Swabeck Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Arne Swabeck

Roosevelt Gives A.F. of L. Cold Shoulder
on Auto Board, Codes, Relief

Administration Getting Ready for Large Scale Wage Cutting Drive Against Unions

(March 1935)

From The New Militant, Vol. I No. 13, 16 March 1935, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The rift between the Roosevelt administration and the A.F. of L. leadership has widened, all indications to the contrary notwithstanding. First President Roosevelt, despite the vehement objections from the A.F. of L. officialdom, extended the automobile agreement of last year, which legalized the company union, and extended the life of the [line of text missing here] Sloan of General Motors and Walter Chrysler together with Leo Woolman had been consulted prior to the extension of the agreement, but the opinions of Bill Green were not solicited. And except for the subsequent “gracious” reception given at the White House, permitting Bill Green to introduce by name to the President each one of the members of the Executive Council, nothing was done to mend the rift, not to speak of dealing with the real grievances of the automobile workers.

President Roosevelt next announced the tobacco code with its 40-hour week regulation and the 25 to 40 cents an hour minimum wage, and again over the objections of the A.F. of L. official leadership. To the impassioned criticism made by the latter of S. Clay Williams as chairman of the National Industrial Recovery Board President Roosevelt answered in his “Dear Bill” letter to Green informing him that the former chairman of the notorious open shop R.J. Reynolds tobacco company was a devoted public servant. However soothing this may have appeared to Bill Green, it could mean only another kick in the fade in so far as the administration’s attitude to the issue of union organization is concerned.

Finally, the insistence of the Roosevelt administration upon a $50 per month maximum wage for workers on relief projects will unquestionably receive the unstinted support of all the magnates of finance and industry. With that will go an effort to squelch the so-called labor lobby in Congress.

A number of other measures are pending before Congress which will, if anything, tend to widen further the present open rift. There is, for example, the 30-hour week bill. On numerous occasions the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Manufacturers Association have voiced their determined opposition to this bill. It is a well-known fact that the Roosevelt administration sees eye to eye with them and the hopes pinned by these labor leaders upon the government for support in return for their miserable failure of union organization are due for another blast. Thus, there need be no doubt that the rift is brought about by the initiative of President Roosevelt. That is why there is something real about it.

Serious Problems Ahead

These issues which stand out in the recent events in Washington foreshadow the serious problems that the trade union movement will henceforth have to face. In fact, the breach between Roosevelt and the labor leaders is merely the prelude to a wage-cutting campaign on a large scale that is now in preparation. It is signalized by the proposed $50 monthly maximum wage for workers on relief projects. But the issues go even deeper. They will raise the very question of life or death to the trade union movement.

Of course, the labor leaders are correct when they insist that two wage levels, a higher for private industry and a lower for government relief work, cannot be maintained. The higher rate will be forced down to the lower rate. At first the unemployed workers who are dependent upon relief will be compelled to work for the low rate. Economic experts will next get busy and manipulate statistics to show that workers on relief projects get by on the $50 monthly maximum wage, that they can keep on producing on that wage rate, that the family budget can be shaved down to that level and that there is, therefore, no valid reason for paying more in private industry. Wage reductions will be on the order of the day in every industry and it stands to reason that one of its inescapable accompaniments will be in the first instance well-prepared and deliberate efforts to chain the trade union movement to a system of compulsory arbitration in which strikes are outlawed. Failing in that, there will be sure to follow the most fierce campaign yet witnessed to exterminate the trade union movement.

What Is Being Done?

The most serious questions now arise before every active trade unionist. What is the leadership of the movement doing to defend and to maintain its right of existence? What are the organizations doing to prepare for a serious battle?

To the A.F. of L. Executive Council is credited a powerful lobby in Congress. Its success to date cannot be said to have been very startling and certainly it holds out much less prospects for the future. So long that it serves merely as a shield for the actual failure of organization and struggle it can only have fatal consequences to the movement. In reality that is all this lobby is today.

The Executive Council has decided that it will not now undertake to organize the steel industry. It is too busy with the automobile industry. William Green has even made a tour of the automobile centers and in his public addresses assured the manufacturers that the A.F. of L. does not intend to strike the plants. All it asks is a fair deal. Such a message does not sound very inspiring to the automobile workers. After all, they have also had their experiences and very likely learned by this time that nothing can be gained unless they fight for it. Consequently the meetings of Bill Green were not very enthusiastically attended. In Detroit less than two thousand workers showed up, which compares very poorly with the great overflow meetings held by A.F. of L. leaders last year. But that was before the sell-out agreement had been signed by them. Now the automobile workers’ unions show a serious drop in membership despite the fact that there have been many indications of a sentiment for organization amongst the workers provided they are shown how to organize and how to get somewhere. The A.F. of L. campaign of organization does not meet with great response. The automobile manufacturers are, of course, opposed to it. The Wollman Board tells the workers that if they join the A. F. of L. it cannot help them. The A.F. of L. leaders offer nothing except its replacement by the National Industrial Relations Board. [1] The inducements for joining the union under these conditions are slim indeed.

A serious response by the automobile workers to a campaign of organization cannot be expected until the unions break off completely from the sell-out tradition established by the reactionary leadership. It may take a few more kicks in the face from the Roosevelt administration to do it, but we may rest assured that such kicks will not be lacking. What must follow next must be an aggressive policy of organization. The very life and existence of the trade-union movement depends upon that.

* * *


1. The Executive Council has decided that the automobile workers are to have a separate charter for an international union, but it is not to include the tool and die makers or the maintenance men, nor is it to take effect until June, that is, not until after this season is over. This alone should verify that the strike vote now conducted by the automobile workers federal unions, with the actual call for a atrike, however, left to Wm. Green, can have no serious meaning. But it is only one of the straws in the wind indicating that the Executive Council is determined to resist any move for industrial unionism. At its recent meeting the Mill, Mine and Smelter Workers Union appealed against a decision to split up the workers in the Butte copper mines among craft unions, leaving in the main only semi-skilled and unskilled workers to the mine union, John Frey of the Metal Trades Department, supported by Arthur Wharton of the machinists and by other craft union chiefs, succeeded in thwarting any attempt of industrial union jurisdiction.

Swabeck Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 13 November 2014