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B.J. Widick

In the Trade Unions

(14 February 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 7, 14 February 1939, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In the daily and pressing struggles which militant unionists face there is little time left for a consideration of the broader questions before the labor movement.

The split in auto, the crisis in textiles, and other trade union matters deserve and obtain serious study from progressive unionists.

However, the life and death question of the attitude of trade unions towards war seems much neglected, especially in comparison to the history of the labor movement from 1914–1918.

In the days of Woodrow Wilson, the anti-war sentiment was so strong that the Democratic president was re-elected on a “Keep America Out of War!” program. Hundreds of thousands of militant workers expressed their opposition to war at union meetings, mass meetings, and other forms of protest.

Eugene Debs grew in stature to a historical figure in the annals of the working class because of his fight against imperialist war.

Militant workers understood very well the implications of a “War to Save Democracy!” in 1917.

War-Mongering in the Unions

Today, the foreign exchange and stock market prices jump around at every rumor of war! Confidential Wall Street bulletins speak of 1939 as the “war year!”

Roosevelt blunders and admits his plan to make “France America’s frontier!” Another war to make the world safe for “democracy” with American workers dying in the same trenches in France is in the offing.

How different labor today is reacting to this crisis! Recently, we made a survey of the number of unions that have passed anti-war resolutions. They seem like a mere drop of water compared to the ocean tides of protest that swept the country in 1917.

War-mongering is more common in unions today than anywhere in the country because of the power of the Stalinists who are determined to chain the working class to another imperialist war.

Yet, M Day will bring a virtual fascization of the union movement. And death on the bloody battlefields of imperialist war will be the lot of millions of union militants, not only here but in every country.

War Means End of Unions

“Save the Unions!” is the slogan of every serious unionist in fighting the Stalinist rule-or-ruin policy on concrete issues today. Too few unionists understand, however, that the union-wrecking tactics of the Stalinists are part and parcel of their political line. And unions can be saved only by combining the fight against the bosses with the struggle against the Stalinists and their war-mongering.

“Save the Unions!” from the trap that the U.S. General Staff has planned in war-time. No strikes, no shop committees, no direct negotiations, no union meetings if it can be helped. There is only one way to fight this danger. A clear and unambiguous struggle against imperialist war is the method.

Both the C.I.O. and A.F.L. top leadership are for support of Roosevelt’s war plans. Conservative labor leaders in every union also will support the war! And when the federal government suppresses all unionism in war-time the same people will make a feeble criticism too late.

Time to Get Tough

The job of every progressive unionist has become tougher. The union wreckers from within the labor movement, the class enemies from without, are determined to crush the workers in the interests of Wall Street and its profit.

Now is the time to take stock of the situation, tighten up the belt another notch, and “get tough.” The union struggles of today are preliminary training bouts to the real battle ahead. It is time to get in shape now for the knock down, drag’em-out fight with capitalism and its war dangers.

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Last updated: 28 November 2015