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C. Thomas

Senate Bill Embodies Forced Labor Scheme

(17 March 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 11, 17 March 1945, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Senate last week adopted the Kilgore “labor service” bill, giving the War Manpower Commission statutory authority to enforce the compulsory labor regulations and controls now imposed by executive decree.

“Passage of the Senate measure,” reports the N.Y. Times, “came with a rush, a few hours after President Roosevelt, meeting with Congressional leaders, again had urged prompt action.”

The bill “legalizes” the forced-labor Allentown Plan which has met increasing opposition from labor’s ranks in those areas in which it has been applied. It is a “work-or-starve” substitute for the “work-or-jail” May-Bailey bill previously passed by the House. Widely touted as a “voluntary” manpower mobilization plan, the Senate bill employs the threat of starvation to force workers into jobs designated by the War Manpower Commission.

The compulsory features of the Kilgore bill are embodied in two provisions. One gives the WMC authority to establish employment ceilings under which employers could be required to release workers. The other compels workers to seek employment through the WMC-controlled U.S. Employment Service.

“Under the bill,” explained Senator Kilgore, “no man can get a job without a certificate issued by the U.S. Employment Service showing that he has honorably cleared his last job, it having been finished, or having good reason shown before an appeal board. No employer can employ him.”

When asked what would happen if workers released under a WMC employment ceiling refused to accept a job assignment, Kilgore replied: “If ceilings have been fixed, and they have been certified out of their jobs, they will have a difficult time making a living.” The Senate debate revealed that the real differences which divided the supporters of the Kilgore bill from the proponents of the May- Bailey measure was whether starvation or jail was a more effective method of labor compulsion. The workers were repeatedly referred to as “bums” and “loafers” who had to be driven to work by the whip of forced labor.

Plenty of Coercion

Kilgore exploded the fiction that his bill was a “voluntary” labor plan by insisting that it did not rely upon “mere voluntary cooperation.” “There is an abundance of sanctions contained in the bill,” he insisted, “which will be more effective upon the loafer than jail sentences! All that a man in jail can do is eat three meals a day.” Kilgore’s contention is that his hit-them-in-the-belly plan is a more effective means of coercion than the May-Bailey send-them-to-jail scheme.

These are the alternatives which Congress has been debating. They are embodied in the respective measures adopted by the House and Senate. Both bills now go to a joint conference where the congressmen will continue to bicker over the relative merits of jail versus starvation for workers who “violate” their forced labor laws.

Although expressing a preference for the May-Bailey bill, Roosevelt has indicated that the Kilgore measure would be acceptable. All he demands is speed. In his haste to get a forced labor law enacted before the military collapse of Germany, Roosevelt has intervened time and again to urge speed and more speed. “Prompt action is much more important,” he urged, “than perfecting of details.”

The drive for additional repressive legislation for use after the end of the war against Germany is an ominous threat to the labor movement. It is part of the “postwar” plan to smash the unions. With the termination of the imperialist war in Europe, the employers and their government are preparing to intensify their war against the American working class.

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