Arne Swabeck Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page


Second Strike Wave Under the N.R.A.

(May 1934)

From The Militant, Vol. VII No. 20, 19 May 1934, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A second powerful strike wave is in the making. From the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Maine to the Gulf of Mexico strikes are now in progress, involving longshoremen, automobile workers, iron ore and copper miners, coal miners, textile workers and many others.

These strikes have penetrated deeply into the industrial South, centering in Alabama. New strikes can be expected to break out soon in the steel industry as well as where the main supply of iron ore is produced, in the Messaba Range. The ardent attempts of the auto bosses, their labor boards and their labor agents to confine the strikes in that industry to a minimum “so as not to interfere with the orderly progress of the industry”, as Mr. Collins puts it, will hardly succeed. The American workers are getting into a fighting mood. The splendid militancy already displayed by the many new recruits in the trade union movement is something quite unequalled in recent American labor history. The strike wave now in the making is likely to break all previous records.

Pitched Battles

In the Alabama strike area Negro and white workers fight together shoulder to shoulder. Pitched battles provoked by company thugs, police and national guards, have resulted in several killings and many injuries. But the casualties were not all on the side of the workers. The governmental authorities are now straining every possibility to raise a red scare. Workers’ meetings have been banned and an injunction is issued against picketing. Still the striking ranks are solid against the campaign of suppression, defying the murderous attacks.

Quick work has been made of scabbing everywhere in these strikes by powerful picket lines. In Seattle, Washington longshoremen raided eleven ships and took the scabs ashore. On all of the struck piers teamsters have refused to handle scab cargo and railroad workers have declined to lend their services. In Butte, Montana, teamsters, blacksmiths and electricians joined the copper miners in a solid strike front. In the southwestern bituminous area strikes are spreading and picketing is concluded in defiance of the militia which has been called to protect scabs.

Two Strike Waves Under NRA

The first strike wave since the inauguration of the New Deal rose to its highest point last September. According to the figures of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which are obviously inadequate, there were in that month a total of 180 strikes involving 235,071 workers, with a total number of man days lost of 3,642,431. This strike wave subsided, reaching its lowest point in December last year. But these figures, even at the high point, may be dwarfed in comparison to what is now approaching.

The first strike wave represented in the main the efforts of the unions to enforce the provisions of the NRA. Now the situation is different. A great deal of disillusionment with the NRA has set in. Simultaneously the pressure of an ever rising cost of living, mounting more rapidly than any of the few wage increases, sets the workers into motion.

Index figures from the same source quoted above inform us that in the 89 industries covered by its survey employment rose in March, 1934 to 81 percent, with the same month a year ago showing 59 percent (1923–25 equals 100). On the same scale the payroll increased from 37 to 65. The actual per capita earnings of the workers is supposed to have increased 15 percent in this period, according to the same source of information, while the cost of all food commodities increased 20 percent and clothing 25 percent. It is certain at least that these statistics are not twisted in favor of the workers. Added to this direct economic pressure is the increased intensity of the speed-up system, causing an enormous resentment amongst the workers.

Issue is Organization

Still this tells only part of the story. The main issue in the present strikes is the struggle for organization and the struggle against the company union monster. The demand for union recognition and the struggle against discrimination for union activities stand out directly in many of the strikes. The perfidious automobile agreement, arrived at by the mutual connivance of the auto bosses, President Roosevelt and the A.F. of L. officials some time ago, while allaying temporarily the storm that was brewing then, has since served to bring the conflicts to a head.

This agreement legalized the company union. It attempted to sweep into the discard all that organized labor had previously gained. The big corporations, stiffened by this direct encouragement decided to make an end to any further union advance and began to apply the iron hand and discriminate against union members left and right. The struggle has become a struggle for the future of unionism. The government is called upon ever more to execute the wishes and orders of the capitalist monopoly concerns. It mobilizes its troops, police and courts which, together with the private gunmen of the corporations, attempt to suppress the strikes. These present struggles are becoming ever more political in character.

Militancy, turbulent clashes with the forces of the capitalist government and increased hostility to the NRA – these are the outstanding features in this present strike wave. It centers entirely around the A.F. of L., the so-called revolutionary unions of the T.U.U.L. being in evidence only in the statements they issue from their paper organizations. No effort is being spared by the A.F. of L. officials to sidetrack the movement and lead it to defeat. But for the real militants this can only spur them on to greater vigilance.

Arne Swabeck Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 6 May 2016