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The Strike in the N.Y. Building Trades

(May 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 19 (Whole No. 115), 7 May 1932, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Between 30,000 and 40,000 New York building trades workers went on strike May 1st because of a failure to arrive at a wage scale agreement. The building trades employers association had previously, arbitrarily posted notice of wage cuts ranging from 25% to 30%. However, the immediate cause of the strike was the fact that the elevator manufacturers broke ranks and made a verbal promise to the elevator constructors’ union of a day scale of $11.20 instead of the $10 announced in notices posted. The press carries statements to the effect that the leaders of the building trades council were otherwise prepared to accept the cut.

On Monday May the 2nd three unions still remained at work, the elevator constructors, the electricians and the iron and steel workers. But the following day the employers decided to make the shut-down complete and dispense with the service of these three union also. The officials of the bricklayers union evidently still expect to gain special favors. Their previous agreement carries a “no strike” clause, and they now insist upon arbitration.

How serious is the building trades union leadership about the strike? It should be remembered that it is not at all called in protest against the wage cut, but rather in protest against a verbal promise for special consideration for one union. Secondly, the leadership made no preparation whatever for strike. It has made no proposals to solidify the unions of the seventeen different internationals to resist the wage slashes. It has made no proposals for strike activities to prepare against possible scabbing. Thirdly, it made no efforts to establish some semblance of concerted action on a national scale. It is perfectly true that building cannot be transferred from one city to another, nevertheless the lack of concerted action has permitted opening wedges to be made in many cities where the building trades workers have already submitted to drastic wage cuts. Lastly, the union leadership was willing to accept the wage cut decree, had the employers remained united.

Conditions of the Unions

It is of course correct for unions to make all possible use of any break in the ranks of the employers; but such can be utilized only provided the organizations are prepared to make a serious fight. Of what there is no indication whatever.

The building trades unions in New York as well as elsewhere, have suffered serious membership losses. In the main, this has been due to the fact that, with the widespread heavy unemployment members have been unable to keep up their dues payments and the unions have failed to maintain closed shop conditions. To resist in a serious manner the present attacks upon the wage scale it is first of all necessary that real efforts should be made to regain what has been lost and to strengthen the unions. That strength, however, can be expressed effectively only when the unions arrive at a basis of unity of action. That such is not yet the case is amply demonstrated by the fact that three unions could remain at work after the strike was called. Moreover, there will be little possibility of preventing strike breaking unless such unity actually exists.

Must Prepare to Resist

It should be clear to the building trades workers by this time that a reduced scale of wages will not at all serve to increase the jobs. On the contrary, it is the continued unemployment and the surplus of bands available which is being utilized by the employers to reduce wages and thus reduce the standard of living everywhere. To this should be added, that acceptance of one wage cut leaves the road open for the employers to press for more.

No matter how much the building trades unions have suffered from their own inherent craft weakness, and from their corrupt leadership, they are still the best organized section in the country. In other words, this means that it is still up to them to lead the fight against the general wage slashing. The cuts already suffered should therefore become a serious warning that it is now high time to prepare to lead that fight and to prepare to lead it on a national scale.

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