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T. Stamm

A.F. of L. Fakers Betray Sign Writers

(May 1932)

Letters from the Militants, The Militant, Vol. V No. 19 (Whole No. 115), 7 May 1932, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

NEW YORK, N.Y. – The strike conducted by Sign Writers’ Local 230 of the Brotherhood of Painters, Decorators and Paperhangers of America has ended in defeat for the workers. The union instead of renewing its agreement with the bosses which expired on March 30th was forced to grant a ten per cent cut. The rank and file of the union was persuaded by its bureaucratic leadership against its own interests to give the bosses the right to hire and fire and lay off at will. The union has also relinquished its control over overtime work. The bosses no longer need the union’s permission to order the workers to work longer than the eight hours which now constitute the working day. There is now no practical difference in essentials between the unionized and non-union shops.

The union bureaucrats succeeded in putting through a change in the agreement: the bosses agreed to allow helpers to do apprentices’ work and vice versa. This practically wipes out the difference between these workers. The helpers are a large majority of the workers in the trade. With unemployment at about sixty per cent, the bosses will give work to the helpers at the expense of the apprentices, satisfy temporarily and to some extent the dissatisfaction of the helpers, and enable the union officials to maintain their highly paid positions and the fiction that they serve the workers’ interests. It is an old trick. Only workers ignorant of the fathomless corruption and treachery of A.F. of L. bureaucrats could be taken in by so palpably treacherous a maneuver.

In a union controlled by the workers in their own interests the formal elimination of the difference between helpers and apprentices already accomplished in reality, would be made a progressive step. Wide awake class conscious workers would fight to make this step conditional upon the introduction of the six hour day without reduction in pay and upon the same wage scale for apprentices and helpers.

The strike failed principally because the bosses were able to keep their shops running full blast without any difficulty. Scabbing by unemployed open shop workers and by members of the union was prevalent. To add their treacherous bit the union bureaucrats fooled the workers into picketing – not the shops where the scab displays were made – but the Broadway moving picture theatres where some of the signs were displayed!

To consummate their treachery the bureaucrats called upon a representative of the district council of the Brotherhood to put over the wage cut. This professional betrayer with a face as white as a cheese mouthed phrases about militancy, fighting, the working class, ad nauseam. His conclusion was – a ten per cent cut! The workers harried by the fear of permanently losing their jobs by trying to maintain an ineffective strike, and bamboozled by the district council representative’s demagogy, voted without dissent for the cut and the elimination from the agreement of the clauses demanded by the bosses.

Against the future attacks which their present victory will embolden the bosses to make, the workers must prepare. They must seriously undertake a campaign to organize the trade. As a prerequisite condition for this they must drastically reduce the enormously high initiation fees which is $500 for helpers. (In our letter in The Militant of April 16th we used in this connection, the incorrect formulation: “―― they must abolish the initiation fees.”) The workers must propose the same wage scale for apprentices and helpers. The division into apprentices and helpers no longer corresponds to any real difference between them and serves only the interests of the bureaucrats by enabling them to play off the helpers against the apprentices or the other way around. The workers must also set up as one of their demands the six hour day with no reduction in pay. The six hour day is entirely practicable in the trade and can put back to work many workers now vainly looking for jobs.

These demands are the essentials of a program for which the workers can fight in resisting the attacks on the bosses. In trying to realize these demands they will have to fight the enemy in the union – the bureaucratic misleaders. This should not deter them. It is the road all workers in the A.F. of L. have to travel in fighting for their interests.

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