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B.J. Widick

In the Trade Unions

(24 March 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 18, 24 March 1939, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The C.I.O. leaders are getting a bitter taste of what’s going to happen to the union movement in the coming world war which they voted to support at the C.I.O. convention last fall. And the Roosevelt administration is doing a beautiful job of sticking a knife into the back of the C.I.O. under the guise of “serving the best interests of national defense.”

This situation came into the limelight with the dispute in Senate over the $358,000,000 emergency army expansion bill. It seemed that John L. Lewis wanted provisions in the bill which would guarantee that no contracts would be given manufacturers who violated the Wagner Labor Disputes Act.

Lewis thought he wasn’t asking too much for labor which, after all, has to shed all the blood in war while the industrialists get richer.

Lewis Gave Manufacturers a Loophole

However, the National Association of Manufacturers saw a loophole in the Wagner Act administration in the fact that Lewis wanted a special law saying it pertained to industry engaged in national defense work. So it obtained the aid of the War Department (a non-political body, you understand) and they put the heat on the Senate committee, so that now the Lewis demand which Barkley, Democratic whip, promised to support has been emasculated.

The Senate is going to work out a “compromise.” Press reports say, “the compromise would permit discrimination (note the choice of words) only against firms that had been held guilty of Wagner Act violations within two years prior to awarding of the contract”

“A second provision would permit the President to issue a proclamation exempting any firm from the amendments provisions if he deems such action in the best interests of national defense.”

Such a compromise formula which is backed by Roosevelt gives the manufacturers a legal loophole from observing any of the provisions of the Wagner Act.

“Defense” Is a Weapon Against Labor

Only a few weeks ago the C.I.O. protested against the failure of steel manufacturers engaged in building armaments to pay the wages provided for under the Walsh-Healy Act which we explained in a recent column.

The manufacturers are chiseling there, too. “Requirements of national defense are so imperative that we can not meet the provisions of the Walsh-Healy Act and give the government loyal and immediate service,” the steel barons say.

Summed up in a few words, the manufacturers see another powerful weapon in their hands against the union movement with the adoption of the various defense measures.

And Mr. Roosevelt, who rides roughshod over the Army and Navy to sell airplanes to France, says not one word of criticism against the combined Army-Navy and munitions maker lobby which is squeezing labor to make more blood profits. In fact, Roosevelt supports the manufacturers in their drive against unionism in steel and other basic industries.

One can expect steps soon to outlaw all strikes in industries engaged in building ships, or war material of any kind under the claim that this is “treason against the national defense.” And workers who protest against inhuman conditions and low wages and discrimination against union men will be branded “agents of a foreign power!”

The strategy of the manufacturers is to make it a serious crime for any worker or group of workers to fight for unionism and all that it means in better wages, hours and working conditions as a “jeopardy to national defense” and at the same time make it a crime to interfere in the slightest way with their insatiable thirst for profits, under the guise of “fatal interference with industry engaged in national defense work!”

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