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Emanuel Garrett

As an Answer to Strikers’ Demands —

Truman Advises Labor to “Cool Off”

(14 January 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. X No. 2, 14 January 1946, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

President Truman has established during his months in office a record of complete consistency. Each of his public addresses is more dramatic in expectation than in performance. Thus, each of his major declarations of policy the day after it is delivered proves to be somewhat less sensational and momentous than the day before. It would be a mistake, however, to reason that because the nation’s press invariably shows itself let down once the President has spoken, that his speeches can be ignored. While less astute and less forceful than his predecessor, he is nevertheless trying to play the same game: to appear as labor’s friend while strengthening the hand of Big Business. And the most recent proof is his January 3 radio appeal.

First note that according to advance publicity the radio appeal, or “fireside chat,” was to be the administration’s programmatic reply to the strike wave. And if you got the impression that it was not, that it was instead a denunciation of “obstructionists” in Congress, you are wrong. Basically, it is exactly that: the Administration’s anti-labor program for breaking – breaking, not solving – the strike wave.

Truman’s proposal was dressed up with all the adroitness at his command. That’s true. It pointed the finger of accusation at those congressmen who stand in the way of various types of social legislation. It slapped General Motors for walking out of a fact-finding hearing. And it appealed to the people of the United States to make their voice heard. Very commendable, all that – and so much eye-wash.

The fact is that the nub of his contribution to the strike situation remains his brazenly anti-labor proposals for a 30 day cooling-off period and fact-finding boards. Virtually every union in the country has denounced Truman’s proposed legislation. Almost every worker, particularly those who are marching on picket lines against the FACT of Big Business refusal to pay a living wage, was aroused to fury by Truman’s outrageous proposal.

Here was Truman confronted by two unassailable facts: universal resentment in labor’s ranks against his bill; and a growing strike wave that again demanded a statement of position from him. His radio address was therefore designed to attract labor support while pursuing his anti-labor program. But it failed, and failed miserably.

What were the headlines everywhere? Truman Flays Congress; Truman Presses for Social Legislation; Truman Asks the People to Speak. Yes, he did all that. The speech denounced those Congressmen (most of them in his OWN party) who stand in the way of a Full Employment Bill, continued price control legislation, a permanent FEPC, federal aid to supplement state unemployment payments and a substantial increase in the minimum legal wage. We repeat, however, the word we used above: all this is so much fakery.

The fact is that Truman has done blessed little to force any measures of genuinely beneficial social legislation through Congress. As an example, take the permanent FEPC. Outside of complaining in his radio appeal about obstructionists, what has Truman done CONCRETELY to force its passage and to give it teeth? Nothing, absolutely nothing! And whatever he may now propose to do in the way of social legislation is negated by the inescapable social FACT that on the greatest issue of the day, labor’s vigorous movement for a decent wage, his stand has been viciously anti-labor.

Oh yes, his attacks on Congress were not entirely without purpose. He prefers running his party and Congress HIS way, and therefore used the occasion to whip the recalcitrants and the extreme reactionaries who gum up the works by pursuing their anti-labor objectives without subtlety of sugar-coating. Do not be misled by that, nor by the enunciation of Truman that followed his speech from Republican party circles. Taft’s (GOP) complaint about a PAC-CIO inspired speech merely indicates that the Republicans prefer their own, less sugar- coated method of crushing labor, and hate in any case to lose an opportunity for a little election campaigning.

In his speech Truman plaintively protested that labor had him all wrong when it resisted his proposition. But, no, labor did not and does not misunderstand his bill. For labor knows the facts; and such men and women as are on the GM picket line and other picket lines certainly know them. The facts are that wages are inadequate for life, that the corporations are bloatedly rich.

Truman knows these facts too. Not so long ago he publicly declared that industry was fully able to pay a wage increase without an increase in prices. Confronted, however, with the reality of labor’s DOING something to get these necessary wage increases, Truman shifted his ground to a head-on assault on labor and its action.

How utterly clever and disgustingly false is his appeal to the “people.” Says Truman:

“... but there are those who, when they decide to make themselves felt, are the most powerful pressure group in the world. I mean the American people – the great mass of our citizens who have no special interests, whose interests are only the interests of the nation as a whole.”

With two changes of text we’ll accept that. Where he speaks of “American people” we’ll make it more specific: American workers and small farmers. And where it speaks of “no special interests” we’ll change to read “who DO have special interests, and whose special interests ARE the interests of the nation as a whole.”

Yes, the power is theirs. It is in the hands of the “people” – that great mass of workers – who in championing their own interests for a decent life promote the welfare of the great mass of society. Proof: the valiant defense of the consumer’s general interest by the GM workers who refuse to permit a price increase.

But here is the revealing giveaway on Truman. He advises the “people” to make their voice heard. That is precisely what the GM strikers are doing. They are making their voice heard in the most effective way possible for labor – on the picket line!

They are indeed the most powerful pressure group in the world. But it is Truman’s object to keep them from exercising that power. And for good reason. That power, properly directed, would oust Truman and his whole capitalist government. Truman may have a little dispute with General Motors Corporation, but it remains true that his government is THEIR government. There are arguments! you know, in the best of families. But it is still a family: the family of capitalism and its governments.

“The voice of the people must be heard.” It must be heard through unions on the economic front, and through an INDEPENDENT LABOR PARTY. It must be heard with a purpose: to wrest power from the capitalist bankrupts and put it into the hands of the toilers.

This “most powerful pressure group in the world” cannot permit itself to be tied to the political coat-tails of capitalism, whether worn by Truman, some more palatable “liberal,” or a less palatable reactionary. It needs to make its OWN decisions, organize its OWN force, establish its OWN government and announce over the national networks its OWN program.

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