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Susan Green

Closed Shop

Senators and Industrialists Begin a Drive Against a Basic Right of American Labor

(10 March 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 10, 10 March 1947, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The insincere and demagogic argument of such willing agents of the National Association of Manufacturers as Senator Joseph Ball, the reactionary newspaperman David Lawrence, and others busy trying to stir public opinion against the closed shop and other union security clauses in contracts, are worth a going-over.

One of the most brazen bits of hypocrisy used by the proponents of the open shop is that about the “right to work.” Like the discredited “four freedoms,” it sounds so good. The other night on the air Senator Ball gave out on this point as follows:

“It [the closed shop] turns over to an outside agency, the union, very often dominated by a militant minority or even a single official, absolute control over the individual’s right and opportunity to work and earn a living in his chosen occupation.”

Then there is David Lawrence crusading in a long editorial under the headline The Right to Work – Who Will Protect It?

The Balls, the Lawrences and the NAM want to protect the American workers’ “right to work” via the open shop in the same way, let us say, as British imperialism brought civilization to India, as American capitalism brought democracy to Puerto Rico, or as today Russia brings liberation to Poland. These bearers of gifts to the underdog are only looking after their own “right to exploit.”

Ask any worker, organized or unorganized, if he considers the closed shop, the great menace to his “right to work,” and the foolish questioner will get a horse laugh. Every worker knows that his job is threatened by the bosses’ power to lay him off for one reason or another. The workers fear depressions, when goods accumulate in the warehouses and factories close down.

Let us ask Mr. Lawrence whether, in the tragic crisis of 1929, he wrote under a headline: We Must Protect the Right to Work – Let Us Open the Idle Factories. Or will he or Senator Ball or any of their kind – to protect the right to work in the coming depression – introduce bills for the thirty-hour week, for government operation of idle factories, for a guaranteed annual wage so that workers and their families may eat and pay rent the year round? These NAM crusaders of “the right to work” are the ones who fight most viciously against those measures which might help really insure the right to work.

However, these open-shoppers are not unmindful of the coming depression. With a large army of unemployed and union control weakened by anti-labor laws, what could be a sweeter set-up for undermining standards of wages and working conditions of the whole working population?

To the argument of unionists that the closed shop is agreed upon between employer and union under collective bargaining, just as any other shop condition may be, the union-busters reply, in the words of David Lawrence: “... everyone who wasn’t born yesterday knows that ‘closed shop’ contracts have rarely been signed voluntarily. They have been signed only as a result of a strike threat or a strike. ‘Closed shop’ contracts are about as voluntary as the arrangement between the hold-up man and the victim who hands over his money at the point of a gun.”

Brushing aside the humor in the picture of powerful corporations as poor victims at the point of a gun, we see here a foot in a mouth, both belonging to Mr. Lawrence. We must ask Mr. Lawrence and the others who claim that closed shop contracts should be outlawed because employers do not enter into them voluntarily, to name gain that labor has acquired by the voluntary action of the employers. Shorter work hours, higher wages, sanitary conditions, workmen’s compensation, paid vacations, every little advance has been won by labor by “force” – the strike weapon. Since all these achievements were forced from the employers or from the capitalist government by labor’s militant struggle, then these gains should, by Mr. Lawrence’s logic, all be declared illegal by Congress , just as he wants the closed shop outlawed. Quite a program even for enterprising reactionaries!

Mr. Lawrence reveals what’s eating the open-shoppers. The closed shop is a sign of the ability of the union to pull a solid strike. It’s this gun that labor has fashioned that bothers NAM and its spokesmen. The attack on the closed shop ties in neatly with the campaign to bar strikes, to disarm labor and to render it powerless to back up its demands.

Again, we hear the anti-union boys taunting the unions: “If the advantages of the organized workers are so great and if the benefits secured by the unions so outstanding, why do the unions have to have closed shop and other union security clauses in contracts; why do not all workers voluntarily join and pay their dues?”

The taunt is misdirected. The blame is at the door of the capitalist system that all workers do not at once embrace the ideas and discipline of unionism. Workers’ thoughts are shaped by the “ideals and morals” of the capitalist competitive jungle. It takes persistent working class education to make workers aware of how the blood and sweat of militant unionism has benefited all workers, and of the responsibilities of each to all and of all to each. When a worker joins a union even because of the requirements of the union contract in his shop, it is to his great advantage. It is an important step in breaking away from the ideology of the capitalists and in becoming a progressive, conscious member of his own class.

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