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Labor ’Scope

Industry Stand on ’49 Contract Demand
Poses Question for Labor

(11 July 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 28, 11 July 1949, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Contract negotiations for 1949 cover all the major industries. The companies are offering nothing with the reckless generosity of misers. The spotlight is on the auto and steel industries.

The Texile Workers Union has already abdicated its position in this round of bargaining by adopting a policy of asking for no wage increases, presumably because of growing unemployment and increasing competition for a narrowing market. The maritime unions, also faced with a shortage of jobs, will have to be satisfied with the $7.50 per month increase of their newly negotiated contracts.

The United Mine Workers Union has stepped out of the pacemaker’s place to wait and see. The “no contract-no work” tradition has been temporarily set aside. The union, however, has “unilaterally” decreed a three-day work week in the industry to prevent the accumulation of big piles of coal and to protect its position if it is compelled to strike. Naturally, this step has been denounced by the mine owners as an invasion of the sacred rights of free enterprise.

Capital Puts the Squeeze On

The demands of the big CIO unions are more far-reaching this year than last. The United Auto Workers, the Steel Workers Union and the United Packinghouse Workers Union (to cite examples) are demanding pensions, health and welfare benefits, and wage increases.

When this list was worked out, pins had not yet been stuck into the Fair Deal balloon. The labor leaders had only to hold on and rise with the warm winds of the 81st Congress. But only a puff of hot air came.

Disappointment. Taft-Hartley hangs over “collective bargaining.” The steel industry won’t even give Murray the courtesy of bargaining on social-security plans. The Chrysler Corporation refuses to dicker with even so responsible a labor “statesman” as Norman Matthews of the UAW. Ford is willing to accept only that which will cost the company nothing ... that is, nothing.

The international board of the United Packinghouse Workers Union warns:

“We face a hard, tough fight in our efforts to achieve this program ... The packinghouse companies can be expected to resist each and every item which demands any reduction in the profits of the corporations. Not only will the companies resist our forward-looking efforts to improve the conditions of the workers, but they may be expected to carry on and are already carrying on a counter-attack on our living and working standards.”

The speedup issue, so dramatically highlighted in the rank-and-file Ford strike, generally affects all labor. The packinghouse union for example reports: “One of the most important forms of this counter-attack is the growing speedup practised in the packing plants throughout the nation ... The fight of the Ford workers against speedup in their plant is identical with and part of the fight of the packinghouse workers against speedup in packing plants. These are struggles which will require the united resources of all labor.”

Consoling thought: but last year all the big companies turned down the demands of the unions, yet it was relatively easy for the UAW to turn the tide in the Chrysler strike of 1948 and in the settlement with General Motors.

What are the possibilities of a peaceable settlement in 1949, a little give-and-take in collective bargaining, one which more or less satisfies the labor movement with substantial concessions? To help answer this question let us give Senator Paul Douglas the floor (excerpt from a speech in the Senate):

“The truth of the matter is that up to November 1948 a large section of the employers in the country did not want to utilize the full provisions of the Taft-Hartley Law lest they frighten the workers of the country, They had won a great election in 1946 and they looked confidently upon the November election of 1948 as one which would return them to power by overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate, and send the governor of New York to the White House. They did not want to ‘stir the animals up’ before election. That was one reason why the full powers of the Taft-Hartley Law were not used prior to November 1948.”

The companies may well be willing to “stir up the animals” this time if necessary. The labor leadership does not want to scare off its timid friends in Congress. Big mass strikes would push Truman off his tightrope.

Dilemma of 1949: The labor movement can fight for its demands and dump its “liberal” friends in Congress; or it can reassure the “friends of labor” and dump its demands. Lines in the trade unions are going to be drawn on this choice.

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