Arne Swabeck Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page


Steel Workers Union Retreats
Strike Plans Deferred

(June 1934)

From The Militant, Vol. VII No. 25, 23 June 1934, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The steel strike has been postponed. None of the issues which gave rise to the strike plans have been settled. None of the demands made by the union have been met by the steel masters or even given serious consideration by them. In other words, a test of strength is held in abeyance. None of these issues can be considered settled until the union is recognized as the authentic spokesman of the workers – that means when it actually exists as a factor capable of enforcing the demands of the workers. At the Pittsburgh convention of the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel and Tin Workers, held last week to take final action on the strike proposition, the delegates accepted a proposal for a retreat submitted by William Green. This meek Baptist deacon from Conshochton, Ohio, appeared before the steel delegates and delivered what is said to be the strongest plea of his career. His plea was against action, against a test of strength, against a strike to obtain the demands made by the workers. When appearing in such a role Bill Green seems growing in stature. His plea was not challenged, otherwise he would easily have become rattled and incoherent. As it was he could convey to the delegates his idea to put their faith, not in the power of organization, but in President Roosevelt.

Bill Green’s Proposal

That was the proposition accepted by the steel workers’ convention. It recommends the setting up of an impartial board of three members to be appointed by President Roosevelt. This board is to: Adjust complaints of violations of the code for the Iron and Steel industry; mediate and conciliate disputes between employers and employees; undertake to arrange for a conference for collective bargaining with the employers; arbitrate labor disputes submitted to it voluntarily; hear and determine matters of discrimination against the workers. In addition this board is to have the authority to hold elections in the steel plants to determine workers’ representatives for collective bargaining.

The proposal accepted by the convention finally declares that in the event the above recommendations are accepted by all parties the strike was to be declared off. Such was the proposition offered by Bill Green, and, of course, he could not give the slightest assurance as to whether it would be accepted or even considered by the steel corporations. In sum and substance this proposition is the same as the infamous automobile settlement which he helped to put over.

What will the outcome be? To the steel trust it means that the threat of a strike is removed and it can go ahead with its unbridled exploitation, fearing no challenge to its coercive methods of company unionism. It can permit itself an even greater defiance than before and help stiffen the backbone of the struggle against union organization elsewhere.

What Was Lacking?

To these workers a union of their own, firmly established, will have real meaning. But the surrender made at the Pittsburgh convention will undoubtedly have a disheartening effect. At the same time however, the union lacked actual preparation for a serious contest such as a struggle with the powerful steel trust of necessity would be. A contest of this character would first of all require that the membership have confidence in the union and in its ability to protect their interests. To build up such a confidence a militant leadership constantly alert, giving constant attention to training and development of understanding of organization its objectives and its discipline is indispensable. A policy that is militant through and through is required. The Amalgamated union has neither such a leadership nor such a policy.

The creation of the rank and file committee at the previous convention of the union, the demands advanced by this committee, and the straight-forward manner in which they were presented was undoubtedly a progressive move and registered an advance for the union. It was a great change compared to what had existed before. A lifeless union ruled by a corrupt, incompetent bureaucracy had begun to take on new life. But it stopped short. The leadership has again become practically completely identified with the reactionary machine of Mike Tighe and his lieutenants.

Steel Workers Should Not be Deceived

An enormous reservoir of strength exists amongst the hundreds of thousands of steel workers and can be drawn upon for the creation of a powerful union. To become a factor, to become an authentic spokesman of the workers, and to become a real fighting instrument, the union must be able to show to the membership that it dares to meet the enemy face to face in the field of battle. And in this respect the retreat also has its serious dangers. Many steel workers will perhaps turn away from the union in disgust.

If we are to accept the Stalinist claims union workers are now caving the ranks of the Amalgamated Association and joining the T.U.U.L. Such a turn of events could only prove disastrous for the steel workers. The T.U.U.L. union n these recent developments could nowhere assert itself as a union. It could only follow as a tail-end, repeating the demands made by the Amalgamated Association, adding no demands of its own, and it could at no time make a pretense of ability to enforce these demands or even make a serious fight for them. It does not have the possibilities to attain to such a position because it is based essentially upon a policy of splitting away elements individually from the unions having the mass basis. It can therefore function only as a disruptive force, hampering the developments of the building of a real union in the steel industry.

The Battle Remains Inevitable

What will the Amalgamated Association do next? It has presented its demands to President Roosevelt who turned the whole matter over to the Secretary of Labor. There it will get a hearing. It will possibly get a board as proposed. But that cannot mean any gain at all to the workers. The experiences of the automobile industry and the infamous settlement accomplished there is sufficiently fresh to remind us of what it meant to the workers. The essential issues remain. First of all amongst them are union recognition. In no case can that be expected to be granted voluntarily by the steel trust. Only the force of the thousands of steel workers, firmly welded together in a compact union conscious of its position, of its great task, and conscious of the great reserve strength at its disposal can accomplish that. This means a battle of titanic proportions, a battle for which the union under any conditions must prepare. One important step in this direction is for the steel workers to have no illusions whatever that anything can be won for them except what they are able to take through the power of their own organization.

Arne Swabeck Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 6 May 2016