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Ben Hall

Labor and the Fair Deal

They’re Worried about Protection Against Their “Friends”

(5 June 1950)

From Labor Action, Vol. 14 No. 23, 5 June 1950, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Gone are the days when the American Federation of Labor lobbyists, complaining that the CIO was the spoiled favorite of the government, demanded an end to “pampering” of its rival under the Wagner Act. The two mighty organizations draw closer together, opening up a prospect of labor unity despite the many obstacles of history, rivalries of personal prestige and power, hangovers of the industrial-versus-craft unionism struggle, relics of jurisdictional disputes.

No one can say with assurance whether renewed efforts to merge the CIO and AFL will be successful, but the trend is unmistakably toward greater unity, toward increased collaboration, toward mutual assistance in self-defense.

In its long and bitter strike, the independent United Mine Workers Union won the moral and material support of the whole labor movement. In the name of the Steel Workers Union, CIO President Philip Murray donated a $500,000 check to help the coal diggers; and UAW workers, at bench and machine, pooled their dollars and turned them over to their stewards to speed truck caravans of food and clothing into the mine areas. Later John L. Lewis dramatically called for a joint labor fighting fund of millions of dollars subscribed by all unions and administered by them regardless of affiliation.”

Sober Reckoning

These were not light-minded publicity gestures but serious, practical moves toward united action, how highlighted at the Steel Workers’ Atlantic City convention by the announcement of a pact between the United Auto Workers and United Steel Workers for mutual support in the fight for a guaranteed annual wage. This demand is how transformed from a pious declaration of hopes buried in paper platforms into a fighting issue of the class struggle to be inscribed on picket signs.

The mood of pre-negotiations is subdued and coldly reasoning. This is not the mutual amnesty, the forgetting and forgiving of old hostilities that comes from expanding optimism; it is not a good fellowship that arises in joint celebration of victories won and jubilation over the prospect of a speedy march forward. It is a sober drawing together in days of adversity; when the road ahead seems rocky and full of dangers; when everything already achieved can be defended and every new gain won only by massing all of labor’s strength for hard battle.

Southern industry was to fall in line with “enlightened” labor practices and join the ranks of organized labor; AFL and CIO organizers scrambled to stake claims over millions of open-shop workers only to discover abruptly that the claims of both hit up against a solid resistance which ripped the heart out of Operation Dixie.

Taft-Hartley remains. If anything, recent Supreme Court decisions have reinforced it and extended its significance. In announcing the majority decision upholding the law’s affidavit provisions, Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson declared: “Its manifest purpose was to bring within the terms of the statute only those persons whose beliefs strongly indicate a will to engage in political strikes and other forms of direct action, when, as officers, they direct union activities.”

They've Traveled Far

To impose penalties for actions which are themselves not illegal would in itself be an astounding injustice if we were not already inured to this type of legal magic by the attorney general’s “subversive list.” But by this decision, disabilities are heaped on union leaders not for actions but for “beliefs” which indicate a “will” toward acts.

And what kind of acts? Political strikes and direct action. “Anti-Communist” affidavits have traveled far!

Normal, orthodox union leaders must and do hold the weapon of “political strikes” in reserve.

The Mine Workers, on one occasion, protested the appointment of an unwanted director of mine safety by declaring a work holiday. On two occasions the UAW called upon its members to stop work for political demonstrations: once to demand the retention of price controls and then to demand the veto of the Taft-Hartley Law. “Direct action” is a vague and ambiguous term which applies readily to any strike, especially one fought out militantly on the picket line.

The Taft-Hartley Law in all its aspects, including its “anti-Communist” features, is clearly directed against normal, necessary functioning of aggressive unionism. Labor’s political-action directors may puff themselves with artificial enthusiasm as Election Day draws near, but everyone knows that no foreseeable reshuffling of old-party representatives in Congress is likely to win a speedy repeal.

Fair Deal Accepts Injunctions

And if miraculously it should be repealed, who expects its replacement by full collective bargaining free from overhanging threats of government-by-injunction? Truman Fair Dealism arrogates the right of injunction without law; labor leaders shut their eyes but cannot forget; for the simple public fact is that the principle of injunctions against mass strikes is accepted by Fair-Deal Democrats, Dixiecrats and Republicans alike.

In contrast to the rest of the labor movement under the Wagner Act, the railroad brotherhoods were hemmed in and tied down by the creaking machinery of the Railway Labor Act. But legislative evolution has so hedged unions with Taft-Hartley controls that rail labor now seems almost to enjoy uninhibited freedom by comparison. Proposals loom in Congress to make the brotherhoods also subject to injunctions and compulsory arbitration.

The union movement is powerful, more powerful than ever. But it feels the need to gather greater strength; to mobilize its forces, to stand in solidarity. But against whom and against what? An uneasiness, a distrust of the future, a lack of confidence, a suspicion that calm and easy days do not lie ahead—such is the background for the surge toward unity.

But do we not enjoy the benefits of Fair-Deal Democracy? Doesn’t the united political action of labor and “liberals” guarantee victory at the polls and days of sunshine? The mobilization of the labor movement and its preparations for aid to embattled sections which are in danger of being picked off and destroyed separately belie these hopes and paint a truer picture of tomorrow.

Truman Was Tested

The mine strike was followed by the Chrysler strike, which came as a surprise and shock to all, forcing the UAW into a 100-day exhausting walkout, a full-scale deployment of union forces to win those modest objectives which it had expected to gain in simple, formal bargaining sessions. Both strikes tested Truman.

The man who today whistles for support of his party at every railroad stop, played the cunning diplomat while miners and auto workers fought for simple rights; no thundering presidential defense of the common man, no stumping the platform against greed and monopoly. He carefully and diffidently weighed his every move, calculating not its effects on labor’s struggles but its impact on his political career, and on the unity and stability of his political machine.

Moves toward unity may be deceptively colored by tinges of Trumanite Fair Dealism; high on the agenda will be plans for ambitious electoral activity, a coordinated massing of labor’s full strength to elect a few more liberals, to gain that ever-elusive, never-attainable majority of real old-party “friends” of labor in Congress.

Fair-Weather Deal

While remaining convinced that they must hang on to Truman as the best available dubious ally, fearful of forming their own party, every thinking unionist, leader or rank and filer knows in his own mind: Here is a fair-weather friend. Which way he will bend in time of crisis, whom he will support if labor should be forced to fight with its back to the wall, is at least – uncertain.

Paradoxically, if the Fair Deal appeared to labor as a crusading, aggressive champion of the rights of the working people standing up to their enemies and unashamedly defending freedom and justice, then labor unity might have remained a political stepchild. But the Fair Deal is a different species of political animal. It appears to labor as week-kneed and vacillatory; it compromises with reaction within and without the Democratic Party; it substitutes diplomatic double-talk for a fighting progressive policy; it knows only one religion: Democratic machine control.

While standing firmly in the Fair-Deal Truman camp, the labor movement feels hollow spaces and pitfalls beneath its feet. At any dangerous moment the whole fragile framework might fall away.

And so the labor movement, girding for selfdefense, will begin with hymns of praise for Fair-Deal Democracy. But as each section goes into battle knowing that the rest of labor stands behind it, as each separate detachment gains self-confidence and becomes more demanding, the ties that bind labor to the Democratic Party wilf be subjected to new strains. In unifying against its enemies, labor in effect moves to protect itself against its “friends.”

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