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Hugo Oehler

Labor Leaders and NRA

(January 1934)

From The Militant, Vol. VII No. 2, 20 January 1934, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The A.F. of L. has issued its annual business review which claims three gains for the workers under the NRA. At the same time the statement criticizes the NRA for not giving the labor leaders greater representation in the bodies set up by the code apparatus. The A.F. of L. report says that the gains have been: greater employment, shorter hours and increase in pay. The statement adds that the workers are “better organized to handle their problems and share in industrial control than they were last year.”

The three gains are qualified with a few ifs and buts which do not add clarity. No conclusions have been drawn by the statement; regarding the relation of the working class to the NRA. In fact many bank reports have presented labor’s problems with greater clarity.

Basic Problem Untouched

The report says that 1,800,000 laborers have been put back to work. But they do not state at what weekly wage. We know that the great majority of those who returned to work have been placed on the minimum wage rate. Others are on piece work with weekly earnings far below the blanket code minimum. Four and a half million have been given temporary work under the Civil and Public works programs. The report fails to explain that this is just another form of work-relief. These millions were taken off the relief list and were compelled to work for the equivalent of relief in order to carry them through the winter. The basic problem of unemployment under the capitalist system, the return of the workers to industry, has not been solved. The basic problem is not even touched.

Reduction in Real Wages

The hourly wage increase is reported to be 51 cents, and is qualified by the fact that this has not compensated for the shorter hours nor the rise in prices. The report also informs us that wage gains have been made by low-paid workers but that workers with a higher wage rate have been forced to a lower living standard. What the report fails to say is the following: That the rise in money wages coincided with a reduction in real wages due to the increase of prices of the essentials. Further, the number of high paid workers forced to a lower standard of living outweigh the number of low paid workers who obtained a slight increase.

The main point, however, is entirely missed or covered up in the A.F. of L. report. Granting for the moment that some of the workers can register a small gain in hours, wages and employment, even though the rest of the class has sunk lower, the fact remains that this “gain” is a cheap price for the capitalists to pay to keep the workers in check while they distribute billions for their own class at the same time. The NRA and all of the internal measures for recovery, as well as the proposed eleven billion dollar budget, are for the benefit of capitalist class. Naturally, they can afford to pay the price of a few crumbs to the working class in order to be left in peace to find a way out of the crisis. The A.F. of L. leaders help the capitalists in this game.

Green Appeals to Capitalists

The A.F. of L. report devotes a couple of paragraphs to the wage slave; the rest is a warning to the capitalist class. Not a warning that the A.F. of L. will lead the workers in struggle against the capitalists, but a warning that the capitalists had better be careful lest the workers get out of control. And the best way to keep the workers in control is to give us, the labor leaders, more of a hand in the affairs of the NRA and “industrial control”. Such is Green’s basic argument.

The report warns the capitalists that they had better get busy and not let the government take the whole initiative. Roosevelt knows how to use Green and Company – so why not you, the capitalists? The report warns against currency inflation but has praise for the other forms of inflation being carried out. The report ends by begging the capitalists and their government to give labor representation on the mechanism established with each code adopted. The A.F. of L. leaders desire to extend the present methods of class collaboration used by the NRA.

Role of Labor Leaders in N.R.A.

They were allowed in the first committees which were established to muffle and beat down the first strike wave. They did their job well and are reserved a place to prevent strikes and to break them. The capitalists needed them for this job and allow them to continue in this position. The A.F. of L. report is a plea for the extension of these “privileges” in the government machinery. The capitalists will grant such an extension when the need for it is clear to them, that is when the class storms break out more turbulently.

To the A.F. of L. leaders’ policy of class collaboration should be counterposed the workers’ struggle for the organization and recognition of shop committees in every establishment. Shop committees, in conjunction with trade unions, fighting on the basis of the class struggle, constitute the apparatus which should be counterposed to the class-collaboration apparatus defended by Green & Co.

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