From Fourth International, Vol.2 No.12, December 1942, pp.362-368.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
In his article, Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay, published in the of February 1941, Leon Trotsky shows that
“There is one common feature in the development, or more correctly the degeneration, of modern trade union organizations in the entire world: it is their drawing closely to and growing together with the state power.”
Trotsky further shows that unless the trade unions struggle militantly for their independence from government interference they will suffer the fate of the unions in the fascist countries. Furthermore, if the government succeeds in strangling the unions, the responsibility for the catastrophe will rest solely upon the labor bureaucrats who “do their level best in words and deeds to demonstrate to the ‘democratic’ state how reliable and indispensable they are in peace time and especially in time of war.”
The maritime industries in Great Britain and the United States provide a fertile field for study of this process.
During and after the First World War, the relationship of the maritime industry to British economy made it imperative for the ruling class of Great Britain to insure a docile personnel in the British merchant marine and a servile leadership in the unions; for the transportation system which interlocked the distant possessions and which was the key to Britain’s world strength likewise constituted the point most vulnerable to union pressure. In return for a check-off system through which the shipowners collected 90 per cent of the union dues, the bureaucrats heading the union demonstrated how “reliable and indispensable” they were to the state power. By accepting joint shipowner-union control of the hiring halls and by accepting the Continuous Discharge Book, which acts as a blacklist, they broke the militancy of the British seamen.
In the United States during the last war, contrary to England, most of the foreign trade was carried in foreign bottoms. There was no merchant marine to speak of. Wall Street possessed no large colonial empire as did London to give the merchant marine strategic importance. Nor did the American bourgeoisie as a whole feel it urgent to build a large merchant marine as auxiliary to the war fleet. The “isolationist” outlook, rooted in the exploitation of a rich internal market, had not yet conceded first place to the views of the “interventionists” who for some decades had looked forward to American domination of the world through construction of an invincible sea power. In that period, internal transportation, especially the railroads, had approximately the same relation to American economy that water-borne transportation had to British economy. Therefore it was the railroads that were taken over by the US government. It was the railway unions which suffered imposition of the machinery of collaboration, making it impossible for them to exercise any degree of independence to this day.
In the Second World War, however, American imperialism has taken as its aim the domination (and policing) of the entire world. Today the maritime industry bears the same strategic relationship in maintaining and extending the economic base of American imperialism that it bore for England in the last war. Hence it has become imperative to Wall Street to end the independent role of the maritime unions either indirectly by tying the trade union bureaucracy to the state apparatus, or, failing that, openly by attempting to smash the unions in a head-on assault.
It is true, of course, that the two methods can be combined. Every inch gained through the “appeasement” policy of the trade union bureaucrats places the government in a stronger position for the open collision. So long as the present relationship continues, the Administration naturally favors the velvet glove.
The most important device developed by the British ruling class in drawing the maritime unions into the stranglehold of the state power is the “labor-management-government” board. Prior to the outbreak of World War II, maritime unionists in this country had to rely more or less upon the experience of the British workers for their knowledge’ of the anti-union role played by this device. Upon entry into the war, however, the whole process of labor-management collaboration was greatly speeded up in the United States.
The trade union bureaucrats as a whole have vied with one another in demonstrating how “reliable and indispensable” they are in foisting this collaboration upon the workers. The Stalinists, however, occupy a special position. During the fatal honeymoon with Hitler which paved the way for the attack upon the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, they advanced the slogan, “The Yanks Are Not Coming,” and put up a measure of resistance to the anti-union drive for collaboration. With the attack, however, they switched over in line with Stalin’s foreign policy and today are among the loudest in the chorus for more and more labor-management committees and bigger and better labor-management-government boards.
Harry Bridges, who heads the CIO longshoremen of the West Coast and who has long been known as a wheel-horse of the Stalinists, advanced a “plan” after the switch in the Stalinist line, to establish a government board to assume direction and control of the maritime industry. The Stalinist propaganda machine hailed the “plan” as the work of a creative genius. A “labor-management-government” board was actually established under the “Bridges plan” as it has become known in the industry. Sufficient time has now elapsed to arrive at some conclusions concerning the workings of this board and its role in tightening the government vise upon the maritime unions.
In a speech to the Industrial Relations Section of the Commonwealth Club, April 8, 1942, at San Francisco, Harry Bridges declared:
“The International Longshoremen’s and “Warehousemen’s Union, a large part of which embraces the loading and discharging of practically all ships entering Pacific Coast ports, proposed to its employers and to the government a plan to have the entire longshore industry on the Pacific Coast operated exclusively under the control of a joint management-labor-government board. We devised the program, and, we pushed for its adoption.
“In proposing the establishment of such a board, the union agreed to set aside any and all provisions of its entire collective bargaining contract, if any such provisions or the contract in any way blocked an all-out war effort.” (Our emphasis.) To make clear that he fully recognized the extent of the concessions he proposed, Bridges added:
“It should be remembered that our collective bargaining agreement covering nearly all longshore work on the Pacific Coast, was the result of maritime and general strikes of 1934, and 1936-37, and represented all the gains of our union as a result of those struggles and many negotiations and arbitration procedures.” (Our emphasis.)
The Pacific Coast Maritime Industry Board was established in March 1942. F.P. Foisie, president of the Pacific Coast Waterfront Employers Association and a member of the Board, gave the following account of the character of the Board:
“The Board was set up by administrative order of Admiral Land, under authority of the President’s Executive Order which created the War Shipping Administration. Under this authority, all American owned shipping has been taken over by the Government. Shipping (shore and ship) is in a fair way to follow. “The members of the Board are appointed by and removed at the pleasure of the War Shipping Administration.
“Its authority, as well as appointment, derives from the Government. Because organized labor and organized employers are represented, It partakes of the nature of a tripartite war board. England leads the way for us in setting this pattern.” (Our emphasis.)
The Stalinists may trick the. workers into believing that the “Bridges plan” sprang full-blown from the brow of the Olympian ’Arry, but the bosses are entirely familiar with the origin of the idea and place the credit for “creative genius” where it belongs – with the British ruling class!
“The members of the Board are appointed by and removed at the pleasure of the War Shipping Administration.” What is the composition of this august body into whose hands such power is given ? At the time of the formation of the Maritime Industry Board, the War Shipping Administration was composed of a majority of $l-a-year men, who prior to their appointment occupied official positions in various shipping com-, panics. We quote from the April 24, 1942 issue of the West Coast Sailor which gives a partial list of the personnel of the WSA:
Admiral Land (Chairman); Wm. Radner, General Counsel (formerly counsel for the Matson Navigation Co.); J.E. Gushing, Pacific Coast representative (formerly president, American-Hawaiian S.S. Co.); A.R. Lintner, representing Seattle area (formerly manager, American Mail Lines); H. Robson, Director General (formerly executive vice-president, United Fruit Co.); Ralph Keating, Director of Allocations and Assignments (formerly United Fruit Co.); M.L. Wilcox, Director of Operations (formerly United Fruit Co.); B. Jennings, Director of Operations (formerly with the Oil Tanker Co.); D.S. Brierly, Director of Maintenance (Maritime Commission “career” man); Dan Ring, Director of Personnel (Maritime Commission “career” man); and Capt. H.L. McKay, Director of Forwarding (US Navy Retired).
(Since this list was compiled a number of changes have been made in the personnel, but the changes were insignificant, as one ex-shipowner was substituted for another.) The WSA then, an aggregation of shipowners and career men, “appoint and remove at their pleasure” the personnel of the Maritime Industry Board. However, in order to further the deception that the Board is an “impartial” body, the WSA appointed two representatives from the union, two from the Waterfront Employers, and an “impartial” chairman, Dean Wayne L. Morse of the University of Oregon. It was to foster the illusion of impartiality that Mr. Foisie remarked: “Because organized labor and organized employers are represented, it partakes of the nature of a tri-partite war board.” Or, a “labor-management-government” board.
When the order creating the Board was made public, Dean Wayne Morse made a speech in which he said: “I want, the country wants, the armed forces have the right to expect, a longshore speedup, and more speedup, and then some more.” Echoing this sentiment, Bridges declared “in this period the unions must be converted into instruments of the speedup.” Thus the function of the Board was clearly defined by the “Government” in the person of Morse, the “impartial” chairman, and by “Labor” in the person of Harry Bridges. As for thel shipowners they responded with a fervent “Amen!”
Has the Board fulfilled the function assigned to it by the “labor-management-government” spokesmen?
When the War Labor Board was established, Dean Wayne Morse was promoted to that Board as a representative of the “Public.” Professor Paul Eliel, who had previously functioned as assistant to Morse, took his place as chairman of the MIB. On June 10, 1942, approximately three months after the MIB was established, the Daily Commercial News (San Francisco) published a statement by Eliel which read in part:
“Longshore output in Pacific Coast docks, spurred on by rulings and findings of the Pacific Coast Maritime Industry Board, has increased at least 10 per cent in the last three months, Professor Paul Eliel, chairman of the board estimated last night. He described the estimate ‘as conservative’ and said much better showings were made in individual cases.”
In an editorial in the Pacific Shipper for July 6, 1942, the following comment appeared:
“Since Pearl Harbor, the Pacific Coast longshoremen have increased loading and discharging speed and efficiency on an average of between 10 and 15 per cent, while records have been set in the handling of individual ships. Considerable responsibility for this increase has been due to the function of the Pacific Coast Maritime Labor Board under the direction of Paul Eliel, professor of economics from Stanford University.”
As both the sources quoted represent the shipowners’ viewpoint, the estimates must be considered conservative. An increase in longshore output means a quicker turn around, less time in port for the ship, and a corresponding increase in profit. The shipowners were all for it!
But it is a peculiar thing about bosses, that war or no war, their appetite for profits is hard to satisfy. On July 13, 1942, just one week after the Pacific Shipper had annnounced an increase in longshore output of between 10 and 15 per cent, Mr. F.P. Foisie, president of the Waterfront Employers Association, made a speech to the Industrial Relations Section of the Commonwealth Club, San Francisco, in which he discussed the Maritime Industry Board, its accomplishments and failures. After grudgingly crediting the MIB with speeding up the longshoremen by setting aside provisions of the agreement which presumably “interfered with the war effort,” Mr. Foisie added:
“The bald fact is that the notorious inefficiency of cargo handling in our Pacific Coast ports continues almost unabated. Recent betterments are slight and spotty. Efficiency lost during the past seven years has not been restored. That fact is common knowledge to all concerned.
“No adequate comparison is possible between the handling of commercial cargoes before the war and the war cargoes since. But the restrictive rules in the labor agreement limiting production remain in effect; and proposals to remove them are steadily opposed. The Board guarantees to restore any and all restrictive rules at the end of the war if the Union will abandon them for the duration. The responsibility for this refusal rests squarely on the Union leadership. The argument advanced is that the morale of the men will suffer.
“In addition to restrictive rules, restrictive practices which are fastened on the industry by job-action of the last eight years have also been continued in full vigor. These restrictive practices are evident on much if not most of the work and witnessed daily; feet still drag; loafing is widespread; leaving the job and the dock while on pay is common; early quitting and late starting Is general; use of unnecessary men; the list is long. The facts are evident.
“The longshore members must shoulder the responsibility for these restrictions on the outturn of work. Pay for work not done is hurtful of labor’s own long-range interests. Efforts of union officials to correct these conditions thus far have been futile. The habits are set and those union officials who attempt to impose penalties on their men (except for union offenses) run the risk of being crucified. This loss of control by the union over its wayward members is the result of past teachings of job-action and contract violation. The union seems incapable of disciplining its men and must either pass discipline to the joint control of union and management, or it will become the responsibility of the Maritime Industry Board itself.”
After gratuitously commenting that “A goodly share of the longshoremen, men of character and quality, do excellent work,” Foisie hastens to add,
“but they suffer a steady browbeating on the job from ne’er do wells, a relatively small group who raise all the hell, and make wretched the lives of everybody around them, on the job, in the dispatching hall, and at union meetings. Nothing but the restoration of discipline and discharge – wholly missing from this industry since 1934 – will do the least bit of good.” (Our emphasis.)
“There can be little doubt that reasonable efficiency can be restored and increased only when a measure of discipline is returned to the industry, restrictive practices abandoned, and restrictive rules set aside for the duration. That these will come I have no doubt, tout apparently they will not come until the war needs are brought home to us more vividly. This is the major chore for the Board to undertake, and the time is right.” (Our emphasis.)
For the spokesman of the shipowners, Paradise Lost is dated 1934 AD – Paradise Regained, a return to pre-1934 conditions on the Pacific Coast waterfront. Merely that, and nothing more! And that task Foisie assigns to the Maritime Industry Board when he says: “This is a major chore for the Board to undertake, and the time is right.”
Foisie’s speech received considerable attention in the local capitalist press which featured those sections of his address containing the gist of his complaints against the longshoremen. The response of the “impartial” chairman, Mr. Paul Eliel, was both prompt and immediate. The San Francisco News revealed:
“Mr. Eliel called into conference the other board members – Henry Schmidt and Cole Jackson, representing the ILWU; Mr. Foisie and Frank Gregory, representing the employers – to outline steps to correct conditions and to study disciplinary action. An agreement, he said, probably would be reached within a few days.”
Germain Bulcke, now president of the Longshore Local 1-10 San Francisco, was quoted in an interview with a newspaper reporter:
“Mr. Bulcke said in order to give more weight to penalties, it was decided that they would be imposed by the Maritime Industry Board instead of the union.”
The skids were being greased and the longshoremen were due to take another ride!
The ILWU, Local 1-10 publishes a mimeographed sheet which is called the Longshoremen’s Bulletin. A considerable section of the Bulletin of July 14 is devoted to a discussion of .the; provocative speech made by Foisie on July 13 at the Commonwealth Club. The Bulletin, edited by a Stalinist hack, presents a consistent Stalinist line on all questions. We quote:
Monday night’s meeting opened with the reading of a communication from Paul Eliel, Chairman of the Pacific Coast Maritime Industry Board ...
The communication stated in effect that a thorough discussion had been held with the Board and all Union) officers and that all hands agreed:
“That the time has now arrived where the Board can no longer rely on urging and education as a means of assuring that its orders are carried out. During the past weeks a considerable number of instances have been called to the attention of the Board indicating that some members, at least, of Local 1-10 have neither appreciated the seriousness of the present situation and the necessity of complying with the orders of this Board, nor have they properly assumed their obligations as American citizens.
“As a result, such members of the Local – undoubtedly a small minority – have continued to ignore the Board’s orders and have failed completely to carry out their part of the pledge made by the organization to let no obstacles stand in the way of increased production in ship loading.
“The Board further decided to inaugurate a system of recommending specific penalties in all instances in which the orders of the Board were being ignored or where longshoremen were failing to do their share in carrying out-your organization’s production program.”
In the same issue of the Bulletin, Henry Schmidt, a member of the Board representing the union, in commenting on the above communication, “stated that 99% of the members are behind the Maritime Board’s production plan, and that the small minority provides ammunition for the shipowners to attack the ILWU as a whole.”
What we have here is an American example of the technique employed in England to destroy the independence of the union by transferring the prerogatives of the union membership to the “labor-management-government” board! First the spokesman for the employers charges that, “those union officials who attempt to impose penalties on their men (except for union offenses) run the risk of being crucified,” and that “the union seems incapable of disciplining its men,” and must therefore surrender this right to the “joint control of union and management, or it will become the responsibility of the Maritime Industry Board itself.” (What touching concern the president of the Waterfront Employers Association displays for “those union officials” who “run the risk of being crucified” for disciplining the “wayward members” of the union!)
On the basis of Foisie’s charges a meeting of the Board is hastily called by the “impartial” chairman “to outline steps to correct conditions and to study disciplinary action.” After which a communication is dispatched to the union which “stated in effect that a thorough discussion had been held with the Board and all Union officers and that all hands agreed,” with the substance of Foisie’s contentions and proposals regarding the matter of discipline. It’s as simple as one, two, three!
The waterfront unions on the Pacific Coast that emerged out of the great strike struggles of 1934 and 1936-37 succeeded in establishing a strong tradition of internal democracy. That tradition still prevails. Never before have they experienced the slightest difficulty in disciplining a minority of their own membership in carrying out a policy that was voluntarily adopted by the majority. Now, we are asked to believe that the longshoremen have suddenly lost their ability to impose discipline upon a “small minority” which Schmidt estimates as being 1 per cent of the membership! How is that possible? The answer is – it isn’t possible; the charge is nothing but a vile slander against the longshoremen.
The campaign to remove the power of the union membership to discipline its own “wayward members” is nothing but a confession that the majority of the members of the Longshoremen’s Union do not support the instrument of collaboration with the bosses known as the “labor-management-government” board. Therefore, they are not inclined to “discipline” those members who violate the decisions of the Board. It thus becomes necessary for the Stalinist leadership, the employers, and the “impartial” chairman to usurp the right of the union to discipline its own members, and place that power in the hands of the Board, for the “protection” of the union officials and, incidentally – of the profits and privileges of the shipowners!
About a week after Foisie had made his speech to the Industrial Relations Section of the Commonwealth Club, Professor Eliel appeared as guest speaker and while he did not refer directly to Foisie’s remarks, it was generally understood that his address was in the nature of a reply to Foisie. His speech was a mixture of defense and apology: “The Board cannot in four months recast the entire structure of industrial relations in Pacific Coast ports which has developed over more than 20 years of struggle and conflict.” Just give the Professor time!
On the matter of “discipline” he informed his audience that already the Board “has obtained union acceptance of limitations on authority of (union) gang stewards,” and added: “The restoration of authority to employers is essential.” The latter statement has a familiar ring! Foisie in his speech had insisted that:
“Nothing but the restoration of discipline and discharge – wholly missing from this industry since 1934 – will do the least bit of good.”
Eliel assured his listeners that the Board had already recorded some achievements in the direction of “restoring the authority of the employers” which he, together with Foisie, regarded as “essential!” After all, the Professor does owe his appointment to the War Shipping Administration which has the authority to “appoint or remove” members of the Maritime Industry Board. The War Shipping Administration is composed in its majority of $l-a-year shipowners. “Whose bread I eat, his song I sing!”
The Industrial Relations Section of the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco as a “luncheon club” provides a convenient sounding board for employers, labor fakers, impartial arbitrators, etc. Closely following on the heels of Mr. Eliel, Roger D. Lapham, formerly head of the American-Hawaiian Steamship Co. and now a representative of the employers on the War Labor Board, and Dean Wayne Morse, formerly “impartial” chairman of the Maritime Industry Board and now representing the “public” on the WLB, appeared as guest speakers. Mr. Lapham inveighed against: “Labor leaders (who) must learn that their high, wide and fancy decade is over,” and “Labor leaders (who) still demand privileges and favors because they have given up the right to strike.” Mr. Morse flayed the unions with the following:
“If union and Government agencies cannot settle jurisdiction disputes or if their orders are not carried out, legislation, or even treason proceedings may be instituted to insure that war production continues.” (Our emphasis.)
Following these two examples of government “paternalism” toward the workers, the editor of the Daily Commercial News delivered a broadside demanding that “restrictive working rules and practices must go!”
The Daily Commercial News is the same paper which on June 10 printed a laudatory report on the increase of ten per cent in longshore output. Now, on August 3, following the line laid down by Foisie, the paper published a frontpage editorial demanding the elimination of “restrictive rules and practices” in the longshore agreement. Among the specific “restrictions” mentioned in the editorial was this one:
“Pacific Coast Longshoremen, still working a straight-time six hour day, have placed limitations on the amount of cargo that can be handled in a sling load.”
An accompanying article protested that
“... the present six-hour day in the Pacific Coast longshore industry, granted during the depression for the purpose of spreading the work, means that out of every 24 hours of work time, longshoremen are eligible for 18 hours of overtime.”
It must be pointed out here, that the limitations on the hours worked had been eliminated by the Board. What is involved in the six-hour day is not a restriction on production but a “restriction” on the profits of the employer, who had to pay overtime after six hours. The Board hasn’t gotten around to dealing with the six-hour day yet, but as the Professor indicated – give ‘em time!
Actually, what is involved in the campaign against “restrictive rules and practices” is an attack upon the whole union agreement and the union which enforces it. A union contract, or agreement, by its very nature is “restrictive”! It “restricts” the right of the employer to inflict his will upon the worker without check or restraint. The union is the instrument through which the terms of the union agreement are enforced. A union agreement from which the “restrictive rules and practices” had been removed would change the union into a “company” union. And that is, as Mr. Foisie points out, a “major chore for the Board to undertake.”
How are the longshoremen led against their will into the swamp of collaboration? Here deception plays an important role. Illusions are deliberately fostered by the ruling class, their lackeys and labor lieutenants, to keep the workers in subjection. One of these illusions is that the power of the Government – with a capital G – is all pervading and cannot be successfully challenged. Another is that the government (which, as Karl Marx proved, functions as the executive committee of the ruling class) stands above the contending class forces in society. For example, the Maritime Industry Board is embellished and bedizened with all the trappings of government authority. The “impartial” chairman, Professor Eliel, represents in his person the august might of the national government. The employers aren’t fooled by this pretense, but unfortunately, most of the workers are. Thus there is a noticeable difference in the attitude of the lackeys and labor fakers when they address the workers and when they speak to the bosses or their representatives in government office.
In the Longshoremen’s Bulletin of July 14, for example, Eliel is quoted as hoping “that the longshoremen will comply with orders of the Board” since he “doesn’t want to see the day when the Board will have to command longshoremen to obey.” One can scarcely imagine the Professor assuming such arrogance in addressing the shipowners! In the same issue of the Bulletin the “editor” who manages to display a rather perverted sense of humor under the pseudonym of “Snoose McGoose,” has the following comment to make:
“Snoose McGoose says: ‘Get in and do your stuff for Uncle Sam and your Alma Mater or the professor will start swinging the big stick – no fooling’.”
One can scarcely appreciate the irony of threatening the longshoremen with the Professor’s “big stick” unless he is familiar with the history of the violent struggle that gave birth to the maritime unions on the Pacific Coast: a struggle in which the maritime workers faced the guns, knives and tear gas shells of the hired gunmen of the shipowners, the cops of every port on the coast, and finally the California State Militia; a struggle which reached such a degree of intensity that the workers of the San Francisco Bay Area, both organized and unorganized, laid down their tools and mobilized in a general strike in support of the waterfront workers against the boss terror. It is the workers with this experience and this tradition that the Stalinist hack who edits the Bulletin has the gall to threaten with the Professor’s “big stick.” It is to these workers that the sanctified Professor has the arrogance to say he “doesn’t want to see the day when the Board will have to command longshoremen to obey.”
The Professor’s “big stick” is supposed to be symbolic of government authority. His is the “Voice” of Government! In the Bulletin of September 15, Bridges is quoted as saying:
“Under the Board set-up we have as much say-so as the employers. We must trust our representatives and back them up. If they by any means fail us we have the power to have them removed. They are working for you and the Government and are Government employees.”
Thus is the illusion fostered!
The union has two representatives, the employers two, and one – the chairman – is “impartial.” Therefore, says Bridges, “we have as much say-so as the employers.” On any issue, however, which might separate the two labor representatives from the two boss representatives, the “impartial” chairman exercises a decisive voice. A glance at the record of this chairman’s “impartiality” will reveal that the longshoremen are far from having “as much say-so as the employers.”
During the 1934 strike, Paul Eliel was a director of the Industrial Relations Section of the San Francisco Industrial Association. It was this association which organized the employers of San Francisco and set up a committee to assume full control of all strike-breaking activities. In his book, Waterfront and General Strikes, San Francisco, 1934, Eliel reveals that as “representative of the Industrial Association” he went to the Teamsters’ Union on June 8, the day after it passed a resolution refusing to handle “hot cargo” and threatened the officials that
“... their refusal to handle this freight would precipitate a crisis and necessitate the hauling of the freight by other means unless a settlement of the longshore difficulty could be effected” (p.45).
The teamsters refused to concede. Their support greatly strengthened the striking longshoremen. As Eliel explains:
“Had it not been for this stand of the Teamsters’ Union the strike of longshoremen would undoubtedly have collapsed within a week or ten days at most” (p.50).
The “crisis” which Eliel had threatened in his attempt to inveigle the Teamsters into breaking the longshore strike was precipitated by the Industrial Association on July 5, 1934, when it tried to open the port of San Francisco, using scab teamsters to haul the freight. Two strikers were killed and 109 injured in the resulting police attack. This “crisis” has become known as the “battle of Rincon Hill.”
Eliel’s strike-breaking activities as director of the Industrial Relations Section of the Industrial Association are not generally known, since he kept under cover and other individuals signed the statements issued to the public. Having failed to smash the unions by direct attack, Eliel has assumed the mantle of an “impartial” chairman and with a new sponsor, Harry Bridges, “brilliant” producer of the “Bridges plan” and with the Stalinists cast in a supporting role, is now playing a return engagement.
Another method used in compelling passive acquiescence in the decisions of the Board is a mixture of intimidation and fraud. It has become a practice for bureaucrats of all varieties in the labor movement to attempt to silence any opposition to their false policies by accusing them of “being against the war” or in case of a persistent opposition of being “agents of the Axis.” Too often, they are successful in silencing opposition merely by the utilization of this technique of intimidation. The Stalinists in the leadership of the longshoremen’s union use variations of this technique. For instance, in the September 16 issue of the Bulletin the editor lists three distinct types of opposition within the union against the Board:
“First, those who are afraid they are going to lose all their conditions and are not going to get them back. These fellows start whispering campaigns through selfish motives, making such cracks as – ‘why have a hiring hall now? what’s the use of paying dues? why, the Blue Book days are right around the corner.’
“Well, to these fellows we say – the Blue Book days are a thing of the past and all who, by insidious propaganda, spread this filth are (if they don’t know it) playing up the Axis alley.”
(The “Blue Book” referred to above was the name given to the Longshoremen’s Association of San Francisco and the Bay District, a company union formed by the shipowners during the 1919 stevedore strike in San Francisco. Many of the longshoremen were forced to belong to this company union in order to get work on the docks prior to 1934.)
“The second group we have to contend with is those who want to win the war providing George does it and that they don’t have to make any sacrifices.”
The editor then comments on this group in the following manner:
“If we all took this attitude it wouldn’t be long until we’d be eating sauerkraut with chopsticks and our work week would be from then on with no pay whatsoever.”
“A third group in America is the Jap and fascist sympathizers who want this country and the United Nations to lose this war – and they will do everything to aid the Nazi cause.
“These people we must smoke out – get them into the open and deal with them. They are not potential fifth columnists – they are saboteurs and every move they make is dangerous.”
Therefore, according to the Stalinist frame-up technique, any opposition to their policy of capitulation and surrender to a boss-controlled Board falls into one of these three categories.
Categories one and three, those who are accused of being either actual Axis agents or of objectively aiding the Axis by their opposition are given short shrift. The second category, those who “want to win the war” but “don’t want to make any sacrifices” are considered worthy of further “education.” What, you object to making “sacrifices”? Well, just listen to this:
“Recently in the Caribbean a tanker was torpedeed at midnight. The force of the explosion was so great that all provisions were blown out of the lifeboat. Only a half-filled water keg was salvaged and a whiskey glass of brackish water every twelve hours was all that was allowed each man for 24 days.
“A couple of fish hooks were found in the boat and the men cut flesh from their bodies to bait the hooks to catch fish which they ate raw.”
Nothing is too fantastic for a Stalinist hatchet man to use in trying to convince the longshoremen that in order to “win the war” it is necessary to give the shipowners their pound of flesh.
The following announcement appeared in the November 5 issue of The Victory Hook, official publication of the Maritime Industry Board:
“Walking bosses were given full authority this week to fire longshoremen whose conduct on the job helps Hitler and the Axis.
“The Coast Agreement still is in full force to protect workers from unfair discharge, but the walker can take immediate action in cases of Insubordination, drunkenness on the job, early quitting, leaving the job without providing replacement, walking off the job during the middle of the night, or similar offenses. He can also act against men who refuse to obey orders of the Pacific Coast Maritime Industry Board.
“With assent of union members, the Board instructed the walker to discharge offenders at once, or notify the gang boss to discharge the men.
“The name and brass number of, the man is to be given to the Board at once, and the man will not be dispatched from the hiring hall until he has appeared before the Labor Relations Committee.” (Our emphasis.)
Thus “passive acquiescence” in obeying orders of the Board proved to be a transitional stage to forced acquiescence. The Bridges leadership is proving in action how “reliable and indispensable” it is in the drive to smash the union hiring hall.
Thus it is evident that the “labor-management-government” representatives on the Board are experiencing some difficulty in getting the longshoremen to peacefully surrender the conditions gained through bitter struggle against the shipowners and their agents. In Foisie’s speech of July 13, we find an enlightening commentary on the reason for most of the difficulty:
“Industries which have a ‘history of long established union-management co-operation know there Is nothing to fear from Invasion of management by labor. Quite the contrary. The dividing line between the two tends to thin out. Where there la a background of conflict the soil Is not good out of which to grow full blown the flower of union-management co-operation; but the Board’s ‘cultivation’ is beginning to bear fruit.”
Foisie here testifies to a phenomenon that Marxist students of the labor movement have long observed: that it is extremely difficult to convince those workers whose organization was forged in the fires of the class struggle that there is an identity of interest between the employer and his wage-slave. The picket line does make poor soil “out of which to grow full blown the flower of union-management co-operation.” The longshoremen learned part of their lesson in 1934. They have no confidence in the shipowners whose thugs and gunmen they faced in the struggle to organize their union. They have little fear of the state government, whose militia they confronted in the same struggle, and less of the city government which flung its police force against the ranks of the striking maritime workers. All these they met and vanquished. Unfortunately they still entertain exaggerated illusions about the federal government, illusions diligently fostered by their own leadership. Whether they will permit these illusions to carry them as far as the British unions along the road of surrendering their independence and undermining and weakening their organization is yet to be determined. The last word has not yet been spoken – far from it! A sharpening of the class struggle, an upsurge in the labor movement will probably see the Pacific Coast longshoremen again occupying an advanced position – despite and against their present misleadership. No, the soil is not good and despite the “Board’s cultivation,” the tree is likely to bear a fruit that the shipowners will not find very palatable.
Last updated: 22.1.2006