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The Wage-Cut Offensive

Towards Sharp Working Class Struggles of Resistance

(August 1931)

From The Militant, Vol. IV No. 19, 15 August 1931, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

American capitalism is now embarking more definitely upon its long cherished aim of reducing the working class standard. It is seeking thereby to shift the burden of its economic difficulties further onto the backs of the workers. At the very inception of the present crisis the signal was given in the demand of the most powerful bunking institutions for a lower cost of production – a demand growing in volume until now wage cuts follow all along the line.

No matter how great or how slender their prospects for revival, to the capitalist rulers there is hardly any doubt that the commencement must of necessity imply a measure of stabilization on a lower level than hitherto. A greatly contracted market and an enormous capacity of production makes that course compulsory. The lower level sought is first of all to be applied to the working class. While sought as a way out of the present crisis, it will not at all serve to diminish the contradictions of capitalism. On the contrary, it increases the antagonisms of present class relations.

The increasing class antagonisms can be expected to be expressed in sharpened struggles on a scale which has not yet been witnessed in the United States. As a first sign, there has already been a considerable increase in the number of strikes and conflicts during the first half of 1931 as compared to the six months previous.

Any actual beginnings of revival could not seriously alter these perspectives as it would first of all involve an increase of the burden upon the workers’ backs.

The concrete illustrations are already at hand in the present wage-cut drive. The most serious aspect of this drive is in the fact that it is gravitating towards the basic and important industries. No one will believe that the workers employed by the U.S. Steel Corporation have escaped wage cuts. The board of directors’ meeting held recently evidently realized that it would not be so good to administer a wage-cut dramatically just at the moment, when much ado was made about the Hoover administration “opposing” wage-cuts. It would perhaps too seriously compromise the administration. But the actual cut is merely postponed for the moment and will soon be put over more quietly. The coal miners throughout the country have already suffered a drastic deterioration 0f their conditions both by direct wage-cuts, decrease of tonnage rate, mechanization, speed-up and the ravages of unemployment. Added to that comes the announcement of the Rockefeller interests of 20 percent wage cut to be applied at its Colorado mines.

On the railroads, continued improvements of heavier equipments and machinery have already eliminated several hundred thousand jobs while increasing the hauling capacity. During the period of 1920-1929, 370,000 men thus lost their jobs. This year an additional 300,000 are unemployed. With such economies the owners, representing an alleged $5,000,000,000 investment claiming insufficient “earnings” and have appealed to the Interstate Commerce Commission for the right to levy a 15 per cent increase on all freight rates. It is significant however, that during the latest years these rates have tended to decrease in face of the increased competition of truck hauling. If the right to apply this increase is granted, it evidently cannot be applied because of this growing competition. It becomes clear, then, that it is in reality a preparation for a wage cut. Whether the application is denied or proved, inapplicable, in either case it will be used as a basis for the demand for a wage-cut.

According to reports submitted by employers to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 210 establishments cut wages in June involving 25,645 workers with an average cut of 10.8 percent. Five plants reported wage increases affecting 182 workers. Inadequate as these reports are, they nevertheless help to bring out the general trend. Add to this the estimate made by the A.F. of L., fully as inadequate and extremely conservative, and it will help to make the picture clear. The A.F. of L. estimates that “if workers’ incomes continue for the full year of 1931 at about the same level as the first half, they will lose $10,500000,000 from the 1929 level.”

The employers attitude toward the unions in two instances of the present wage cut drive deserve particular attention. On July 12, the New York B.M.T. announced a new “agreement” with its 10,000 employees on the basis of a cut of 50 percent in the 2-cent-an-hour bonus paid for satisfactory work.

It adds, “the motormen, being members of a union, are not affected by this agreement”. This shows both the advantage of union organization as well as the fact that the B.M.T. is not yet ready to force the issue with a union. On the other hand there is the instance from the coal miners present situation. In Pennsylvania, during the present strike, efforts were made by the Pittsburgh Terminal Coal company in particular to revive and put new life into the dead body of the U.M.W. to offset the growth of the National Miners Union. The strike now appears to be on the decline and evidently the operators are somewhat getting over their fear of the militant union for at the proposed Hoover conference on coal, the operators refused to sit jointly with the Lewis forces

But it should not be forgotten for one moment that, for example, the coal operators’ ignoring of all the unions in the field and continuing their brutal assaults upon the workers’ standard, is due in a measure to the failure of the Centrist party leadership to utilize the real opportunity which were and still are available for a fighting united front. Let the National Miners Union take the steps for a genuine united front of the various sectional organizations which ave split away from the decrepit U.M.W. and it will certainly mark the first serious hurdle in the way of the capitalist offensive. That is also the way to deal with the reformists and pseudo-progressives who in reality are only for the kind of “hurdles” which do not, imply struggle And the example of the coal miners is only one out of many.

Wage-cuts hit the workers in the most direct sense and become an important lever to help set them into motion against their class enemy. Regardless of all the servile and treasonable efforts of the capitalist labor agents to prevent their resistance the workers will move nevertheless, compelled by these circumstances. It will increase the abyss between the needs of the masses and the high paid gentry now in leadership of the existing major unions. New progressive currents will spring up within them and the opportunities for working class organization will advance also in the unorganized industries.

Even an upward conjuncture of American capitalist economy will fully embody such prospects. It will mean a real opportunity for Communist leadership. But the one essential step in the present situation, toward establishing it is a correct policy of welding the fighting ranks into a united front.

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