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CIO Sets April as “Defend Labor Month”

Offensive Indicated Against Wage Squeeze
and Anti-Labor Bills

(7 April 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 14, 7 April 1947, p. 8.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Executive Board of the CIO has designated April as DEFEND LABOR MONTH. It has called upon its own membership, the whole labor movement, all organizations friendly to labor, communities whose prosperity depends upon the well-being of the working people, all to unite in concerted effort to defeat the unabating attacks on the labor movement and the workers.

It is high time for labor to use its teeth. In the national Congress and in state legislatures the anti-labor bills keep rolling in. There are bills that would prohibit mass picketing, that would make arbitration compulsory, that would impose cooling-off periods on workers with just grievances. Behind all such provisions the motive is to take away the right to strike. And the reactionaries are making headway.

For instance, in New York the state legislature passed the Condon-Wadlin bill which bans strikes by public employees. This law not only forces state employees “into the status of second-class citizens with conditions bordering on economic slavery,” as CIO President Murray put it, but constitutes the initial weakening of the right to strike for the whole working class. Similar laws are pending in other states.

Injunction Bill

However, the blitzkrieg against labor does not wait for the passage of new laws. The recent decision of the court against the United Mine Workers re-established rule by injunction. Already the politicians are taking advantage of that decision. The Hartley bill, if passed, would allow the government to obtain an anti-union injunction against the telephone strikers if they go out.

Other blows are being struck at labor. Congressional handling of the portal-to-portal pay suits not only deprives the workers of billions of dollars legitimately theirs, but also undermines the Wages and Hour Law establishing minimum wage rates and the forty-hour week. Again, even before Congress has passed amendments to soften up the Wagner Law, the WLRB is obligingly handing down decisions to "appease" the bosses. Nor can we overlook, in this enumeration of anti-labor measures, the various government efforts to get at labor in general behind the pretense of fighting the Stalinists.

These moves are not prompted by abstract hatred of the bosses for the workers, but by something very concrete indeed. Straight-jacketing labor by restrictive legislation means to weaken the ability of the unions to raise wages and better conditions. This translates itself into higher profits for the capitalists – and a lowered standard of living for all workers.

This anti-labor drive by the lawmakers is taking place as the working people are already amply penalized by the economic laws of “private enterprise.” Caught between run-away prices and low wages, the standard of living is declining.

Prices Going Up

According to the most recent figures of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the cost of living has gone up fifty-six per cent since, the war, with twenty-three per cent of that rise occurring since June 1946. June 1946, it will be remembered, is when price controls were lifted and we were promised by the “private enterprisers” that prices would begin to come down. Also remember that the figures of the BLS are always an understatement of the cost of living because they do not take into account such important elements as inferior quality, disappearance of low-priced merchandise, and so on.

And how have wages fared in purchasing power as prices merrily soar? The average weekly factory paycheck is supposed to be $46.21, according to the United States News. By the same authority, the purchasing power of $46.21 is today only $29.62 in pre-war values. However, in June 1946 the purchasing power of the average factory wage was $32 in pre-war values. So that In terms of purchasing power, average factory wages have been cut almost ten per cent since June 1946 by the crazy spiral of living costs.

A union survey was made of the workers in the Frigidaire plant at Dayton, Ohio, to ascertain how this ten per cent decrease in purchasing power of wages is affecting them. Seventy-one per cent of the workers stated that they are cutting down on food consumption, after having exhausted their savings – those wartime savings which were supposed to have been so lush.

The crazy spiral of living costs which has slashed the food consumption of working people, has caused profits to climb to a new high. This is corroborated by such divergent sources as the CIO and the National City Bank of New York. The CIO informs us that returns on investments in 1946, were eight to ten times greater than pre-war. From the National City Bank we learn that profits in food, where prices have climbed steepest, were, in 1946, as follows: For sixteen baking firms 96,5 per cent more than 1945; for fifteen meat packing firms 96.7 per cent more than 1945; for sixty-four other food firms 72.6 per cent more than 1945. “Private enterprise” knows what it wants.

Let us not forget, furthermore, that the quiet on the rent front forebodes no good. To save their political necks the politicians will very likely extend rent control for a few months and squelch a blanket rent increase. But that will still mean rent boosts for all of us, judging by the latest concoction to come out of the Senate Banking Committee. If this law is passed, it would set up local advisory boards authorized to recommend to the Housing Expediter, now that OPA is out, both rent increases and complete decontrol of whole areas. Rent control would go the way of price control, but more quietly than if Congress killed it now.

This, then, is the background for the CIO call for DEFEND LABOR MONTH: the actually declining standard of living and the threat from legislative enactments that will make difficult the improvement of the standard of living.

Response Is Good

Reports published in CIO News shows a good response from the CIO membership, from the AFL, the Railroad Brotherhoods, independent unions and pro-labor organizations. Rallies are being planned and held, leaflets distributed, petitions signed, telegrams and delegations sent to the halls of government.

Labor Action is completely behind the CIO in this effort – and we go a little further too. We have learned that taking the offensive is often the: best defense. On the economic side, the campaign for higher wages in all industries to check the decline in living standards caused by rising prices, can no longer be delayed.

Again, we are assured, as before June 1946, that prices are coming down. But what is that saying? Once burned, twice wise. On the political side, we will never gain our goal “of a more abundant life for all” – as the CIO News puts it – merely by showing “our elected representatives” of capitalist parties that we want it. The best defense against capitalist politicians, is the offensive toward an independent labor party.

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