rear Admiral Emory Scott Land, chairman of the United States Maritime Commission, is merely a deviation, one anti-labor man lost in a crowd of labor friends.

But not all the explanations in the world by Land, or “hush” campaigns by the government, can disguise the fact that Land’s “shoot organizers at sunrise” statement was a spontaneous expression of the real attitude of the big-wig representatives of the American ruling class toward unionism.

The Navy has always been fiercely antagonistic toward labor unionism. It is no accident that the Navy shipyards have always been known as the “graveyards” of unionism. Today, when the Navy is the largest employer of labor in the country, the bitter anti-union declarations of Navy spokesmen in the recent period have been of direct and ominous significance to labor’s need to organize and maintain organization of these workers.

More felicitous spokesmen of the bosses, such as “public representatives” (Wayne Morse) on the War Labor Board and other government representatives, do not call for “outright shooting.” But, for example, the WLB punishes militant strikes in its own way – that is, by denying union maintenance clauses to striking workers. And these elements call persistently, if quietly as yet, for “union regulation” (of strikes, funds, etc.) by law, “as necessary,” now and after the war.

Significantly, last August in a WLB decision, two EMPLOYER representatives on the WLB, entering a separate opinion, demanded extensive union regulation through the WLB: specifically, proof of “worthiness” for union maintenance clause; no financial support for any political organization or candidate, etc.

On that occasion, the chairman of the WLB, William H. Davis, expressing the majority opinion, objected to the “union regulation” proposals of the employer representatives as an “extension of control” of WLB powers “beyond the frame of reference under which the tribunal acts.” He also asserted that the extension of “a continuing control by the board over a labor union would be to indulge in the worst vice of administrative tribunals.”

But “public representatives” are catching up swiftly with the employer outlook on “union regulation”; and government regulation (by the WLB, OPA, Byrnes, Roosevelt) has now gone far beyond the original conception of only establishing contractual obligations between the employers and workers.

“Union regulation” is indeed coming into its own; unfortunately, with the sponsorship or stand-aside attitude of a weak, stupid and often treacherous union leadership. These men do not see that the government’s union regulation policy is destructive of all genuine unionism; and will leave labor helpless when it comes face to face with the onslaughts of the ruling class in a chaotic post-war period.

Workers! Prepare!

The workers have jobs today, even though with living standards in the process of being sharply lowered. But the main streams of organized labor have given up, both freely and reluctantly, their major union rights – the right to strike and organize NOW, when workers are employed. When the war is finally over, labor will run up against vast joblessness, accompanied by social, economic and political ferment and chaos.

If labor is unable to maintain its rights now, it will find the obstacles and struggles many times more difficult later. In these battles, which will go beyond economic struggles, labor will face a ruthless, relentless, dictatorial regime and an employing class which will not hesitate to try to defeat and crush the working class beyond recovery for an indeterminate time.

Today the world is in flames. Tomorrow, after the war, it will be in rags. That is the dismal outlook of imperialism for the masses, in war and peace.

Government labor policy, the record proves, has undergone a steady change from an attitude of support and benevolence to restrictions and outright hostility toward labor, except in cases where the unions bowed to, and functioned as instruments of, an imperialist government and its interests. The Roosevelt Administration is today only carrying out and leading the main course of American imperialist destiny.

For every immediate and ultimate reason, therefore, it is better for the workers now to learn the lesson of the ever-present conflicts with the ruling class: Namely, to fight today to maintain and extend union rights and organization – even if the fight is not always a winning one – in order to be able on the morrow to better withstand all onslaughts and to forge the new better, world of socialism.

Martin Abern Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 17 September 2014