Ernest Rice McKinney Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Ernest Rice McKinney

Answering a New York Times Editorial

The Working Class and the “Public”
in America

(7 October 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 40, 7 October 1946, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by
Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In its Sunday, September 8 edition, the New York Times discusses the strike situation under the heading, A Threat to Liberty. The editorial begins:

“Since the end of the war it has become more and more evident that the industrial strike has ceased to be primarily a contest between employers and workers and has become primarily a test of the public endurance.”

What do they mean by “a test of the public endurance?” What do they mean by the “public?”

There are approximately 15 million workers in the country organized into trades unions. Are these 15 million a part of the “public” as the Times understands it? Of the 140,000,000 million inhabitants of the U.S. fully 100,000,000, to be conservative, are wage-earners of one sort or another. Are these 100,000,000 a part of the “public?”

Labor Against Capital

Obviously, the Times considers the “public” all those who are not members of trade unions. The Times thereby puts organized labor into one category and all others into another. This is a favorite trick of the capitalist press. They refuse publicly to recognize the fact that there is a working class and a capitalist class. They make it appear that the trade unions are not representative of the working class.

The capitalist class likes to make workers believe that unions represent only the relatively few who are members of a union and that these unions often do not even represent their members.. Therefore strikes have become not a contest between workers and employers, but a contest between the 15 million members of unions and the remainder of the population.

This is an attempt to make white collar wage-earners, non-organized industrial workers and middle class persons believe that they should not place any confidence in the organized labor movement.

The strikes today are contests between the owners and those who are forced to labor for the owners. The strikes are not a contest between some mythical entity known as the “public” and the unions. Strikes are a struggle between the two main classes in capitalist society: the working class and the capitalists. The situation is more complicated today because in the present precarious state of capitalist society it is necessary for the government to intervene more directly in the interest of capitalist society. This was the mission of Roosevelt and the New Deal.

Roosevelt never made any pretense that he had had any other purpose than to “save capitalism.” In 1936 Roosevelt told the “economic royalists” who were opposing him for re-election; “I saved you ...” Roosevelt then went on to say that it was the measures which his administration had taken which had avoided “rioting in the streets.”

A Political Struggle

The Times goes on to say that strikes of the type occurring today, particularly the trucker and seamen strikes are not “altogether new. The railway strike of 1877 and the Pullman strike of 1894 were in the pattern.” There is a difference, however, according to the Times. There is something new: “... more men and more occupations have been organized, so that the impact is greater; that the organization is more effective, that strikes are conducted with an almost military sense of strategy, and that such struggles have taken on a political complexion.”

Every plodding, bungling and blundering trade union leader in the country should read that statement. That is, all of the trade union leaders should read it. The capitalist owners of the Times understand the situation better than the labor leaders.

Labor has learned something in the fifty years since the railway and Pullman strikes. More industries have been organized, there are more workers in unions, strikes are a sort of military operation. This means that the organized workers have far greater defensive and offensive power today than fifty years ago. And, “such struggles have taken on a political complexion.” This is the phrase the labor leaders should read and ponder over. What does it mean?

The Times is saying that at certain periods and under certain conditions, what appears to labor as merely an economic struggle is in reality a political struggle. Perhaps the owners of the Times have been reading from Karl Marx. Of course they would not need to read Marx to understand when, how and under what conditions the struggle of a class becomes a political struggle. The capitalist ruling class engaged in a long and savage struggle against feudalism for the purpose of overthrowing that class and establishing capitalism and the social and political rule of the present day capitalist class.

The struggle which the new capitalist class ‘waged against the feudal landlords was not a peaceful struggle: it was real warfare: national wars, international wars and civil wars. Northern industrial capitalism did not free itself from the political, social and economic threat of slave society at the ballot box but on the battle field. The capitalists of today of course defend all these wars and revolutions. That is, they defend their past mass strikes and their wars. The capitalists are great defenders of all past revolutions. That is, all except the Great October Revolution in Russia because that was a workers revolution.

Only the Beginning

The capitalist class did precisely what the workers are attempting to do today. Capitalism and feudalism reached a “deadlock.” “Neither side” would “give in,” There was “wild talk” from the capitalists (and still is) “like that of the agent of the Seafarers International Union.” The capitalists organized “more men and more occupations ... so that the impact” could “be greater.” They made their organizations “more effective” and conducted their struggles against the defenders of feudalism with a “military sense of strategy.” What is the capitalist press howling about. The working class hasn’t really hurt them yet. WE HAVE ONLY MADE THE BAREST BEGINNING.

The Times says that the present struggles of the workers and the unions is beginning to look political. That’s true but the Times must know the reason. All the ruling class must know the reason. Didn’t they go through a similar experience? Isn’t it true that the young rising capitalist class discovered that its economic struggles against the feudal landlords threw that class face to face with the government of the feudal landlords? Isn’t it true that the young capitalist class finally discovered that in order to protect and consolidate its economic gains it had to have political power; a political party of its own and a government of its own?

And is it not true that the present capitalist class overthrew feudalism and the feudal landlord regime in one civil war after another? Isn’t it true that after this the capitalists established capitalism and the political and social domination of the capitalist class?

Why does the Times think it so strange that the workers should begin moving in the same direction? This big capitalist paper really is not so surprised. They understand. It is only the labor leaders who don’t understand or who don’t want to understand. They are the constant muddle-heads. They think that they can make capitalism and capitalist democracy work tomorrow just as it did yesterday. These labor leaders don’t know as much as the capitalist of 200 years ago. They didn’t try to make feudalism work. They destroyed it and established capitalism. Now when the workers begin to have some vague notions about another kind of social order the labor leaders follow the Times and orate about the glories of capitalism.

The Times closes its editorial very solemnly with the adjuration that “the unions have an especial responsibility ...” because “they have grown enormously in power.” That’s right. Our unions have the responsibility to use this power for the complete organization of the working class, to support the political organization of labor, to aid in the organization of labor for the struggle against capitalism and the capitalist class; AND FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT OF SOCIALISM AND A SOCIALIST SOCIETY.

Ernest Rice McKinney Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 20 July 2020