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Joseph Keller

Trade Union Notes

Textile Wage Case Conspiracy

(3 February 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 5, 3 February 1945, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Some workers undoubtedly still have the illusion that the Roosevelt administration attempts to exercise “impartiality” in arriving at wage decisions. But the reality is the exact opposite. The rigmarole of War Labor Board hearings and other government arbitration procedures is designed to conceal behind-the-scenes conniving between the administration and the big employers.

The actual mechanics of one such conspiracy have been partially disclosed by recent developments in the textile wage case, including Director of Economic Stabilization Vinson’s intervention in this and other pending cases. This intervention came in the form of his letter to the WLB “requesting” that agency to grant no wage increases of any nature without prior approval of the Office of Price Administration.

By his action, Vinson succeeded in blocking a final decision of the WLB after it had indicated its intentions of lifting slightly the “sub-standard” wages of the terribly exploited textile workers. Further, he established an entirely new basis for “settling” wage disputes. Not the “merits of the case” are the criteria, but whether wage increases, however paltry, “affect costs and prices” – as the profiteering corporations always insist they do.

Moreover, final authority in wage disputes is no longer to reside in the official arbitration agency, the WLB, but in the “price control” agencies, where the unions do not even have formal representation. Thus, the administration has contrived a neat device for nullifying wage increases even in those few instances where the WLB, in order to preserve its prestige as an “impartial” agency, is compelled to grant “fringe” raises.

Apart from the obvious general fact that Roosevelt’s underlings and appointees, including Vinson, merely implement the administration’s wage and labor policies, in this particular case there is concrete evidence that Vinson acted in accordance with White House directions. Moreover, as we shall show, Vinson had a secret “understanding” with the leading textile manufacturers.

The first public knowledge of the general contents of Vinson’s letter to WLB chairman Davis came in a CIO statement of protest issued in Washington on January 12. This statement also contained a copy of a letter sent by Roosevelt to CIO President Murray. Roosevelt’s letter – into which the CIO leaders attempted at first to read a message of “hope” – clearly indicates that the inspiration for Vinson’s action came straight from the White House.

In his letter discussing the administration’s broad wage policy, Roosevelt emphasized just one point – the effect of any wage increases upon prices. “Naturally, any proposals for a change in our present policy must be considered in relation to their probable effect upon the price structure and upon our general anti-inflation program. The board (WLB), therefore, will submit its report to Judge Vinson whom I then expect to advise me in light of the board’s findings, as well as all other relevant information. As to objectives, we are in perfect agreement. We must not permit the price level to rise.”

It may be noted with reference to the last sentence that the compelling reason advanced by the unions to demand wage increases has been precisely that prices have already risen – at least 45 per cent since January 1941.

* * *

It can now be proved, further more, that Vinson acted not only with Roosevelt’s approval but also upon secret agreement with the textile bosses. That is why Vinson’s letter to the WLB was timed to halt release of the WLB decision in the textile wage case.

The irrefutable evidence of this administration-employers conspiracy to defraud the textile workers is contained in a document made public on January 23 by Emil Rieve, President of the CIO Textile Workers Union.

This revealing document is signed by William P. Jacobs, Executive Director of the Print Cloth Group of Cotton Manufacturers, Clinton, S.C. It is dated January 12, 1945. It is fittingly titled, Another Progress Report.

The document begins:

“After spending another week in Washington, I give you another confidential report on price ceilings and wages. On this trip, I conferred with Judge Vinson, having previously conferred with Justice Byrnes. He arranged the conference with Judge Vinson for us.”

What a spirit of cordiality and cooperation!

The report goes on to confide: “On wages the judge seemed better informed and more interested but still non-committal.” “Better informed and more interested” here means sympathetic to the sweat-shop operators’ view; “non-committal” means cautiously refraining from any open commitments.

Then comes the real pay-off.

“This matter is now in his (Vinson’s) hands, and from the pressure that we know has now reached him it is possible that FOR POLITICAL REASONS he may be forced to indefinitely hold the matter, or he may recommend a basis somewhat lower than the WLB would authorize. From conferences which I held I know that Justice Byrnes, Senators George, Maybank, Russell and Governor Gardner, and perhaps others have insisted that he do nothing which will wipe out the traditional North-South differential.”

To what “political reasons” does this Southern sweatshop representative refer? Obviously the need of the Roosevelt regime to preserve its political ties with the powerful Southern Democratic Bourbons. The whole deal was engineered through Roosevelt’s right-hand man, Byrnes, the so-called “Assistant President.”

The report then observes:

“The interview (With Vinson) was satisfactory and resulted in a hopeful conclusion, again indicating the effect of pressure FROM HIGHER UP and perhaps from the letters which you have written to members of Congress. I RAN INTO THAT AT MANY POINTS.”

Such understanding and co-operation from the “higher ups” and legislators! Indeed, the textile manufacturers had every reason to anticipate a “hopeful conclusion.” And they were not disappointed.

* * *

It need merely be added that WLB chairman Davis is now engaged in a bit of shadow-boxing with Vinson. Naturally, to prop up the WLB’s tottering authority, Davis is compelled to disclaim responsibility for the administration’s connivery. He is “disputing” in a polite way with Vinson’s “interpretation” – although conceding Vinson’s authority to enforce his “interpretation.”

However, Davis and Vinson have cooperated to keep their skulduggery hidden from the workers. The United Press reported on January 24 that the text of Vinson’s letter “was made available despite efforts of both WLB Chairman William H. Davis and Mr. Vinson to prevent it from being made public.”

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