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David Coolidge

With the Labor Unions – On the Picket Line

(11 November 1940)

From Labor Action, Vol. 4 No. 31, 11 November 1940, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Don’t Take Orders From The Bosses’ Stooge

Sidney Hillman, “labor representative on the National Defense Advisory Commission” is certainly making a most inglorious record as labor leader. There is a strike brewing at the Camden plant of the New York Shipbuilding Corporation. Local 1 of the Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers is conducting negotiations with the company for a new contract that will give higher wages and better working conditions. There was a deadlock and the matter went to Hillman.

This alleged representative of the workers, talking like Tom Girdler or a police chief, told reporters, “there will be no strike. You can take my word for that.” Hillman told the union’s leaders that a strike would not be “tolerated” because the shipyard has $500,000,000 in “defense” contracts.

Who is this Hillman anyhow and What does he think he is? The reporters and the bosses can take his word that there will be no strike. Hillman will protect the -interests of the shipyard owners. He will guarantee continuous production and profits.

To be sure it was Sidney Hillman getting off this big talk but he was only expressing the line of Knudsen, Stettinius and the other workers’ enemies on the War Preparations Commission. The shipyard and other workers need not and should not pay attention to Hillman. They should conduct their negotiations with the employers and if they cannot come to an agreement then they should strike. They should give absolutely no heed to this little stooge Hillman.

How About Doing Something About It, Mr. Woll?

Mr. Matthew Well of the AFL has discovered that there may be some danger in the Conscription Act. He made this discovery after the bill was signed by the president and after registration day. He is similar to a group of “reform” preachers who organize a “clean -government league” the day after some gang of ward heelers has won an election with their participation.

Woll fears that the country will become the victim of “militarism.” After the war, the demobilized soldiers may become a “menace.” “Labor as well as capital may lose much of its peacetime freedom.” “We have already cautioned against strikes against the government.” “This may be followed by a warning against strikes in plants engaged in defense production and transportation even though under private ownership and control.”

We share all of these fears with Mr. Woll except his solicitude for the loss of “peacetime freedom” by “capital.” Capital seems capable of taking care of itself very nicely. And even if the capitalists run into a few difficulties that is all right with us.

What we would like to discover is what is Mr. Woll doing about the danger that faces labor? As far as we can discover he is doing nothing. There have been all manner of attacks, open and under cover, against labor standards already. The place for Woll to begin is in the Executive Council of the AFL and not at a futile talkfest in the Rand School of Social Science.

Labor Would Like a Little of This “Help”

The government has just handed over $10,700,000 to the Boeing Airplane Company for plant expansion. The headline in the New York Times reads: “$10,700,000 given to help Boeing.” The Boeing company will construct new plants and the government will repay the costs over a period of five years. At the end of the five years the company will have the option to buy the plants at costs LESS DEPRECIATION or for some negotiated sum. If the company doesn’t want the plants the government will take them; presumably to be kept for use in the next war.

This kind of thing is going on all over with the government and big business. Big corporations get money from the government to build new plants as well as a guarantee of 10% to 15% in profits. At the end of five years the plants can be bought for cost less depreciation. This “less depreciation” clause is the catch. The hired and compliant accountants of big corporations can produce tremendous depreciation over a five year period. A ten million dollar plant can depreciate to around two million for purposes of making a settlement with the government. If the workers would only get wise, they would demand a little “help” in the form of a big increase in wages.

They’ll Be More Careful Next Time

The National Association of Manufacturers has been caught and exposed practicing anti-Semitism. A Jewish lawyer applied for a job in the legal department of the Association and was notified that the applicant “must be a gentile” to get the job. H.W. Prentis Jr., president of the Association, is very sorry and promises that it will not happen again. He resorts to the age old buck-passing: “this requirement has been imposed by a departmental assistant in violation of the association’s policy ...” The Association will guard against “any recurrence of this nature.” That is, they’ll be more careful the next time a Jew applies for a job. They’ll reply with regret that “the position has just been filled and your application will be kept on file.”

Leviton Workers Showed How to Do It

As a demonstration of what a well-organized militant strike will accomplish, we cite the case of the Leviton Manufacturing Company in Brooklyn, N.Y. This factory is owned by one of that breed of fakers that substitutes big contributions to community charities for decent wages and working conditions for their workers.

He gets his mug in the papers, a big name and the reputation of being a leading and philanthropic citizen. His heart literally bleeds for the poor and “underprivileged.” That is, for all the poor except those who create the wealth he gives to the Community Chest.

The strike was lead by Local 3. Independent Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (AFL). An NLRB vote was taken and with 93% of the eligible employees voting; 1,299 voted for the IBEW to 70 against.

Before the strike, the company refused to recognize the union, top increase wages or to improve working conditions. It was the strike that changed the mind of the shyster who owns the plant.

A Barbaric Practice Still in Use

In South Carolina, the state still permits sheriffs to appoint company deputies that are paid by the corporations. This practice has been discontinued in most northern states. It is an extremely barbaric practice and was rampant in Pennsylvania a few years back. Most workers have heard of the “coal and iron police” in western Pennsylvania coal and steel towns. These thugs who were paid by the coal and steel companies ran roughshod over the workers, even committing murder now and then. These “deputies” although they are officers of the “law” are responsible to nobody except the company that pays them. As a rule they are taken from the ranks of crooks, gunmen, sluggers, scabs, bandits and any anti-labor scum that can be bought off by the employers. The NLRB has just reported that two of these lice, employed by the Hamrick Textile Mills of Gaffney, S.C. “used their police powers to intimidate and coerce employees and to discourage membership in the Textile Workers Union.” Of course that’s what they were bought for.

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