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Roosevelt and Wall St.

FDR Plans Same “50–50” Break for Labor in Coming War
As Workers Received in the Last Imperialist Conflict

(23 November 1940)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. 4 No. 47, 23 November 1940, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).


During World War No. 1, 21,000 new American millionaires were created. Every slaughtered American soldier was worth $500,000 net profit to Wall Street.

As for labor, it received an average 30 percent monetary wage increase. This was more than wiped out by an average price increase of 100 percent. The fiction that all the American workers wore silk shirts during the war, is refuted by the fact that total overage real wages declined as much as 40 percent.

Labor Regimented

In addition, the entire labor movement was regimented. Strikes were met by ruthless suppression; strikers were court-martialed and given long prison terms. In some instances Army troops marched into struck industries and operated them at Army pay, $21 a month. When the war was over, the “defenders of democracy” came back to unemployment and accumulated debt. By 1921, there were over 5 million without jobs. The national debt, which was $9.88 per person in 1914, was $228 per person at the end of the war.

Despite terrorization, patriotic pressure and the complete capitulation of their own leaders, the workers were compelled to fight back against unendurable conditions. Starting with 1916, a tremendous strike wave swept the country. In 1917, there were 4,450 strikes, more than in any year except 1937.

Vivid Memory

The memory of this tremendous struggle is vivid in the mind of the ruling class. Through its agents, like Roosevelt, it now seeks to re-assure labor in preparation for the coming war. This time, say the pay-triots, labor is in for a fifty-fifty break.

The initiation of this “break” started in July 1939. During mounting unemployment, WPA appropriations were suddenly sliced in half. But more significant, the Roosevelt administration abandoned the principle of the “prevailing wages.” This was a calculated provocation of union labor.

Strikers Thrown in Jail

When the WPA workers struck, Roosevelt declared, “You cannot strike against the government,” Federal agents, acting as spies, brought charges against 156 Minneapolis strikers. 32 received prison sentences. Roosevelt ignored the plea of the entire labor movement to pardon the convicted men.

The principle layed down by Roosevelt in July 1939 is now in effect in private industry. During the past year, the government has moved into every important strike to break it with the dictum, “You can’t strike against the government.” Every industry becomes part of “national defense;” every strike is “against the government.”

War Orders to Open Shops

While Bethlehem Steel received over a billion dollars in war orders, despite a federal court ruling that the company is in violation of the federal labor laws, the government ruthlessly curbed a threatened strike of Bethlehem workers.

At the same time, it struck a deadly blow at all New Deal labor legislation by openly declaring a policy of granting war orders to the vilest open-shoppers, DuPont, Ford Motors, Bethlehem Steel, etc.

The General Motors Corp, cracks down on the auto workers with a thousand provocations, speed-up, wage-cuts, firing of job stewards. A strike threat in Flint is countered by a lock-out, and the cry, “Fifth Columnists!” Big Business drapes itself in an American flag, and hopes to crush labor with impunity.

Civil Liberties Threatened

A gigantic program for handcuffing labor is underway. The American Civil Liberties Union, in its recent annual report, stated:

“At no period in the twenty years of its existence have the Civil Liberties Union and other agencies engaged with protecting civil rights been confronted with such an array of threatened measures of repression.”

These are tokens of the “fifty-fifty” break labor will get from the third-term. And there are other straws in the wind. From August 1939 to November 13, 1940, according to official government figures, average wholesale commodity prices advanced 17.2 percent. All labor has taken a huge wage-cut – “the easy way.”

Workers Taxed

An income tax on incomes as low as $800 a year, $15 a week, was slipped over last July. New “defense” taxes on movies, tobacco, gasoline have been slapped on the workers. A hint is given of the tax burdens yet to come by the announcement of Treasury officials that they are going to propose new taxes on soft drinks, etc.

Labor is playing checkers with the Roosevelt administration. The “jumps” permitted labor by the New Deal have been “give aways,” – to maneuver labor into position where all its pieces can be swept off the board.

Behind Roosevelt’s chair Wall Street stands grinning, holding the bets. Behind labor stand Hillman, Green and the rest of the labor “kibitzers” nudging labor’s shoulder, urging it to the fatal moves toward boss war. “That’s your play! What are you waiting for?”

Labor scratches its head and studies the board. It senses something tricky in the set-up.

Yes, your move, labor! – And watch out for traps!


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