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James Burnham

Their Government

(10 March 1939)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 14, 10 March 1939, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Fansteel Metallurgical Company is located in North Chicago. During the latter part of 1936, the overwhelming majority of its workers joined the C.I.O., and asked the company for recognition. The management, however, had for years enjoyed the profitable blessings of an unorganized plant. They indignantly pointed out to the men that “outside” unions were un-American.

The opinion was a normal one. After all, under the blessed system of “free enterprise,” should not a patriotic American boss be permitted to keep wages as low as he pleases, to pile on the speedup when competition gets keener, to fire any employee who sneezes at the wrong moment? “Outside” unions certainly play hell with the good old-fashioned ways of bosses.

The management told the C.I.O., nothing doing. And just to be on the safe side, the management did a little organizing on its own account. It hired a labor relations magician who pulled a cozy little company union out of his hat. It isolated one of the most militant unionists in a job that prevented him from being in contact with his fellow-workers. It fired a few others. It brought a stool-pigeon or two in from one of the best agencies. It undertook a well planned publicity campaign among its employees, their families and the community on the evils of outside unionism.

But somehow the men kept asking for recognition. And the management each time kept refusing and then redoubling the campaign against the union.

Time to Stop the Run Around

So, on February 17, 1937, the workers decided that the run around had been going on long enough. They had been, God knows, reasonable enough. They were getting nowhere. They knew that the company’s acts had been brazenly and openly illegal; and they knew that neither the company nor the police nor the courts gave a damn whether the acts were illegal or not. The time had come to protect the right to a job and a decent living by the only means left.

With complete quiet and discipline the workers sat down in two of the company’s key buildings. For ten days they sat there, maintaining their discipline, keeping the buildings and machinery in perfect condition. The management “discharged” them; but the workers were guarding their jobs and they continued to sit.

Law and Order Yet to Work

But, lo and behold, after the long, long months of silence and reserve, the forces of law and order sprang suddenly to life. The rights of citizens were being invaded! Time for justice to come to the rescue!

Did law and order clap a summons on the management for their illegal fostering of a company union, their illegal employment of a labor spy, their illegal discriminations and discharges, their illegal refusal to bargain with the union? I need not tell you, dear reader: law and order did not.

Law and order, in the person of a dignified judge of a state court, bowed politely to the management and issued an injunction requiring the workers to vacate the premises of the company. A sheriff and his merry men came to the buildings bearing the injunction order. But the workers believed that their right to a job was superior to the injunction; and the sheriff, after an encounter which he was not willing to confine to words, retired in some confusion.

Justice in Action

Law and order were now very upset indeed. Justice came back to the buildings with a formidable enough array of thugs, cops, firemen, deputized gangsters to have besieged Pearl Harbor. A struggle, pictures of which look like high points in the assault on the Alcazar, took place. Fire ladders were raised so that tear gas bombs could be shot into all floors. Guns and clubs that would have stocked an arsenal went into action.

The workers defended themselves with courage and honor. But the forces and weapons against them were too much. They were routed, and placed under arrest.

Most were later fined and jailed – for violating the injunction.

The company then happily re-formed its company union, as the Rare Metal Workers of America. Some of the sit-downers were graciously permitted to return to work. Many of them were not. Those who were not petitioned through the Labor Board to get their jobs back.

This was the Fansteel case. The facts, known to every worker in Fansteel, to every resident of North Chicago, recorded by the Labor Board, are uncontested. The Supreme Court did not question them.

“The sit-down,” wrote Chief Justice Hughes in the Court’s decision for the company, “was a high-handed proceeding without shadow of legal right ... The conduct on the part of the employees manifestly gave good cause for their discharge ...”

Manifestly, Justice Hughes, yes, manifestly.

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