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Susan Green

Some Additional Notes and Comments
on the Shipyard Workers Convention

(26 April 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 17, 26 April 1942, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Vigilance is the price of liberty, and the possibility of organization of opposition opinion is the price of trade union democracy. This truth was written all over the Camden convention of the International Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers of America just held.

How did it happen that out of such a considerable number of opposition speakers, only four delegates had the tenacity to stick, to their guns and vote “No” on the surrender of Saturday and Sunday overtime?

The answer is that the opposition was not organized. There had been no preparation for the convention. No counter-resolutions were drawn up for submission to the delegates. No plan was formulated on procedure to defeat the rule of the chairman’s gavel.

That is why the appeasing leadership had it all its own way. Its well prepared tactics could not be overcome simply by unorganized speech-making from the floor.

The preservation of union democracy rests entirely with the rank and file. To keep and extend it, they must organize to fight for minority programs that may later become majority programs.

President Green, repeated so often the falsehood that it was no sacrifice to surrender Saturday and Sunday overtime, so often did he say that only chiselers would be punished, that after a while some of the delegates were hypnotized and took on the same falsetto tone.

Yet from the floor of the convention came facts blasting the fictions emanating from the platform. The delegate from Local 25 in Boston declared that only 1 per cent of the men were getting the $1.12 standard; that Bethlehem Steel was paying $1.02, 87 and 77½ cents. The delegate from Local 47, in the Greenpoint Basin reported that his men were paid 80 cents tops, and were graded down to 45 and 30 cents. Other such pertinent information was given by delegates.

Can it be claimed that these underpaid shipyard workers will not suffer by the surrender of the Saturday and Sunday overtime?

Everything was very palsy-walsy between the union leaders and the representatives of the government seated on the platform of the convention hall. President Green was “Johnny” to the admirals and politicians, and Secretary-Treasurer van Gelder was “Phil.”

Being patronized by government and tolerated by management on joint committees is turning the heads of the leadership away from the rank and file.

Sidney Hillman is the most disgusting example of a so-called labor leader who has turned his back on labor. Every time he mentions a visit to the White House he fairly bursts his vest with pride. President Green showed a similar tendency. When he mentioned his letter-writing to President Roosevelt – although quite ineffective – his chest expanded noticeably.

The workers need leaders whose “class collaboration” will be with the working class.

Resolution No. 2, which approves the immediate establishment in all shipyards of joint labor-management production committees, as planned by Donald Nelson, was pushed through the convention as a purely routine matter.

The auto workers did not regard these committees with an altogether unsuspicious eye. Delegates to their convention smelled a rat and said so. They declared that these committees will put over a “speed-up” which will both injure the health of workers and delay the re-employment of the unemployed.

Is this not also true in the ship and repair yards?

Delegates at the shipyard workers’ convention declared that even at the present pace of production, workers are knocked out by the gruelling labor in the yards. Other delegates described the lack of full-time employment in the repair shops and even in construction yards. It looks as if the fears of the auto workers are justified also for the shipyards.

Resolution No. 2 calls upon the labor-management committees “to diligently apply themselves to increase production in every possible way.” The workers must not allow “every possible way” to be boiled down to “the only possible way,” namely, by driving labor.

At both the morning and afternoon sessions of the convention, delegates got up to express their opinions on present-day politics. They stated their belief that it is not only the Vinsons, Smiths and Connallys who are pursuing an anti-labor fight in Congress. They said they thought that these political bourbons are merely the mouthpieces for the great majority of congressmen who would be just as anti-labor if they were not afraid of the labor vote.

The solution offered in these speeches was for the workers to keep sending letters to their congressmen and to fill these anti-labor politicians with fear of losing the next election.

Of course there is no objection to making politicians respect the vote of labor. But isn’t it the height of folly for the mighty army of working class voters to put into office politicians who they know are anti-labor, servants of the big corporations?

It is high time for labor to end this costly folly and break away from the parties of capitalist politicians – Democratic and Republican.

What is urgently needed is an independent labor party based on the unions. To get their interests truly represented the workers must put into office their own most able and trusted fellow-workers.

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