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Joseph Keller

Roosevelt Puts on Pressure
for Forced Labor Measures

(3 February 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 5, 3 February 1945, pp. 1 & 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Confronted by mounting labor opposition to his “National Service” scheme for regimenting the workers and undermining the unions, Roosevelt and his leading brass hats are pressing ever more urgently for speedy enactment of the May-Bailey forced labor draft bill, now before Congress. This bill contains features more harsh in some instances than the original Nazi slave labor code on which the Roosevelt plan is modeled and which inspired his cynical slogan, “This is a war of free labor against slave labor.

The success of the administration’s conspiracy to enslave American labor in the interests of the profiteering corporations required the strategy of speed and surprise. Roosevelt’s plot, therefore, was to shove through a forced labor bill before the labor movement had time to mobilize its ranks for resistance and before his sinister anti-labor intent could be fully exposed.

With this aim of speed in mind, Roosevelt timed his renewed forced labor drive to go into high gear at the moment when popular fear of a prolonged war slaughter was at its height, during the unexpected military reverses on the Belgian front. Roosevelt unleashed a fraudulent propaganda scare-campaign about munitions “shortages” that was designed to play upon the fears of the masses for their loved ones in the battle lines and break down their opposition to labor regimentation.

However, despite the careful planning of the administration, its forced labor blitz timetable has already been upset. It has run into several unforeseen obstacles, causing delays which increasingly imperil the administration’s original scheme.

Anti-Labor Amendments

One unanticipated snag has been created by the very eagerness of reactionary Congressmen to respond in the same labor-hating spirit as Roosevelt’s forced labor demand. In their desire to “strengthen” the bill and eliminate any possibility of loopholes, Roosevelt’s more unrestrained Congressional colleagues, particularly from the Democratic South, are competing to attach to the forced labor measure all sorts of cruder anti-labor amendments. Their slobbering eagerness to embrace Roosevelt’s plan and even “improve” it has not only delayed its enactment but exposed the original bill for the viciously antilabor measure that it is.

One amendment was designed to undermine union security by abrogating closed shop union contracts for workers forced into jobs in closed-shop plants. Another was intended to make all strikes illegal. Differences arose among the Congressmen as to the most effective means for enforcing the labor draft scheme. Some wanted “work-or-fight” penalties. Some wanted to establish “slacker work battalions” under Army rule. Others preferred “civilian” penalties – $10,000 fines and 5 years imprisonment.

Fearful that all these amendments were stalling the bill and exposing its real slave labor character, Roosevelt’s aides rushed to Congress and insisted that it hold back all the trimmings until the basic measure is passed. Under this pressure, the House Military Affairs Committee eliminated the anti-strike, anti-closed shop, “work-or-fight” and “slacker battalions” amendments. The committeemen were aware that the bill as it stands, which enables the administration to move workers in and out of jobs at will under threat of huge fines and imprisonment, is sufficiently broad and drastic to satisfy even the most hard-bitten, fascist-minded employers.

The administration wants speed, in addition, because the change in the military, picture, due especially to the Red Army offensive toward Berlin, has reduced the popular fear of a prolonged war. Talk of an immediate Allied offensive – with assurances that there are now sufficient munitions for it – has reduced the effect of the munitions “shortage” scare.

Fake Shortage

Most of all, the real facts about the “need” for forced labor due to manpower shortages are coming to light. The Mead Senate War Investigating Committee, for instance, has disclosed “labor hoarding” and huge waste of manpower at the Norfolk Naval Yard, where the officials had been clamoring for “4,000 more workers.”

The War Production Board report for December showed that despite the holiday letdown substantial increases in all the major munitions programs were registered. During the last half of 1944, the WPB report admitted, “every one of the critical programs showed a substantial gain” ranging from 20 to over 200 per cent.

Roosevelt’s Moves

And then came the startling disclosure by John L. Lovett, Michigan Manufacturers’ Association general manager, that in the allegedly key “tight spot,” Detroit, the factories are in position to handle 20 per cent more war contracts and that 50,000 experienced workers are right now forced to live off unemployment compensation.

CIO United Automobile Workers President R.J. Thomas put his finger on the biggest flaw in the claim of manpower “shortage.” He last week challenged the government estimate of 700,000 unemployed, declaring there were no less than 5,000,000 workers seeking jobs. “The bureau (Labor Statistics) must be thinking of 700,000 white men,” Thomas declared. “My estimate includes what they overlooked – the women and Negroes able and wanting to work in war plants and other essential industries.” But the House Military Affairs Committee struck out from the May-Bailey bill a clause prohibiting discrimination against workers for racial, religious or similar reasons.

Without even waiting for legislation, the administration has already begun to initiate its forced labor scheme. Allentown, Pa., has been selected as the first test spot. There last week, under orders of the War Manpower Commission, a group of brewery workers were fired from their jobs and forced to take work in designated plants at lower pay and longer hours.

If the administration succeeds in achieving its aims in this instance, it plans to spread the same scheme everywhere. By hook or by crook, Roosevelt intends to impose industrial regimentation upon the American working class. This Nazi-like scheme can still be smashed, however, if the entire labor movement goes into united fighting action against it.

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