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C. Thomas

Roosevelt, Brass Hats Speed
Forced Labor

(27 January 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 4, 27 January 1945, pp. 1 & 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Responding to the fervent appeals of the labor haters Roosevelt has renewed his demand for legislation conscripting workers for profit. He dispatched a message to the House Military Affairs Committee, urging immediate action on the May-Bailey Bill now before that body. Along with his statement, Roosevelt enclosed a message from the top ranking brass hats, Admiral King and General Marshall.

The Commander-in-Chief and his Chiefs of Staff threw their weight behind the vicious May-Bailey forced labor measure in an effort to head off the growing opposition to labor conscription. Upon receipt of Roosevelt’s communication, Chairman May of the Military Affairs Committee, co-author of the May-Bailey bill, abruptly terminated the hearings and announced: “We’ve discussed this matter long enough. It’s now time to act.”

However, resistance developed to this attempt to railroad the bill through committee and hearings were reopened for further testimony. The technique worked out by the forced labor advocates was to rush the measure through under cover of an emotional barrage laid down by Roosevelt’s “psychological warfare” division. This barrage reached a frenzied peak in the period following the military reversal in Europe.

Rumors were spread of the possibility of buzz-bomb attacks on east coast cities. Race tracks were shut down and conventions banned; travel and hotel rooms were rationed; rumors were circulated of wholesale shutdowns of all sports, gin mills, night clubs, etc.

“Psychological Warfare”

Editorials in the capitalist press shrieked about “our boys” dying because of a shortage of munitions. Hysterical accusations were hurled at workers charged with leaving their war jobs. The impression created was that the workers were retiring to Palm Beach and Miami to attend the races, loll on the warm sand, drink champagne and stroll along the boardwalk with a buxom blonde on each arm.

In commenting on “Washington’s psychological warfare,” the magazine Business Week remarks:

“Responsible officials discount – but do not deplore – such rumors. They regard them as ‘salutary speculation,’ which can be expected to hasten the transfer of workers from civilian to war industry and to create in the civilian mind a general receptivity to any further restrictions which may be necessary.”

No wonder Roosevelt and his henchmen decided that further open hearings on a slave labor act might prove embarrassing!

The arguments advanced by Roosevelt in support of a national service law were riddled to pieces. Testimony before the House Military Affairs Committee proved that there was neither a “munitions” nor a “manpower” shortage. The champions of slave labor were compelled to fall back on their only remaining argument: “The brass hats want it, and if they want it who are we to say no?”

In answering the contention that “workers can produce better under a voluntary program,” a representative of the Chief of Staff replied:

“The present system is itself coercive, but it is not impartial. All this (May-Bailey) bill asks is a legalization of what now is being done administratively, but more universally and hence in a more democratic way.”

It is true that Roosevelt has frozen workers to their jobs at frozen wages by executive decree. The argument is advanced that if the present system of coercion is made “universal” it would thereby become “democratic.”

To the mind of a brass hat, universal coercion and repression equals “democracy.” Therefore, they consider the system of Prussianizing American life under the domination of a military caste as the most “democratic” form of government. In plain language, what Roosevelt and his brass hats are demanding is the “legal” establishment of a military dictatorship. And they want to put it across before the people awaken to their real intentions.

Roosevelt’s Haste

This impatience was exhibited in Roosevelt’s letter to the Military Affairs Committee which stated: “While there may be some differences of opinion on the details of the (May-Bailey) bill, prompt action now is much more important in the war effort than the perfecting of details.” Among the “details” which Roosevelt considers so unimportant is one providing that anyone who leaves a job “without permission” shall be “subject on conviction to the penalties provided by the Selective Service Act, which run to $10,000 in fines and five years’ imprisonment” or both. This is just a minor “detail” to labor’s “friend” in the White House.

Committee members said, “they would apply corresponding provisions to those who are directed by their local boards to take essential jobs and fail to do so.” For quitting a job, or failing to take a job when directed to do so, a worker can be fined $10,000 or sent to jail for five years, under the provisions Of the May-Bailey bill. There is another provision prohibiting unions from enforcing closed shop contracts. Still another would bring strikers within the provisions of the measure. But Roosevelt brushes aside these savage penalties and unions wrecking provisions as petty “details” and demands that a forced labor bill be adopted forthwith.

With the exception of the strikebreaking Stalinists, all sections of the labor movement are on record against driving the workers to forced labor for the benefit of the profit-hungry bosses. The union bureaucrats have So far confined their opposition to purely verbal objections voiced by the top leaders. No serious attempt is being made to mobilize the many-millioned ranks of organized labor against the conspiracy to railroad a slave labor bill through Congress.

The union militants must take the lead in making the voice of labor heard in unalterable opposition to any and all forms of forced labor.

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