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James M. Fenwick

Off Limits

Super-Seniority – Divide and Rule

(22 April 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 16, 22 April 1946, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the ETOL.

“Divide et impera” – divide and rule – the motto of Louis XI of France, has been an operating principle of despots from the earliest times.

Today the capitalist class of the United States is attempting to apply that principle by pitting veterans against civilian workers through super-seniority.

What is super-seniority? It is, as a CIO pamphlet puts it, a “scheme under which veterans – regardless of the length of their employment and military service – would automatically outrank all other workers.”

It was announced in 1944 by the notorious Major General Lewis B. Hershey of the Selective Service System in Local Board Memorandum 190-A. The motivating reasons, of course, were of the highest order. George Romney, managing director of the Auto Council for War Production, wept warm tears, and “came out vigorously for super-seniority, attacking the unions for their stand and declaring that returning veterans will face ‘an unbelievable injustice’.”

The Real Reasons

The actual reasons, of course, lie closer to the real seat of a capitalist’s emotions – his pocketbook. The capitalist class has been persistently attempting to utilize the veteran to chip away the union movement. The veteran has been encouraged to scab through being refused unemployment benefits while on strike. He was systematically propagandized against unions while in the Army. The super-seniority hue and cry is the latest manifestation.

Nobody should believe that the current controversy over super-seniority results from a “misunderstanding” or conflict between various government agencies such as the War Department and Congress, for instance. It is a carefully thought- out plan by the capitalist class and was consciously introduced.

If the plan is defeated it will not be through action of the capitalist courts, where the question of super-seniority is now being strangled by the tentacles of suit, counter-suit, appeal, delay and contradiction. It will be defeated solely by action of the unions in demonstrating that they intend to have no part of the super-seniority, union-breaking plan.

The CIO Plan

Fortunately, the organized labor movement has generally adopted a correct position in regard to super-seniority – one that veterans who realize where their real interests lie should be glad to accept. It contains two simple points:

  1. That time in military service should be counted in computing the seniority of veterans returning to their old jobs.
  2. That veterans who did not work prior to military service should acquire seniority based upon their time in the service, once they have Secured employment.

This system protects the veteran from being penalized for his period of service in the armed forces, it protects the civilian worker, who is often a man with family responsibilities, it protects the seniority system, which is the backbone of any union structure. And it helps to forestall pitting the veteran against the civilian worker – from which only the bosses can profit.

That the, veteran has special problems and special demands which he can make of the government is recognized by any union worth its salt. The union should be in the forefront in protecting the rights of veterans in order that the veterans will not be won over to the side of reaction.

The super-seniority problem could only arise in a capitalist society like ours, where there is a shortage of jobs. The final answer to the “veteran’s problem,” of which super-seniority is a manifestation, is JOBS FOR ALL.

And one of the first steps which labor must take to realize this objective is the creation of a Labor Party, independent of the two capitalist parties and fighting for a workers’ government, which will put the immense productive machinery of the United States to work in peace as our capitalist government is able to do only for war.

Under socialism there will be no “veteran’s problem.”

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