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David Coolidge

It’s Higher Wages We Want – Not Long Hours

Does Roosevelt’s Letter to Knudsen Mean a Longer Working Day?

(12 May 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 19, 12 May 1941, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Roosevelt’s letter to Knudsen, demanding that industry go on a 168-hour seven-day week, failed to go into details on the hours of work. For instance, the letter didn’t say week or whether or not each shift will work seven days or 56 hours and be paid at the rate of time and a half for the additional 16 hours.

Roosevelt says that it is imperative to increase production. His proposal. along with that of the bosses, is to increase the work week. The impression to be gained from the letter to Knudsen is that he is only demanding that the plants be operated continuously for 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

At present, plants operating under the Wages and Hours Act are running 120 hours a week if they are operating on a three shift schedule. But, for one reason or another, many plants are not running on a three shift schedule.

The report of Walter Fuller to Knudsen also shows that thousands of small and medium sized plants are not working on “defense” orders. Of 14,077 plants that made returns, only 28 per cent were engaged in “defense” production; 4,539 were prepared and willing to take some of this business if they could get it, and 1,881 were willing to install the necessary machinery if they were assured they would get “defense” orders.

Of the plants that reported, 72 per cent were operating only one shift, and only 8 per cent were operating three shifts.

Over 3,000 plants reported that it production were stepped up to three shifts, an additional 205,664 workers would be required.

This investigation supplements one made by the army and navy which revealed that of 20,000 larger plants surveyed only 10,000 had received “defense” orders.

All of this demonstrates several significant things about the so-called “defense” program. In the first place, it is clear that if present plant capacity were operated three shifts on the present 40 hour week, an additional million workers at the very least could be employed. Next, it is clear that the big industries have hogged or been given preferment in the allocation of the war orders.

The Bosses’ Interests

It is not the 120-hour week that is holding up “defense.” Roosevelt must know this unless he is a plain ass. It is not the 120-hour week that is the “bottleneck.” How about aluminum and the little deal with German aluminum manufacturers that the Aluminum Co. is charged with? The Department of Justice has whispered that collusion between the Mellon aluminum trust and the German aluminum trust gives Germany an advantage over the U.S. Also the government is at present “investigating” the tool industry in the Middle West with the suspicion that some gentlemen are not exactly pure in practicing their “American way of life.”

Also, the OPM has found it necessary to look into the matter of hoarding by industry, especially the metal industries. The OPM calls this hoarding, the aim of which is to increase scarcity and force a price rise, “overbuying for unnecessary inventories.” Also the new restrictions are “to stop the building up of artificially large inventories. The OPM evidently doesn’t have much faith in the patriotism of its friends of the business world. Despite the fact that buyers and sellers of the specified metals must report their transactions, “the division of priorities is now working on plans for a field staff which will be able, very soon, to begin making audits and spot checks on inventories.” Seemingly the bosses don’t trust each other.

Whatever the bosses and the government do between and among themselves to prosecute their war is no special concern of the working class. On all matters relating solely to themselves they can operate as they damn please. They can sell to Germany or Japan. They can pile up their raw materials and supplies and gouge each other to their heart’s content. They can lie to their government and to each other. They can set their cops, spies and stoolpigeons on each other to find whether or not their laws are being violated. That’s their business.

Where OUR Interests Lie

But we have something to say about the3 hours we work and how much we are paid for that work. That’s where we come in on this “defense” business. We’re not looking for more work but more money.

We don’t want longer hours, but a higher hourly rate of pay and shorter hours. If we don’t want to be turned into pack mules somewhere down the road, then we must watch Roosevelt and the bosses in their efforts to increase the work week. A seven day 168 hour week isn’t necessary. There has to be time to repair, clean and oil machinery. Furthermore the workers must have and. demand time off for rest, recreation and educational pursuits. Why should these be a monopoly of the bosses?

We Propose:





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