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David Coolidge

Coolidge Sees War Boom Sharpening Class Conflict

(January 1931)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 2, 13 January 1941, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

So far on this trip I have been in four cities: Rochester, Buffalo. Cleveland and Akron. Each of these cities and the surrounding territory is humming with activity in connection with the preparation of the United States to participate in the war by rendering “all aid to Great Britain short of war.” This is the formula that most of the citizens of the Republic seem willing and ready to drug themselves with.

Plants are going up everywhere, huge plants, plants to make powder, gun sights, guns, airplanes, tanks, control apparatus of all kinds and for all sorts of machines used in modern technical warfare. There are plants for making machines that will make other machines; plants to make underwear so that the soldiers can be warm and keep a steady trigger finger. Soldiers can’t be allowed to shiver around in the face of the “fascist aggressor.” He might break through and destroy the “American Way of Life.”

Everywhere I go I find one paramount question being discussed and written about in the editorials and columns of the daily press. That question is LABOR. What are the workers going to do? Will they insist on the maintenance of the present work week? Will they keep up their disconcerting demands for higher wages? Will labor consent to “arbitration” and no strike clauses in new contracts?

While the bosses and their congressional friends discuss these questions and make their plans for lengthening the work week and reducing wages, the workers, especially those of the CIO, go right ahead with organizing campaigns of varying degrees of effectiveness and intensity.


Buffalo is an excellent example of this. In this city on Lake Erie, the aircraft industry is literally booming. Plants are expanding and the number of workers in each plant is increasing by the thousands. They are young militant workers. The drive is in charge of the United Automobile Workers (CIO). While I was in Buffalo a conference of UAW executive board members, regional directors and field organizers was held. Frank Snyder, president of district 11, said there were 50,000 potential automobile and aircraft workers in this area ready for unionization. Buffalo has been notorious as an open shop town and the drive, if carried out with energy and determination, should change Buffalo into a real union town. One thing is certain, the workers are ready to join the union. they are ready to carry on a real fight for higher wages. If there is any hitch, the trouble will be at the top and not in the ranks of automobile and aircraft workers.


Cleveland, that sprawling industrial city with a small town atmosphere, is also busily engaged in preparing for “national defense.” All sorts of articles are made in Cleveland useful in the crusade of “all aid to Great Britain short of war.” Most of Cleveland’s steel, textiles, automobiles, machine parts and tools will be at the service of the country as it goes forth to make the world safe for “democracy.”

The Cleveland Chamber of Commerce is rejoicing that “jobs here are within a hair of ’29 level.” The report says that 57 of the 100 firms surveyed, added 2,400 persons to their payrolls in December. This was the sixth consecutive month showing an “improvement” in employment.

The workers I talked to didn’t seem to be impressed much when I mentioned improvement in employment. There is still a great deal of unemployment, and along with other places, Cleveland can stand quite a boost in the wage rate. The Steel Workers Organizing Committee and the United Automobile Workers are a long way from any reasonable goal such as complete organization of the steel and automobile industries.

Cleveland businessmen and local college professors have been making “forecasts” for 1941. Russell Weisman, professor of economics at Western Reserve University and associate editor of the Plain Dealer, told the Rotary Club that 1941 will probably be one of small profits. Weisman said that present industry should be adapted to “defense” work instead of putting a lot of capital into expansion on a large scale. Weisman didn’t say why he thought that profits would be small in 1941 nor what he considers “small” profits.


Akron, the “Rubber Capital of the World,” was in quite a dither. (Akron’s transportation system is enough to put anybody in a dither. Buses are few and far between. Yet the city fathers have just granted the company a new 15 year franchise). The local Chamber of Commerce predicts a bumper year for Akron. The chamber gives one bit of advice however. This piece of advice is, “Pay Your Debts, Save Your Money.” They fear a “day of reckoning” that will follow the “boom.” The chamber might have mentioned the beaver and the bee that store food and supplies against the “day of reckoning.”

Akron had its New Year’s “forecasters” also. P.W. Litchfield, Chairman of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., was a little gloomy and sorrowful. (Goodyear profits for the first six months of 1940 were only 15% higher than for the same period in 1939). Litchfield said that “we” must make “the best possible use of every single minute that goes to make up the quarter year.” “We” must provide adequately for national “defense” and for England. “No consideration can be permitted to stand in the way of this objective.” John S. Knight, editor of the Akron Beacon-Journal, said that

“there is little reason for long-term optimism when one considers that the present so-called business boom is based almost entirely upon a false prosperity created by our stupendous rearmament program ... once we are finally armed to the teeth and circumstances dictate a forced peace in Europe, start looking for the storm cellars. The next deflationary Period in this country will make 1933 look like good times.”

Labor editors of Akron papers do not expect strikes of any consequence in the rubber industry this year. The Beacon-Journal commentator says that the absence of strikes’ will not be due to government or congressional action but to the maturing of bargaining procedure. Also the power of the government to rally public opinion against strikes will keep them at a minimum.

The year 1940 “was marred by only one major strike and one serious incident of violence” says Harold Leng of the Beacon-Journal. This was the strike at General Tire which lasted for 12 weeks. The case of violence was the bombing of three CIO construction jobs: One of the bombers was jailed and his brother and an AFL business agent were arrested and indicted by the grand jury.

The United Rubber Workers steadily increased its membership during 1940. The largest local, Goodrich, has 10,000 dues paying members. Goodrich has a new president. John House, who was president for seven years, was defeated for re-election. House had aroused a great deal of opposition in the rank and file. The defeat of House was evidence that unions can get rid of undesirable officials.

In Contrast

There is one important part of the population that I have not mentioned and will treat in a separate article. That is the Negro worker. This is a special and very acute problem and demands separate handling.

One thing I was impressed with everywhere, especially in the smaller cities. That was the spirit of going after the new business, getting “our” share of the federal money being handed out by the billions. Every chamber of commerce is on the job and in high glee. Except when these corporations face the probability of having to lay out some of the capital of their own corporations. They have the true Christmas spirit waiting to see what the government will place in their stockings.

Another thing that stands out everywhere is the shacks the workers live in. All of the industrial cities and towns look alike. A business center of tall buildings and elegant shops. Then the factory centers surrounded by scrap heaps, and the shacks and hovels of the workers. And of course the “heights,” the “drives” and the “roads” where the owners and the masters live.

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