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David Coolidge

With the Labor Unions – On the Picket Line

(15 September 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 37, 15 September 1941, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Senate Gives The Rich a Gift

The bill to tax the starvation incomes of millions of workers went through the Senate with the same speed that these representatives of big business always use in passing out benefits to the rich. That’s what this new income tax bill is: a gift of millions of dollars a year to the rich. Lowering the exemption has absolutely nothing to do with any kind of “defense.”

Congress hasn’t finished its plunder of the lowest paid workers yet. There is more to come. Next they will pass a sales tax and 3 tax on payrolls. Right now, under the present law, a single person with a $1,500 income pays a tax of $24.20. Under the new law this same person will pay $69.

$2,000 pays no tax now, but under the new act the family will have $40 taken for “defense.”

At the same time the Senate was voting a tax on the lowest incomes they took the tax off soft drinks. This will be a big benefit to the Coca-Cola Co. of Georgia. Senator George of Georgia is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. The Coca-Cola Co. is very active in Georgia politics. Also, the rich families will be permitted to file separate tax returns. This will cost the federal treasury over $300,000,000 a year, according to estimates of the Treasury Department.

In reporting on net profits for the first half of this year the Associated Press remarks that “all profit is not being taxed out of defense.” This is correct: all that is happening is the increasing pauperization of the poor, those least able to bear the terrific expenses of the imperialist war.

Labor doesn’t seem much disturbed over this new tax grab from the poor. If the boss tried to cut wages the workers would strike. But when the government cuts their wages through a tax levy they take it and do nothing. If the boss threatened a wage cut they would throw a picket line around the plant. But when Congress passes a bill to tax them into starvation, they only raise mild objections. This demonstrates that labor does not understand the role of the government and the relation of the government to the bosses. They don’t seem able to get it into their heads that the government is the bosses’ government and it there is represent the interests of the boss. Right now the main business of the government is to get money to fight the bosses’ imperialist war. But the bosses don’t want to pay for the war. Therefore the government attempts to get it from labor. Labor is forced to do both the fighting and the paying.

The working class could smash this tax bill. All that is necessary is the same kind of treatment for Congress that is given the boss. A mass demonstration in Washington and mass picket lines around the Capitol and the White House would teach Congress and Roosevelt a lesson just as surely as similar tactics teach lessons to the bosses.

Much to Learn in the British Lesson

The British Trades Union Congress has rejected proposals for the stabilization of wages. The workers in England are facing the problem of rising cost of living just as in the United States, only in more acute form. Wage stabilization was a part of the government’s plan for price stabilization. An attempt was made in a “White Paper” to advocate the necessity of pegging wages if there was to be a halt in the rise of prices.

The workers discovered, however, that the government really had no price stabilization policy until, very recently. That is, for the first 18 months of the war there was no attempt to hold prices down. Despite this, an effort was to be made lo get the Trades Union Congress to vote in favor of wage stabilization. The New York Times correspondent says that the government has succeeded in stabilizing the cost of living index at around 28 per cent above the level at the beginning of the year.

It was discovered, however, that control only covered the “rationed” goods. Much of the supplies that the workers must have comes from products that are not on the “rationed” list. This brings the actual increase in the cost of living to the workers nearer to 40 per cent above the pre-war level than 28 per cent. Wages have advanced to about 15 per cent above the pre-war level. AT THE SAME TIME, INDUSTRIAL PROFITS ROSE ABOUT 30 PER CENT IN THE SAME PERIOD.

Workers in the United States can learn a great deal about what is in store for them by watching what is happening in Great Britain. The bosses and the government are only just beginning here. The capitalist and imperialist nations will all follow the same course. They cannot do otherwise. Imperialist war demands and enforces the utmost in sacrifice from labor. The workers must pay and pay, while the bosses improve their financial condition by profits, graft, stealing and in any other way that guarantees the stabilization of the boss class, at least for a period. The stabilization that every boss class is really concerned with is its own stabilization.

Contractors Make Plenty on “Cost Plus” Basis

Senate has been investigating the national “defense” program in its spending aspects. They find that all those receiving government contracts are not the sterling patriots they pretend to be when they are trying to get the government to break a strike. The committee found that the army camps have cost more than one billion dollars instead of the estimated cost of $500,000,000. Just a slight error of a half billion dollars in the calculations of the government experts? Not so. Of course, there was incompetency there, as there always is, but this was not the main reason.

The main reason is to be found rather in the fact that this war is being conducted by the government for the benefit of the boss class. There must be profits; profits for everybody in business. It isn’t necessary for the War Department to do efficient planning in order to buy materials most advantageously. It isn’t necessary to have contractors toe the mark, use the best materials and give rock bottom prices. It isn’t correct to buy lumber when it is selling for $30 a thousand board feet. The thing to do is to wait until it is $40 a thousand feet and then buy. This procedure makes it possible for all the big business men who get in on the deal to make a larger profit. Furthermore, you put out contracts on a “cost plus fixed fee.” This is an incentive to contractors to run the costs up and therefore make more profit.

The Truman Committee, of course, does not give the facts they dug up this interpretation. No one should expect that from the Senate “investigation.” After all, the business of a senator is not to go too far in exposing his friends among the bosses.

The committee recommends, as a means of correcting the “faults and failures,” that the War Department practical men – who know how to build and what it costs.” The big construction and supply companies should certainly welcome this. Get their own men in the army engineer corps, just as they have them in OPM and the various other agencies of the “defense” set-up. Then the profits would fly into the pockets of contractors, cement manufacturers and lumber dealers.

What we would like to point out to Pegler and the capitalist press in general is: that it really wasn’t the “high” wages that the workers got that ran up the cost of camp construction, but the stupidity and collaboration of the War Department with the contractors that made the job cost twice as much as estimated.

Small Chance of Railway Unions Striking

It is a little difficult to get very expectant over the strike vote of the railway workers. The five operating brotherhoods are demanding a 30 per cent increase while the non-operating unions want 30 to 34 cents an hour increase. We think that they should have the raise.

The railroads are really piling up the profits. Dividends will be extremely good for the non-workers who own the stocks. But we just can’t get it in our heads that the railway unions mean it. We really doubt that these workers would strike even if they didn’t get a cent increase in wages. They haven’t had much practice in recent years at militant action. And to have a railway strike now would require real determination and genuine militant action. And we just can’t envisage engineers and conductors having a real honest to goodness strike. At any rate, the strike cannot take place according to “law” until after 60 days of the time that the President appoints a fact-finding committee.

The committee must report to the president not later than 30 days after the appointment. The strike cannot begin until 30 days after the President receives the report.

Lots of things can happen in 60 days in the way of “mediation” and of “national emergency.” Also, it is certain that if there is a strike, Roosevelt will call out the army to run the trains. Or he will impress the railroad workers into the army and put them under military discipline.

Surely the leaders of the Railroad Brotherhoods know this. That’s one reason no one is excited over their taking a strike vote. The capitalist press gets very excited when the miners, shipyard workers or steel workers talk strike. But on this railroad strike vote it is perfectly calm and serene. there is a reason for this attitude on the part of the capitalist press. Where there’s no smoke there’s not likely to be any fire.

Furthermore, there are 19 unions involved in this strike “threat”; five “operating” and 14 “non-operating.” That’s a lot of separate unions trying to conduct a unified strike. That means 19 presidents and general boards to come to agreement with each other and to stand out together against the government. We remember a strike some years ago on the railroads when a few of the “non-operating” unions were on strike. Did the engineers, firemen and conductors render aid and assistance? They did not. They kept right on running the trains as though nothing was happening to the striking unions. If that can happen in a period of peace, what probability is there of a different course in this Roosevelt period of “national emergency.”

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