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B.J. Widick

In the Trade Unions

(11 April 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 23, 11 April 1939, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

An idea of the problems before the progressive railroad workers in this country and some of the proposals advanced to solve them is contained in a little printed pamphlet which was put out by the Minneapolis Railroad council in 1935. Although this is nearly four years old, the proposals have the freshness of new ideas and fit the bill in many respects.

“Why are the workers in the railroad industry kept divided into 21 separate labor organizations,” the pamphlet asks?

“How much does it cost the railroad men per year to maintain 21 organizations; 21 sets of officials; 21 journals; 21 conventions; 21 headquarters, and 21 sets of local lodge halls?” the pamphlet continues. Obviously this terrible and costly duplication still exists and needs to be remedied.

“Why does our present Brotherhood leadership have to censor our magazines and the Labor paper? And why do we have to maintain laws in our Brotherhood constitutions forbidding members to publish and circulate their own opinions?”

We want to remind our readers that the railroad union leadership which still maintains this kind of a stranglehold over its members professes to believe in “democracy.” In fact, it is perfectly willing to allow its members to die for “democracy” in another war.

Ask 6-Hour Day

Among the general demands raised by the progressives who published this pamphlet were:

  1. For a six hour day without reduction in pay. It is interesting to note how this demand foreshadows part of our transitional program.
  2. For two men on every locomotive for convenience and safety.
  3. Against the consolidation of terminals unless it benefits the workers.
  4. For an adequate retirement system. We can add that with the permanent technological and secular unemployment problem mentioned in a previous column this demand takes on special significance.
  5. A joint national agreement between all legitimate railroad unions and all railroad companies. Of course, progress along this line has been noted but inadvertently through the compromise proposals, for example, adopted last fall with President Roosevelt’s intervention.
  6. That all union demands be made jointly and backed by all the crafts.

Oppose Lobbying

  1. That all demands be taken to the railroad companies direct and not taken to legislative bodies or the Interstate Commerce Commission. It hardly needs belaboring that the whole tendency of the union officialdom has been the opposite with the tragic effect of tying the railroad workers to the government machine.
  2. That our present useless and expensive legislative boards and lobbies be abolished and that our Brotherhood leadership be requested to join with the rest of the labor movement for the building of a workers political party.

In explanation, it is pointed out that too many millions of the dues-payers’ money has been dumped into this useless lobbying process, most of which has landed in the pockets of the lobbyist, commonly known as “legislative representatives.”

The lobby simply cannot take the place of a good labor union, and it is time for us to quit the lobby and build the union by the united effort of the 21 crafts to amalgamate and organize the railroad workers, the pamphlet points out.

To which we can only add a hearty amen.

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Last updated: 15 January 2016