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Dwight Macdonald

Sparks in the News

(17 February 1940)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. IV No. 7, 17 February 1940, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Magistrates and Labor Laws

Among the states, New York is especially noted for its progressive labor legislation. In 1886 the first law regulating hours of work of New York women employees was passed. In the fifty-three years since then, largely because of the pressure of the workers themselves, a structure of labor laws has been slowly built up – laws limiting the hours of work of women and minors, laws providing for sanitary inspections of factories, laws providing for medical care and insurance benefits, at the boss’s expense, in case of industrial disease and accidents.

The laws are fine – as far as they go, at least. But it appears that in New York City they are simply not enforced. The Consumers League of New York has issued a report entitled, The City Magistrates and the Labor Laws, which every trade union and labor organization should study. This covers all labor cases heard in the city’s Magistrates’ Courts over a period of three and a half years (January, 1934 through June, 1937).

Two out of every three of the employers who were brought into court charged with violation of the labor laws got off without any punishment whatsoever. The fines imposed on the remaining third averaged $18. “In economic terms,” the report notes; “this means that the profits accruing to violating employers were left virtually intact.”

Why did two-thirds of the employers get off without even a fine? Was it because they were found not guilty by the magistrate? No, most of them were found guilty as charged. But they paid no fine because they were let off with suspended sentences. One magistrate found guilty 46 employers in one session. He fined one of these $20, two $10, three $5, and he let the remaining 40 off scot free with suspended sentences.

These are the same magistrates whose high salaries and political corruption have been a scandal for years, the same dispensers of “justice” who daily hand out heavy fines and jail sentences to strikers, pickets and left-wing demonstrators. It is time the unions did something about the perversion of justice in the city’s Magistrates’ Courts.

The First Step

As this is written, the War Deal’s campaign to lend Federal funds to “poor little Finland” (what about “poor little WPA”, now suffering aggression without any Mannerheim Line to fall back on ?) seems to be on the verge of success in Congress. The liberal-isolationist bloc is meeting this first real test by – joining the energy and whooping it up for war loans to Finland.

What is behind Roosevelt’s Poor-Little-Finland line is bluntly expressed in the Kiplinger Washington News Letter for January 27:

“Pressure for credits to Allies is increasing. Congress is sour on such credits now, but many sophisticated Congressmen privately admit that the move to expand Export-Import Bank and lend to Finland is a step towards some sort of financial aid to the Allies at some later period.”

Poor Little Finland today means Poor Little British Empire tomorrow.

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