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David Coolidge

With the Labor Unions – On the Picket Line

(5 August 1940)

From Labor Action, Vol. 4 No. 17, 5 August 1940, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

What Price “Independence”?

Some time back the Independent Brotherhood of Consolidated Edison Employees, an independent union of workers in New York’s vast gas and electric system, won an NLRB election over the CIO. Previously thousands of these workers had withdrawn from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, forcing this union to get out of the plants of the company. The independent union won the right of sole representative of the 31,299 production and white-collar employees of Con-Edison. In the elections, the CIO received a total of around 10,000 votes. The independent got around 15,000 votes. The CIO’s Amalgamated Utility Workers contested the election claiming unfair procedure. The NLRB however, handed down a unanimous decision declaring the election O.K.

Now the independent is having trouble with the company. They say that a “serious gulf” exists between it and the company. The lawyer for the “union” says that they will not be “pushed around” by the company.

The real point in the dispute is the fact that the company does not now – and has no intention of doing so in the future – look upon the “independent” as a real independent union. Oscar Fogg, Con-Edison vice-chairman, says that the union included in its program many items that “would have the effect of a complete abdication by the responsible management.” Fogg rejected the union’s plea for a closed shop, for the establishment of a joint board to pass on promotions and other personnel questions. Fogg also said that the company would not enter into any agreement that did not provide assurance against strikes and stoppages during the life of the contract. In other words, the company told the workers that it would not recognize them if they attempted to act like a real union.

The “union” replied that their proposals were “just and fair,” that other employers in basic industries and public utilities had accepted “the stabilizing influence” of the closed shop. The “union” is very much surprised and hurt that the company’ has remained silent on their request for $5,000,000 for equalizing wage scales.

If it were not for the fact that this is a matter of supreme importance for the 30,000 workers of Con-Edison and for millions of other workers in the U.S. we would be inclined to smile at the simple-mindedness of these workers. To be sure, other employers have accepted the “stabilizing influence of the closed shop.” The mine owners for instance. But the miners have a real union, not a phony. Furthermore, the miners fought like hell, in strike after strike over a period of fifty years to get their closed shop. They didn’t get a closed shop in some one or several mines, breaking away from the international and setting up a so-called independent union. Neither did they get it by agreeing in advance that they would not strike.

We have the hunch that these workers were taken in. Taken in by a group of shysters who played on their dislike of the warfare between the AFL and CIO and the Stalinist influence in the CIO Amalgamated Utility Workers. They jumped out of real unions and into what is really a company union swamp. The only way out for them in the long run is back to the AFL or CIO.

The Best Chiseller Is a Patriot!

The American Pulpwood Association has pleaded “not guilty” to the indictment charging them with a conspiracy to violate the law requiring a minimum of 25 cents an hour for forest workers. This $300,000,000 industry was caught chiseling 9 cents an hour on the 25 cent starvation minimum. We said when we commented on this indictment before, that while the Association was discovered paying some workers as low as 19 cents an hour, we would bet an arm that if the truth came out it would be revealed that they were paying some lower than that. Now the truth is out. This gang of big chiselers, all loud mouth patriots, pay some workers as little as ten cents an hour; $4.20 for a 42 hour week. Now let them wave the flag, now let the eagle scream.

The pious and God-fearing native Americans who run the lumber industry have agreed to give the lumber workers $315,000 in back wages that they stole from them through violations of the wages and hours act. Col. Fleming, the administrator, said his bureau uncovered about 800 violations.

Two companies in Minnesota were fined $10,000 and ordered to pay $30,000 .in back wages to 700 employees. This is an average of nearly $43 for each employee; a month’s rent, or a month’s food.

These two chiselers, had children as young as 8 years working in their lumber camps and “others as young as 12 ... felled trees, loaded lumber and did other dangerous work.” Whole families worked and the family average for the summer was about $9.66 a week. OF COURSE THESE WORKERS HAVE NO UNION.

There are so many chiselers and cockroaches being unearthed these days that it is difficult to keep up with them. We will have to ask the editor for space to advertise them in. We want to point out to workers however that this word “chiseler” attained quite some prominence a few years ago in connection with the hungry unemployed who sought to supplement their starvation relief with a little part time work. These hungry men and women of course were not good citizens. Many of them were sent to jail. Workers should remember this and not be anxious to grab on to another invention of the ruling class: “fifth columnist.”

Some Miscellaneous Items

The notorious Burns Detective Agency; scab-herders, union busters and labor spies will keep its New York State license. The Workers Defense League sought to have it annulled on the ground that the agency was guilty of acts “inimical to labor.” The state Director of Licenses ruled that the license could not be revoked because the acts complained about were committed before the law making them illegal was passed. While this is probably good law, the Burns Agency remains what it has always been.


The appeal division of the New York Supreme Court has ruled that a union has the legal right through contracts to insist on employers buying their accessories from organized ships. Some accessory manufacturers sought an injunction forbidding such contracts. This means, we suppose, that a dress or suit manufacturer can be forced to buy his buttons from a union button factory; an aircraft union could demand that certain gadgets come from unionized plants.


The federal government has filed an income tax lien of $241,088 against Michael Carrozzo, leader of the Chicago Common Laborers Union. This is in addition to $500,000 that Carrozzo has paid the government for income taxes in recent years. Carrozzo is also under indictment charged with violating the anti-trust laws by excluding ready-mixed concrete from Chicago.

Now what we want to ask is, how come? How can the head of any union, any workers organization, pay $500,000 in income taxes. Where will the other $241,088 come from? Who are the big shots who helped Carrozzo pile up a fortune posing as a legitimate labor leader? The workers in this union have a big delousing job on their hands.


Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers Union in Utah has won a two year contract with increase in pay and a week’s vacation with pay. The union did not get a closed shop but becomes “the exclusive representative of all the employees ... who come under the jurisdiction of the union for the purpose of collective bargaining.”

The wage scale rises and falls with the price of copper, unless copper is under 9 cents a pound. $4.70 is minimum for underground and $4.20 for smelter workers. The rate increases to $7.15 for machine miners if the price of copper reaches 18¼ cents a pound.

Workers have to be careful about wage agreements of this kind. The New York Times Range of Prices for 1940 gives copper a high of 12¼ and a low of 10¼. July 27 was ten and three fourths. We do not know just what is meant by the “price of copper;” that is we do not know how the price is fixed and by whom. At any rate this is the wage scale for the miners, the smelter workers get 50 cents a shift less.

The wage scale agreed on gives machine miners $5.70 a day when the price of copper is 10 to 11.49 cents a pound. If however the price drops to 9.99 cents the miner only gets $5.45 a day, a reduction in wages of 25 cents a day or $5.00 for 20 days.

The trouble with such wage scales is that they have no relationship to the cost of living nor is the price of the company’s product the sole determiner of profit. Cost of living will not fall with the fall in the price of copper. Also, increase in profits is not directly proportional to increase in sales. This was recently demonstrated in the case of General Electric for the first half of this year. Net sales increased 31% over the same period last year, but earnings increased 59%. Earnings were 13.6% of sales while last year they were 11.1% of sales.

Workers must base their wage demands on their needs, on the profits and on the amount of wealth they are producing. They should not be modest about their needs, their standard of living. They should insist on living as well as the boss; they produce the wealth, not the boss.

These are simple things that every last worker can understand. They don’t have to know anything about the price of copper and other such things. Workers are concerned with the price of rent, food and clothing. They and their union leaders must not get sucked in by the bosses’ “experts”, with high falutin’ talk about prices, profit and loss, taxes and depreciation. Let the boss argue these points with the government “experts”.

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Last updated: 23.9.2012