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Henry Judd

How Returned GIs Look at Unions

(1 April 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 12, 1 April 1946, p. 2-M.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Over half of America’s total in the combined armed forces have now been discharged, and men continue to pour out of the services. Many of these soldiers, sailors and marines have now gone back to work, either at their old or at new jobs. Despite the fact, announced by the Veterans’ Administration, that there are at present 2,500,000 unemployed veterans, it is still true that many millions of vets are back in the ranks of employed workers.

It is impossible, so quickly, to make any sweeping generalizations about the GI’s who have returned to the job. There are no definite or clear-cut ideas or trends sweeping the ranks of these millions of new workers. But certain things can be stated already. Having gone to work, since discharge, in a large auto assembly plant in Detroit – filled with returned GI veterans – my observations are strictly limited to what has been seen in this particular shop.

Learn in Shops

Most of the GI’s who return to work have no set or fast opinions about the labor movement and unions. It all depends on what happens to them within the shop. Although the army filled them up with anti-union propaganda, this can easily be dispelled especially since there is no longer any grounds for this type of propaganda; that is, the GI is no longer a soldier, but a veteran-worker and his viewpoint shifts. It all depends how he is handled within the shop, department or unit where he works.

When the union and his representatives approach him promptly, are friendly and helpful to him in getting readjusted to the monotony of factory work, explain what the score is and what gains the union has won for him (pay increases, job protection for veterans, better working conditions, cancellations of union initiation fees for veterans, etc.) – than the GI rapidly and swiftly becomes union-conscious and a good union man. Older, more experienced men in the shops play an important part in this, for they are the ones who, by the proper attitude, can quickly cancel out the GI’s prejudices and explain why he must be a good union man.

Many veterans are shocked, too, to learn the company’s attitude toward them. While it may hire him ahead of others, in preferential fashion, it treats the GI just the same as any other worker so far as speed-up attempts, general indifference to problems, etc., are concerned. Once in the shop, the veteran ceases to be a veteran so far as the extraction of work from him goes! He’s just the same as any other worker and, in fact, the company expects more from him, due to his youth and better physical condition. The GI soon learns that the pious phrases of praise for him from the big corporations have no meaning. Just another cog in that production wheel ...

The monotony and dullness of mass scale, divided up production weighs very heavily on the discharged veteran. Memories of Paris, Tokyo and Berlin, not to speak of battle and army life memories, contrast dimly with the routine of factory life and the 8-hours in which he must repeat his one assembly-line motion. For this reason, it isn’t strange to find a considerable turnover among GI’s in the shops. Many of them, for understandable reasons, can’t stand it. But the tendency will be for them to settle down into the routine, due to economic compulsion.

Will Be Pro-Union

The GI going back to work is anti-company and disillusioned. In many cases, he is also neutral on the union question, but will rapidly be pro-union provided the union is militant on the job, that its stewards and representatives carry on a fight against the speed-up and for contract enforcement. He often considers himself apart from the older workers, and the war workers, but the older plant workers are quite effective in breaking this down. Probably the real source of antagonism within the shop, and among the workers, lies between the veterans and those men who only have the war years, or less, to their credit so far as seniority is concerned.

The older men, with 10, 15 and 20 years in the shop are not worried. But those with 2 or 3 years only are worried about lay-offs, because they know that the veteran, with 3 or more years of army to his credit, may edge him out of the job when lay-offs come. This is a serious question, only answerable through the struggle for more employment and jobs, and a shorter working week.

But, on the whole, the GI returning to the production line can be counted upon to participate as a solid unionist in the great union struggles of the future.

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Last updated: 24 January 2019