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B.J. Widick

In the Trade Unions

(24 February 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 10, 24 February 1939, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Over 100,000 steel workers are expected to obtain pay increases this month under the recent ruling of the United States Department of Labor under the provisions of the Walsh-Healy Public Contracts Act covering wages paid on government work in the steel industry.

This represents a victory for the S.W.O.C. which has put up a strong fight for enforcement of the Walsh-Healy law. It is, however, a victory with dangerous potentialities unless further steps are taken to aid the steel workers.

Wages as Low as 36¢ an Hour

Briefly, under the federal ruling, the prevailing minimum wages whether arrived at on a time or piece-work basis are supposed to be:

  1. 45 cents per hour in the locality consisting of the states of Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, Virginia and West Virginia (except the counties of Hancock, Brooke, Ohio, Harrison, Monongalia and Marshall);
  2. 60 cents per hour in the locality consisting of the states of Washington, Oregon and California;
  3. 60 cents per hour in the locality consisting of the states of Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Wyoming, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado and Arizona;
  4. 58½ cents per hour in the locality consisting of the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri and the area in and about East Saint Louis, Illinois;
  5. 62½ cents per hour in the locality consisting of the states of Wisconsin, Illinois (except the area in and about East Saint Louis, Illinois), Michigan and Indiana;
  6. 62½ cents per hour in the locality consisting of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

“The effect of this decision will be to remove certain definite inequitable wage differentials which give competitive advantage to a number of steel manufacturers who clung, through the years, to a low wage policy,” Philip Murray, S.W.O.C. appointed chairman, said.

In Gadsden and Birmingham, Alabama, for example, wages are as low as 36½ cents an hour. Certainly the wage increases there will be welcome.

Big Southern Companies May Pay Less

But the tragedy of the ruling is that it recognizes, with the approval of the S.W.O.C., the right of big companies to pay their southern workers less wages than northern workers. A difference of 17½ cents an hour is allowed between wages in the South and North.

New England is landscaped with “Ghost towns” whose textile industry moved south to get cheap labor. The United Rubber Workers delegation from Akron, Ohio, gave at the C.I.O. convention a vivid picture of decentralization of the rubber industry because of cheap labor elsewhere, and in particular in the same city, Gadsden, Ala.

S.W.O.C. Silent On Danger

There is not one word about this danger in the big ballyhoo carried on by Steel Labor, official organ of the S.W.O.C. over the federal decision.

The question of organizing the South properly belongs at the top of the agenda of a national steel convention. In particular steps to implement the federal ruling to boost all wages should be drawn up with rank and file participation.

When are the steel workers going to get a genuine national convention to form their own international union affiliated with the C.I.O., elect their own officers and decide their own program of how to build a powerful and militant industrial organization?

Isn’t it about time that John L. Lewis and Murray and the other C.I.O. top leaders stop prating about defending democracy abroad, and instead be forced to allow a little of it in the C.I.O.

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