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Paul G. Stevens

In the World of Labor

(24 February 1940)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. IV No. 8, 24 February 1940, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Increased Attacks Against Our Belgian Comrades?

This week United Press carried the following dispatch from Brussels:

“The Cabinet, which met unexpectedly today, was reported to have discussed means of strengthening legislation against persons disturbing internal order. It was believed that the Cabinet was anxious to suppress the activities of communist agitators who, it was alleged, recently provoked strikes, especially among coal miners.”

The most recent strikes among Belgian miners were those of the Levant de Flenu company in the Borinage region, the traditional stronghold of our Belgian comrades, the Revolutionary Socialist Party (P.S.R.). Several weeks ago this column reported suppression of the party’s legal organ La Lutte Ouvrière and its reappearance under the title L’Action Socialiste. The paper had to change from the mining region to Brussels. It is consequently safe to assume that the Cabinet action is directed against our Belgian miner comrades.

Despite all previous attempts to drive them underground, our comrades have shown a remarkable ability to readjust themselves under fire. Their deep roots among the Borinage proletariat have assured the continuity of their work. If their past performance is any indication, they will be able with the aid of their devoted following in the pits to overcome even these latest moves of the government. Their heroic resistance to the war preparations of Belgian capitalism is an example of the vitality of the Fourth International under increasingly difficult conditions.

Only Fourth Internationalists Fight Against War in Canada

From Canada we have just received the latest issue of Socialist Action, the excellent little sheet put out illegally by our Canadian comrades.

Of all the working class organizations in that country, the section of the Fourth International is the only one that is actively engaged in the struggle against war. The reformist Canadian Commonwealth Federation (Second International) has gone completely patriotic under the leadership of its parliamentary whip, Coldwell. The pacifist wing under Woodsworth, which repeatedly wrote a rather strong anti-war plank into the party’s program at the Federation’s conventions in recent years, has completely capitulated to the war-mongering leadership of its parliamentary representatives, although it has been known to have a majority in the membership. The Stalinist party seems to have disappeared from the field of public action altogether after the switch in line that followed the conclusion of the Stalin-Hitler pact. At the outbreak of the war in September it was still for the support of the “democratic” powers. Only our comrades carry on the strong anti-war tradition of the Canadian workers.

In the elections to parliament which are now going on as a result of the dissolution of the lower house by Prime Minister McKenzie King, the C.C.F. is agitating along avowedly imperialist lines. At a recent meeting, Coldwell made the following declaration for his party, according to Socialist Action:

“The C.C.F. believes that our national unity, the allied cause and securing a just peace could be served best by limiting our military and naval participation to defense to our own large territory and lands belonging to the British and French adjacent to Canada. That would include Newfoundland, the Bahamas, Bermuda and such islands as Miquelon and St. Pierre.”

Allegedly opposing the Sending of Canadian troops overseas, the C.C.F. leader makes clear that this is not due to any real opposition to imperialist policy. On the contrary, he appears to be concerned only to obtain the most adequate defense of allied imperialist interests on the Western hemisphere. As against the openly war-mongering policy of the social reformists in the C.C.F. our comrades are participating in the election struggle under the slogans:

“For a Workers and Farmers Government! Expropriate the 50 big shots! For Workers’ Control of Production! Down with Imperialist War!”

How British Trade Union Bureaucrats Deal with Opposition to War

In Great Britain the movement of opposition to the war has become particularly pronounced among local trade union bodies known as the Trades Councils which are similar in structure to our own Central Labor Unions. The opposition springs from the growing realization of the rank and file militants that it is they who – by the decline of real wages and the rise in cost of living – have to bear the burden of a war which is not of their making. Apparently this movement is giving serious cause for worry to the trade union bureaucrats at the top who are, of course, thoroughly patriotic.

Recently they have been going over from worrying to action. What action? They simply instruct local affiliates of national unions under their control on pain of expulsion to withdraw from Trades Councils which have declared their opposition to the war. In other words, they put on the economic squeeze. Thus, for instance, Ernest Bevin, head of the Transport Workers Union, announces in the Daily Herald of December 29:

“Trades Councils that support the ‘peace at any price’ policy will find that part of the price of their decision is that they will not receive affiliation fees for 1940 from the Transport and General Workers Union. That ‘peace’ policy is in conflict with the decisions of the Trade Union Congress and the Labour party. The union has a standing resolution to pay money only to Trades Councils and local Labor parties that accept the national policy of the T.U.C. and the Labour party.”

Since then, the branches of the Bevin union have been instructed to withhold fees from the Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh Trades Councils. Such blackmail may deal a temporary blow to the workers’ opposition to war. But only a temporary one. For the plan of the Chamberlain government to squeeze a major share for the cost of the coming war year from the pockets of the workers will undoubtedly give it a new impulse. The next wave will only be more embittered because of the dastardly steps taken to stem it.

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