From Labor Action, vol. 4 No. 25, 30 September 1940, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
Speaking at the convention of the International Association of Machinists, James A. Reynolds, who has been a dues paying member for 51 years, made the following remarks; “I remember in the old days when you did not stay at the Hollenden, boys, like you stay today, and when the international president traveled, he used to come in a caboose, and the local lodge had to pay his expenses.” We are not going to make any argument for President Brown of the machinists travelling to conventions on a freight train. Neither will we make too strenuous objection to unions picking out the swankiest hotel in town for their convention sessions. We do believe though that it would be better if the unions and union officers acted a little more like workers and workers organizations and less like business men and chambers of commerce in such matters as conventions, etc.
The time, years ago, that brother Reynolds was talking about was the days when the unions were fighting for recognition against the government and the bosses. Those were the days when the machinists, under the influence of Socialist members, recognized the reality of the class struggle and said so in the preamble to their union constitution. Those were the days before the coming of “business unionism,” huge salaries and the “stabilization of employer-employee relations.” All of the unions today would be better workers’ organizations if there were a little more of the “caboose” days and less Pullman car, swank hotel display. In the “caboose” days the union leader was one of the workers. He lived like an ordinary worker and took his chances along with the rest of the working class. A large dose of this same medicine is urgently needed today in the trade union movement.
The employer chiselers are still busy. Last week the Labor Department fined the Lane Cotton Mills of New Orleans, $42,000 for chiseling on the Walsh-Healy Act. $29,000 of the fine will go to employees for unpaid overtime. $13,000 will go to the government as a penalty for violation of child labor regulations. Also, the firm is barred from bidding on government orders for three years. This patriotic firm was working on army and navy uniforms.
Lumber mill owners in Virginia. Maryland and West Virginia have been ordered to pay $70,000 in back wages to 3,400 workers. 370 firms were violating the Wage-Hour Act.
The price of meat is rising all over the country. In Washington the retail cost of round steak increased 6 cents the pound since August 9. There has also been an increase in the price of pork and lamb. The National Defense Advisory Committee is “investigating.” We hope that they complete their “investigation” in time for us to get a good steak before New Years.
After passively voting Dan Tobin an increase in salary from $20,000 to $30,000 a year, the teamsters decided that this was enough for brother Tobin between now and the next convention in 1945. It seems, from reports, that Tobin was not satisfied with the $30,000 but wanted an increase in power commensurate with a $10,000 boost in pay.
The constitution committee proposed that the president be given power to compel locals to arbitrate under penalty of dissolution. The delegates stopped the reporter, Dave Beck, after ten minutes and sent the resolution back for redrafting.
The second Tobin proposal to be defeated was one giving him supervision over strikes and lockouts and granting him authority to declare any strike or lockout illegal if not in conformity with union law.
Thirdly the delegates refused to give Tobin power to approve or disapprove wage scales and by-laws of local unions. There was heated debate over these proposals with Tobin disclaiming any desire to be a dictator over the union. He said he only wanted the confidence of the membership. The convention agreed that the president should have the power to remove dishonest officials and appoint trustees in their places.
The delegates evidently thought that to give their president a monthly salary bigger than they get in a year’s hard labor, was enough without surrendering the right to control important phases of union life and activity. Even the most passive delegates knew that to give the president the right to force the locals to arbitrate, could cripple the local and put it at the mercy of the bosses.
The delegates evidently smelled a rat in these proposals. That one about strikes sounds as though it come straight from the White House or the National Defense Advisory Committee. The proposal for power to the president to disapprove or approve wage scales has the same tint.
The delegates were willing to grant Tobin a huge salary but they were not willing for him to take over complete control of the union. They were correct in this and demonstrated a healthy attitude among the membership towards trade union democracy.
Professor Slichter, of Harvard, has been giving some advice to the unions. He fears that the government will be compelled to regulate union elections or qualifications of union representatives unless “American workers and their leaders are able to prevent the Wagner Act from becoming abused by racketeers and foreign agents. The union may select a ... Scalise ... to represent it. The employer may be an airplane factory engaged in national defense and employees may select communists or other foreign agents as their representatives. Still the employer must deal with them ... according to the Labor Relations Board ...”
Now all this is just so much hooey. In the first place it isn’t “racketeers and foreign agents” that are abusing the Wagner Act. It’s the employers. The racketeer is concerned with the Wagner Act only in so far as it aids him in getting a bigger membership in the union so that he can collect a bigger rake-off. In order to do this, however, he must increase the union membership. Suppose the employer refuses to bargain collectively. The racketeer leader will appeal to the NLRB. But this is a legal NLRB case whether appealed by a racketeer or other type of leader. Suppose the racketeer threatens to call a strike. This has nothing to do with the Wagner Act. This Act was conceived for the purpose of allaying strikes.
The same holds true for the “foreign agent” twaddle. Sure, a union may select a “foreign agent” as its representative. also the union might select a bosses agent or an FBI agent as its representative. How about this Professor Slichter? The unions today are passing resolutions and kicking “communists” out of the unions. They are also beginning slowly to move against racketeers.
We are of the opinion that Professor Slichter is not so much worried about “racketeers” and “foreign agents” in the unions as he is about the Wagner Act as such. There are a lot of people, including rich Harvard contributors who pay Professor Slichter’s salary, who would like to see the Wagner Act revoked. Furthermore, there are numerous union militants who will be labelled “foreign agents” and “Communists.”
The NLRB has issued a second unfair labor practices complaint against the Consolidated Edison Company of New York. This is the company where the workers thought they could do better with an “independent” union than with the AFL or CIO. They preferred to follow a couple of shysters and hungry lawyers, rather than remain in the real trade union movement. Of course, many of them didn’t know any better.
It is also a fact that the Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (AFL) and the Electrical, Radio and Machinery Workers (CIO) are partially responsible for the plight of the workers at Con-Edison. The Stalinist controlled UERMWA played around with the situation, in true Stalinist union-wrecking fashion. The IBEW got a contract from Con-Edison by very doubtful methods. There is every reason to believe that the AFL union got its contract from Con-Edison by too friendly relations with the company at the time when the company was trying to keep the CIO out. Later the workers at Con-Edison kicked both the AFL and CIO in the pants, held an election and voted for the “independent union.”
This of course was just what the company wanted: to get rid of the CIO and AFL. It’s far easier to skin a lone banana than one on a bunch. Recently the company has fired workers, refused to rehire others and refused to meet with the “independent” grievance committee. No one should be surprised at this. Con-Edison looks at the “independent” either as a company union or as an outfit too weak and inexperienced to do anything effective for the workers.
The cure for this situation is for the AFL or CIO to get busy at Con-Edison with a determined organizing campaign. Show the workers that something will be done, that the union will fight for them.
Last updated: 6.10.2012