Muste Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

A.J. Muste

Victory or Defeat – Which Shall It Be?

(1 July 1933)

From Labor Action, Vol. 1 No. 7, 1 July 1933, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The forces of militant labor in this country are today confronted on the one hand with the gravest danger and on the other hand with a tremendous opportunity.

The Roosevelt administration is making the most gigantic and persistent attempt to hypnotize the masses into the belief that, without any struggle on their part, prosperity is to be restored through the National Industrial Recovery Act and other administration measures. The very fact that even the most reactionary business and financial interests are welcoming these measures and that an unheard-of barrage of propaganda is being released to “sell” them to the workers, is itself the best indication of the fraud and danger which they involve.

Under the N.I.R. Act the Stagger Plan will be put over on a national scale and while the very lowest wages in the most sweated industries may be somewhat improved, wages generally will be deflated and standardized at a very low level. It is no accident that just as the N.I.R. Act is about to be passed, the railroads should be demanding a drastic 22½ per cent reduction in the wages of railroad labor?

Dangers for Labor

The most dangerous sections of the Act are those dealing with the organization of labor. The Roosevelt administration poses as the ardent friend of organized labor as did Woodrow Wilson in an earlier period. The Act contains fine-sounding expressions about the right of labor to organize and bargain collectively.

Even if the administration were 100 per cent sincere in its protestations of friendship to labor, it would by no means follow as a matter of course that clean, fighting, progressive unions would come into existence automatically. The government professes to recognize the right of workers to organize. Employers who fire workers for joining a union or being active in organizing them are under the National Industrial Recovery Act, to be stamped as traitors and enemies of the national well-being. Wherever the workers permit them to get away with it. however, the bosses will, of course, try to get by without having any kind of organization of their employees. Where this proves impossible they will openly or secretly encourage the building of company unions. There are already a number of big steel and coal companies which have organized company unions in the past couple of weeks.

Where there is a union tradition or for some other reason, something that looks a little more real than a company union is demanded the American Federation of Labor will be called in to line up the workers. We are not against the A.F. of L. as such. We are out for unity and not disruption in the trade union movement. But many unions in the A.F. of L. are autocratic. Any attempt on the part of the membership to express itself is met by brutal repression. Many unions have become barefaced rackets. Many are in the control of gangsters.

Furthermore, the dominant policy In the entire A.F. of L. today is not that of fighting the government and the employers in the interest of the workers, but of working harmoniously with the government and the employers, which always ends up In the workers getting the short end of the deal.

A few days ago practically all of the miners in Ohio who had for several years had practically no organization, many of whom had been bitterly disgusted with the United Mine Workers of America, were suddenly lined up in the U.M.W. of A. under a wage contract which makes it impossible for a miner to make a decent living and which furthermore provides that there are to be no strikes! Tht condition of the workers will be worsened rather than improved if they are to be herded into such organizations which are honeycombed with corruption and in which any free expression of opinion on the part of the membership is crushed by brutal physical force which does not stop short of murder.

Thus the National Industrial Recovery Act may be used to build fake unions, subservient to the government and the bosses, or company unions. Not only will no impetus be given to clean, progressive, industrial unions, fighting the class struggle of the workers against the bosses and the government, but a bitter war of extermination will be waged against genuine fighting, economic organizations. They will not be tolerated by the side of the government-sponsored Fascist unions which are being foisted upon the workers of this country.

If at this time the militant elements In the labor movement are listless, cowardly or divided among themselves, the forces of reaction will cripple all fighting unions in the United States as surely as they are crippled under avowed Fascist dictatorships in Italy or Germany today.

The militant element in the labor movement can, however, turn the crisis into a great opportunity.

At heart the masses have no faith in the much-touted Roosevelt program. They are embittered by the long suffering of the depression, by relief cuts, by low wages, by short time when they are lucky enough to have jobs by speed-up by rising prices which cut into the value of such meager relief or wages as they do receive. Many times even recently they have shown that they can and will fight even though confused and weak ened by inadequate, timid or divided leadership. Let them hear a call to struggle by the united voice of the militant labor forces and they will respond. The program of the bosses and the government will be answered by a mighty wave of strikes.

We propose the following:

  1. That at the earliest possible moment militant elements in the labor movement unite in issuing a clear statement setting forth the real meaning of the Roosevelt program and summoning to united action against wage cuts, speed-up, the campaign to destroy the fighting unions, etc.
  2. In unorganized industries such as textiles, steel, large sections of the coal industry, those who are interested in effective organization should immediately confer on the situation In the industry and how steps may be taken toward stirring the workers to struggle and building industrial unions whose purpose is to fight the bosses and the goverment In the interests of the workers.
  3. As soon as adequate preparations can be made a great Congress of economic organizations – AF. of L. unions, independent unions, TUUL unions, unemployed organizations, minority groups where unions will not attend officially – should be held. This should not be another gathering for speeches, hot air and the passing of resolutions. Its aim should be to give the clean, fighting elements in these economic organizations a sense of the solidarity and strength of their forces, and to unite those forces for immediate action in the interests of the unemployed and the employed throughout the country.
  4. Out of this Congress or as soon as possible thereafter should come a determined effort to solve the problem of how the obstacles in the way of uniting all the fighting elements on the economic field may be overcome. There must be some center to inspire and coordinate the activities of these forces. That center must be free from the domination of any political group. It must aim to build the broadest mass organizations on a class-struggle basis.

There is no time to be lost. The danger In which all left-wing elements in the labor movement find themselves must now be faced.

Political and personal differences must not be permitted to interfere for another minute with immediate steps for united action on the economic field.

Muste Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 12 January 2022