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David Coolidge

With the Labor Unions – On the Picket Line

(5 May 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 18, 5 May 1941, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

What Does the UAW Mean by “Non-Defense”?

The General Motors strike, which had been voted by the United Automobile Workers (CIO), has been postponed at the “request” of the National Defense Mediation Board. Union and GM representatives .are “requested” by the board to appear at a hearing on May 2. The board further requested that the company and the union in the meantime attempt to settle their differences and that it be understood that any settlement arrived at be retroactive to April 28.

In deciding on the strike the union took a strange position. That is, the leaders of the union look a strange position. They decided that the strike would affect only “non-defense work,” The company replied that no distinction could be made between “defense” and ‘’non -defense” work. Of course the company is entirely correct in this and for various good reasons.

In the first place, the company, being a thoroughly class-conscious outfit, knows that the United States is preparing not for defense but for war: for active and aggressive participation in the present Second World Imperialist War. “Defense” to General Motors and to all of the ruling class means something entirely different than to the workers. Defense to the ruling class means waging aggressive war against Germany and Japan for the protection of profits, their class position and their power. Defense to GM, Ford, Bethlehem and all the ruling class means to be in a position to strangle the working ciass and wreck the unions. The chief role of the Mediation Board is to aid the bosses in accomplishing this purpose.

In the second place, the owners of GM, being interested only in profits position and power, don’t, of course, make any basic distinction, between “defense” work and “non-defense” work profits. “Defense” to the bosses means only an opportunity to make bigger profits while the war is on and while the government is pouring billions of dollars into the plants of the ruling class.

Also, the bosses know that the whole plant equipment of industry is being organized for the production of war orders. They are aware that it will be technologically impossible to make any important distinction between “defense” work and “non-defense” work.

The very fact that the leaders of the UAW could make such a nonsensical statement as not to strike on “defense” work shows that somebody is getting scared. That somebody is the union leadership and the CIO leadership. They are getting scared of the militancy of the rank and file workers.

Suppose it were possible to separate defense from non-defense work. How would this serve the interests of the workers and the unions? How would such a strike be conducted? Would the workers making pleasure cars strike and picket, while the workers making tanks and aircraft engines remain at work? How would the defense workers win an increase in wages? By remaining at the machines and producing war equipment that is going to produce a large brand new crop of millionaires?

At the bottom of such a crazy proposal of course is the position of the union leaders that the workers should support the war, that it is a war for democracy, that it is a “workers” war. There should be no doubt in a single worker’s mind by now that this is a monstrous lie. It is no less a lie when uttered by Knudsen, Sloan or Grace than when told by Murray, Green or Hill man. In fact it is far worse for Murray, Green and Hillman to mislead the workers in this mariner. They are representatives of the working class, whereas Knudsen, Grace et al. are our enemies. We don’t expect the truth and leadership from our enemies but we certainly have the right to expect own leaders.

It is precisely on the so-called defense work that the GM strike should be called. Primarily because this is imperialist war work and the workers should be actively against the war. Secondly, because these are the orders that are producing the big profits for the bosses and the workers should strike for an ever-increasing share of this wealth which they alone are producing.

Less “Aid to Britain,” More Aid to Scrubwomen

James J. Bambrick, president of New York City Local 32B of the Building Service Employees International Union (AFL) has pleaded guilty to stealing $10,090 of union funds. This local was a part of the international which was headed by the racketeer Scalise, who is now in prison. Bambrick was a tool of Scalise and the $10,000 theft was part of the Scalise racketeering method of running this AFL international.

If Bill Green and the other big shots of the AFL had paid as much attention to protecting the low paid scrubwomen, janitors and other members of the union from gangsters and thieving officers as they did to “Aid to England” this disgraceful condition could not have existed.

Not even a good Baptist deacon like Bill Green can make us believe that the executive council of the AFL did not know that Scalise was a racketeer and gangster and what was going on in the Building Service International. We suppose that Scalise was very scrupulous in paying the per capita tax to Green and his buddies of the AFL executive council.

Keep on Eye on the Rising Cost of Living!

Workers will have to keep a close watch on the rise in the “cost of living.” Isidor Lubin, commissioner of labor statistics for the Labor Department, reports that the cost of food has increased 22½ per cent during the past year. Rent, clothing, fuel and furniture have also gone up. The wolves are out to get theirs. All the little and big retailers and wholesalers are ready to defend their country by gouging the working class housewife. Every patriotic landlord feels that every time the workers get a 10 per cent raise he should increase the rent at least 15 per cent. Every shyster of a wholesaler and every little retail crook of a corner grocer will add a few cents or a few dollars to the price of their tainted meat, their cold storage eggs, their aging butter and their shoddy clothing.

Roosevelt has set up the “Office of Price Administration” with Leon Henderson in charge to deal with consumer prices. Henderson and his OPA will be about as effective as a ten year old child in front of a mad bull. Business is out to make a killing. They will do it one way or another just as the aircraft manufacturers. They will tell THEIR government to take it or leave it just as Bethlehem did during the last war; just like Girdler and Ford.

The government didn’t make these bandits toe the mark. It was the organized workers through their unions. It was the mass strikes and picket lines. In the days of the NRA Ford told the government that he would run his business to suit himself. He didn’t tell the union that because the union had thousands of men and automobiles bumper to bumper at the factory gates.

Wholesalers and retailers are raising prices only because the workers have won an increase in wages. The workers alone can take care of this banditry and in only one way: by a demand for more wages. The cost of food rose 22½ per cent but workers’ wages went up only 5 per cent last year! The recent increase in wages in some industries reduces this difference somewhat but does not cover it entirely. Furthermore Lubin says that the rise in the cost of living is still increasing.

Working class housewives must get behind their husbands and insist that they join unions and be good union men. If the crooks persist in raising prices, then these same housewives must have more money to spend. This means that their husbands must have more wages. The only way they can get more wages is through the union. The only road for the union is to strike for higher wages.

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