Ernest Rice McKinney Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

David Coolidge

WLB Stalls Steelworker Pay Boost

Murray Can’t Solve the Situation by Appeasement

(20 July 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 29, 20 July 1942, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

While the nation’s steel workers toil at a terrific pace in the sweltering heat of the furnaces, coke ovens, rolling and blooming mills, the War Labor Board stumbles along from hearing to hearing but delivers no decision in the “Little Steel” case.

For several months the board has had the brief presented by the United Steel Workers. The demand of the steel workers is for a dollar a day increase in pay and a contract calling for “maintenance of membership” and the checkoff of union dues. The steel workers’ demands are rock-ribbed and airtight. The argument made in their brief is irrefutable.

A fact-finding commission of the War Labor Board, composed of Arthur S. Meyer, representing the “public”; Richard Frankenstein, of the UAW, for labor; and Cyrus Ching of the U.S. Rubber Co., for the employers, has recommended the $1.00 wage increase, the union shop and the check-off.

Not only this, but the WLB commission reported that the four Little. Steel companies in 1941 made the highest profits in their entire history. Furthermore, Tom Girdler, chairman of Republic Steel, had his salary raised from $100,000 in 1940 to $176,000 in 1941. Eugene Grace of Bethlehem Steel was boosted from $371,000 to $375,000. But the owners of these two companies are opposed to giving their workers the small increase of $1.00 a day.

This same WLB commission also had something to say that should close the big mouths of those who are always talking about something known as “inflation.” The commission discovered what the steel workers already knew. They found out that if the steel workers are refused an increase in pay their standard of living for 1942 will drop even lower than for 1941.

There must not only be an increase in pay but that increase must be no less than 21 per cent in order for labor to hold its own. The increase asked by the steel workers is only 11 per cent.

The commission based its findings on an estimated increase of 21 per cent for the national income for 1942 as well as on the rise in the cost of living.

This means that if the national income for 1942 increases 21 per cent and the workers receive only an 11 per cent increase, the bosses and others who can afford to get along without it will get this additional income.

What this means is that if there was $100 to be passed out in wages in 1941, there will be $121 in 1942. According to the proposal, the workers will get $111 of this amount. The bosses will get the other $10. That is, the difference between the $121 available and the $111 which the workers would receive, will go to the bosses. This will make it possible for the bosses to raise their fat salaries again in 1943 and to pay bigger dividends to the stockholders of Little Steel and other corporations.

Furthermore, the commission reported that the buying power of steel wages had declined 13 per cent since the last increase in wages. This means that the 1942 dollar of the steel worker will buy only 87 cents worth of food today. The steel worker therefore can eat less today than a year ago. The dollar will not go as far at the store and the wife of the steel worker will have a tougher time making ends meet.

The Cold Facts

This is the situation that faces the country’s million steel workers. They face increasing poverty and misery. This is true even if they get the dollar a day increase demanded. Prices will continue to rise, they will have to pay higher income taxes, their wages will be spread over the purchase of war bonds, USO drives and Red Cross campaigns.

These are the cold facts. No amount of talk about “inflation,” “sacrifice,” and “we must beat Hitler” will feed the steel workers and their families. And it won’t mean much to a steel worker who goes to the grocery store with a dollar and comes out with only 87 cents worth of meat. And it won’t satisfy the steel workers to tell him that Mr. Grace and Mr. Girdler also got only 87 cents’ worth of meat for their dollar.

Mr. Grace, of Bethlehem Steel, has at least $7,000 each week with which to buy the best priced meat. Sam Jones, the steel workers, has only a pitiable $35 to $40 with which to buy that same meat plus other necessities for a family of five to ten.

No one can say now what the decision of the War Labor Board will be. President Roosevelt, “friend of labor,” has come out against the increase. Evidently he and the Republican and Democratic Parties think that it is OK for Mr. Grace to get $7,000 a week while Sam Jones, who makes the steel, gets only $40.

Murray’s Dilemma

Philip Murray, leader of the CIO and of the steel workers’ international, is making a fight for the demands of the union. But Murray’s friend Roosevelt has given Murray a slap in the face and a sound, swift kick. And what can poor Murray do?

He has told the steel workers that they must produce, produce, produce, in order to win the war. He turned the steel workers’ convention into a Roosevelt rally and a war rally. He has permitted the War Labor Board to loaf along for months and not grant the steel workers’ demands. He has permitted the steel companies to spit on the workers in the plants.

This has gone on while Murray and other CIO leaders have been putting in their time helping Roosevelt, the Democrats, the Republicans and the bosses run their war. In the meantime the workers at Bethlehem and other Little Steel companies have no contracts and are being kicked around by any little superintendent or foreman in the pay of the steel corporations.

Recently the workers at Bethlehem Steel Co. at Lackawanna, N.Y., made a slight gesture of protest. The open hearth workers of two furnaces walked out. The strike continued for only about 30 hours. Perhaps these workers are smarter than Murray and the other CIO leaders. They know how to make the War Labor Board talk, and talk the kind of language that is beneficial to steel workers.

Perhaps a short holiday would be good for all the steel workers. Also this might make the steel makers, the WLB and Roosevelt understand. Cold open hearth furnaces and deserted coke ovens all over the United States will teach Roosevelt, the WLB and the steel bosses a few things that they may not be able to learn by any other means.

Ernest Rice McKinney Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 21.12.2013