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Susan Green

Telephone Workers Fight AT&T Monopoly’s
“Public Service” Strike-Breaking Attempt

(21 April 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 16, 21 April 1947, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Labor will not be coerced or intimidated. That is what the telephone strike proclaims far and wide. And coercion and intimidation are exactly what industry and government are using on the worker.

This is how the anti-labor team seems to be operating: Congress holds over labor’s head the threat of anti-strike and other anti-labor legislation. In the meantime, industry refuses to bargain collectively in good faith, in effect saying: “Go ahead and strike, and see what Congress will do to you on the statute books!”

Squeeze Tactic

The capitalists find their political henchmen seek to paralyze the workers in this pincer-like maneuver on the psychological front. Here’s some proof:

Drew Pearson, in the Washington Merry-Go-Round of April 3, reported that CIO President Murray held a secret strategy meeting of ten top leaders to assemble the data on the progress of new contract negotiations in the steel, auto and electrical industries. The tidbit is that Murray was told by these leaders that all these industries “refuse to bargain collectively for new contracts; that they sit tight, defy unions to strike, warn Congress will crack down.”

In the same vein, Joseph Beirne, president of the National Federation of Telephone Workers, reveals the squeeze tactic of the telephone monopoly. In his radio speech before the strike started, Beirne accused the telephone system of refusing to engage in legitimate collective bargaining. He said:

“Our unions have made proposals to arbitrate all the items in dispute. We believe that if any arbitration is to be used it should encompass all disputed items without any strings attached, or else we could have a repetition of our present crisis at some later date. Arbitration is not a substitute for collective bargaining. We prefer collective bargaining to arbitration. We have constantly requested that the companies negotiate. They have steadfastly refused.”

There is a law on the statute books known as the Wagner Act, which makes collective bargaining compulsory. However, industry abolishes the Wagner Act by deed before Congress does so by law, and broadly hints to workers who want to come out from between the millstones of low wages and high prices:

“We’ve got you both ways. We don’t care what you do. If you don’t strike, well, we’re sitting pretty with our profits and you can whistle for higher wages. If you do strike, we’re still sitting pretty because Congress is going to fix you.”

But the telephone workers weren’t scared. These so-called “backward” workers showed how labor should answer attempts at coercion and intimidation. Being public utility workers, they also refused to be browbeaten by the propaganda about “serving the public” – so that AT&T may pay the second largest dividends in the country. In spite of a background of company paternalism designed to make docile slaves of them, the telephone workers joined in militant union action challenging a great world monopoly and Congress, teaming up against them.

The pincer tactics of industry and government will not work. Labor will not accept the theory that life for workers consists in tightening their belts, notch after notch. The women on the picket lines conveyed this feeling by their stories to reporters.

A junior supervisor, working for five years, earning $41 a week, just manages “not to cash in my bonds” after tax, hospitalization and other deductions make the weekly living wage only three-fourths of the wage on the books.

A telephone operator, mother of four children, has to board out her 12-year-old boy and still a $32-a-week wage cannot provide for her other three children.

A woman whose husband was just discharged from the Army stated that her $32 hardly was enough to buy medicine and doctor’s care for her two oldest children who are asthmatic; and it takes $4 a week to take care of the youngest child so that this mother can go to work. “There are lots of things a woman likes in the house, things to make it easier. And there are nice clothes. That is why I am on strike,” declared this harrowed mother.

These women workers told why they would not be coerced or intimidated – not by the great monopoly that exploits them so roundly and not by the politicians in Congress who look after the interests of the AT&T.

Challenge Anti-Labor Law

Not only do the telephone workers defy the telephone system and Congress threatening to pass labor-crushing laws. The strikers have gone further. They have refused to recognize as binding the New Jersey law already on the books, by which the state government took over the struck telephone company to break the strike and compel arbitration. The union considers this law unconstitutional and fascistic, which it is. The workers have continued their strike. The New Jersey union leaders have allowed themselves to be arrested to make a test of this law which takes away from utility workers the elementary right to strike. And now the whole labor movement of the state is demonstrating its solidarity with the telephone workers and giving financial support.

Thus one step in the right direction leads to others. Striking in defiance of the Congressional threat to pass new anti-strike laws, the telephone workers have had to contest an EXISTING anti-strike law – and thereby in advance contest hostile laws that may be passed by Congress. The tactic of the industry-government squeeze has been declared ineffectual by the telephone workers’ action and by the solidarity aroused in the entire labor movement.

The steel workers whose contract expires April 30 and with whom the steel companies refuse to bargain in good faith, may soon follow the example of the telephone workers. The auto workers’ union, upon whom the industry-government squeeze is being used, has given the Chrysler Corporation a thirty-day strike notice. The electrical workers and all workers between the millstones of static wages and high prices will be affected by the example set by the correct action and excellent strike of the telephone workers.

Labor will not be coerced or intimidated.

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