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David Coolidge

With the Labor Unions – On the Picket Line

(21 October 1940)

From Labor Action, Vol. 4 No. 28, 21 October 1940, p. 2
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Boss and Worker Mean Different Things by “Respectability”

Following the sentencing of the racketeer labor-faker, George Scalise, to Sing Sing for a minimum of ten years, the new president of the building service workers international, announced a clean-up in the union. The first step of President McFetridge was to suspend the officers of Local 32-A in New York. This local has jurisdiction in the hotel field. McFetridge asked Mayor La Guardia to appoint a “receiver” for the local. He also appointed an investigating committee to look into, the union’s affairs.

President McFetridge announced that it is his intention to establish “sound, democratic, well-directed, ethical unions ... every member’s rights must be recognized and protected ... we cannot effectively carry out our purposes, unless, we are a responsible, law-abiding organization with, self-respect and decency.” We subscribe to these sentiments. We believe that unions should be democratic institutions and that the rights of the membership should be recognized and protected. We believe that unions should conduct themselves with self-respect and decency. But in order to be clear on these things we make a few remarks. First, as a step in the direction of cleaning house in the international and establishing democracy was it necessary to ask Mayor La Guardia to intervene? La Guardia is not a trade unionist, is not part of the trade union movement. He is a boss class politician and office-holder and his interests are with the class which he represents. If it is necessary for Local 32-A to have a “receiver”, the appointment should be made by the International executive board of the union or by the Executive Council of the AFL. This is labor’s job and not the function of ruling class politicians.

Next we suggest that just because there are some racketeers in the unions many of whom have been caught and jailed by the capitalist courts/ this is no reason for union leaders to get the jitters and begin leaning over backwards to become “respectable.” What’s respectable to employers, government officials and numerous elements of the “public” might be some tame, non-militant outfit that was always ready to compromise with the bosses and never breathed a word about a picket line. Workers’ can’t afford to accept and practice this kind of respectability, and “decency.”

As members of the working class, unions, must establish their own code of “self-respect,” and “decency.” The working class has its own “morals” and “ethics” just as the ruling class has its “morals” and, “ethics.” What is decent for a trade union under certain conditions would be considered very indecent by the boss. When the boss runs scabs into a plant on strike under the protection of the police, the strikers consider it decent, ethical, responsible and self-respecting, to give the scabs some working-class education, even by the use of a little pressure. The bosses however consider such conduct very indecent, irresponsible and unethical.

Them are times, too, when the workers must establish their own legality. There are times when workers can not accept the bosses’ “law.” Workers’ organizations can not always remain passively “law-abiding.” If workers had always been “law-abiding” according to the terms, of ruling class law, there would be no trades unions in the world today. There would be no Wagner Act, no Wages and Hours Act, no Social Security. Wages would be far lower than now and hours would be much longer. Workers have made the gains they, have through the decades because they opposed the ruling class and fought every step of the way. Since nothing fundamental has changed in the relationship of the workers to the bosses, there is no reason for the workers to change from the procedure that has brought them, their victories.

“Energy and Devotion” – But for What Purpose?

Labor, official organ of 15 railway unions, has come to the defense of Sidney Hillman in the dispute going on. over the “informal” statement of the Attorney-General, to the effect that employers must abide by, decisions of the NLRB until those decisions are overruled by the courts. Speaking of the hearing before the notorious Smith Committee of the House, Labor said – “As a member of the Advisory Commission, he (Hillman) has served his country with exceptional energy and devotion. While Smith has been sniping at labor laws, Hillman has been building up national defense.”

We are always glad to see one labor leader come to the defense of another when one of them is attacked by the bosses or their stooges. We too will defend Hillman or any other labor leader against such attacks. But this doesn’t settle the matter.

The praise of Hillman by Labor is somewhat vague and unclear. Hillman “has served his country with exceptional energy and devotion.” What does this mean? As we have observed him, Hillman is serving Franklin D. Roosevelt, his presidential candidacy, and the bosses’ war preparations with “exceptional energy and devotion.” To us this is not the same thing as serving one’s country unless Labor means that the bosses and their government are the country. Labor, of course, being s working class paper does not hold to this view.

There are some workers in the U.S. and we hold that their interests are not being served by Hillman or any other labor man who is promoting the candidacy of Roosevelt or Willkie and their preparations to lead these workers into imperialist war. And that is what Hillman is doing, and he is doing this with “energy and devotion.”

Hillman said to the Smith Committee that his “first responsibility is to help carry out the defense program. I wouldn’t stay on the commission if I felt I impeded defense in any way.”

There’s the rob: Hillman is a leader of workers and he has no business on this alleged defense commission. His first responsibility, as a labor leader, in the present crisis is to be at the head of his union fighting for workers’ rights over against such fellows as Knudsen and Stettinius. If Roosevelt, Knudsen and Stettinius thought Hillman was this kind of person he would never have been appointed to the “Defense” Commission. On this commission he represents Roosevelt and the ruling class, not the working class.

All this came out very vividly when the big shots opened fire on Attorney-General Jackson and, Hillman. Both of them turned and began running like scared boys. Neither of them meant any harm. They had been misunderstood. Hillman agrees that the. workers should not be unreasonable, they must make concessions, nothing must be done to impede defense in any way.

It’s the old story: you can’t run with the hare and the hounds at the same time. You just can’t reconcile the interests of the workers and the interests of the bosses. Lots of labor leaders tried that and failed long before Hillman, Green, Tobin and Hutchinson.

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