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C. Thomas

Roosevelt Uses Executive Power
to Regiment the Labor Movement

(6 January 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 1, 6 January 1945, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

From its very inception, the scheme to draft labor for work in private industry was designed to prevent the Workers from defending their standard of living. The outbreak of war, the drafting of millions of young workers into the armed, forces; the boom in war production created a “tight” labor market. The natural drift of labor is to industries paying higher wages and providing better working conditions. Competition between employers in a tight labor market would inevitably mean higher wages and a more equitable distribution of the national income.

During “normal” periods, the employers depend upon a large reservoir of unemployed workers to keep wages down. During periods of war, the army of unemployed is absorbed in the military forces and expanded war production. The employing class then utilizes political means – its control over government – to prevent competition between individual employers which would increase wages and thus reduce the rate and mass of profit appropriated by the owners of industry.

The capitalist government, functioning as the executive arm of the employing class, seeks to establish a monopoly over hours, wages and conditions of employment. The government aims to eliminate “competition” between individual employers in the interests of the employing class as a whole. Thus workers are frozen to their jobs at frozen wages while the cost of living rises and profits soar. The employers’ share of the national income rises at the expense of labor. The result is a gradual lowering of labor’s standard of living.

But the workers do not “voluntarily” submit to the imposition of a lower standard of living. As prices and profits continue lo rise, real wages fall. Demands for wage increases become more persistent. Finding themselves stymied by Roosevelt’s wage-freeze and the no-strike policy of their own leadership, the workers try to solve their problem by shifting to industries working longer hours, paying higher wages and providing better working conditions. To prevent the workers from taking advantage of “competitive” wage rates in different industries, different geographical localities, etc., the government issues decrees imposing penalties on workers for leaving their jobs for other employment without “permission.”

Job-Freeze Penalties

Thus the job-freezing schemes of the Roosevelt administration aim to establish government control over the movement of labor, over wages, hours and working conditions. These schemes are enforced by compulsion upon workers for violating Roosevelt’s job-freezing executive orders. These penalties fall into several categories. Workers are punished by being deprived of employment, by imprisonment or by being drafted into the armed forces. An analysis of the development of the job-freeze under the Roosevelt administration shows how the government has been using its powers of compulsion on an ever-extended scale to chain workers to their jobs by executive decree.

Workers were first frozen to their jobs only in certain industries. In September 1942, a decree was issued freezing workers in the lumber and non-ferrous industries under penalty of drafting those who left their jobs without permission. The decree was then extended to cover certain geographical areas. The industrial city of Detroit was the first area in which 700,000 workers were frozen to their jobs. Later St. Paul and Minneapolis (175,000 workers) were included. When, in April 1943, the decree was applied to 27,000,000 industrial, agricultural and government workers, considered “essential” to the “war effort,” it became national in scope.

The job-freeze was enforced through the War Manpower Commission and the Selective Service system. For those falling within the draft age the penalty of being inducted proved an effective instrument of compulsion. For women, men beyond the draft age, 4-F’s, etc., the compulsion was economic. Employers in “essential” industries were given the right to penalize quitting workers by refusing to grant them certificates of availability without which they were debarred from taking other employment for sixty days.

Labor Conscription

Finding these penalties “inadequate” to regiment the entire working population the forced labor advocates began whooping it up for labor conscription. The first National Service Act was drawn up by Grenville Clark, Wall Street lawyer and behind-the-scenes manipulator of the political agents of Big Business. Clark’s labor draft plan was embodied in legislation submitted by Senator Austin in 1943. It provided for conscripting all adult males between the ages of 18–65 and women between 18–50 for work in private industry. The penalty for violators was imprisonment. In this way those workers who could not be coerced by the threat of being drafted would be subject to the threat of imprisonment. The bill died in the 1943 Congress and was not revived until Roosevelt came out for labor conscription legislation in his message to Congress in January 1944.

Senator Austin, co-author of the Austin-Wadsworth National Service Act, reintroduced his forced labor bill immediately following Roosevelt’s message. Spokesmen for the Roosevelt administration spearheaded by the brass-hats began a nationwide agitation for labor conscription. But the slave labor bill was so raw that the labor bureaucrats were compelled to speak out against it. The only section of the labor movement that endorsed it were the Stalinists. Despite powerful support from the capitalist press, radio, manufacturers’ associations, etc., the pressure of the people was strong enough to stem the reactionary drive for forced labor legislation.

Blocked in their legislative drive the forced labor advocated have since executed a series of flank attacks to attain their objective. All sorts of schemes were advanced to fix penalties on 4-F’s and men over draft age who “left their jobs without permission.” These schemes found a sympathetic ear in Roosevelt. Failing to accomplish his plan by legislation, Roosevelt used his tremendous war powers to strengthen the job-freeze shackles by executive decree and put over his program piecemeal.

Roosevelt’s Decrees

Thus Roosevelt issued a decree which went into effect July 1, 1944, placing all male workers over the age of 17 under the control of the Government’s United States Employment Service. Under the Roosevelt-McNutt “priority-referral” plan workers would be compelled to take jobs in industries and areas designated by the USES. Those who refused, said McNutt, would be “deprived of unemployment compensation benefits,” and wouldn’t be able to get a job without a certificate from the USES.

Again, in December 1944, following a frenzied campaign around fake “ammunition” and “manpower shortage,” Roosevelt issued another decree instructing Selective Service to induct all those within draft age who left their jobs without permission of their draft boards. Spokesmen for the administration have announced they are now planning to bring the 4-F’s and older men within Roosevelt’s recent “work or fight” decree.

As the resistance of the workers to the wage and job-freeze mounts, Roosevelt resorts more and more to methods of compulsion to hold the wage-freezing line. Rule by executive decree is substituted for legislative action in dealing blows against the labor movement. The wage freeze was imposed by executive decree. The job-freeze likewise. Roosevelt is consistently moving in the direction of regimenting and enslaving the working people through the use of his executive powers. And this conscious agent of capitalist reaction is touted as the foremost “friend of labor” by the treacherous labor lackeys who boast they reelected him to office!

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