B.J. Widick Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Jack Wilson

Our West Coast Correspondent Writes
on the New ‘Gold Rush’

(December 1940)

From Labor Action, Vol. 4 No. 36, 16 December 1940, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

While the rest of the country is out in the cold, California basks not only in its proverbial sunshine, but in the gold reflection of one billion dollars of war orders placed by the federal government.

Out of six billion dollars in orders placed in the entire nation, California has received over one sixth. Is it a wonder that another “Gold Rush” excitement has hit business here?

Since the aircraft industries have received a big dish of this gravy. Southern California factories are humming, and men are getting jobs.

Yes, everyone knows that there is going to be a terrible hangover from this orgy of war expenditures, that a sharp collapse is inevitable. If you talk to the merchant, or the man on the street, or the factory worker, they all tell you the same thing. “It’s good while it lasts, but a crash is coming.”

So one detects a note of recklessness everywhere. It’s shown in the unbelievable high rate of traffic death, in the never-ending jangle and clatter of the vast horde of night spots, in the car buying spree that brightens the highways with the latest models. People are jittery. There is a sense of continual rush that brings back memories of Times-Square.

It’s like watching an old drunk on one last binge before he falls dead finally, long after his time.


There was a time when the arrival of Harry Bridges at a CIO union meeting brought an enthusiastic response from the workers. Only a few die-hard sinners, usually branded as Trotskyist or worse, failed to join in the hallelujas for the Great Leader. For Bridges was the West Coast Director of the CIO, and tended to be a personal symbol, in the minds of the inexperienced workers, of the CIO’s progress on a national scale. Bridges and his friends in the Communist Party were able to ride on this band wagon for a long time without their ruinous policies catching up with them.

But times change, as Bridges can testify from an experience he had last week at San Pedro. He came down from Frisco to speak in behalf of a two-year contract negotiated for the longshoremen’s union. The union had called a stop-work meeting so that all the men could hear him. Bridges’ appearance was greeted with loud and powerful boos.

He tried to defend a compulsory arbitration clause in vain. His rhetorical questions always brought jeers or heckling. His only argument for giving up a fight against the bosses was that those workers who now oppose arbitration were for it in 1934, when he was against it. As though two wrongs make a right. The longshoremen’s union (CIO) has steadily retreated under Bridges misleadership, and is in a weaker position.

Bridges also tried vainly to convince the men that it was all right to allow a new lift board system (technological advance) to persist and be put into use everywhere. You can’t oppose technological advances, he said. He forgot to add, however, that a union should fight to see that the workers get the benefit of the improvements, and not the bosses.

His stooges in Portland and Seattle have been driven out of control. His followers are a minority in Pedro. There is considerable discontent with his regime in Frisco. So Bridges turned to a time-honored bureaucrats’ scheme to stem the revolt. He wants to make peace with the bosses so he can make war against the unionists who struggle to improve the lot of the workers and the regime of the union. That is why he negotiated a two year contract, with further retreats from the militant demands and stand of the longshoremen of the 1934 days.

Bridges’ weasel-worded endorsement of Wendell Willkie, via 100 per cent support of John L. Lewis’ election speech, has contributed greatly to the sharp decline in his prestige and influence. A barrage of attacks from the AFL longshoremen union engineered by Joseph Ryan also helped put Bridges on the hot seat.

While it appears probable that Bridges can swing enough support to obtain an approval of the contract, it is even more likely that he will be up against a powerful coalition of forces in the coming union elections who are out to retire him for good.


If you drove out to Santa Monica last week by the Douglas aircraft plant, you would have thought that an armed invasion was about to be repelled. There was a whole army of bluecoats and special deputies massed near the entrance of the plant.

But it was only a CIO blitzkrieg that threatened the peace of the “Henry Ford” of the aircraft industry. Capitalizing on the Vultee strike victory, the CIO intensified its campaign to organize the huge Douglas plant by a spectacular open appeal for membership among the employees.

Of course, there is the usual anti-loud-speaker and leaflet ordinance on the statute books of Santa Monica. In the days following the Douglas sit-down strike defeat it was enforced and union organizers kept away from the plant.

But the company and its political stooges apparently learned that things are a little different right now. That the CIO could do a real job of exposing this phoney ordinance. so the bluecoats stood quietly by while CIO organizers exhorted the Douglas workers to join the union.


Each time there is an industrial accident in this area, the newspapers come out with bold headlines about sabotage against national defense. Since there have been some very large fires and explosions in factories here, the newspapers have had a field day.

In each case, however, subsequent investigation reveals that the fires, etc., are caused accidentally. But in whipping up a hysteria the newspapers conveniently play down this angle. As a matter of fact, the companies are directly responsible for the accidents and the murder of the employees involved. Speeding-up workers, using inexperienced workers on dangerous jobs, and lack of adequate safety measures – which cost money – are the real cause of the sudden flurry of industrial plant damage.

B.J. Widick Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 22.11.2012