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Emanuel Garrett

American Labor Shows Its Power
in New Strike Wave

(23 September 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 38, 23 September 1946, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

THE big strikes in maritime and New York trucking illustrate the tremendous confidence that American labor has in its own strength. It is a confidence mixed, as yet, with uncertainty of principle and confusion of direction. It is, further, a confidence that will be demonstrated again and again this winter as strike actions sweep the country on a scale equal to, or greater than, the strike actions of last winter

This element of confidence and of mood is extremely important. The strikes are not rear-guard actions, fought in desperation. They are, rather, offensive in quality, fought to improve labor’s standard of living. A general dissatisfaction with things as they are is coupled with a marked self-reliance in labor’s ability to achieve it's ends through economic action.

Thus, at the very moment that the teamsters were tying up New York, and the sailors were crippling every port in the country, there were indications of strikes to come in every major industry. The packinghouse workers are already preparing for their strikes; steel workers are talking of strike in February when the contract expires; auto workers have been pressing for months for a reopening of wage negotiations.

The Press Is Seriously Disturbed

It is interesting to observe the reaction in the capitalist press. Reactionary and liberal alike are seriously disturbed. Each in his own way is assailed by the patent, disruption of “social harmony” and the restiveness of labor; each in his own way is trying to fit a solution into the hopeless muddle of capitalist rule. Here is obviously a social system gone completely to pot – peace clearly impossible, class tensions sharpening, political and economic problems mounting. Everywhere is instability. American wealth and productivity have not dulled the sharpness of class relations. They have instead contributed to labor’s vigor and determination.

There is not a section of the American population that is mot stirring in some way. If the picket line is the sharpest, line of division, there are also, for example, consumer lines which reflect a dissatisfaction common to the great majority of people. Thus, there is an atmosphere of unrest, of questioning, of searching – what comes next? What to do?

Urgency of the GM Strike Program

Wages and prices are the immediate orbit around which the major domestic issues revolve. And for sound reasons! In a sense, the strike actions are no more than a defense of a given wage standard against the inroads of rising prices. That is, of course, what is basically involved; and even by itself is sufficiently an indication of labor’s mood. But it would be a mistake to see no more than that in the situation. There is also the confidence of which we have already spoken. There is the feeling, which upsets the profiteers no end, that the people are entitled to a HIGH standard of living; there is the feeling that the price squeeze can be broken to guarantee this higher standard of living, and the promise that wage actions will come with relentless frequency.

Nowhere in this latest series of strikes have the deeply significant slogans of last year’s General Motors strike been raised. But it seems to us that they must rise, in one form or another, unless the capitalists can effectively crush the impulse of labor militancy. And that they cannot do, for an all-out assault on labor today would bring with it repercussions from which the capitalist social structure would emerge seriously battered, if emerge at all. The General Motors strikers produced demands that were revolutionary in quality. They challenged the prerogatives of “free and monopolist enterprise,” demanded that the books be opened, demanded a voice in the determination of wages, prices and profits, and insisted upon wage increases WITH NO INCREASES IN PRICES.

Demands of similar content are bound to arise in the strike wave that is gathering force for this winter. It is certain that the trade union leaders will stand in the way of this development. The outcome of this, however, will depend greatly upon how successfully these demands are injected into the situation.

While the GM Program has not been raised in any union today, other slogans that go beyond the traditional union level are being voiced: the demand for nationalization of the meat industry has been raised; the demand for a guaranteed annual wage is growing in popularity. If the clear demand of the General Motors strikers for a Wage Increase Without a Price Increase has not been raised as such, the impossibility of repeated strikes to offset price increases must lead to it.

All of this is not of one pattern. There are many contradictions. The seamen, for example, blasted the War Shipping Board and generally denounced the intervention of the government boards. All of this was absolutely just. But in the attitude of the seamen, especially of their leaders, there was at the same time a serious weakness. It is one thing to oppose the intervention of the government boards; it is quite another thing to steer clear of politics. And that is what the leaders of the AFL seamen pretend to do.

Workers Can’t Avoid Political Issues

Politics cannot be avoided; it is far too intricately woven into economics. For labor this politics has to belabor politics; and of that there is no indication in the attitude of the labor leaders. There are labor leaders who disclaim any interest in political action; the rest of them, and they are by far the greater number, hue to the line of engaging, through PAC or some other instrument, in capitalist politics.

There is discernible in this situation a striving for program. The more alert capitalist spokesmen are looking for a program; and considerable numbers, especially in the lower ranks, are looking toward labor. Perhaps not as consciously, labor is looking for a program, and that is what we are concerned with.

Not just any program will do. It has to be a program that meets the needs of the situation, that serves labor and the people. Murray had a program last winter; it was to permit the steel owners a boost in prices in return for a wage increase.

The consequences of that policy are well known. There was another aspect to this program: Murray’s cheek by jowl deliberations with Truman. As a result, Truman and the other agents of capitalist government decided a program for the steel workers! The consequences of this are also well known.

We single out Murray, not because he was alone, but because his was typical of the policy of the union leaders. Almost down to a man, they have approached a solution of labor’s problems in the same way: conferring with government officials, chasing after misleading labor-management conferences, holding back the drive in the ranks for concrete action. The contempt shown by the sailors for the government and its boards was a refreshing difference of approach.

If we are right that the wage-price issue is the principle orbit of class relations today then a program must concern itself with wage-price demands that can give genuine meaning to the struggles that are now shaping up. We have repeatedly stated our view of what this program must be. Here we shall only list its essential points: (1) Popular Price Control Committees in the neighborhoods concretely backed by union representatives; (2) Wage Increases Without Price Increases.

Many other demands enter into such a program – a guaranteed annual wage; escalator clauses providing for a hike in wages with every jump of the price graph. None of it can achieve full meaning unless it is consolidated on a national scale, effected in the joint action of a strategy board representing all of organized labor. And it can be given lasting meaning only if it is combined with a plan for political action. Such a plan must necessarily begin with the formation of a Labor Party.

Popular Price Control Committees have risen here and there. The demand, Wage Increases Without Price Increases, is implicit in the situation itself. But what about the Labor Party?

Response to Labor Party Call

Not a single labor leader of any importance is likely to initiate a move for a Labor Party. Were there such, we think his call would evoke a tremendous, instantaneous response. On a local and small scale the demand has already been heard. Not Murray, Green, Lewis nor Reuther is going to lend his authority to the formation of a Labor Party. The impetus will have to come from below. The strike last winter called attention to the need for political action: the current strike wave has done the same; the next strike wave will do so more pointedly.

For the present we confine ourselves to what is incontestable: labor is ready; its actions are marked by confidence; it will be receptive to a call to complement its economic militancy with political organization. Regardless of the labor leaders, organized direction and certainty can be given to labor’s confidence in its power in a sweeping demand for the organization of a Labor Party. It will not come by itself; it CAN come if the idea is aggressively promoted in the unions, especially in the struggles that lie ahead.

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