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David Coolidge

To Halt Congress Anti-Labor Drive, We Propose

March on Washington!

(21 April 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 16, 21 April 1947, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The government at Washington, the political hatchet men of the capitalist ruling class, has arrayed itself concretely against labor in what is called a “union-control” bill. This bill has been prepared by the House Labor Committee. Another and similar bill is being prepared by the Senate Labor Committee, under the chairmanship of Senator Taft. Against these proposals we propose a MARCH ON WASHINGTON.

These “union-control” bills are a part of the program of the government at Washington, in response to the demands of the National Association of Manufacturers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Iron and Steel Institute and all the various organizations of the capitalist employers throughout the country.

These anti-labor bills, these bills to “curb labor,” to make labor “responsible,” to give “free speech” to the capitalist employers, are the obedient answer of the government at Washington to the commands of its actual masters: the gorged and bloated capitalist owners and bosses.

Should the working class and the trade unions submit without a struggle to the provisions of this employer-dictated legislation, we must also be prepared to submit to further attacks and a further violation of our democratic rights. What does this House bill say? The bill would eliminate the present National Labor Relations Board and amend the Wagner Act. The act would set up a three-member board and the office of Administrator of the National Labor Relations Act. The bill prohibits closed shop contracts. The union shop may exist if the employer agrees. Should a union attempt to gain a closed shop agreement by striking, the strike would be enjoined through injunction proceedings.

Legalizing Scabs

Industry-wide bargaining is made illegal. This means that whereas the Iron and Steel Institute or the National Association of Manufacturers, may function on an industry-wide basis in collective bargaining, under the law labor would be forbidden to operate in the same manner. If Bethlehem Steel is approaching wage negotiations with its workers, it can reach industry-wide agreements through the Iron and Steel Institute and hold to such agreements in negotiations with its workers, but the steel workers, under this act, are forbidden to proceed in like manner.

The President is empowered to seek court injunctions in any strike in transportation, public utilities or communications if the public health, safety or interest is threatened. Mass picketing is prohibited. If workers insist on striking, they are to, stay at home or go fishing. By the act they are not permitted to take any action which would deter the company from running thousands of scabs into the struck plant. There is nothing in the act making it unlawful for the company to hire scabs. The act merely recognizes the right of the worker to refrain from working if this is his desire. Mass picketing comes under the head of “unlawful concerted activities.” If a mass picket line is put out, a “secondary boycott” is invoked or a “sympathetic strike” is engaged in, the employer may sue the union, the union loses its Wagner Act rights for a year and may be prosecuted under the anti-trust laws.

Unions will be required to file a statement annually with the Department of Labor, reporting their financial transactions. It would be unlawful for unions (and corporations) to make political contributions in any election involving a federal office. This means of course that no union could, under this bill, make financial contributions to a labor party which was running candidates for any federal office. Capitalist millionaires may continue to make huge contributions to the Republican and Democratic Parties, but the organizations of labor may hot contribute to labor’s own political organizations.

Company unions are permitted if they are not “company dominated.” Unions may expel a member for membership in or promoting the Communist Party. There is a section on “union democracy” which makes it unlawful not to have a secret ballot on dues, assessments or policy questions. (How would this have worked in the case Of the wartime no-strike pledge?) Unions may not fine or discipline members who criticize the organization or its officers. A member may be expelled for disclosing confidential union information and for scandalous conduct tending to bring the labor organization into disrepute.

Stop and Think!

These are the really important sections of this bill. The bill is designed to bring the organized labor movement completely under the control of the government. Under this bill the unions will no longer be unions but something approaching the Labor Front of Hitler and the Stalinist bureaucratized GPU labor front of the Russian factories. The unions would be completely stifled, degraded and regimented. They would come under the full control of three bureaucrats in Washington, a labor front administrator, the President and Congress — all doing the will and the bidding of the capitalist employers.

No sphere of union activity and working class activity is left uncovered by this bill. No worker should be influenced to any degree in favor of this bill; not even by that most hypocritical section entitled “union democracy.” Instead of being favorably influenced by this section, this is the very part Which should make every worker stop and thinly. What worker will believe that the capitalist employers and their political deputies in the government at Washington have any genuine interest in internal Union democracy? Nobody in the government made any proposal during the war, for instance, that all matters of union policy should be submitted to “secret ballot” of the membership. They well knew that if such a ballot had been taken, the rank and file of the unions would have voted in many instances against the no-strike pledge which the leadership had given in a most undemocratic manner.

Furthermore, who are these people who talk about “union democracy”? They are the henchmen of the capitalist ruling class: capitalism’s political committee of management. That is what this government at Washington is. This should be clear now to the most backward worker. We have it right out of their own mouths in this “union control” bill. They are for union democracy only when they believe that workers are too backward and ignorant to know where their interests lie. They are for “union democracy” only so long as they believe that the unions will vote the capitalist way.

Capitalist Banditry

This capitalist ruling class is a brazen group of exploiters. They had their way during the war and made billions in profits and distributed billions in dividends and interest to themselves. After the world had been saved from Hitler and for democracy they made more billions in profits and interest. In order that these profits and dividends might not be lowered they demanded the scuttling of the OPA and got it from their willing and obedient government at Washington. Twenty-nine hundred corporations with 1946 profits of six billion dollars demanded protection, from their government.

The meat packers increased wages by a very modest amount but sent wholesale prices up 90 per cent. Armour’s profit increase in 1946 over 1945 was over 200 per cent. All the meat industry needed in price increase to repay it for the wage increase was less than 2 per cent, but they took 90 per cent. To pay for a wage increase which could have been covered by a 7 per cent increase in prices, the textile industry took 31 per cent. The big capitalist corporations first packed away billions in profits. Then they demanded price increases to pay for small wage increases, refusing to pay the higher wages out of profits.

Another interesting fact is the exposure of the contention of the big capitalists that they do not have a sufficient return on their investment. Well, the profits of the 2,900 corporations reported by the National City Bank of New York represented a 914 per cent return on their combined capital and surplus. In, 1945 this return was about 8 per cent. U.S. Steel’s return rose from 8 per cent in 1945 to 12 per cent in 1946.

The biggest jumps in profits, return on investment and price increases took place in tile, meat industry, the food industry, the textile industry and in steel. This means in the leading basic industries and in those industries which supply the masses of the people with the necessities of life.

The only reason that similar jumps have not taken place in rent is that the real estate brigands have not yet succeeded in getting the rent ceilings removed. This will come later. Every squealing group of capitalist exploiters will have its day at the trough.

What we have said above is not the whole story of the BIG GRAB. They got their billions in profits. They distributed millions in dividends and interest to themselves and their kind. They ran the prices up and put an iron ceiling on wages. And then, they started post-war production with 58,000,000 workers employed. They manufactured consumer goods, but they did not put these goods in the-stores. The big capitalist manufacturers put the stuff the workers made into the warehouses and kept them there. Big and continuous production and big inventories. The warehouses are bursting with the goods which the people need. The big banks are bursting also. Everything is going up: profits, dividends and inventories. BUT NOT WAGES.

Bosses’ Government

Why? We have been told for fifty years that production will raise the standard of living, that high production means lower prices and higher wages. The reason is simple. The big capitalist manufacturers have fasted blood. They produce and pack the goods away in their warehouses. They create an artificial shortage. And then they raise the prices again. Therefore the warehouses burst with goods the people need. The big banks are bursting too. The big capitalists are having their day. A tidal wave of profits, big inventories, glorious prices, billions on deposit, gigantic dividends and LOW WAGES.

It is after all this that the big capitalists go to THEIR GOVERNMENT AT WASHINGTON and say: “Protect Us from Labor.” “Give Us Company Security.” “Scrap the Wagner Act. Open the Union Books.” “Free Speech for Employers.” “Unions Are Combinations in Restraint of Trade.” “Down with the Dictatorship of Labor Leaders.” “Labor Wants a Finger in Our Pie.” “What This Country Needs Is More Injunctions.” “If Labor Wants More Wages, Let It Produce More.”

They get away with it too. They are successful. They succeed because they have a government of their own. They have a President of their own and of their own choosing. They have their own courts to protect them and theirs. They send their people into the Cabinet, to Congress and to the White House. Later they take their people out of the government and bring them back to the Corporation. They make better corporation executives after a season in Congress, on the bench or in the Cabinet. It is good for the health of a capitalist business enterprise which has officers who have served their country in the Treasury Department, the Justice Department, the White House or in Congress.

What Labor Can Do

What is organized labor doing about all this? Specifically what are we doing about these anti-labor bills; these bills to wreck the unions and make the capitalist employers stronger even than they are today? We are npt doing much. While profits and prices continue to rise and wages remain low, we who are the majority in this country and in the world, only solace ourselves with the vain hope that the capitalist employers and their government at Washington will be fair and democratic. The trade union leadership is at the end of its rope. It doesn’t know what to do. It doesn’t even know enough to unite the labor movement: the AFL, CIO and the railway unions. It sees the capitalist class united, but it leaves the trade union movement and the working class divided. It sees the NAM, the U.S. Chainber of Commerce and other employer organizations marching on Washington. But the labor leaders sit in their offices, write speeches arid plead with the capitalist bosses and the capitalist government not to kill the goose which lays the golden egg.

We believe that organized labor can do something. The trade unions must do something. What can labor do? It seems to us that the first thing to do is simple: UNITE IMMEDIATELY FOR JOINT ACTION to defeat the anti-labor bills in the Senate and House of Representatives. What is so difficult about this? Why hasn’t it been done? Is it because the workers are against such a step? This is nonsense. The labor movement is divided today because the leadership does not want a united labor movement! The ranks of labor would gladly unite because they really have felt the blow on their backs.

What kind of joint action could a united labor movement engage in? It could follow the capitalist bosses into Washington and demonstrate against the anti-labor bills. Labor can defeat these bills if the trade unions will unite and act.

A MASS DEMONSTRATION OF LABOR in Washington would defeat these bills. Every local in the country, from the AFL, CIO, the Brotherhoods and the independent unions, could elect delegates, thousands of them, to go to Washington and DEMONSTRATE AT THE CAPITOL. If the capitalist bosses can MARCH ON WASHINGTON, so can labor.

A Minimum Proposal

A united labor movement could urge a JOINT SESSION OF THE HOUSE AND SENATE to hear the proposals of organized labor on the “union-control” bills. What’s wrong with this? Wasn’t this Congress sent to Washington by the votes of the working people? Since the working people sent these men and women to Congress, why can’t these working people go to Washington and tell Congress what they want done and what they don’t want done? Is it only the capitalist manufacturers and bankers who can tell Congress what to do?

Certainly we can ask for a JOINT SESSION OF CONGRESS on these “union-control” bills, on these bills to “curb labor.” The unions of the united labor movement can elect representatives to appear before this JOINT SESSION OF THE HOUSE AND SENATE and argue labor’s case. While the elected representatives of labor are addressing the Congress, the thousands of unionists can stand outside the Capitol in solid array waiting for the return of their representatives to report what the “representatives bf the people” had to say. Who could possibly raise any objection to such a genuinely democratic procedure?

The representatives of labor appearing before such a joint session of Congress could tell the lawmakers that labor demands the retention of the Wagner Act and without the amendments proposed. KEEP THE NLRB. NO INJUNCTIONS against labor or the trade unions. AMEND THE NORRIS-LA GUARDIA ACT TO INCLUDE THE GOVERNMENT. No Anti-Closed Shop Legislation. INDUSTRY-WIDE BARGAINING. NO EMPLOYER or GOVERNMENT SUITS AGAINST UNIONS. NO Legislation Barring Members of Political Parties from Union Membership.

What is proposed here, if carried out, would be only a small step for labor in the direction of protecting the interests of the working people of this country. But such a MASS DEMONSTRATION OF LABOR AT WASHINGTON by a united labor movement would produce beneficial results for all of labor in the U.S.

What is proposed here is only a small gesture which labor can make. It is not enough. We have made it clear that this is not our government. No demonstration or series of demonstrations at Washington alone will make it our government. Such a demonstration, however, will tell the capitalist class and its political hirelings that we mean business. We may be on the defensive, but at least we can take time out to think things over, get a new program and decide what to do next.

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Last updated: 5 January 2022