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George Breitman

N.J. Survey Shows Workers Want Union Control of Military Training

Approve Enactment of Conscription, But Also Favor Union Control of It

Newark S.W.P. Polls Representative Body of Workers to Get Views on Training

(29 September 1940)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. 4 No. 39, 29 September 1940, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A carefully-conducted poll of a representative group of workers in New Jersey, completed last week, established that a majority of them are in favor of the conscription bill which has just been enacted into law, but that a majority are also in favor of placing military training under, control of the trade unions.

These significant conclusions were the result of a four-week survey among workers in Newark, in a poll conducted by the Newark branch of the Socialist Workers Party.

The material tabulated was secured by visiting the homes of nearly a thousand workers in two representative working class neighborhoods, the Iron-bound section, heavily populated by industrial workers, and the Third and Fourteenth Wards, heart of Newark’s Negro population.

who conducted the poll were extremely careful not to influence the answers given by the workers. Those questioned – chosen at random – were told that a poll of the neighborhood was being made, that their names would not be taken, and that their replies would be kept strictly confidential. They were not told who was conducting the poll before they answered.

They were asked two questions: 1. “Are you in favor of the conscription bill which is now being debated in Congress?” and 2. “Would you be in favor of military training of workers if they were to be trained under supervision of their trade unions?” They could answer to each question, “yes”, “no”, or “don’t know.”

Here are the results in percentages:





Don’t Know

Question 1




Question 2




One thing is startlingly clear from this and other tables which were tabulated from the answers: pacifist tendencies among the workers can hardly be said to exist. Of the whole, only 7 per cent are opposed to both forms of military training! 71.9 per cent favor one or both forms of military training. (The remaining 21%. were against one form and didn’t know about the other, or didn’t know about both forms.)

Few Negro Pacifists!

Interestingly enough, when these figures were broken down still further, it was found that pacifist tendencies were even smaller than the general 7 per cent, among union members (4) and Negroes (5.8).

The general conclusions to be drawn from the poll may be formulated as follows:

Pacifism Is Bankrupt

Workers are looking for some means of military training. Most of them favored the conscription bill just adopted by Congress because it appeared to them as the answer to the problem of military training. Most of them, however, likewise are in favor of military training under the control of the trade unions, once the idea if presented to them. This is especially true among the employed union-member and Negro sections of the working class – i.e.. the most decisive sections of the labor movement.

The housewives and the unemployed who, by virtue of their status, tend to be less informed and politically developed than the others, give smaller majorities to both forms of military training, but generally show the same tendency as the others. Negro workers show themselves to be particularly receptive to the idea of trade union control of military training.

In the light of these established conclusions, we may say confidently: Woe to the pacifists and semi-pacifists (the Socialist Party, the Communist Party, etc.) who go to the workers walling against conscription, but offering no alternative and progressive system of military training to take its place. These whiners will make no headway, and especially not among the most important sections of the working class.

It is instructive to break down the figures of the poll that show the majority of the workers to be in favor of military training under trade union control. The following were the percentages for the 200 unionists, 421 non-union workers, 308 unemployed-or-housewives, 531 whites and 398 Negroes:





Don’t Know





Non-union working




Unemployed housewives












It is important to point out that practically none of these workers had ever before considered the question of trade union control of military training; it is correct to say that the poll-takers were the first to raise the question in their minds. Consequently, their opinions on this subject were not, of course, as long thought over as their answers on the question of conscription.

Instinctively Class Conscious

It would be fair to say, therefore, that for many workers their favorable answer to the question of military training under trade union control was instinctively class conscious. If they thought unions were good, if they felt unions protected or could protect them, they answered yes. And since – as even a recent Fortune poll had to concede – most workers, whether organized or not, favor trade unions, they were struck favorably by the proposition that trade unions should protect them in the sphere of military training as well as in private industry.

Those, however, who felt hostility toward unions for some reason, or felt their own union leaders had failed to protect them on the job, tended to answer no to the proposition that trade unions should control military training. In spite of this, the yes answers were decisive in proportion to those who answered no – almost 5 to 2!

Our Program Realistic

On the basis of this poll, which we believe quite accurate – it should be carefully repeated In other parts of the country to check it – it appears to be an established fact, that the Socialist Workers Party’s program for military training under trade union control is a popular and practical basis for winning the workers. Needless to say, it is a program against which the capitalist class will fight like cornered rats.

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