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David Coolidge

Brewster Workers Sit-In Scores Partial Victory

(5 June 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 23, 5 June 1944, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

BULLETIN: – At the time of going to press, announcement wos mode that War Mobilization Director Byrnes had ordered conferences of all procurement agencies to meet and discuss the matter of new contracts for the Brewster plant. Washington reports disclosed that the President personally intervened, promising that new contracts would be found to keep the men on the job. As a result of this intervention and promise, the union called off the sit-in strike.

Already, the union leaders are hailing this as a victory, or at least a partial victory. We have no doubt that the action taken by the workers, an action which we unqualifiedly support, called nation-wide attention to their situation and finally forced the Administration to at least promise to do something for them. But so far they have been given only promises, and very vague ones at that. There is absolutely nothing concrete to which any one can point. That is why PM, the New York newspaper, wrote:

“As for the possibility of new contracts, the optimistic words from Frankensteen and Byrnes hardly squared with testimony given yesterday before the Military Affairs Subcommittee.

“Although it was a big victory for the union, whose dramatic protest led the White House to act, it doesn’t alter the fact that some 7,000 of the company’s 12,500 employees will be out of work today and until the company gets new contracts—if it does.”

The big fight of the Brewster workers still lies ahead of them. Their fight for existence it not only for themselves, it is for the whole American labor movement.

The well-planned political attack of the capitalist ruling class and its government against organized labor and the working class has been focused this week on Local 365 of the UAW-CIO and (ha Corkers of the Brewster Aeronautical Carp. This foray against Local 365, which began some months back as on anti-tabor sniping expedition by Congress, the WLB and the Navy Department, reached its climax with the cancellation of all contract) held by the company.

We say that this is a political attack because that is the only accurate way to characterize the closing down of the Brewster plants by the Navy Department. Local 365 is a militant union. In comparison to a host of other trade union locals it was outstanding in its aggressiveness and its persistent defense of the working class rights of the Brewster workers. This local had voted against the no-strike pledge and defended this position at the lost convention of the UAW. The local had gone on record in favor of independent working class political action and a Labor Party.

The president of the local, Thomas De Lorenzo, had appeared before a congressional committee and had stoutly and militantly defended the local, its program, policies and activities. In retaliation for his stand and in order to strike at the local, the ruling class grabbed De Lorenzo through the medium of its legal machinery and dragged him into the capitalist courts. Progressive workers at Brewster who were coming more and more to understand what the real issues were before the working class in the United States, were constantly on the firing line to hold the local to its militant course. Increasing numbers of them were coming to see just what the issue was: A PROBLEM OF PROTECTING THE CLASS INTERESTS OF LABOR AGAINST THE SUFFOCATING OFFENSIVE OF THE CAPITALIST EMPLOYERS, ORGANIZED FOR THE PURPOSE OF STRANGLING LABOR AND RENDERING IT IMPOTENT.

That the Brewster managers and owners may not have been a party to these schemes is of no particular importance. They had problems of their own at the time, with which workers can have no especial concern. In a

because their interests are identical. In no sense can the difficulties of Brewster management with the Navy Department cause labor to regard its relation to both any differently than the working class approaches its relations to the Navy Department and the capitalist employers as a whole.

The Politics Involved

Many workers themselves will say that there is “politics” in this Brewster closing. Many of them will agree with the statement of Philip Murray in his telegram to Secretary of the Navy Forrestal:

Those in your department initiating the action could not have been blind to the fact that termination of contracts is of the greatest political significance in this election year, particularly when it is demonstrated that the department has not planned for or exhibited any consideration of the people thus thrust out of work ... It would be most reassuring to be informed that the Navy’s action was not precipitated by Navy Department people unfriendly to the President and Senator Wagner of New York.”

Suppose that Murray’s suspicions are true. What essential difference would this make? Suppose the plant was closed down as the result of some inside Republican intrigue. This is far-fetched, but even if true, such a tempest in the teapot between Republican and Democratic Party bureaucrats could not possibly be the kind of “politics” that would aid Brewster and other workers to solve their problems.

Murray’s inquiry is primarily silly and nonsensical because it is a very weak attempt to cover up the fact that Roosevelt is the head of the government and the leader and boss of the Democratic Party. Furthermore, Forrestal is a member of Roosevelt’s cabinet, is his appointee and comes directly under his supervision. What Forrestal and the Navy Department do is what Roosevelt wants done and what he approves, and in fact he has now said so THIS IS THE MORASS THAT MURRAY FINDS HIMSELF IN SO SOON AFTER THE CIO COMES OUT WITH ITS GLOWING ENDORSEMENT OF ROOSEVELT FOR A FOURTH TERM.

There is “politics” involved in the closing of the Brewster works, and, as we have said, the closing is a political attack on Local 365 and the working class. It is the class politics of the capitalist ruling class against the working class. It is political activity of the ruling class through its government to protect its own class interests. It is not in the interests of the ruling class to permit organizations of workers to proceed unmolested to organize for militant working class economic and political action. The ruling class and its government always will be especially incensed when such bold programs and actions are launched by labor in the midst of the imperialist wars of the ruling class. This is the issue at Brewster, and this is the issue that will more and more confront labor as the days come and go.

All of these events should be of the “greatest political significance in this election year” to the working class. They are certainly of great importance to the capitalist ruling class. There significance to the ruling class, however, should be to teach us that it is futile to expect help from Roosevelt and the Democratic Party or the Republican candidate and the Republican Party. All of these events are warnings to the Brewster workers and to all labor to organize a political program and a political party for labor: OF AND BY THE WORKING CLASS.

“Consideration” for the Workers

In his telegram to Forrestal. Murray said that “... the department has not planned for or exhibited any consideration of the people thus thrust out of work.” The Navy Department did plan. It planned to get at Local 365 by closing the Brewster plant and throwing thousands of men and women out of work. It has similar plans for other militant trade union locals.

In his special announcement to the Brewster workers, Frankensteen said: “The reward for your faithful service in producing the vital Corsair fighter plane is the complete disregard of the Navy to the problems facing you as vital war workers in a non-critical manpower area.” This too is just so much twaddle. The implication in this statement is that the Navy Department is obstructing the “war effort.” and that the workers at Brewster were engaged in a “labor of love.” Such talk simply doesn’t make sense.

The workers at Brewster were working for wages because they must work in order to eat. They organized a strong union in order to have an instrument that would protect their standard of living and get them more in their pay envelopes. This “faithful service” was like that of the company, the difference being that airplane companies get fat contracts from the government which enable them to make millions in profits without a struggle, while the workers must fight all the way for their puny wages.

Who Did Not Plan?

It was the CIO and the UAW which did not plan. They did not plan to meet the situation which faces all the workers in the country: layoffs, firings, union-breaking and wage cuts. The capitalist employers are planning dnd their government is planning.

Another great “friend of labor” was brought into the Brewster situation: one Fiorello LaGuardia, Mayor of New York. Brewster workers who are veterans of the First and Second Imperialist World Wars went to see the Mayor on the Brewster closing. This member of the American Labor Party was “too busy” to see them. But he had sent a telegram to Washington to see what could be done.

While all these events were, transpiring R.J. Thomas, president of the UAW, was winning the applause of the capitalist press for his statement to the UAW membership against “wildcat” strikes. The New York World-Telegram devoted its leading editorial position to running the Thomas statement under the head: Mr. Thomas Says a Mouthful. And then: “R.J. Thomas is writing this editorial today.” Then followed the Thomas statement.

The extremely reactionary New York Sun also devoted its leading editorial to full approval of the Thomas no-strike position. PM, that stupidly contradictory paper of pro-war, pro-Roosevelt, but-we-are-also-for-the-rank-and-file-of-American-labor ideas, is likewise in agreement -with Thomas. They pretend to worry, however, at being in the same company with “some conservative papers” which throw “editorial flowers ... at Mr. Thomas.” These flowers “are touching but not very relevant,” says PM in a great sweat. The Brewster case is a test for the working class—a test ol its understanding and of its ability to lay hold of the political realities of the situation we are confronted with today. There will be many more of these situations as the war goes through its various changes and cycles. The working class cannot meet the onslaughts of its enemies by simply charging the enemy with not permitting us to make planes, or tanks, or guns.

The ruling class and their government will not let the soldiers and sailors go into battle without planes and arms. This is their war and they will certainly see to it that we are armed to fight it. Our job is to see to it that we are armed with strong unions and an independent working class political party to carry on the struggle of our whole class for freedom, peace, security and plenty.

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