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David Coolidge

With the Labor Unions – On the Picket Line

(2 December 1940)

From Labor Action, Vol. 4 No. 34, 2 December 1940, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Ousting the Racketeers Is Labor’s Job

The executive council of the American Federation of Labor has finally taken some sort of stand against racketeering in its affiliated unions. Not a very strong stand mind you, but an expression of opinion. An official attitude on racketeering and gangstering in the AFL was long overdue. The record of some AFL unions in the matter of clean unionism stinks all over the land. There have been beatings and intimidation and even murder of good honest trade unionists who would not bow to the demands of some gangster outfit or some gang of sluggers that was in the leadership of the union.

The initiative should and must be taken by organized labor. The AFL should repudiate the position taken by Bill Green at the graduation of the FBI police school. In this speech he called on the FBI and the police to aid in cleaning up the AFL unions. At that time we remarked that here was an invitation cut to order for Hoover’s snoopers and gunmen. They and all the other flatfeet would like nothing better than to get at the trade union movement for “cleaning” purposes. Give this outfit a little rope and even pious old Bill Green might have his private telephone tapped and might find himself facing one of Thurman Arnold’s anti-trust charges.

The Federation will call on its affiliated unions to oust all men with “criminal records” from official posts. The executive rejected the suggestion that the Federation be given power to act if the international unions failed to kick out its racketeers, or even its officers with “criminal records” The action of the executive council is too mild and is unsatisfactory. In the first place what do they mean by labor officials with “criminal records”? Criminal is a technical legal designation meaning those who have been convicted in a court of record. Would the AFL apply this title to a trade union leader who had been convicted in a capitalist court for educating a few scabs in the course of a strike? If such an official was convicted for “murder” after some scab had died from wounds received while trying to break a strike, such an official would be a criminal according to capitalist law. The workers however would not consider such a leader a criminal and they would be a thousand per cent correct.

The people for the AFL to turn the heat on is the real racketeers and gangsters who invest many of the unions in that organization. Green knows who they are and what unions they are operating in. Constant pressure from the AFL executive council will uproot them and send them back to the dives where they belong. That is all that is necessary; merciless and unremittent pressure and publicity from the top. Is the AFL leadership going to do this or are they going to wait on Arnold and the capitalist courts? (The above was written before the question came before the AFL convention. We will comment on this separately – Ed.)

$30 for 30 Hours Should Be the Demand

The workers of Vultee Aircraft Co. are on strike and the company is coming forward with the usual patriotic blah and the regular hokum about losing money. This company which, along with others, refused to go forward with making airplanes until the government agreed to allow them 12% profit, is now very much concerned about the “defense program”. The workers are awful, they are unpatriotic, they are fifth columnists. The company is spilling its fake tears of patriotic ballyhoo all over the lot.

And what are the Vultee workers asking for? A minimum wage of 65 cents an hour. Awful, isn’t it? To demand a minimum wage of $26 a week. Let the officers and directors of Vultee try this $26 a week wage. The union originally demanded a minimum of 75 cents an hour. They are fools. They should have increased the minimum not lowered it. The minimum should be not less than $1.00 an hour for a 30 hour week.

The workers throughout the war industries should demand the 30 hour week and the $30 minimum pay. This should be a national demand of the CIO. They can get it. Nobody could stop them if the workers stiffened up and closed ranks. The bosses know this. That is why they come forth with the sob stories about losing money and with their usual rotten and hypocritical patriotism.

Oh, for Those Gold-Plated Bath-Tubs

War profits keep on soaring. The profits of 28 steel companies increased 211% the first nine months this year over the same period last year. $54,606,254 last year; $169.919,408 this year. Steel workers are getting just about the same size handout this year they got last year. Despite that 211% increase in profits, Kenneth Austin writing in the New York Times has the gall and brass to say: “Owing to the heavier labor and tax costs now prevailing, and despite the lower fixed charges, the steel industry can not expect to show earning power approaching that ENJOYED in 1929 even though production in that year may be eclipsed.” Mr. Austin feels however that “the steel results are not discouraging.” “Enjoyed” is certainly a good word to use in connection with 1929 profits that went to the ruling class. 1929 and the years before was the period that Lundberg wrote about in America’s 60 Families. (Which book we assume he has repudiated on bended knee.) These were the years when the big shots were scrubbing the dirt from their hides in marble bath rooms and gold plated bath tubs; when little miss so-and-so had a weekly allowance for hats bigger than the annual income of a steel worker; the years when a child of the bosses could spend more in one week for toys than a steel worker could spend for clothing for his child in a year.

When we refer to 1929 we don’t mean that the bosses aren’t doing the same thing now. They are. Only now they are hiding it and no one has come forward yet to catalogue their “conspicuous waste” as was done in America’s 60 Families. Now the bosses are more careful to cover up their extravagance, their licentiousness and their unlimited appetite for estates, automobiles, yachts sables: all of which they satisfy from the sweat and toil of the working class.

Organized Pressure Will Crack Any Boss

The workers at the Midland plant of Crucible Steel have called their strike off and returned to work. The president of the SWOC local involved said the men voted “approximately 48 to 52 per cent” to resume work pending conferences with the company. The men wanted a wage increase of 12¼ cents an hour.

There is something strange creeping into strike strategy during these days of “national defense” and big profits. Workers with a host of real grievances nurse them for a year or more. Then they strike. Before they get satisfaction they return to work while their leaders play around with the company sharks. We remember the militant days of the unemployed movement before the Peoples Front and Dave Lasser got hold of it. The practice was to go to the relief station and put in your demands. If they didn’t come across you sat there. If they still refused you took the stooge in charge to the window and showed him or her a few hundred or thousand militant unemployed workers. If they were especially obstinate you invited the hundreds or thousands of unemployed workers inside. If there was flour or clothing in the warehouse that was not being distributed, we went in an organized manner, not boisterously or rudely, took the flour or clothing and distributed it to those who needed it. At times it was necessary to use a little pressure on the warehouse door but there are no doors that will not yield to the organized pressure of the workers. Some of these things could serve as excellent examples to the AFL and CIO workers.

Just a Little Present for Us Workers

Professor Millis who has just been appointed to the NLRB began his career in office by giving a little advice to the workers. Just a little hint that “when an emergency situation arises it is up to everyone to buckle down and work whatever hours are needed. However we may not come to that time here.” The professor thinks that 40 hours are enough for anyone to work, but you know, an “emergency” may arise. When that time comes the corporation president and the steel laborer; the chairman of the board and the coal miner; the chairman of the finance committee and the sewing machine girl should all be willing to “buckle down” and work 60 hours a week. Everyone must help. All must pull together: the $100,000 a year executive and the laborer with a sixty pound cast iron pipe on his back. Millis is the present handed the workers by “our” hero in the White House immediate[ly after being elected.]

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