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George Clarke

Clarke Sees Wartime Open Shop
Tactics at Work in Syracuse

(1 June 1940)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. IV No. 22, 1 June 1940, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

SYRACUSE – This wide open-shop industrial center is all primed for big war-time production. General Motors, Crucible Steel, Solvay chemicals long ago “adapted’’ themselves to the “strain” of war.

War means open-shop wages. Syracuse anticipated this general condition by many years. A skilled tool and die maker in Brown, Lipe & Shapin (GM affiliate manufacturing steering, gears, headlights, etc.) makes less than a dollar an hour tops. In the unionized plants of GM the same work calls for $1.25 to $1.40 an hour. Naturally, proportionately worse conditions obtain for the unskilled.

And while wages trail far behind unionized plants, and hours are long and working conditions bad, Syracuse workers already have the bad smell in their nostrils – the smell of the pre-war depression that will be the postwar panic.

The “Democracy” They Enjoy

Over 9,000 families are on relief, according to Leon Abbott, county welfare commissioner. At least one out of every seven persons receive relief – which is a sure sign that at least one out of every six are unemployed.

These families, fortunate enough to be on the relief rolls, received $6.32 on the weekly average. Estimating the families at an average of 4 persons, the relief cannon-fodder of Syracuse enjoy the princely sum of 90 cents a day for food, clothing, shelter, fuel and the other necessities of life. They will probably be branded “Fifth Column” if they don’t get too hysterical about the Morgan-DuPont-Roosevelt war for “democracy,” “civilization” and “the good life.”

Not very long ago the local newspapers and the Chamber of Commerce were engaged in a big crusade against “Bolshevism.”. The “Bolshevism” consisted of a low-cost housing project that succeeded in providing the tremendous number of 800 apartments. (There are almost 10,000 slum families in Syracuse.) But even this “wild-eyed Bolsheviki” project was not entirely unprofitable for the solid citizens of the community. It appeals that the slums were cleared for the project in NOT the poorest section of the city. These homes – of course! – were heavily mortgaged to the local banks, who were not entirely unhappy to relieve themselves of this property, at nice fat interest charges.

Workers Are Militant

With the exception of the militant truck drivers and a few of the minor trades, Syracuse is unorganized. There are a few weak SWOC lodges in the Crucible mills, a few of the smaller plants and mills under contract. And that’s about the size of organization. But don’t get the impression that Syracuse workers lack in militancy. For months on end the Remington-Rand workers battled as vicious a company terror as workers have seen anywhere. They didn’t win – the labor movement was to weak and the company too powerful. But the real story is told in the fact that the only way Remington-Rand could defeat the workers was by closing down the plant.

“Hell will pop in this town one of these days,” a worker told me, “and when it does we’ll be fighting our own war where it should be fought.”

* * *

The SWP is ready to move ahead in Syracuse. With several workers joining the party during my stay here, it is only a matter of time before an active, promising party organization is constituted.

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