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Gertrude Shaw

House Votes Price Boost!

Labor Unions Start Drive For Increased Wage Rates

(29 November 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 49 (should be No. 48), 29 November 1943, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

WASHINGTONThe action of the House in sending to the Senate the Commodity Credit Corporation Bill, calling for an end to the food subsidy program after December 31 of this year, carried by a vote of 278 to 117, will only aggravate the wage situation in the country. All forecasts are that the Senate will concur in the House action.

It is expected that Roosevelt will veto the bill, since his entire program for the wage freeze depends on subsidies given to the big food corporations as a means of keeping down prices. But prices of course have not been kept down, and the workers of the country are clamoring for higher wages.

The House action was carried out in behalf of the war profiteers, who stand to gain millions more through higher prices – unlimited prices. Roosevelt’s fears that this will set the stage for widespread wage demands are based on the fact that even before the House action a number of unions have denounced the Little Steel formula and have demanded wage increases.

The CIO convention, in response to the pressure of the rank and file, formally went on record against the Little Steel formula. Since the convention, Murray’s own union, the United Steel Workers of America, has gone on record to demand a wage increase.

Long before that, however, the railway workers were pressing for wage increases and the unions in that industry have been preparing to take a strike vote.

The miners’ union set the stage; other unions are following suit. As the situation becomes more unbearable for the workers, more and more unions will join the cry for higher wages.


In the past week the War Labor Board has already – for one involved reason or another – chiseled thirty-one cents a week off miners’ wages as set by the Ickes-Lewis agreement.

Also in the past week a Senate subcommittee favored the wage increase of eight cents an hour for 1,100,000 railroad workers. This is, to be sure, less than the rail unions demanded, but nevertheless overrules Czar Vinson, who opposed this increase recommended by a special committee.

The action of the WLB against miners’ wages – small though the cut is – indicates the assurance already felt by labor’s enemies because the miners’ strike is behind them.

Contrariwise, the action of the Senate sub-committee in favor of an increase in rail wages registers fear of a railroad strike on which a vote is now being taken.

Pointing a Moral

The moral of these latest developments on the wage front is obvious. Not that the miners lack militancy. Quite the contrary. They were the first workers to break out of the wage-refrigerator – and they have left the door wide open for all labor to follow suit. The point is this: the powers that be “relax” into their regular anti-labor practices as soon as labor lays down its “big stick.”

One may say this point was also brought out by the flip-flop executed by Chairman Davis of the WLB within the space of a week.

On November 5 he wrote to Vice-President Wallace, plainly declaring that labor is bearing alone the brunt of the hold-the-line edict. Was it merely a coincidence that this “pro-labor” view was stated at the same time that the CIO convention came out against the Little Steel formula and President Murray talked big about demanding more pay for the hundreds of thousands of steel workers?

The Little Steel formula was looking pretty sick. Did Davis see that, too?

But less than a week later Chairman Davis protested and denied and asserted that his statement was “widely misunderstood and misapplied.” He wanted everyone to know that as far as he is concerned the Little Steel freeze is still in full force and effect.

What happened between Mr. Davis’ first and second declarations? Well, the wage demands for steel workers have not yet materialized. Things seemed to quiet down – and so did Mr. Davis. It begins to look as if labor leaders are again engaged in the fruitless game of playing along with President Roosevelt, this time pinning highest hopes on FDR’s altogether inadequate subsidy plan for a rollback in prices. But it looks pretty hopeless. The subsidy plan is going down the river as big business is winning its fight for higher prices. Militant action en wages must be taken.

ILGWU Against Wage Freeze

Another large union came out against the Little Steel freeze last week, namely, the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, with a membership of 500,000. President Dubinsky said he would demand a wage increase in excess of the Little Steel limit because, as stated in a resolution passed by the executive board, “The only real effect of the Little Steel formula to date has been the practical freezing of wages. Stabilization of living costs is largely wishful thinking, while the true inflationary forces, the industrial combines which control living necessities, are having a field day.”

These are true words. They not only correctly characterize the Little Steel outrage and the so-called stabilization program, but place the guilt for the present price crisis where it belongs, namely, on the capitalist class and its political servants. Wage demands are the only solution along these lines.

The CIO News reports that the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers Union “this week called for wage adjustments to meet the rising living costs ...”

The Textile Workers Union has issued a demand for a wage increase of “not less than ten cents an hour for all textile workers.”

Another move on the wage front was the letter of William Green, AFL president, to Chairman Davis of the WLB, in which Green expressed resentment at the implications of members of the board that more drastic anti-labor legislation should be passed. “Statements such as these made by the NWLB make it increasingly difficult for labor to participate in the work of the NWLB as now constituted,” Green stated.

The “Forgotten People”

While labor leaders hesitate to take action, the New York Times has started a campaign to pit the unorganized workers against the organized. Its correspondent on labor matters, Louis Stark, wrote several articles on the “forgotten people.” There are, as he pointed out, 15,000,000 clerical, white collar, professional and other unorganized workers who have not received even the fifteen per cent wage increase grudgingly allowed by the Little Steel formula. They haven’t been able to get this because, as unorganized individuals, they have not been able to protect their interests.

This fact gives the mentally spry editors of the Times an opportunity to brush aside the thousands of claims of ORGANIZED labor lying buried in the graveyard of the WLB, and nonchalantly declare that the “WLB has adopted a procedure which is bound to favor organized labor against the unorganized groups.”

From this false statement the Times proceeds to draw the fantastic conclusion that even the fifteen per cent wage increase permitted by the Little Steel formula is much too lavish. The clever idea of this capitalist

newspaper is that practically no allowance should be made to workers to meet the rise in living costs – except to those workers earning $25 a week or less.

Of course, labor leaders and union papers have protested against the anti-labor propaganda that Mr. Stark’s articles gave the capitalists and their spokesmen a chance to make. But here too words of protest are not enough. Action is required to get these “forgotten people” the wage increases long overdue. The necessary action is an all-out drive to organize the unorganized so that all labor will have the protection of united action.

If organized labor hesitates longer at this crucial point, the anti-labor forces will simply be given further chance to strengthen their lines.

Funeral rites must be given the Little Steel formula by coming out at once with definite wage demands in every industry.

Labor’s right to strike for its demands must be reasserted by taking back the no-strike pledge and wiping the Smith-Connally bill off the books.

No wedge must be allowed to exist between organized and unorganized labor. A militant unionization drive on the basis of specific demands for the unorganized workers must be undertaken at once.

No other course can protect the workers in this critical situation.

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