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Arne Swabeck

Roosevelt Kicks Bill Green Downstairs

‘Leaders’ in Dilemma Still Cling to F.D.R.

(February 1935)

From The New Militant, Vol. I No. 9, 9 February 1935, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Labor widens rift with Roosevelt, announce recent capitalist: newspaper headlines. This, of course, refers to the official American Federation of Labor family. It appears that William Green – usually so soft spoken – together with the more belligerent John L. Lewis has made some strong remarks on the action taken by the President in extending the automobile code. Advertised by the Federation officials as “Labor’s hope and strength”, Roosevelt now turns around and kicks these labor officials in the pants. He feels he can afford to do so. The automobile agreement of March 25 last year put the manufacturers on the offensive while the automobile unions still suffer from the demoralization of the policy pursued by the A.F. of L. Executive Council.

A Dilemma

The Executive Council faces a dilemma. Organization of the unorganized under its leadership has come to a stop. The “perfect” equilibrium of cooperation or labor, industry and government is coming tumbling down over the beads of these labor officials like a house of cards. Instead of striking out boldly like real leaders and utilizing the favorable mass sympathy for organization they stall and sabotage in fear of the consequences of the struggle. Now these craven souls feel that they have been let down. Dangers threaten their position from two directions.

Obviously the government is moving toward some form of compulsory arbitration in labor disputes while the rank and file union membership is showing increasing signs of discontent and restlessness. A most damning indictment of the A.F. of L. officials is contained in the rather frank statements publicly made, that in the inner circles of the administration it is felt that the A.F. of L. cannot organize the basic industries – steel, rubber and automobiles.

Militant Bureaucrats

Despairing of obtaining a benevolent hearing for union recognition from the powerfully entrenched monopoly capitalists the Federation officials are turning their attention in the other direction. And these despairing officials are becoming aggressively militant when they face the large scale rank and file rebellion they see brewing on every hand. It is no secret that they are still, despite their announced rift, toying with the idea of coming to an agreement with Roosevelt’s proposed industrial truce of no strikes. Only the open shop and company union employers demand too much. They demand a complete surrender and the Federation officials cannot remain unmindful of the pressure from the ranks, so they move into action, not in reality against the employers but against the rebellion in order to head it off.

At this moment the otherwise soft spoken officials are preparing to reinforce their blast against all opposition and against all progressives, whom they label “reds”, with a campaign of expulsions, beginning in the very fortress of the basic industries, in steel. All local lodges of the steel workers union that sent delegates to the recent Pittsburgh progressive conference they threaten with outright expulsion. Make no mistake about it; their next step will be outlawing of strikes. This is the most serious feature of the present situation.

The Auto Agreement

In several respects the automobile agreement of last year entered into by the Federation officials became a turning point. It was a blow to the whole trade union movement. It advanced the automobile manufacturers into a position of being the spearheads in the struggle against organization of the unorganized in the basic industries. This agreement provided that any group of workers may be represented in conferences for collective bargaining with the employers. In other words, it legalized the company union and put the trade unions on the defensive. The trade unions, of course, had rich possibilities of embracing the great majority of the workers and becoming the recognized spokesmen of all the workers in the industry. Due, however, to this treacherous agreement these possibilities were frittered away, as the recent elections in the Detroit automobile plants, conducted by the despised Wolman Board, show.

The Result

In these elections conducted in twelve different plants, 60,000 workers were eligible to vote. A total of 53,771 ballots were cast and the voting gave the following results: Voting for unaffiliated representatives. 40,143; for employers’ associations (company unions), 5,440; for the Associated Automobile Workers of America, 3,124; for the A.F. of L, 2,280; and for the Mechanics Education Society, 314. These two last mentioned organizations opposed the elections and advised the workers not to participate.

There is, however, a vast difference in voting in plant, elections for a union and in fighting for a union, By the methods of the former it is safe to say that a union would never be established. It is true that the pressure of capitalist exploitation and the intense speed-up system remains in either case; but the workers bending their backs over the assembly lines under surveillance of foremen and superintendents are not at all free to vote according to their desires. Their job is at slake, and they have no guarantee against a loss.

Striking for union recognition is an entirely different matter. It brings out the lighting qualities that the workers possess and it instills into them a fighting spirit. The feeling of strength by solidarity of mass numbers becomes a powerful factor and obviates the fear of the job that is at stake. Workers move forward by action and in the struggle they will feel that they act directly for their union. Even the fierce onslaughts they meet from the employers when on strike tend to stiffen their resistance.

But this is all assuming that the unions give actual leadership in the struggle for recognition. This is an imperative prerequisite. Precisely this is what has been lacking in the automobile industry as in other basic industries and this is what, has enabled the directors of monopoly capital together with their executives in Washington to kick the A.F. of L. leaders in the pants. For this situation the Federation officials themselves bear the whole responsibility.

They had nothing more to offer the masses seeking organization than the elusive and deceptive section 7a. They staked their all on the benevolence of Roosevelt. To adopt an aggressive policy of organization was the farthest from their minds and to engage in a serious struggle for organization entirely to be avoided. Failing to secure the benefits of Section 7a they referred in appeals to the various branches of the Labor Relations Board machinery. If it was not clear then, it should at least be clear now, that these boards function for the purpose of covering up the cunning measures put over on the unions.

Under these conditions it was very natural that the capitalist interests successfully assumed the offensive. To prevent demoralization has become a life and death matter insofar as their heavy profits are concerned because they quickly learned by experience that when the workers from the basic industries enter the union they seek to turn them into instruments of struggle against the intense exploitation. The directors of the big corporations therefore set all forces they could command into motion in the light. Accordingly the government, which during the early NRA period appeared in the role of benevolent neutrality to union organization, of necessity shifts its emphasis more in the direction of its real role of serving monopoly capital. Policemen’s clubs, court injunctions, fear gas and steel helmeted soldiers are ready to back it up.

More than ever an aggressive policy of organization and struggle is necessary if the trade unions are to meet this offensive successfully. But that is not the policy of Green and Company. There should not be any illusions that the announced rift will mean a change of policy on their part or a change of their relations with capitalism. It is true that they cannot remain unmindful of the rank and file pressure for action and the rebellion that is brewing behind this pressure, but the orientation is to crush the rebellion. Attempts to outlaw strikes will follow in an effort to throw demoralization into the ranks.

It is not decided in advance that this will succeed. The American workers are getting into a lighting mood and learning how to deal with those who betray them. The policy of Green and Company foreshadows deep going splits and break-ups in the A.F. of L. A warning now is timely so that these break-ups may become only a separation of the officialdom from the rank and file. In any event the preparation for the struggle with the trade union bureaucracy is now a duty of all real progressive elements. The sooner it is prepared for in an effective manner the more assurance there will be that the ranks of the trade unions will remain united and that the separation or the splits will be only from the reactionary officialdom.

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