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David Coolidge

SWOC Holds Vital Convention This Week

Democratic Union Regime and Militant Labor Program
Main Issues Facing Steel Workers

(18 May 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 20, 18 May 1942, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The first constitutional convention of the steel workers’ called for May 19–23 in Cleveland is long overdue. These workers in the basic industry in the United States, dominated by the Morgan controlled United States Steel Corp., have had only an organizing committee for six years, or since the beginning of the CIO.

The whole steel organization of over half a million workers has been controlled from the top by Chairman Murray, MacDonald and a few regional and sub-regional directors. This made the SWOC a strange outfit in the CIO with its mass internationals such as the UMWA and the UAW. This situation in the ranks of the steel workers also has been a source of much dissatisfaction. The continued concentration of authority in the top leadership, the use of the appointive power, the manner of negotiating contracts, made for bureaucracy within the union and tended to smother the development of internal democratic procedure and practices.

Lack of Democracy

The steel workers simply did not and could not feel that the SWOC was their union in the sense that the automobile workers could feel that the UAW was theirs. In the SWOC it was the appointed organizers who directed all operations. It was they, along with the higher officials and approved union officers who comprised the bulk of the delegates to. SWOC conventions. Furthermore, these conventions were operated in a most bureaucratic manner: the usual democratic procedure of a UAW convention, for example, was always absent from a gathering of the SWOC.

There has been little or no educational work carried on and developed by the SWOC. Here again one can point out the vast gulf between the SWOC and the UAW. The trade union educational level of the SWOC is therefore woefully low. Now that a convention is being held to set up a real international union it is presumed that ail of these defects and delinquencies will be corrected: that the delegates will leave the convention feeling that now they have a real powerful, democratic union that can do the job for them.

Whether or not this occurs will depend on several considerations. First, the quality of the delegates to the convention. Will the majority of the delegates really come from and be representative of the ranks of the organization? Just how far has the leadership gone in order to assure themselves that “safe” people are delegates to this convention?

Issue of Democracy

Next, will the convention be run in a democratic manner so that the real sentiment of all or any group of delegates will have proper and adequate chance to be expressed? This has not been the practice at former SWOC conventions.

Of course if the delegates are steel workers who really have their roots in the mills and among the workers, they will probably not be so easily turned away from insistence on their democratic rights. They will know that what is done at this convention will require the utmost attention and scrutiny. This is a constitutional convention in a very important sense: it is a NEW BEGINNING for the steel workers and is of tremendous significance. A new constitution will be adopted at this time.

The constitution will be the fundamental law of the international. It will set forth the provisions for operating this large international union from top to bottom: duties and powers of the officers, how often conventions will be held, how delegates to conventions will be elected, the duties and authority of shop committeemen and shop stewards, salaries, joining fees and monthly dues. What measure of control the national officers will have over the affairs of the locals, what amount of autonomy the locals will have will be written into the new constitution.

And then there are such important matters as negotiations, the signing of contracts and the matter of strike procedure. Just how much will the locals and the membership of the international have to say in determining their course in these matters?

The answer to all these questions will be written into the union’s constitution and by-laws.

National officers will be elected at this convention and a national board. There will be a provision for regional directors and international organizers. The question may arise as to whether or not individual locals will have their own local organizers and what their relation will be to the representatives of the national organization.

These questions should consume a considerable part of the five days of the convention. They are not secondary matters and the delegates should not permit them to be treated as such. The way these matters are handled will determine what kind of international union the steel workers will have up to the time of the next convention. The kind of precedent set in this first convention will determine in large measure what .it will be possible to do at subsequent conventions and in between conventions.

Aside from these organizational problems this convention will be confronted with other most serious situations that the delegates will have to face. What is to be the real program of the convention? Will it be a convention of steel workers assembled primarily for the purpose of establishing an international union to fight for better living conditions for steel labor or is it designed primarily as a Roosevelt pro-war rally?

Will Philip Murray, in his opening address, present the representatives of the workers at Bethlehem, Big Steel and Little Steel with a dish of sacrifices they will be expected to swallow whole without choking? Will Murray and the other officers of the SWOC have the effrontery and the audacity to come before this convention of steel workers and begin orating about the necessity for sacrifices on the part of labor?

Boss Profiteering

This convention of the toilers in the steel mills will meet at a time when the reports of the large corporations are appearing in the papers telling the world about the millions in profits, that are .rolling in from war orders. These workers have just read the story of Standard Oil and General Electric: how these two vast companies connived and conspired with the Nazi trusts, even after the United States entered the war, to control the production of war materials in such a way as to benefit Hitler and American millionaires. These workers have read that the officers of Standard Oil were called traitors by a United States senator.

The steel workers have read that Eugene Grace of Bethlehem Steel received special remuneration of $298,144 in 1940 and $357,724 in 1941. And this exclusive of his large salary from the company! They know that the unspeakable Tom Girdler of Republic Steel had a salary of $176,000 in 1940 and $275,000 in 1941. They know that right down the line the heads of the big corporations have had their salaries raised often as much as 100 per cent.

This is not all. These workers know that millions on millions in dividends and interest are being distributed every three months to rich parasites and loafers, known as stockholders and creditors. Also these workers know that there are all manner of little parasites, fixers, contract jugglers, middle men and others who have or claim to have “influence” in the right place in Washington. These too are well paid, they too have both feet in the trough along with the big shots who run and control the country.

What Happened in Auto

The steel workers have read about the convention of the automobile workers where the leadership by tear-jerking, pleading, distortion and demagogy got its “equality of sacrifice” proposals adopted. Some of the steel workers have heard what happened in the automobile plants after the auto workers had been sold down the river by their leadership. The automobile manufacturers licked their chops and grinned. Now they had the UAW nailed down, the union had been strangled by its own leadership and delivered to the bosses.

This capitulation, following the no-strike promise made to Roosevelt, did not appease the labor-haters in Congress nor the bosses. The CIO was on the ran, they had tasted blood and the whole pack was out for a killing. They wanted a ceiling on wages and their man Henderson is ready to give it to them.

Does Roosevelt want a ceiling on wages? He uses another word, not so harsh, for he is a “friend of labor.” He calls it “stabilization.” Don’t put a ceiling on wages, for ceilings are of various heights and sometimes ceilings are raised. Roosevelt wants wages stabilized. That is the sure way of keeping wages right where they are now.

What else do the bosses want? They and their deputies in Congress want forcible deductions from the workers’ pay envelope to go for war bonds.

Next they want the 48-hour, 54-hour, 60-hour week and the elimination, if possible, of all overtime pay.

This is not enough: the bosses also demand a sales tax. And do they stop there? Of course not. They urge that as a patriotic duty the workers in the lower income brackets should be willing to have their income taxes increased.

With this formidable roster of immediate demands one would think that the bosses would be satisfied for a season. But they are possessed of other tricks. There is one other little matter to be attended to. That is the unions themselves.

Bosses Aim at Unions

After the bosses have stripped labor of everything but its shirt, they will try to put a ceiling on, or better still, stabilize the situation. To do this the must get at the unions, at the locals in each plant, mill and factory. There must be no signed contracts if they can possibly get out of signing. If a contract is signed then the next step is to harass, ignore and dodge the bargaining and grievance committees.

This is the program of the bosses and their stooges in Congress. Their patriotism is at fever heat. They are prepared any day to return millions to the government in profits after they get caught cheating and after their books have been subpoenaed. But Standard Oil and General Electric, both agents of Hitler, have never been prosecuted. They go right on their patriotic way, piling up the profits.

The bosses are fighting one of their numerous and constantly recurring imperialist wars but they demand that workers foot the bill.

“Let them go into the Army and die; into our factories, mines and mills to slave like hell. We’ll peg their wages, increase their hours of labor, give them the speed-up. We’ll increase their income taxes, clamp on a sales tax, take a day’s wages for the Red Cross and another for the USO. We’ll raise the price of their food and clothing and find some way to skin them on the rent. And just to be sure that we don’t have to feed them when our war is ended we’ll have our government deduct a few dollars from their pay each week to feed them when our war is ended and we close down our factories and put them into the street.”

This is an imaginary statement that almost any boss could make. Because these are their plans for labor, for steel labor and all other labor. This is what the convention of the steel workers will be faced with; just this concrete situation. Therefore we say that any leader, Murray or anyone else. Who gets up in that convention talking about “equality of sacrifice” is a scoundrel and a traitor to labor. Furthermore, the convention should not permit itself to be stampeded into a frenzy of forgetfulness by a sugared telegram from Roosevelt, as was the case at the UAW convention. The convention should reject all such demagogy as was poured out there by Walter Reuther and Richard Frankensteen.

For the Steel Workers

These steel workers are not meeting to listen to exhortations on sacrifice by their leaders or honeyed words from Roosevelt or that other “friend of labor,” Donald Nelson. They will be there to do a job for the underpaid toiling thousands in the steel mills.

These delegates and the men whom they represent have already made their sacrifices. They and their fathers and grandfathers have already made untold sacrifices. They sacrifice every day, every hour, every minute. Every worker in the United States has already paid his share and more for a war that is not his war.

No boss, no congressman, no top government official has made any sacrifice and will make none in any way comparable to the sacrifices that labor has already made in the course of this bloody imperialist conflict. The very nature of capitalist society makes it so. No amount of pleading, brow-beating, pressure, exhorting, explaining or demagogy from whatever source it comes; from . the bosses, Roosevelt, Murray, Green or anyone else can change this fact.

The delegates to the steel convention therefore have this main task before them: to set up the steel workers international union with a thoroughly democratic convention; an international controlled by the steel workers, a militant union, a mass organization of all steel workers in every plant in the country.

Dollar a Day Increase

The workers should stick to their demands for the $1.00 a day increase in wages and the union shop. To ask only for $1.00 a day increase in wages is modest enough. They must fight for the union shop or the bosses will be in position to wreck their union.

The steel workers, like all other workers, must stand prepared to fight against wage stabilization, against any increase in hours, against higher taxes on workers’ incomes, against a sales tax, against payroll deductions for war bonds.

This convention should repudiate the agreement made by the CIO leadership not to call strikes for the duration of the war. Labor must retain this weapon, in good condition, sharpened and at all times ready for use against the boss. The strike or the threat of strike is the only protection that labor has. The workers, the unions, must not surrender this weapon.

These are the important questions that should take up the time of the delegates to this convention. To deal with these questions adequately and in a democratic manner will consume all five days of the convention. The delegates should come out of this convention able to hold their heads high and face the men in the mills. They can do this if they will insist that the convention stick to the main issues; if they establish a real democratic international, if they take a strong position against betrayal and sell-out.

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