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One Year of New Deal

Arne Swabeck

A Year of Roosevelt’s New Deal

(April 1934)

From The Militant, Vol. VII No. 15, 14 April 1934, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Industrial recovery is now under way with “irresistible force”, says Alfred T. Sloan Jr., president of the General Motors Corporation, in his report of the corporation’s business for 1933. He also added that the labor section of the NRA must be clarified “or there is the certainty of industrial strife the equal of which this country has not yet seen.”

Nobody needs to doubt that Sloan spoke from the point of view of his class. As the president of the General Motors corporation he represents the most hard-boiled section of monopoly capitalism. They definitely oppose union organization in any form, save the company union, as long as union organization can possibly be prevented. But that is not exceptional. All employers do; only they are not all equally as able to resist as the General Motors corporation is. Yet in face of this fact – which nobody will deny – Section 7a of the NRA, which was sponsored by the Roosevelt administration, recognizes the right of collective bargaining to the workers. Does this mean a conflict of viewpoint and policies within capitalism?

The NRA Illusion

From official A.F. of L. circles this is actually the way in which the matter is presented. According to these labor agents of capitalism, the Roosevelt New Deal is a new deal for labor. According to them the policies of his administration are friendly to labor and fighting for its rights against such hard boiled concerns. At the inception of the NRA this presentation; was accepted among the broadest working class strata. They had implicit faith in the NRA.

Now practical experience teaches them something else. The automobile workers learned to their regret that there were no great differences at the recent Washington conference. The automobile manufacturers and President Roosevelt, together with their special agents, Green and Collins, succeeded in spiking the automobile workers’ strike for a union, at least for the time being. And since then the President appointee on the automobile labor board cooperated consistently with the manufacturers to stall the movement further until the busy season is over and thereby disorganize its attempts to get action.

Unionism the Issue

Throughout the whole of the NRA experiences so far the main issue of ever sharpening conflicts concerns the question of union organization. Today it is most acute in the automobile industry, tomorrow it will come to a head in other industries. Everywhere the mechanism created by the New Deal program, the industrial codes, the labor boards and the arbitration schemes, appear in operation as means to harness the labor movement within definitely laid out channels. In that there is a specific function assigned to the reactionary trade union leaders.

During the crisis the general wage standard had become vastly reduced, as was the standard of living for the working class as a whole. How to maintain this crisis level – or keep near as possible to this level – while advancing commodity prices in order to restore he profit inducement and finally set the wheels of industry into motion, – this was the problem which the owners of capitalist monopoly concerns set out to solve in their reorganization for “recovery.”

Peaceful class relations would be the main prerequisite. Restlessness from the millions of unemployed had to be allayed, actual convulsions ensuing from their desperate position had to be prevented. Some measure against a resurgence of labor militancy had to be found. But the general levelling process by which the formerly privileged skilled sections became further reduced, left the conservative unions, composed almost exclusively of these skilled crafts, almost entirely out of the picture.

Role of Craft Unionism

In the past their officials could be relied upon to uphold their end of the system of cooperation with capitalism. They had been able to turn the conservative craft unions into an instrument to hold the rest of the working class in subjection by attaining special privileges such as higher wages for their specific crafts, by keeping the unskilled without organization and, thereby, also on a much lower wage level.

These officials have not changed; but on the old narrow union basis they could no longer furnish the guarantee of holding the masses in check – a condition required for capitalism to issue out of the crisis on the backs of the workers. It therefore! became necessary to permit a broader scope of the conservative unions in order to make possible the extension of the system of class collaboration and make of it a permanent institution. That is what is really meant by Section 7a of the NRA. The labor agents of capitalism were given a wider Held in which to function as salesmen for the New Deal.

Basic Policy of Capitalists

It is this social relation feature which is the most fundamental aspect of the New Deal Program. While the hard boiled monopoly concerns, such as now the General Motors corporation, put the most stubborn resistance to union recognition – for that is what Sloan means when he demands “clarification” – this cannot shield the fact that there is agreement in the main amongst the various capitalist representatives in the matter of basic policy towards labor. While each section will fight for special advantages and special modifications for their own benefit, in principle they will support the idea of recognizing and extending the conservative A.F. of L. unions as a means of preventing more militant organization and action.

In permitting the general extension of the conservative unions it is hoped thereby to draw a line of division more effectively between the employed and unemployed workers. The class collaboration system of which these union officials are to be the guardians is to become a more effective instrument to check the unemployed and keep them in subjection.

Force for Union Organization

But intent is one thing, the realities of life may be another. With the first steps toward a turn in the business cycle the economic pressure upon the workers increased enormously and rapidly. That itself was a powerful motive force for union organization. The workers entered the unions in masses but for quite different objectives than those intended by the NRA. For them it was a matter of regaining a standard of living.

And while today the masses from the very heart of basic industry flock into the existing unions, at the same time, due to the changes in the business cycle, the NRA regulations begin to impose severe restrictions upon them. Resentment is held back only by still lingering hopes, or it is diffused by the various mechanisms of arbitration. But this can succeed only in postponing the decision of what course the working class will take. The resentment is bound to accumulate and is due to be let loose in a series of explosive class battles. The longer they are postponed the more turbulent the explosions will be.

Unions at Crossroads

The conservative unions will be at their crossroads. Recently they have had a big influx of proletarians from the heavy industries. Their composition is being transformed. In that same measure the general working class interests will become more directly reflected within the unions. The more this is held back the more the resentment will accumulate within the unions.

At the same time every collision with the NRA code regulations and every conflict with the state forces, which are now much more integrated with the economic organs of capitalism, will be reflected within the unions in collisions between the rank and file workers and the reactionary officials. To the extent that the unions fail to adjust themselves, in objectives, in policy and in organization forms and methods, explosions will occur within them. But with that also a formidable basis for new unionism will develop.

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