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David Coolidge

With the Labor Unions – On the Picket Line

(19 August 1940)

From Labor Action, vol. 4 No. 19, 19 August 1940, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Union Witch Hunts Hurt Labor’s Cause

Many unions are falling into a very bad trap. We refer to their so-called fifth column hunts. Here we have the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees at its recent international convention in Quebec passing a resolution containing the following: “It is within the power and authority of our Brotherhood to determine whether or not the supporters and sympathizers of this savagery (fascism and Hitler’s blitzkrieg) should or should not be permitted to retain their membership in this Brotherhood.” And further: the grand lodge officers are instructed to meet with the officers of the railroads with which the union has contractual relations “for the purpose of working out an agreement under which employment on. such roads will not be provided for those found, after joint and careful investigation on the part of the Brotherhood and such managements, to be members or advocates of the Communist, Nazi or Fascist parties.”

We have already mentioned the witch hunt under way in a local of the SWOC in Jones and Laughlin Steel Co. in Pittsburgh. The same thing has occurred in the building service union in New York City. Other unions are swinging into line and soon if the trade union movement does not come to its senses there will be an orgy of reactionary activities instituted and carried on in the unions by the workers themselves.

The Maintenance of Way Employees said that they would not take a position on the war. they said nothing in their resolution about conscription, even peace-time conscription. But they did take a position on the war. Their resolution means that they took a position in support of the FBI, the employers and other anti-union groups. They even went so far as to demand that plans be worked out in league with the employers not to let people work who are dubbed communist, nazi or fascist by the employers and their officers.

Don’t the workers in the unions know that the employers, the Dies Committee and the FBI will brand every worker a communist, fascist or fifth columnist who fights against the boss for higher wages and better working conditions? Don’t they understand that the bosses will seize on this step they have taken to pound away at the Wagner Act, the Wages and Hours Act and all the gains that the workers have made? If they don’t understand this they are very simple minded indeed.

In their own protection, the only possible positions for unions to take is that there shall be no expulsions from the union except for anti-union activity. This means strike-breaking, violations of union discipline, being a boss stool-pigeon. No worker should be expelled from the union for his political beliefs and opinions. And above all, the boss should not be permitted to put his snout into the union’s affairs. His place is in the Chamber of Commerce and other boss organizations. The workers should approach the bosses for the purpose of bargaining for higher wages, not to seek his advice as to how to run their organizations.

Something for the Brotherhood to Think About

A situation has arisen on the railroads that illustrates one of the difficulties that beset Negro workers. Even those Negro workers who attempt to be supporters of the labor movement and good union men. The head of the Pullman Conductors organization and the Railway Labor Executives’ Association charge that A. Phillip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, “ran out on them.” The Association has been campaigning for the passage of a bill to require the Pullman Company to hire conductors on all-night runs instead of using “porters-in-charge.”

The Association claims that Randolph agreed with this at one time but later changed his mind and entered opposition to the bill, thus holding up passage of the bill through congress. We know nothing of the merits of this controversy, we intend to investigate this aspect of the case. We do know something however about the tremendous difficulty that Negroes have getting jobs. We also know that Negroes are confined to making up beds, shining shoes and carrying a tray on Pullman cars and day coaches. We know too that the railway unions aid and abet the employers in keeping Negro workers chained to the beds, the shoe shine brush and the waiters tray. We know that there are no Negroes in the brotherhoods and that the unions would oppose having Negroes in “their” ranks even if by some miracle one was employed by the railroads.

We remember how the Pullman porters got organized and their organization did not come about through the initiative of the railway unions. We remember very well the long hard struggle lead by Randolph which resulted in the formation of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. We submit all this for the aristocrats of railway labor to think about.

It’s Not a “Dog’s Life” for All Dogs!

Not only are the children of British nobility getting preference over the workers’ children in escaping from Hitler’s bombs but also the aristocrats of the dog, cat and horse world. Lady Mendl arrives from England by airplane. A few days later her dogs high step down the gang plank of a refugee ship in charge of her ladyship’s private secretary. The papers do not mention whether or not the dogs’ tutors and nurses arrived on the same ship. It is reported that after a few weeks rest at the estate of one of our most patriotic citizens the dogs, along with Lady Astor’s horses and Lord Percy’s cats will embark on the new liner America for a Caribbean cruise. The America will be remembered as the new United States Line ship with the most luxurious accommodations for the aristocrats of the dog society.

The Condemned Man Is Offered a Hearty Breakfast

The United Press announces that many employers “big and small are prepared to eliminate or soften the economic disadvantages which employees participating in National Guard training, or who might be called ordinarily, would suffer.” And what are these Good Samaritans planning to do? They are going to continue the wages of such employees while they are in the training camps. So far, the UP reports, this is the plan of Metropolitan Life, Standard Oil of New Jersey, Texas Co., Macy’s, A.T.&T., Westinghouse and others. Some of the corporations plan to give extra compensation above wages. Others will increase the vacation period for the defenders of hearth and home.

The workers who are employed by these corporations may think they have got something here. They have. They are going to get a few extra dollars for being willing to risk their lives to save the hides, the property, the wealth and privileges of the boss class. “We Who Are About To Die” are to be given a few extra days vacation before having our guts scattered over the battle fields of the Second World War.

The impudence and effrontery of the bosses is astounding. They are going to give “their” workers some “extra pay!” It is more astounding that workers swallow such tripe. The bosses give an employee getting $25 a week, $50 or $100 more. And for what reason? Because these workers have consented to go out and fight to protect the boss, his property and his profits. A few millions extra to the worker-soldiers for performing this service is a cheap price to pay. These worker-soldiers will protect all the past profits and all the profits to come as long as capitalism exists, as long as the workers permit it to exist.

We believe that the workers should learn to fight but they should fight in a workers’ army organized by a workers’ government to defend itself against any capitalist-boss state and any boss class. No fighting in the bosses’ army and the bosses’ national guard.

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