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800,000 Steel Workers Strike for Living Wage

1,700,000 on Nation’s Picket Lines
in Greatest American Labor Struggle

(21 January 1946)

From The Militant, Vol. X No. 4, 26 January 1946, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

JANUARY 21. – Today at one minute past midnight the battle was joined in the most titanic and crucial labor struggle in American history.

Eight hundred thousand CIO steel workers – the flesh and bones and blood of America’s basic industry – threw down the gauntlet before the steel corporations, the most voracious and ruthless monopoly in the world.

Throughout the nation, at one blow from the mighty fist of steel labor, the gigantic mills, the vast blast furnaces and hearths, stood cold, silent and deserted.

Pittsburgh, Homestead, Braddock, Youngstown, Lackawanna, Bethlehem, Gary, Indiana Harbor, South Chicago – all the names synonymous with steel – today became the battlegrounds of a struggle that strikes at the very foundations of American monopoly capitalism.

For from the steel plants come the indispensable materials and products on which the whole gigantic organism of American industry, transport and commerce is nourished and sustained. Steel, the heart of American industrialism, is deprived of its very life blood, the labor of the steel workers. With its heart paralyzed, all American industry in a few short weeks will face virtual prostration.

Coast to Coast

The power in action of the organized steel workers is joined with that of more than 900,000 other striking workers already massed on embattled picket lines from coast-to-coast. They are fighting for decent wages and security against the country’s greatest monopoly giants, whose savage slogan is “Unconditional Surrender to Wall Street!”

First on the honor roll of the heroes of American labor are the 225,000 General Motors strikers. With unparalleled fortitude and courage, they have held out for more than nine weeks against the world’s largest industrial corporation and have spearheaded the drive of all American labor for a living wage.

Last week, they received mighty reinforcements. On Tuesday, some 200,000 CIO electrical and radio workers poured from the plants of the international electrical trusts, General Electric, Westinghouse and the Electrical Division of General Motors. The next day, the united forces of 325,000 CIO and AFL packinghouse workers clamped fighting picket lines around the plants and stockyards of the meat barons.

Today no less than l,700,000 workers are on strike at one time. They are all fighting for the same thing, a greater share of the wealth their labor produces, the wealth that is being drained off in unprecedented profits for a handful of Big Business parasites who produce nothing yet demand all.

Wall St. Insatiable

So voracious and insatiable, so drunk with privilege and power are these Wall Street pirates who dominate American economy, that even the capitalist government dares not give them open, support. The Truman administration is constrained by political expediency to give verbal support, however feeble, to the greatly reduced minimum wage demands which the union leaders have agreed to accept under pressure from the government.

But the steel, auto, electrical and meat-packing plutocrats, lusting for higher prices and greater profits and greedily clinging to their war-profits loot, have arrogantly rejected even the pleas of the Truman administration to make the minimal wage concessions required to terminate the strikes.

When Benjamin Fairless, U.S. Steel president, speaking for proffer of an additional price-steal of $4 a ton, it was clear that Big Business as a class had determined on nothing less than a showdown struggle against American unionism.

That is precisely what The Militant had warned, from the outset of the General Motors strike, was the main issue in the unfolding struggle. That is precisely what was confirmed when General Motors walked out of Truman’s “fact-finding” hearings and bluntly rejected the government’s recommendation of a wage settlement nearly 45 per cent less than the CIO auto workers’ original demand.

Forecast Confirmed

This forecast has received additional confirmation by the actions of the electrical and meatpacking trusts. Although the leaders of the CIO electrical union agreed, even in advance of the battle, to call off their strike if the companies would meet the 15-cent offer made by Fairless to the steel workers and negotiate the difference between the 25 cents originally demanded, GE, Westinghouse and General Motors refused to consider it. In months of negotiations, Westinghouse has made no counteroffer, however small.

The “Big Four” packing trust, Armour, Swift, Wilson and Cudahy, already enriched by hundreds of millions in government subsidies, preferred to inflict a meat famine upon the American people rather than give the low-wage packinghouse workers decent wages. These profiteers refused to settle even when the government twice offered huge additional subsidies by way of big price rises.

Corporations’ Conspiracy

These giant corporations, enormously enriched by the war, are conspiring to undermine and, if possible, destroy the Industrial unions, drive down living standards and inflate prices. They are determined to maintain the unprecedented profits they are wringing from the working class and deny the workers, the real producers, the higher wages they need.

Moreover, they are scheming, with the aid of the compliant government, to rob the workers and nullify any wage gains by means of deliberate price gouging. To this end, they are proceeding to throw the country into industrial paralysis, to blackmail and intimidate the consumers, and to starve out and crush the striking workers and returned veterans.

For the entire American labor movement, for the overwhelming majority of the American people, there can be no timid yielding on the fundamental issues posed by the rapacious corporations. And 1,700,000 workers on the nation’s picket lines are determined to battle out these issues to a decisive and favorable conclusion.

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