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James M. Fenwick

Off Limits

Veterans’ Attitude Toward Organized Labor

(2 December 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 48, 2 December 1946, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the ETOL.

For a period following the close of the war the most conscious members of the labor movement worried about the utilization of the veteran by employers as an anti-labor force. These fears have proved groundless. The capitalist class has been unable to mobilize veterans against organized labor.

On the basis of a poll it recently conducted, Fortune, the swank business magazine, wryly concedes that veterans, “who according to some were going to make labor behave, are more friendly to unions than the general population.”

Two statements were posed in the poll: (1) “Labor unions are doing a fine job,” and (2) “While they do make some mistakes, on the whole labor unions are doing more good than harm.” Of the general population 41.8 per cent responded affirmatively. Veterans, however, supported the statements in 49.6 per cent of the cases. A rephrasing of these statements in a negative form similarly confirmed, though not so sharply, that the veteran is more friendly to unions than is the general public.


That once out of uniform the soldier would tend to think as do other members of his class, with all the variations possible within the class itself, could have been anticipated. But given the age of the veteran, which meant, in general, that his experience in the shop or elsewhere was often limited; given the anti-labor propaganda to which he was subjected in the armed services; given his explainable envy of those who stayed at home; and given the often disadvantageous conditions under which he had to return to work – the result must be a little surprising and a little discouraging to those capitalists who counted on the returned veteran.

Why the Veterans Support Labor

What are the reasons behind the veterans’ support of organized labor? Basic, of course, is a simple economic fact: employment is virtually total, thereby, under the present conditions, forestalling a social crisis in which veterans could be played off against the working class. Further, as a result of the general extension of unionism in recent years, a higher level of union consciousness than has existed for several decades now exists. This was bound to find its reflection within the ranks of a mass army. Moreover, when young worker veterans returned they found the best champion of their rights in the union, which, generally speaking, by correct policies reduced the veteran “problem” to a minimum. Aiding in the integration of the veterans, also, were most of the new World War II veterans’ organizations, which have had a friendly orientation toward labor.

And certainly, as far as the immediate economic problem centering around housing shortages, and rising prices is concerned, the veteran, knowing better than the general public the miracles of production (and destruction!) accomplished during the war, must be less prone to blame labor for present conditions. And where he is not, as may well be the case among many veterans of the middle class, he is victimized, like other members of the middle class, by the failure of organized labor to provide a way out of the current mess other than by support of the Republicans or Democrats.


What Will Happen Next?

The real test of the support of organized labor by the veteran will come with the unemployment which accompanies the inevitable and periodic crises of capitalism.

Big business is keeping its eye on the veteran, as the issue of state bonuses in the recent elections attest. Labor can do no less.

The fate of the veteran, whether he comes from the working class or the middle class, is intimately tied up with the working class. Similarly, the fate of the working class depends in good degree, as the growth of German fascism demonstrated, upon the ability of the working class to win the veteran to its standard.

The first step is to break out of the cage of bi-partisan capitalist politics through the creation of an independent labor party.

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