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V. Grey

Shop Talks on Socialism

(14 April 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 15, 14 April 1945, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

It was Monday morning. The older fellows already had their work clothes on. They were sitting on the benches smoking. Shorty hardly got his) locker opened when he said, “Any of you guys read that blank blank Drew Pearson’s column yesterday? ”

“No. What’d he say?” a couple of fellows asked.

“Don’t talk to me about it,” Breezy said. “My wife read it to me in bed on Sunday morning and wanted to know where I spend all my pay check. Next thing I know she’ll be coming down to the gate to meet me on pay day.”

This made the other fellows more serious. “What’s the matter? What did Pearson say, anyhow?” they pressed Shorty.

“Why he said the steel workers are making an average of a dollar seventeen an hour.”

“But that ain’t all,” Shorty went on belligerently, “he says we went up to that from an average of 76 cents an hour in 1939 – all because Murray was polite to the War Labor Board.”

“What?" Slim turned around from his locker.

“Sure. Here’s the article,” Shorty persisted. “I’ve got it right here if I can just find it. Here it is!” He read it out loud.

“Average hourly rate for steel workers in September 1939, while Lewis was still CIO president, was 76 cents. The average wage in the mines was higher – 89 cents.

“Through the war period, Lewis has ranted and raved against the War Labor Board ... and was the first important labor leader to repudiate the no-strike pledge. Phil Murray, meanwhile, has fought his battles through the WLB rather than by strikes.

“By last November however, Phil Murray had quietly boosted the average hourly earnings in steel until they were above the miners. Bituminous miners got $1.16, anthracite $1.15 and steel workers $1.17.”

“What do you think of that?” said Pop Philiber. “So we’re getting a dollar seventeen an hour. And we got that over 76 cents an hour in 1939. Forty-one cents an hour increase from the War Labor Board. That’s pretty good.”

“Now wait a minute. Don’t joke about it,” Shorty protested.

“Are any of you guys getting $1.17 an hour?”

Nobody was.

“I know a fellow down in the open hearth that does,” Tony said after a minute. “But that’s the tonnage rate he’s making it on – not his regular pay.”

“Forty one cents an hour increase from the War Labor Board since 1939,” said old George, slightly dazed. “But the War Labor Board didn’t start, till 1942, did it?”

“That’s right,” Slim commented.

“Well, I only remember one raise they gave us. June 1942 it was. Four and a half cents an hour. I can’t remember any other raise the WLB ordered. Can you fellows?”

Nobody could.

“Of course,” Slim pointed out, “we did get a ten cent raise in April 1941. But that was after the biggest series of steel strikes since 1919. Phil Murray might have been ‘quiet’ then. But us fellows weren’t so quiet. Breezy over there was one of the boys that got dragged off the picket line and landed in the hoosegow.”

“But what I want to know,” complained Shorty, “is where the hell that so-and-so gets that $1.17 an hour stuff.”

“Well look at all the sixteens they’re working down at the other end,” Tony put in. “That’s a lot of time-and-a-half. A young cousin of mine worked five sixteens in one week ... Took the next week off sick,” he added.

“Yeah,” Breezy threw his old overalls into the trash can. “All the time-and-a-half brings the average up, don’t forget.”

“We didn’t get time-and-a-half by Phil Murray keeping ‘quiet’ either,” Slim said. “An awful lot of working men got measured early for coffins because they fought for the eight hour day. They were getting knocked off by big business long before Phil Murray discovered how kind-hearted the War Labor Board was.”

“I tell you what I think,” Shorty concluded, finally calming down enough to put away the clipping and get his work clothes on. “This Drew Pearson is just trying to show where the no-strike pledge is a wonderful thing for labor. And he doesn’t care how he proves it.”

At that moment Scissorbill Sam (the bosses’ man) came in at the last minute, with Sunday’s editorial section under his arm.

“Did any of you guys read Drew Pearson’s column yesterday? Some of the radical screwballs around here might learn something if they did.”

“Why Sam,” replied Slim, “I thought Westbrook Pegler was your favorite columnist!”

“He is,” said the bosses’ man, “But Pearson’s good sometimes too.”

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