From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 32, 7 August 1944, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
Editor Adams of the United Mine Workers Journal and political spokesman for John L. Lewis, is highly pleased with the “labor” planks in the Republican platform and with the nomination of Governor Dewey. We take it that Governor Bricker is also acceptable to Lewis and Adams.
In fact, it is rumored that Lewis and Bill Hutcheson, with Hutcheson in attendance at the convention, helped to formulate the Republican “labor” plank. This is the same Bill Hutcheson that Lewis knocked under his seat at an AFL convention in Atlantic City over the issue of industrial unionism. It was also noised around among political scandal-mongers that Hutcheson was being considered as the Republican choice for Vice-president. While we know that there was no real possibility of this happening, it does tickle one’s funny-bone to contemplate Hutcheson in any position, outside the Carpenters Union, requiring even the most elementary and primitive intelligence. To hoist this 300 pound hulk of ignorance and stupidity into any position requiring any brains at all would be as ludicrous as expecting modern intelligence from a resurrected and mummified caveman.
At any rate, John L. and Big Bill got together with Republican platform fixers to hurl a few brickbats at the Democrats and throw fools’ gold into the camp of labor. Here is a choice bit from the GOP “labor” plank. “The Republican Party is the historical champion of free labor. Under Republican administration American manufacturing developed, and American workers attained the most progressive standards of living of/any workers in the world.” This is one of those statements issued from time to time by capitalist politicians for the purpose of catching suckers. As the champion of capitalist business enterprise it is true that the Republican Party “is the historical champion of free labor.” Capitalism must have a working class or there can be no capitalist business enterprise. There must be workers for the mines, mills, factories, railroads and offices. There must be production, and it is the workers who are the main force in production.
The Republican Party was against slavery because capitalist industry could not develop with slave labor. For capitalism to develop there must be a supply of “free labor.” That is, the workers must be free from the land and free from the ownership of tools, machines, buildings, raw materials, railroads and banks. Under capitalism, all that the workers own is their labor power, that is, the capacity to do work. Since they own nothing but this labor power, they must sell it to the capitalist or they will starve.
This was what the Republican Party was fighting for when it opposed slavery and fought the Civil War. This is the meaning of the statement in the Republican platform that this party is the champion of free labor. It means that the Republican Party was against chattel slavery and for wage slavery. It was opposed to a system in which the employer had to feed, clothe, house and doctor the worker when he was not working or when he got sick. It was against a system in which you owned the worker like you did your horse or cow; you could not fire him when he did not work, or was sick, or was too old to work.
Historically, the Republican Party fought for a system under which the worker could be fired when he was no longer needed: when there was enough coal in storage; when there were more shoes than could be sold; when there wasn’t enough money in the workers’ pockets to buy the huge quantities of potatoes or beef which had been produced; when a war was over and there was no longer a need for more cannons, guns, ship, tanks and airplanes. This is “free labor” under capitalism and this is what the Republican Party is talking about in its platform.
Today, in this same sense, the Democratic Party is also the “champion of free labor.” It is also a capitalist party, not one bit different from the Republicans. Roosevelt is a capitalist candidate, Dewey is a capitalist candidate. Both parties are run and controlled by big business men and big bankers. Both conventions were run by big business men and big bankers operating through their favorite senators, governors. These big business men and bankers don’t appear on the convention floor. They don’t like to be seen because if they show themselves the little people and the workers will get wise and find out who runs the country. They sit behind the curtain like the man in the control room of a radio station while a broadcast is in progress. Of course, there are some important differences between the two parties, but these are differences over which gang can best run the profit system.
There are the Morgans, Lehmans, Fords, Mellons, du Ponts, Graces, Wilsons, Vanderbilts, and all the rest. Some are Democrats and some Republicans. They all belong to the Chambers of Commerce, to the same clubs, the NAM and are pillars of the church. They marry into Presidents’ families; senators and cabinet officers marry their daughters. They split their votes and donations between the Republican and Democratic Parties. Quite often they don’t vote, thousands of them don’t even register before elections. They do their voting at their clubs, at the meetings of the NAM and at private conferences with their political deputies in the federal, state and city governments.
The Republican plank says that the workers attained the most progressive standard of living of any workers in the world under “Republican administration.” Was Hoover a Republican? We wonder. Furthermore, what is a “progressive standard of living”? Was the standard of living of the miners, the steel workers, the sharecroppers progressive under Republican administration? Can twenty-five cents an hour give a progressive standard of living?
The Democrats, not to be outdone by the Republicans, make the same claims for their twelve years of rule. But the workers live in shacks under both regimes. Under both they pay high taxes out of their low incomes. Under both parties, the workers grub for food. Under either administration in wartime, before and after, from Lincoln to Roosevelt II, the nation’s crop of millionaires has steadily increased.
Suppose the standard of living of the worker in the United States is higher than in any other country. Does this prove that our standard of living is what it should be? A standard of living must be judged by what is possible, based on actual and potential production in a certain country and in the world.
There is no need in the world today for hunger and misery in any country and among any of the world’s populations. The capitalist countries of the world are equipped or can be equipped to feed, clothe and house the whole world in comfort and plenty. Capitalism has demonstrated that there is no need for want and misery. When they wanted guns, ships, tanks and planes for their imperialist war they produced them. When they wanted food for war purposes the food came forth. When money was needed to finance their imperialist war the money was found – billions and billions of dollars of it. There is no difference between the Republicans on this point, even in their platforms.
The Republicans “condemn the freezing of wage rates at arbitrary levels and the binding of men to their jobs as destructive to the advancement of a free people.” This was too much even for a solid Republican paper like the New York Herald Tribune. The Tribune and the Democratic New York Times attacked this plank in identical language. Both of these organs of big business know that the Republicans in power would never carry this condemnation into action. What these papers are afraid of is that workers will take this lie seriously and begin making demands for the unfreezing of wages.
There is an important aspect to this statement of the Republicans. Some part of labor, including Lewis or a simpleton like Hutcheson, may believe that the Republican wage statement means that the GOP is for wage increases. Aside from the purely vote-catching aspect of this plank, it is true that the big business men for whom the GOP speaks, is against government control of wages today. They are opposed for two reasons: first, they don’t want government interference right now and secondly they believe that wages are too high. They want to unfreeze wages so that wages can be lowered and hours increased.
The Republicans “condemn the gradual but effective creation of a labor front,as but one of the New Deal’s steps toward a totalitarian state.” And further: “The American labor movement and the Republican Party ... reject the communistic and New Deal concept that a single group can benefit while the general economy suffers.”
The working class should certainly be on the alert for any “labor front” tendencies and be always vigilant against any effort either to curtail the democratic rights of labor or to hinder our advance. The Democratic Party, following practices laid down by the Republican Party in its years of domination, certainly cannot be trusted to maintain or fight for workers’ rights. It would be sheer stupidity to go to the Republican Party for such protection. When they talk about a “labor front” they are only using campaign agitation, for the winning of votes. They are not against a “labor front,” but only against the control of labor by the Democrats. A Republican “labor front” would be wholly acceptable to them.
The Republican Party and the labor movement will strive to better labor’s status, says the Republican platform. That means that U.S. Steel, Morgan, Mellon, Taft and Vandenberg will strive with Green and Murray for the improvement of the condition of the working class! The Democrats make the same claims. That means that the big capitalists who vote for Roosevelt, Howard Smith, Bilbo and Hague will strive for the betterment of labor.
It is notable that the Republican platform did not call for the repeal of the Smith-Connally Act, the blow at labor hatched by the Democratic administration of Roosevelt and supported by the Republicans. Even the senile and mentally decrepit Bill Green called the platform “disappointing,” and felt that the Republicans had “missed a great opportunity.”
At the 1940 convention of the CIO, John L. Lewis remarked that he had looked into Green’s head and found nothing there. We have an idea that there are a few empty compartments in Lewis’s head also. Politically he has the mind of a serf. This means that in these important questions of the political welfare of the working class he is as naive and thick-headed as Phil Murray, Bill Green or R.J. Thomas. Faced with what he holds to be the only two alternatives for labor, he patiently and with a languid flourish selects the party of Hoover, Pew and Mellon. If he had made his choice by tossing a coin, we would have said that here is a labor leader tied up to the capitalist parties but at least he has a sense of humor. We could have said that at least he knows that both Republicans and Democrats are rotten, reactionary and anti-labor. But Lewis did not do this. He makes a choice between two gangs and invites his miners and other workers into the gangs’ den.
It would be too much, of course, to expect Lewis to understand that there is another way for labor: the way of independent political action, the road to a break with Republicans and Democrats and the formation of labor’s own political party. Here he is in unison with Murray and Bill Green. Murray is a barker for Roosevelt, Lewis beats the tom-tom for Dewey and poor Bill Green only sighs and longs for the day when labor and capital can sit together in prayerful peace around the council table and arrive at decisions “in the mutual interest of both groups.”
Last updated: 14 December 2015