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David Coolidge

Mass Action

(17 January 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 3, 17 January 1944, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Railroad Strike Vote

Before the railroad strike had been called off, the Cleveland Plain Dealer had an editorial entitled Strong Arm Tactics. This was the way this Ohio capitalist daily paper described the projected strike of the railroad workers.

After going through the usual capitalist class bunkum about how well the railroad workers had been the “‘good boys’ in the American labor movement,” the Plain Dealer asked: “What are they up to now?” According to that paper, the railroad workers were about to indulge in practices that the country associates with John L. Lewis.

What the Plain Dealer is afraid of, of course, is not so much that the handful of rail union leaders would act like Lewis, but that the rail unions would begin to act like the miners’ union.

The editorial goes on to say:

“The fact is that the railroad brotherhoods are attempting to put over a colossal bluff. They are in the same position as the player in a game of stud poker who has only a deuce in the hole but is relying on a loaded gun at his side to win the pot. We do not believe the brotherhoods actually intend to fire the gun.”

This is something for the railroad and other workers to think about. It is not good for labor to have the reputation of being only a bunch of big mouths who don’t intend to fight. “You’re only bluffing,” says the Plain Dealer, “and if the government and the bosses call your bluff, you’ll tuck your tail between your legs and slink off like a whipped cur.”

Of course, labor isn’t doing this, but we must be careful that we don’t give the bosses and the government any grounds for believing they can bluff us. Labor is not in the position of a poker player who has only a deuce in the hole. We have an ace in the hole – and an ace up. This is usually enough to win, and you don’t have to bluff. As a rule, when faced with such a hand, your opponents turn back and don’t risk their stack. A good player, determined to win, won’t take chances with hard-headed opponents. He makes the betting so stiff that the enemy is usually glad to run for cover. This is the position of organized labor today. We don’t have to bluff. We have the forces and the power. All we need is the guts to use them.

The Plain Dealer says that the workers depend on the gun at their side to put over the bluff and steal the pot. What’s wrong with this when we are dealing with an enemy who also has a whole arsenal at his side and who bluffs and blusters, steals and strong-arms all over the place? But we say again, labor does not have to do this. We have the numbers and the power. Above all, We have genuine grievances. The most elementary satisfaction of these grievances demands first of all far higher wages than the workers get today.

Labor and Renegotiations

The trade unions should pay more attention to the renegotiation controversy that is going on between the capitalist bosses and their government. Under Secretary of War Patterson, testifying before the Senate Finance Committee, reported that the Timken Detroit Axle Company had profits of 33% per cent on net sales for last year, before negotiation and taxes. In the period 1936 to 1939 net profits on net sales for this company amounted to 10½ per cent.

In the years 1936 to 1939, Timken Axle paid common dividends averaging $1,477,000 a year. In 1942, alone, however, Timken Axle common dividends amounted to $4,216,000. How about holding the line on dividends? If a worker asks for a dollar an hour, that’s inflationary. If a capitalist boss rakes in a $100,000 salary and another $100,000 in dividends, that’s rendering a patriotic service to one’s country in wartime.

Chairman Truman of the Senate War Investigating Committee has announced that eight billion dollars in war contracts have been cancelled to date. This will continue and many workers will be faced with unemployment. That is, unless there is a return to the production of consumer goods. This is another matter for the unions to give attention to. It is really far more important than wasting time trying to decide whether to support Roosevelt or Willkie for President.

Every last man and woman can be kept at work if the factories that are taken off war production are immediately converted to the production of goods for the benefit of the masses of the people. Workers should be more enthusiastic over producing clothing, food and houses than they are about bullets, tanks and planes for war purposes.

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Last updated: 11 August 2015