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C. Thomas

Union Heads Back Forced Labor Plan

Support Vicious Substitute for May-Bailey Slave Bill

Join Employers to Urge Kilgore-Wagner Bill
Freezing Workers to Jobs at Frozen Wages

(24 February 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 8, 24 February 1945, pp. 1 & 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The capitalist press last week gleefully announced that all “organized” resistance to compulsory labor legislation had ended, with the endorsement of a “substitute” manpower bill by top union officials. The labor leaders ended their “resistance” by joining with the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in support of the employer’s “manpower program.” This substitute measure was offered by Senators Kilgore and Wagner in place of the May-Bailey slave labor bill, now before the Senate. It empowers the War Manpower commission to enforce the job-freezing, compulsory labor decrees, issued by Roosevelt over the past three years. If enacted into law, the Kilgore-Wagner bill would tighten and extend these drastic labor controls into the “post-war” period.

The Kilgore-Wagner “substitute” aims to put “teeth” in the existing manpower regulations by granting the WMC statutory authority to impose “legal” sanctions against the workers. The ‘teeth’ are sharpened to chew the labor movement to pieces. One of the sharpest of these “teeth” would “legalize WMC’s ruling that employers must do all their hiring through the United States Employment Service or other designated agencies.” This provision would give the capitalist government “legal” authority to grant or withhold employment, to move workers from one plant to another, from one area to another, or to keep them frozen to their jobs.

Roosevelt’s Actions

The Roosevelt administration has sought to concentrate this power in its hands for some time. On Dec. 5, 1942 Roosevelt issued an executive decree instructing the chairman of the War Manpower Commission to take all “lawful and appropriate” steps, “to assure that all hiring and recruitment of workers for jobs in any plants, facilities, occupation or areas designated by the chairman shall be conducted solely through the United States Employment Service or under arrangements be approves.” Under this decree WMC Chairman McNutt later issued an order effective July 1, 1944, instructing employers to “hire all male help” through the offices of the U.S. Employment Service.

Under the Roosevelt-McNutt “controlled referral” plan, workers who refused to accept jobs in plants and areas designated by the WMC would be unable to get jobs elsewhere. In addition, McNutt declared, they “might be deprived of unemployment compensation.” The “plan” was a “work-where-you’re-told-or-starve” measure. It was “denounced as illegal by Representative William J. Miller, Republican of Connecticut, who contended it invoked a national labor draft without Congressional sanction. ‘No wonder Mr. McNutt refused to ask for passage of a national service act,’ he said. ‘He does not need such a law if he can get away with present practices’.” (N.Y. Times, June 3, 1944).

James L. McDevitt, President of the Pennsylvania State Federation of Labor, also at that time denounced the Roosevelt-McNutt “plan” as a forced labor scheme. It “had everything that a labor draft called for,” he said. That is, “everything” except a legal cover. The Kilgore-Wagner “substitute” endorsed by the top officials of the AFL and CIO is designed to provide this legal cover. While the Roosevelt-McNutt plan applied only to male workers over 17 years of age, the Kilgore-Wagner bill covers both men and women in all age groups. In this respect it is more sweeping than the May-Bailey bill which applies only to male workers in the 18–45 age group.

The capitulation of the union leaders to the “labor program” of the employers was prepared in a series of secret conferences organized to work put a “compromise” to the pending May- Bailey bill. In an exclusive dispatch from Washington, published over a month ago on Jan. 11, a staff writer of the N.Y. Herald-Tribune reported:

“The collapse of organized resistance to a modified national service hill, with the condition, however, that the military shall not have the final say on the assignment of men to war jobs, will be announced soon as a result of an agreement reached with organized farm, labor and industry representatives, the N.Y. Herald-Tribune learned tonight.”

Secret Agreement

The agreement, “was reached in secret White House meetings,” under the “aegis of the recently created War Mobilisation and Reconversion Advisory Board. The Board is composed of representatives of business, agriculture and labor. The labor representatives are William Green, AFL, Philip Murray, CIO and T.C. Cashen, Railroad Brotherhood. The secret agreement provided that the administration of the proposed forced labor legislation be turned over to the War Manpower Commission instead of the Selective Service which is under direct control of the brass hats. It was presented to James F. Byrnes, Director of War Mobilization and Reconversion, who withdrew “his previous opposition to transferring the important assignment power from the military to the War Manpower Commission.”

The above reported “conference” was one of a number of secret meetings which has now resulted in the open support by “labor, agriculture and industry,” for the Kilgore-Wagner “modified” national service bill. An interesting sidelight on this behind- the-scenes betrayal of labor was Philip Murray’s statement to the Senate Military Affairs Committee, whining that Byrnes had double-crossed his “advisory hoard.”

“We respectfully submit,” said Murray, “that this Senate committee should inquire why the advisory committee was not consulted in advance of the presentation to a Congressional committee of the May-Bailey bill.”

This deal to endorse forced labor legislation was engineered behind the backs of the union membership. It was conceived behind closed doors and hidden from the eyes of the union membership until the labor bureaucrats sprung it in public. They neither consulted nor advised the rank and file. This incident again confirms the truth of our contention that. the struggle for the defense of the unions must be conducted against the bureaucracy for the restoration of internal union democracy.

This complete collapse of all resistance by the union officialdom to forced labor legislation has simply served to embolden reaction. Immediately following the labor bureaucrat’s endorsement of the Kilgore-Wagner bill, the brass hats announced the formation of forced labor battalions. From now on workers who quit their jobs “without permission” are to be inducted into a works corps and forced to work at army pay in government-owned munitions plants. The struggle of the workers against forced labor will have to be carried forward under the leadership of the union militants. There can be no compromise on this issue.

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