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C. Thomas

Forced Labor Laws Endanger Unions

Roosevelt And Brass Hats Incite Union-Busting Drive

Alleged Manpower Shortage Used as Pretext
to Regiment Workers for Benefit of Bosses

(20 January 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 3, 20 January 1945, pp. 1 & 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The advocates of a forced labor law are trying to rush legislation through the House Military Affairs Committee before the widespread opposition to labor conscription can be mobilized against the measure. Top ranking spokesmen of the Roosevelt administration have appeared before the committee urging speedy enactment of a national service law. The N.Y. Times, authoritative spokesman for Wall Street, has been clamoring editorially for more speed.

The bulk of the capitalist press has been calling on Roosevelt for “leadership” in pushing the legislation through Congress. The ruling capitalist circles seek to take full advantage of the atmosphere of hysteria created following the recent military reversal in Europe in order to strike this new blow at labor. They fear that a sober analysis of the so-called “manpower” and “munitions” shortage, used as a pretext for demanding forced labor laws, will expose the labor draft ballyhoo as a fraud.

Proposed Penalties

Meanwhile, witnesses appearing before the Military Committee who favored a national service law differed over the type penalties to be imposed. Representatives of the Army and Navy, “wanted the penalties against those who refused to obtain or remain in essential war jobs to be civil ones (fines or imprisonment) rather than inductions into special Army or Navy service units.” Both the Army and Navy, their spokesmen said, “had all the special and limited service men they could use.” In opposing a conscripted “works corps,” Undersecretary of the Navy, Bard admitted “such a group would be a ‘landing place’ for strikers.” Members of the committee supporting the stand of the brass hats have drafted amendments providing for “civil prosecution, with penalties ranging to $10,000 in fines and up to five years’ imprisonment.”

Colonel Keesling, legislative representative of Selective Service and author of the May bill now before the House Military Affairs Committee, is spokesman for those who favor the establishment of “labor battalions.” A year ago he sponsored a bill advocating that 4-Fs and men over 38 “who left their jobs” be “inducted and assigned to such tasks as kitchen police, hospital work and fatigue duty.” This type of duty is customarily assigned to prisoners.

Now Keesling proposes that those inducted under his “law” and assigned to “workers battalions” should “receive uniforms sufficiently distinctive to remove confusion as to who was serving regularly and who was being punished.” Such uniforms would probably be adorned with a distinctive “P” painted on the back to denote “prisoner.” One Congressman referred to the Keesling proposal as “Keesling’s Koncentration Korps.”

The forced labor advocates are vying with each other in proposing the most savage penalties against the workers who ‘violate’ their compulsory labor laws. They differ only as to the kind and degree of punishment to be inflicted. They are having a field day in thinking up more brutal forms of exploitation.

Representative Lacarde, Louisiana, introduced a bill “to establish an Army Agricultural Corps,” which would “place thousands of farm and dairy workers in uniform.” “In my district,” said Lacarde, “had it not been for prisoner-of-war labor, we would never have been able to save the rice, sugar cane and other food crops; and this year this problem will be more acute than ever.” Therefore, Lacarde wants American workers drafted into a “corps” to supplement “prisoner-of-war” labor for the greater profit of Louisiana’s absentee landlords.

Anti-Labor Measures

Representative Russell of Texas introduced a measure to solve the “manpower shortage” by extending the standard work week from 40 to 48 hours, thus eliminating the payment of overtime after 40 hours. Representative J. Parnell Thomas wanted to be sure that a national service law contained a provision “for making strikers go back to work.”

Representative Colmer, Mississippi, submitted a bill to set up a labor corps.

“The Colmer corps,” comments PM, “as a component of the Army, could be marched into war plants, furnishing labor service for private contractors, or to any other jobs deemed related to the war effort.”

Members of the Military Affairs Committee insist that no one inducted under a national service law, “should be obliged to join a union,” no matter whether or not the plant is under union contract.

Without exception, every labor draft measure is a blow aimed at the heart of the labor movement. Lewis G. Hines, legislative representative of the AFL, who testified against the proposed forced labor legislation accused high administration officials of using psychological warfare to enslave labor. Referring to the campaign whipped up after the German breakthrough in Belgium, Hines declared, “This is the psychological time for this kind of legislation. You’re not kidding us. It’s the Army and Navy trying to take control.”

The Washington reporter for Justice, official organ of the AFL International Ladies Garment Workers Union, reached the same conclusion some time ago. He wrote: “They call it mobilization for total war. But it is also the scheme of military dictatorship,”

Union spokesmen have compiled abundant evidence that the. so-called manpower shortage is a fraud. According to the January report of the War Manpower Commission, of the 14 “critical” war industries in only one, foundries, is manpower given as a problem. (Foundry jobs are notoriously low-paid.) “Design changes, stepped-up programs and lack of facilities are given for the others.” In some lines plants have not yet left the blueprint stage. Others are just nearing completion. The estimate of a “shortage” of 300,000 is not based on present requirements but on future needs after additional plant facilities have been constructed.

The demand for a national service act, spearheaded by Roosevelt and his brass hats, has the aim of regimenting labor, shackling the unions, and Prussianizing American life. So far, the only group in the labor movement who have come out openly in support of a forced labor law are the Stalinists. They have joined the strikebreakers and union-busters in calling for the immediate adoption of labor conscription.

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