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David Coolidge

Problems Before Convention of Steel Workers —

1. Rescind No-Strike Pledge
2. Build Real Labor Party

(1 May 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 18, 1 May 1944, pp. 1 & 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

As you assemble in your constitutional convention, all of us are aware of the pressing and extremely important problems that you will face. You will not only face the peculiar problems which you must solve as workers in the giant and basic steel industry, but you will be confronted with great problems that are being faced by the whole working class in the United States. You are aware, of course, because you have been told so often, that these problems arise in part from the fact that the United States is engaged in war.

While the war is the main event and while our answer to the big questions of the day cannot be answered without giving first consideration to the war, it is also a fact that these problems have their roots in the workings of capitalist society. It is necessary that all of us of the working class realize this or we will not get far in seeking the correct solution for the many problems that face us.

The Union and the Steel Companies

Right now, you as steel workers are mainly concerned with your demands for a wage increase and with other demands that have to do with security on your job and a decent standard of living for your families. You are demanding a basic wage increase of seventeen cents an hour; also, a guaranteed minimum annual wage as well as severance pay on a graduated scale, depending on length of employment.

Your international union has done an excellent job in making a careful study of income and expenditures of steel workers’ families. Your case was so well organized and presented that the steel manufacturers had no answer and had to ask for time to prepare their case. In your Attempt to deal with the steel barons, the only answer you could get from them was “No.”

The steel employers, led by the United States Steel Corp., along with the rest of big business, had already decided on and instituted an anti-union drive even before you presented your demands.

Big Steel – and Little Steel, too – would really like to get back to the days of company unions. Undoubtedly the steel manufacturers are preparing for a showdown with your union. They know that you are in a strong bargaining position due to your size and to the fact that steel is the basic and essential industry.

The steel companies, along with other big corporations, are convinced that they can win an anti-union victory today, Fairless, Grace, Weir and Girdler are ready to revert to all the old union-crushing practices so popular in the days of Frick and Gary. They are heartened now because they have reason, to believe that they have already scored a preliminary victory.

They have their Smith-Connally bill, a friendly WLB, a threatening War Manpower Commission, and a President in the White House who has asked Congress to pass a national service act.

An Inventory of Labor’s Situation

If this were all, it would be bad enough. B-ut the employers and their government have more. They have a no-strike pledge from labor. The employers and President Roosevelt have also squeezed other concessions from organized labor. While it is true that you were not consulted about the no-strike pledge, it is nevertheless true that you, have rather passively accepted the situation. This is a oon-dition which faces you as you assemble for your constitutional convention.

All of the concessions which you have been pushed into making, including the no-strike pledge, have developed into a millstone about the necks of the steel workers and organized labor in general. You were told that your first duty was to win the war, that you should be prepared to make any and all sacrifices for the winning of the war. We were promised that our unions would be unmolested, that collective bargaining would be maintained, that prices would be held in line with wages, that no new crop of millionaires would be born as a result of war profits.

Not one of these promises, made by the government, has been fulfilled. Any confidence which workers placed in promises made to their leaders has been betrayed. It is only wages that have been held down while hours have been increased. The War Labor Board has taken a steadfast and consistent position that if labor gets more money in the pay envelope it must come not from an increase in the basic hourly rate of pay but from putting in longer hours. There is no real collective bargaining today. This time-honored union-management procedure has been transferred from the factory to the WLB and numerous other government agencies, including the President and his assistants. The cost of living has risen 43.5 per cent – 74.2 per cent on food alone – and this since January, 1941. Our wages, however, are tied to the Little Steel 15 per cent formula. Even the figure of the Bureau of Labor Statistics,, which is 50 per cent too low, says that living costs have risen 23.4 per cent since 1941.

President Roosevelt’s statement that no new crop of millionaires must be produced through war profits has also been shown to be merely so many meaningless words. The tremendous increase in profits has produced millions in dividends and interest. WHILE IN 1939 THE SHARE OF CORPORATIONS IN THE NATIONAL INCOME WAS 8 PER CENT, IN THE LAST QUARTER OF 1943 IT WAS 13 PER CENT. LABOR’S SHARE IN 1939 WAS 65 PER CENT, BUT ONLY 59 PER CENT IN THE LAST QUARTER OF 1943.

No-Strike Pledge Must Go

There is no need to go any further with facts and figures. We in our families have been through the experience of attempting to make ends meet within the limitations of the Little Steel formula. We know that it can’t be done. The main question before your convention, therefore, is what to do about it. A demand has already been made by your union and other unions for the abolition of the Little Steel formula. But the WLB and the government pay no attention to our demands. LABOR ACTION knows why and we believe that you do, too. THE EMPLOYERS AND THE GOVERNMENT HAVE THAT NO-STRIKE PLEDGE.

That means that organized labor can only beg. It can’t fight. In order to fight and get results, labor must be free. It must be free to use the only weapon we have, our numbers and our organized strength. We have the numbers but we are shackled by the no-strike pledge.

It is claimed that the no-strike pledge was given a a patriotic gesture; to demonstrate that the working class was in full support of the war, While Labor Action, and the Workers Party do not support the imperialist war, we can say to those workers who do support the war that even they must realize by now that it is only labor which has made any sacrifice whatsoever. Furthermore, does any worker believe that a war which produces billions in profits for one side and want and misery for the other side, is a war for democracy? This is the real situation today and big business and the government show no inclination to change things. “THIS MEANS THAT IF THERE IS TO BE ANY IMPROVEMENT SUCH IMPROVEMENT WILL HAVE TO COME FROM THE PRESSURE OF THE WORKING CLASS.

This is the brutal fact which the steel workers face in their convention. They are faced with the necessity, the urgent necessity, to rescind their no-strike pledge. This will require courage, understanding and determination. The overwhelming majority of the workers are against the no-strike pledge and have always been against it. The only people who have been for the no-strike pledge are the leaders of the labor movement, the Communist Party, the employers, and the government.

If you take back your no-strike pledge, you will demonstrate, not irresponsibility, as will be charged, but genuine working class responsibility and loyalty. Then your union will mean something and you will be in a position, if the need arises, to enforce your demand for an increase in pay and the other demands which you have in your program.

The Question of Political Action

There is another aspect of the CIO program which will probably come up in your convention. That is the CIO political action campaign. Your Political Action Committee is preparing to enter the coming November election with a political platform. Since this is to be political action by a large organized section of the working class, one has the right to assume that you are thinking of independent working class political action. THIS IS A STEP WHICH IS LONG OVERDUE!

At the last CIO convention there was no resolution calling for the re-election of Mr. Roosevelt. Since that convention, however, many CIO unions have come out with endorsements of President Roosevelt for re-election. This, of course, is not independent working class political action. This is tying the workers to the Democratic Party – the party of Howard Smith, Bilbo and Martin Dies. It would be no different, to be sure, if workers’ organizations endorsed the Republican Party.

Independent working class political action can only mean a break with the Democratic and Republican parties. The organized labor movement, with its millions of militant and loyal members, can have a party of its own and we can have it this year. We can organize our own national labor party, based on the trade unions. That would be OUR party. We can put up our own candidates ... members of our unions and of our party. We can vote for them – and for them alone.

The Two Most Important Issues

It seems clear, therefore, that the two most important questions to come before your convention are: the rescinding of the no-strike pledge and the beginning of action for the organization of a genuine Labor Party.

Labor Action and the Workers Party are deeply interested in your convention because we are a part of the working class and active participants in the struggles of organized labor. We make no apologies, therefore, for holding this discussion with you. We are steel workers, aircraft workers, shipyard workers and toilers in numerous other industries. When we discuss these problems with you, therefore, we are discussing our own problems.

We greet the constitutional convention of the United Steel Workers of America and hope that your deliberations will result in many concrete gains not only for the toilers in the steel industry but for the whole working class in America.

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