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David Coolidge

With the Labor Unions – On the Picket Line

(12 May 1941)

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

CIO Should Investigate Siboney Affair

The strange dispute between the National Maritime Union and the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association, which resulted in the NMU “breaking the MEBA strike” on the American Export liner Siboney, is an unfortunate affair. It is not possible to comment on the incident in detail for the reason that all of the facts are not available.

The MEBA called the strike on the Siboney which was supported by the NMU by refusal to pass through, toe MEBA picket line. The company presumably replaced the engineers with non-union men but the liner could not sail because the NMU refused to supply seamen. Later, the NMU withdrew its support of the strike, claiming, according to press reports, that the MEBA was unreasonable in its demands and that the strike was a one-man show. The NMU issued a statement claiming that E.P. Trainer, business manager of the MEBA local, had deceived the NMU on his demands and on other issues of the strike. The NMU also claimed that they were aiding a strike in which the engineers supposedly concerned were neither involved nor interested.

Joe Curran, president of the NMU and a vice-president of the CIO, then ordered the NMU men to sign up for the ship and collaborated with the ship’s owners in getting the Siboney ready to sail despite the MEBA picket line. The MEBA, which along with the NMU is a CIO affiliate, has demanded an investigation by the CIO and charges Curran with bringing about “the replacement of eight striking CIO engineers with company union strike-breakers.”

The CIO should investigate this affair and take a firm and clear position. There is something wrong somewhere. Both of these unions belong to the CIO. If the difference were of such a nature that Curran felt that it was not longer correct for the NMU to support the strike of the MEBA, he should have submitted the matter to Philip Murray before acting in the way he did. Then the top officers of the CIO could have rendered a decision and given instructions to the MEBA if it was found to be at fault.

Furthermore, we would be interested to know why Curran did not discover that the strike was a “one man show” before the NMU gave its support to these eight MEBA engineers. It seems to us that it would not be difficult for the president of the NMU, who is at the same time a vice-president of the CIO, to discover the issues involved in an eight-man strike on one ship.

If the MEBA is not a bona-fide union, then it has no place in the CIO. Curran, as an officer of the CIO, should have known something about this. Whatever the merits of the case, this incident doesn’t smell good. The CIO should investigate and establish the facts publicly. This is especially necessary since the MEBA announces a continuation of the strike against other Export Line ships.

Good and Bad in Bethlehem Contract

With much waving of “good will” banners by Mrs. Herrick of the New York NLRB, by John Green, president of the Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers and, of course, by Sidney Hillman, Bethlehem Steel Co. has signed its first contract with the CIO.

The contract covers 1,700 workers in the Hoboken shipyards of Bethlehem. While this contract is nothing to be especially jubilant over, it does mean a breaking down of Bethlehem’s union-busting policy. The company at least has signed a contract.

The present contract grants nothing much of a material sort. There is to be no closed shop. The company reserves the right to bargain with individual employees or groups of employees outside the union. Wage adjustments are left to the decisions of the Atlantic Coast Shipbuilding Stabilization Conference. The contract must not be construed as abridging “the exercise of the regular and customary functions of management.”

The union pledges that it will not “in any way threaten, intimidate or coerce or attempt to coerce any employee of the company for any purpose whatsoever.” The contract bans all strikes, sit-downs, slow-downs, boycotting, picketing, stoppage or curtailment of work or any other interference with or demonstration against the Hoboken yard on or off the premises. The contract calls for an “impartial” umpire in cases where differences can not be settled by the grievance committees.

J. Ullmer, company representative, thanked Mrs. Herrick for her part in bringing about the settlement and said that “we hope that we have been able to convince you that it is and has been the company’s policy to deal in good faith with the properly chosen and duly certified representatives of its employees, as was done in this case.” It may be necessary to remind readers that this man Ullmer is talking about the Bethlehem Steel Co.

One of the finest things about this contract is the provision for its termination on 20 days’ notice.

There is nothing incorrect about a union going step by step in dealing with such bandit outfits as Bethlehem Steel. The workers must realize, however, that they have taken only a small step. They haven’t won any “great victory,” as their officers will attempt to make it appear. The contract gives them a toe hold, and lays the basis for the fight for higher wages, for complete organization of Bethlehem and for better working conditions, including shorter hours.

Furthermore, the workers at Bethlehem should not be trapped by any the great contributions of Mrs. Herrick toward the “spirit of cooperation.” If Mrs. Herrick or any other NLRB official has so much influence with Bethlehem, why in hell wasn’t it used long ago?

The decisive event in dragging a contract out of Bethlehem was the mass strike and picket lines at Lackawanna, Bethlehem and Johnstown. Herrick, the NLRB and Hillman had nothing to do with it of any real importance. They came along with their honey and “cooperation” after the workers had used their own methods of educating Bethlehem.

Some More on the Mediation Board

Roosevelt’s latest and smoothest strike-breaking outfit, the “Mediation” Board, hasn’t yet found the “formula” for settling the differences between the UAW-CIO and General Motors. The union demands a 10 cents an hour increase. The company says that this would add $50,000,000 a year to its payroll. GM is willing to take $15,000,000 from the duPonts and other big shot stockholders, but not 50 million.

Charles Wilson, president of GM, says “there is no economic justification for the corporation to raise wages at present. The problem is how much General Motors is willing to pay to avoid a strike.” The company is willing to pay $15,000,000. The only inference to be drawn from the Wilson statement is that the union is attempting to hijack the company; the GM workers are holding up the company and trying to take something that doesn’t belong to the workers. The duPonts, Raskobs, Fishers, Sloans and Morgans are about to be robbed of their livelihood by a gang of merciless and mercenary scoundrels.

Mr. Wilson also is convinced that “strikes are expensive and are not necessary. Collective bargaining should not always mean collecting; it should mean bargaining too.”

We agree that collective bargaining should mean bargaining. The result of the bargaining, however, should be “collecting”: the collecting of higher wages, shorter hours, union recognition and better working conditions.

There is one question we should like to have answered in connection with this GM-UAW (CIO) dispute. Whose side is Philip Murray on? He is a member of the “Mediation” Board and he has been sitting in the negotiations, with Thomas, representing the UAW. How can Murray remain a member of this strike-breaking board and at the same time represent the CIO unions? He sits with the enemies of labor (the government and the employers) one day and the workers the following day.

Any labor leader who accepts a post on a government board or employer group dealing with labor relations should be forced to resign his post in the union.

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