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Jack Wilson

From Our West Coast Correspondent

Labor Organizes as War Industries Boom

(January 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 1, 6 January 1941, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

California puzzled and dazzled the rest of the country for a long time. It was considered the seal of the crack pot political movements ranging from Upton Sinclair’s Epic Plan to the Ham and Eggs campaign. Its labor movement centered around the spectacular events of the San Francisco general strike in 1934; Harry Lundeberg and Harry Bridges became nationally known, and obtained publicity far beyond the strength and importance of their unions, compared to other powerful national unions.

But this was California. It was the home of Hollywood, the modern Babylon, the fantastic center of movies.

This was truly the land of make believe. Grapes of Wrath was a sour note, no doubt. But, after all, the movie companies, did make some money on it, Steinbeck got rich, and the Associated Farmers basked in national publicity, even though it was unfavorable.

It was all taken in stride, without a serious stumble. Now it is different. Contemporary California is as puzzled and dazzled by itself as the rest of the country used to be. Although California doesn’t know it, it has become the classic model of America, 1941 style. In its present development are compressed the whole life and problems of society today.

The war boom has hit California. It sky-rocketed the air industry into the major industrial development here. It created a new and powerful proletariat overnight. It brought wealth and riches to industrialists beyond their most fantastic dreams.

Once people talked about the huge movie salaries and the few millions of dollars made by the cinema companies. Now they try to grasp the fact that a small handful of manufacturers are guaranteed nearly $100,000,000 profit in the next two years for producing airplanes.

It took the auto and steel industries years of development, monopoly, growth, expansion and hard competition to reach the billion dollar class. Literally overnight, some small fry here found themselves at the head of an industry with nearly one billion dollars in advance orders.

Douglass and the other aircraft companies just can’t stand this prosperity. Stories circulate about their blindness and the blunders made by them daily. Other industries spend millions of dollars advertising to sell the product. The aircraft industry is swamped with orders. It catches hell for not producing more and fast enough.

Of course, General Motors is gobbling up Douglass, and the other companies won’t stay out of Wall Street’s clutches very long. Profits are too juicy to permit independent capitalists. But until this happens, the small fry are playing kingfish.

Confusion reigns at the top of the industry. The U.S. Army chiefs blast the air manufacturers for a lag in production. The industrialists blame the lag on the constant changing of plans by the Army bureaucrats who don’t understand industrial problems. Both are right about each other.

Understanding this general situation is vital to the labor and revolutionary movement. It offers the objective conditions for some marvelous forward strides by the union movement. And with the success of the workers, comes the growth of the revolutionary cadres. The prospects are excellent.

The CIO enters this picture with experience on its side which gives much hope for the organizing campaign it has launched. The bosses are swimming in circles from their own production problems. The dizzy pace of developments has them reeling. The CIO can concentrate on one thing; organizing, It is used to dealing with powerful industrial concerns like General Motors. The aircraft manufacturers have the open shop mentality of a small shop keeper confronting a craft union.

To be sure, the ClO has competition – the AFL machinists union. It is competition only in the sense that the aircraft companies might give the AFL contracts on a less adequate basis to keep out the more militant CIO. But the perennial blindness of the AFL leaders precludes any real threat there.

The CIO stands for the great struggles in auto, steel, rubber and other basic industries. The auto workers union is tackling not only aircraft but also hitting at Henry Ford. It has done in the last five years what the AFL never dared do, namely organize the auto workers. The AFL machinists has a lousy record.

The CIO stands for industrial unionism. The AFL machinists supported the resolution at the recent AFL convention giving the craft unions the right to take out members from federal unions. Already, local AFL officials have warned the Lockheed and Vega workers that President Brown of the Machinists has agreed to let them be divided up by the craft unions.

Soon the 8,500 workers at the North American Aviation company will vote on whether to choose the CIO auto workers or the AFL pattern makers as sole collective bargaining agent in competition with a company union. The workers should vote for the CIO.

In a sense, this NLRB vote will furnish us with an indication of the trend of the workers towards either the CIO or the AFL. Let us repeat, we hope the workers exercise good judgment and vote for the CIO which has much more to offer them in this field than the AFL. It will be difficult for manufacturers to stop a union organization drive. The unions can do a great deal for the workers, and the bosses aren’t in a very good position to fight them without the most open strike-breaking tactics on the part of the federal government.

But even the Sidney Hillmans are hard put to it in defending the aircraft manufacturers. These gentlemen are simply rolling in wealth and profits. Everyone believes the aircraft workers should get higher wages. This is the unanswerable argument of the CIO in its struggle for the aircraft workers.

This intensified struggle between capital and labor will be the dominant factor in California life in the next year. San Francisco is a strong union town now. The shipping industry is well organized. Now Los Angeles and Southern California are becoming a huge industrial center, and union campaigns are already under way.

The Dept. of Labor estimates that over 425,000 men will be employed in aircraft before 1942. Over 100,000 of them will be concentrated in this area. Los Angeles will become the Detroit of the West Coast at this rate of development.

Just as California is at the peak of the war boom, it will sink to the depths of the post-war crash. This will open a new epoch of struggles. It is common knowledge that the end of war means the inevitable collapse of the war industries, with the streets jammed with thousands of suddenly unemployed workers. If they have learned the lessons of union organization, the need for militant struggle, undying hatred for the bosses who exploit them – these workers will not be hopeless and lost souls. They will have the iron discipline of the factory, the education of union experience, and a leadership which arose from its own ranks in the plants. California workers can prepare themselves for the big days ahead. They seem to be doing a pretty good job already.

And once again this stale will undergo a transformation, put this time a fundamental one.

California “Reforms” Its Youth

For years there were whispers about conditions at the Whittier State School (reformatory) for boys. About the merciless beatings given by thugs in guards’ uniforms lo the young boys sent there by juvenile courts.

Mexican youth especially were the target of the bluecoat sadists The Mexican youth had few friends outside, less pull.

Attempts to investigate the situation usually were forestalled by setting up fake committees which whitewashed this hell-hole.

A Hollywood committee headed by Frank Scully finally was able to get its teeth into something when a 12-year old boy was found dead, ostensibly a “suicide.”

Despite serious criticism of conditions which came from a state committee, prison officials exonerated the staff.

Another youth, 15 years old, was also found a “suicide.” This time the situation was cracked wide open. Competent testimony revealed that the boy was “hanged” after he was dead.

It was plain, brutal murder. Although threats against other young inmates silenced many tongues a few boys testified. They told how this Mexican youth was repeatedly beaten unlit he began to lose his senses.

They described how the reformatory was filled with screams of this tortured youth, begging for mercy, while the guards pounded him to pieces.

They told about the solitary confinement for boys which made Alcatraz seem like a resort center. And they gave evidence that flogging was the chief “disciplinary” measure employed to teach these youth, victims of a lousy society, how to be good citizens.

Reading a transcript of this testimony is like reading the story of the Gestapo concentration camps. But this exists in California, and the victims are kids.

So far the murderers have escaped any punishment. It has taken a powerful campaign to force a hearing which is to begin next week, after continual postponements No doubt, the prison authorities in the state will seek to push the blame on the shoulders of a few minor scape-goats. And a few petty bureaucrats will be penalized one way or another in an effort to appease the liberals who raised the issue.

But nothing can erase the indictment of this society which leaves no path open to hundreds of youth except to struggle for a catch-as-catch-can existence, and then subjects them to a reign of terror, and torture, and death fof not making good in a big way and becoming respectable bankers or industrialists or – other types of thieves.

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