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Hugo Oehler

The Strike Wave and the Role of the NRA

(June 1934)

From The Militant, Vol. VII No. 25, 23 June 1934, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The NRA promised the people social peace, class harmony and prosperity. But after one year of the Blue Eagles’ rule, we witness a spiral wave of strike struggles that threaten to shake America out of its old way of thinking and make it realize that a “new day” is here for capital and labor. It is not a new day of class peace as promised by Roosevelt. It heralds a period of intensified antagonisms in the camp of the exploiting classes and between capital and labor.

At present a new strike wave is spreading throughout the nation. Most of the struggles are for the elementary right of union organization and union recognition, but they all include a struggle for higher pay and a decrease in hours. Everywhere workers are becoming disappointed with the NRA, especially since the Roosevelt Auto Settlement interpretation of collective bargaining.

The “Tory” of American politics tells us that the strike waves are due to the NRA. But this is far from the truth. The labor unrest and the importance of the union question today is a phenomena that can be traced to more fundamental sources, which in turn place the NRA as a capitalist stop-gap for the powerful upsurge of the working class.

NRA in the First Strike Wave

The first strike wave swept the country at the very beginning of the NRA and was dramatized by the Pennsylvania mine strikes and the Paterson silk strike. The NRA revealed itself in this situation, along with the A.F. of L. labor leaders, as a force in the defense of capital, against the workers, attempting, at every opportunity, to corral them into class collaboration machinery and to blunt their class weapons, thereby compelling the workers to return to work at the bosses’ terms.

The second strike wave, which threatened to rock the very foundation of American capitalism, was checked at first by the sell-out of the Auto workers by Green and Company under the Roosevelt-NRA plan. This was a decided set-back for organized labor. But no sooner had the bosses said “all’s well”, than local strikes in the auto industry upset all the plans. Other strikes in the basic industries followed in quick order and are now sweeping the country. All indications are that a new upsurge of greater scope is now in the making.

The Capitalist Plans

The capitalist class foresaw the developing strike struggles and prepared in advance to meet the situation. For this purpose the NRA was adopted by their government. Although the NRA serves a broader purpose than as a class collaboration machinery to hold in check the class struggle, this, nevertheless, is one of its basic features. The capitalists realized that the conservative A.F. of L. base was too narrow to cope with the new situation. The A.F. of L. was losing its economic base, as a natural process of the crisis. The workers of the basic industries were outside of the A.F. of L., the unskilled workers were ignored and the labor fakers showed no inclination to organize them. The vast majority of the American workers were unorganized.

To confront a period of increased class antagonisms between capital and labor with such a labor condition may be fatal for capital. Because the inevitable increase in strike struggles and motion toward union organization may get out of the hands of the conservative labor leaders and into class struggle channels. In other words, the class collaboration machinery of the A.F. of L. was too narrow to cope with the new situation.

Aim of the New Deal

The labor provisions under the New Deal, through the NRA section dealing with this, were designed to extend this base of class collaboration machinery. At the same time it was the aim to involve the existing A.F. of L. leaders in order to reach the millions of unorganized and unskilled.

A review of the strike struggles reported and analyzed in the columns of the Militant will convince one that the whole NRA labor machinery and its intervention in labor disputes, locally and nationally, has been to confuse and disorganize the workers and finally hand down decisions against them. Its first task is to prevent strikes. If this cannot be accomplished it continues its treacherous role with the labor fakers and the bosses. Even reports of strike struggles in the leading bourgeois papers cannot hide these facts. Every intervention of the Labor Boards and every settlement of strikes stands out in bold relief as an attempt to betray and defeat the working class. This, together with the open betrayal of the A.F. of L. leaders, is pushing the strike struggles to the left.

The Present Task

More independent action on the one hand, and outlaw strikes within the conservative unions on the other, indicate in which direction things are heading. This calls for an intensification of the work within the conservative unions in order to widen the gap between the rank and file and the fake leaders and, at the same time, to provide independent action outside of the A.F. of L., where such action becomes necessary.

The best way to retard this left wing development and help bolster up the labor fakers, and enable them again to save their faces, is to proceed to form a “new federation of labor” without the proper basis for it. This is the plan of the Stalinists to replace the Trade Union Unity League. Such a federation, controlled by the Stalinists, will play the same role today, on a larger scale, than the T.U.U.L. played when it was formed. It will retard the development of a genuine left wing movement in the conservative unions and also interfere with the building, of independent industrial unions. The building of independent industrial unions is directly connected with a live active left wing in the conservative unions which can give the proper support to the new unions and at the same time stay the hand of the labor fakers.

The confusion that Stalinism brings into the working class ranks plays havoc with the class conscious workers’ struggle against the labor fakers and the struggle against the NRA codes.

Results of the New Deal

The codes adopted so far are a disgrace to organized labor. They must be wiped out if labor is to benefit. The closed shop is outlawed. The open shop is legalized. The company unions are legalized. Minimum hours are entirely too long. Minimum wages are entirely too low for a living standard. With the legalizing of certain low minimum wage levels, combined with the different forms of inflation and price increase, the real wages of the workers have been reduced. Unless a more powerful strike wave develops, the real wage will be reduced further. Strikes are already outlawed. At any time deemed necessary the full force of the state power against the workers can be set in motion. An increase in brutal police and military repression of strikes is already evident.

The NRA class collaboration machinery and the A.F. of L. fakers’ betrayals will not be sufficient to stop the rising tide of labor struggles in America. The vitality and class action of the American workers will sweep them aside. Great historic battles are ahead. Let us sharpen our class weapons.

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