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David Coolidge


End Policy of Retreat,
Open Labor Offensive!

(4 September 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 36, 4 September 1944, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Millions of workers in the United States, members of the CIO, the railroad unions and the AFL, are preparing for the conventions of their internationals and federations.

These workers have already elected or are in the process of electing delegates to represent them at these conventions.

These conventions of international unions will legislate for labor for the period extending from one convention to the next. The decisions and actions of these international conventions will therefore officially bind millions of workers for one or two years. International officers will point to the decisions made at these conventions as authority for their acts. The employers and the government will remind labor of the legislation enacted “at your last convention.” The capitalist press will keep up a constant din in the ears of labor.

That is, the press, the employers and the government will hammer away incessantly with this propaganda during the coming year – if organized labor, in its several international conventions, votes to reaffirm the no-strike pledge. This is what will happen if the delegates to the various conventions allowed themselves to be beguiled, browbeaten or sobbed into putting up their hands again in support of leaders who will surely demand continuation of the no-strike pledge.

If the thousands of delegates to the conventions permit themselves to be drugged by the demagogy of leaders just back from the battle fronts, by clever and oily speeches by government officials and, worst of all, by the grossly indecent exhibition of innocent wounded men from the front, then they will only place a halter around the neck of labor that will be pulled tighter during the next year by the employers and the government.

The no-strike pledge is the main question that will come before the conventions.

This is the chief question tactically. It is the all-important issue from the standpoint

of organized labor to get itself into a more advantageous position to deal with matters of collective bargaining right down to the every-day grievances/ in the shops. It is important in connection with the desire of labor to come to grips with the anti-labor WLB and NLRB. With the maintenance of the no-strike pledge we are powerless to knock out the Little Steel formula and raise our wages to meet the 43.5 per cent rise in the cost of living.

What the No-Strike Pledge Does

The no-strike pledge chains us to passivity and subservience to the employers, the government boards and the bureaucrats of the War and Navy Departments.

The no-strike pledge is a barricade standing between labor and effective action on cutbacks, the closing of plants and the summary and bureaucratic dismissal of workers from their jobs.

And in a very important sense the no-strike pledge is a deterrent to independent political action by labor by keeping us generally tied to Roosevelt, the Democratic Party, or to Dewey and the Republican Party.

The ramifications of the no-strike pledge are manifest in every sphere and avenue of labor life and activity. Every worker, even the most violently patriotic worker, should know this by now. Prices advance 43.5 per cent, but labor can do nothing to increase wages. The steel workers asked for a seventeen-cent increase last December, but the WLB calmly ignores the demand. It says nothing, sees nothing and hears nothing. There is nothing to hear because the steel workers have given a no-strike pledge.

The employees of the Big Four meat packers are denied a wage increase by the WLB and are reminded that there is a Little Steel formula.

The UAW has been notified in advance by the WLB that this mighty union will not be listened to if demands for wage increases are made when the GM contract comes before this little board.

The UAW will be forced to knuckle under if its coming contention reaffirms the no-strike pledge. That is, the locals will have to knuckle under or run the risk of having their charters lifted and their officers suspended by Thomas, fresh from the battlefields of Europe.

Workers in Great Danger

Every worker in every union is confronted with the imminent danger of a lowered standard of living, due for one reason or another, to a reduction in the “take home” pay. The U.S. Labor Press Service of the OWI publisher a report of the War Foods Administration stating that “only a small percentage of workers eat adequate, nutritional breakfasts.” Or the housewives interviewed in the survey, “in practically every case, one important food, generally fruit or cereal, was missing.” In a California war plant, “eighty-four per cent of the women and forty per cent of the men had eaten breakfasts rated ‘poor’.” Fruit for breakfast, indeed, with a can of pears calling for forty-four points and thirty-five cents, and fresh fruit selling at its weight in gold!

Workers are faced with a conspiracy on the part of employers to reduce wages and lengthen hours. Workers who are the victims of cutbacks and the closing of plants are forced to take jobs at wages lower than the rate in the plant from which they go. The capitalist employers and Congress are playing with a plan to wreck the unions by using ex-servicemen and women against the seniority rules. “Assistant President” Byrnes, under the lash of the Army and Navy brasshats, issues a manpower order which contains many of the essential features of a labor draft.

Unions Face Disruption

Labor is faced with unemployment today, not only after the war. First come the cutbacks, layoffs and a scramble for new jobs which will be doled out by scheming employers at a lower rate of pay. In each instance where this occurs the local union will be disrupted, as in the Brewster case.

Later there may come a general reduction in the working time with the total elimination of overtime. This will reduce the standard of living and make it impossible for families to make ends meet at all; This because at present a large part of the income of the workers comes from the time and a half and double time pay. This hag been the policy of the Roosevelt government functioning through Davis’ WLB. If the workers wanted more money, they were told to work longer hours or to accept piecework systems, which did not “increase the unit cost of production.”

We have just witnessed the defeat of the Kilgore bill through the machinations of “Assistant President” Byrnes and a combination of Democrats and Republicans.

Roosevelt was silent on the Kilgore bill, but perhaps he had talked to Byrnes.

These are the ominous situations confronting labor as the organized workers prepare for their conventions, as they gird themselves for action on the no-strike pledge, the WLB and all the tremendously important questions that are life or death for the labor movement.

Most of the big international unions will hold conventions in September arid October – the automobile and aircraft workers, miners, rubber workers, metal miners, shipbuilding workers and radio workers. These conventions will have their own individual problems to iron out, but not one of these organizations, including the AFL unions, will be able to skirt around the great national issues we have mentioned.

The no-strike pledge, the WLB and the coming presidential election will be before each convention. Many locals have passed resolutions against the no-strike pledge and calling for withdrawing the labor men from the WLB. The Little Steel formula and the whole wage question will face the delegates for action. They will not be able to dodge any of these questions and face those who elected them when they return to their respective locals.

Bureaucrats on the Spot

President Green of the shipbuilders’ IUMSWA will not be able to skirt around the wage question as he did last year with the asinine position that wages are in the hands of the government. This little fellow, who seems to believe that the way to operate a union is, through appointed bureaucrats called “administrators,” may also face opposition on this score.

President Thomas of the UAW will have to bring up more than tears, threats or pleading to get his beloved no-strike pledge renewed.

The Stalinist-dominated and strangled United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers will have to dish out more than incentive pay, the no-strike pledge and Harry Bridges to satisfy the delegates.

The Mine, Mill & Smelter Workers will meet in Pittsburgh. We haven’t heard what Reid Robinson and the Stalinists have prepared for these workers but they will certainly be faced with a resolution to approve Roosevelt and the no-strike pledge.

The rubber workers’ URW will meet in New York. Here President Dalrymple will have an organized effort against his stupid and ignorant bureaucratic procedure in this international.

The miners’ UMWA will meet in Cincinnati, where the question of restoring autonomy to the districts will be fought out.

We can expect to be deluged with speakers of all kinds from Congress, government bureaus and various cabinet officers. Each convention of course will have a telegram from the “Commander-in-Chief,” the new title which the labor leaders have bestowed on Roosevelt, whose command, according to tradition and the constitution, is restricted to the Army and Navy. As an added effort to jam through reaffirmation of the no-strike pledge, the union officials may be expected to have wounded men from the Army and Navy on hand.

But not even on the question of political action will there be unanimity. Several of the conventions will have resolutions calling for independent political action and the formation of an independent Labor Party. Militant and aggressive delegates will have such an opportunity as never before to wage a fight for changing their internationals from cringing and retreating organizations to fighting unions, ready for an offensive against all who would destroy them. These militants, however, will have to act differently from their manner of operating at former conventions. They will have to act in concert, in an organized manner. They will have to act with courage and determination. Every convention should ring with opposition to servile and futile bootlicking of the employers, the government and Roosevelt. Whatever militant delegates do at the conventions of the internationals will be welcomed by the masses of their brothers and sisters back home.

Any victories which militant delegates are able to win at the conventions of the international unions will serve as a warning to the CIO and AFL conventions not to repeat their capitulations of former years.

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Last updated: 14 December 2015