Swabeck Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page


President Roosevelt – Strikebreaker No. 1

Orders Striking WPA Workers Off Relief

Trade Unions Stand by Men Demanding Living Wage; Flying Squads Formed

(August 1935)

From New Militant, Vol. I No. 33, 10 August 1935, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Several thousand skilled workers struck on New York City Works Project Administration jobs this week demanding the prevailing union rate of wages. Flying squadrons which hare proved such a popular and effective weapon in recent labor struggles set to work immediately to spread the strike throughout the city, and indications are at the time of this writing, that it will become general, affecting all of the WPA jobs.

This is not the first example of a strike on relief project works; but it is the first real sign of the determination of the workers to maintain the union standard of wages gained after decades of bitter struggle. This is the issue involved, and the trade unionists made no mistake in putting it bluntly. Long ago it became clear to the trade union movement that the efforts to establish the Roosevelt relief wage ranging from $19.00 to $93.00 per month on relief projects could mean nothing else but a signal to employers everywhere to force down the existing union scale. The workers who are involved in the New York strike understand the issue this way. Strike Seen Spreading New York is virtually the first city to get WPA projects actually under way; but the trade union movement throughout the country is on record for a fight to maintain the prevailing union rate of wages. And no sooner had the walk-out started in New York than the example was followed by the workers employed on the WPA project at the League Island Navy Yard in Philadelphia. The possibilities are, therefore, that this strike will extend to a large number of cities and become widespread.

“Who’s the employer here,” was the question before a New York meeting of about 200 trade union officials by General Johnson, the hot air artist, who proposes to run the WPA jobs in the city after the fashion of a Prussian drill sergeant. And he answered the question. “The government is the employer. This is a strike against the government, an attack against the government and people of the United States.” According to the further statements made by the General the strike is nothing but a “red” conspiracy, a plot by these “reds” to use the strikers as suckers to pull their chestnuts out of the fire. But all this “heroic” bombast had merely the effect on the meeting of a reaffirmation of the strike vote previously taken. The ultimatum, issued later by the brave general ordering all strikers to return to work by the following Monday or lose their jobs, resulting in the flying squadrons setting to work in earnest.

Union Officials Put on Spot

Of course, the trade union officials are on the spot. They know who’s the employer and all of their past actions have shown a hundred times over that their sympathies are pretty close to the sentiment expressed by the General. But in this instance there is something more at stake than just an ordinary

strike. And today these officials fear that permitting the Roosevelt coolie wage to stand would not only tear down the wage standard but also seriously undermine the existence of the trade union movement itself. Yet there are up to the moment of this writing only scant indications of serious efforts on their part to coordinate the strike and connect it up effectively not only with the many building trades workers who are today not in the unions and who work on the relief projects side by side with the union men. So far it is mainly the building workers who are involved; but the signs of solidarity in action already displayed by the white collar groups certainly emphasizes the necessity of the coordination extending to this group as well.

Moreover, in the threat made by by General Relief Administrator Hopkins is a further warning of the need of this most complete coordination of the project strike already demanded by several New York local building trades unions, amongst them the electrical workers local 3, the carpenters local 2090, the painters local 905 and the bricklayers local 37. “No one has to work who does not want to,” declared Mr. Hopkins, “and if they don’t want to do it, other people on relief rolls will take their places and receive the security wage.” Here is a clear statement of organized strike breaking and for the trade union movement there can hardly be any other recourse but to accept the challenge and fight it out.

Wm. Green in his editorial in the American Federationist, August issue, takes cognizance of the threat in asserting that when relief wages are set in competition with normal wages, work and living standards for all will be dragged down. But what does he propose? “State and local labor organizations should organize for effective participation in state relief plans and policies.” And after the local and state organizations have participated to the fullest extent in these plans, then what, it may be pertinent to ask? There can be only one answer: The way out is already shown in New York. Strike the project jobs.

Swabeck Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 23 February 2016