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[Jack Wilson]

From Our West Coast Correspondent

Calif. Labor Takes to the Picket Line

(March 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 13, 31 March 1941, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

LOS ANGELES. Mar. 23 – Labor action reminiscent of the early days of the CIO is being seen hare in California, where workers are refusing to let war profit-swollen bosses hide behind the smokescreen of “national defense’” and are demanding the right to a decent living wage.

Best example of this is in the week-old strike at the Harvill Aircraft Discasting Corp., where the workers have resisted combined onslaughts from the company, the press, the government and the police.

Every filthy tactic has already been tried, every phony demagogic appeal has been made, every dirty trick in the book has been pulled. But the CIO Association of Diecasters is apparently taking “nothing from nobody.” The strike was called to raise minimum wages from 50 to 75 cents an hour and to secure vacations and holidays with pay. seniority and grievance rights. On these issues it will be settled.

The men at Harvill hit the bricks ten days ago when Henry L. Harvill, company owner, made wage proposals of his own and refused to consider the counter-proposals of the CIO union, which was designated as bargaining agent for the plant in a Labor Board election held two months ago.

Harvill, a self-styled rugged individualist of the old school and a dictatorial tyrant if there ever was one, ran immediately to the courts for injunctions. The legal wizards and stooges provided the necessary papers and Harvill came back with every expectation of reopening his plant. He then discovered what a strike means. The boys on the picket line had ideas different from his.

On successive days. Harvill tried a red squad, which attempted to crash through the picket line; a newspaper attack, which bewailed the losses to war production (of the imperialist warmongers and the war profiteers); a red scare, mud-slinging attack, which fell flat on its face; a personal emissary from Wall Street’s Stooge No. 1 – Sidney Hillman; and an assortment of equally despicable and less effective tricks.

Never once did he try to give the union a fair hearing. A labor-hater from away back, Harvill has contemptuously refused even to meet with the negotiating committee of the union. A sample of his flimsy excuses was the plea that he couldn’t get into his own plant to get vital material necessary for negotiations. The union offered to let Harvill and five assistants into the plant and Harvill immediately found another excuse.

The only reason for the delay thus far has been Harvill’s bitter personal attitude toward the union and its members. To understand the sort of man he is it is only necessary to look back into some of the orders he issued at his own plant. Harvill told his employees, months ago, that he doesn’t like his men “fraternizing” with one another. He forbade workers who live close together from coming to work in the same car. He probably could give a few pointers to a certain Adolph Hitler!

But the Harvill workers are equally tough. In fact, 17 men and women who were discharged from the plant fur union activities have filed a half million dollar damage suit against the diecast dictator. A court hearing on Harvill’s injunction is scheduled for next Wednesday morning.

General Motors Strike Spreads

Up in Oakland, the General Motors strike spread to another of the company’s plants as auto workers showed that they refused to be plowed under in the company’s drive for still more profits.

Not content with the fat government orders being handed out every day, General Motors executives ordered a speed-up in the various departments. On March 10 a welder was laid off for not speeding up his work the required 10 per cent. The next morning 26 men in his department protested to the foreman. They found themselves following their fellow welder. In protest against the lockout. 1,000 men struck the Fisher Body plant.

Determined to break the strike one way or another, General Motors yesterday ordered the use of body parts from the struck plant, even though the UAW-CIO warned against this policy. Thereupon 400 workers in the General Motors truck plant, where the parts were to be used, went out on strike.

The company has tried flag-waving and “defense” scares, but this has only put them in a more ridiculous position because the union knows that the plant hasn’t made any trucks for the U.S. Army.

King Douglas Cracks the Whip

When the CIO won a Labor Board revote at North American Aircraft last week, this was accepted as the go-ahead signal to organize the big coast plants – Douglas and Consolidated. A single incident which occurred this week shows the magnitude of the battle ahead The CIO aircraft local at the huge Douglas plant has been maintaining an office across the street from the company. Douglas workers were signing cards, especially since the siring of CIO victories at Vultee, Ryan and North American.

A few days ago, the landlord of the building housing the CIO told the union to evacuate its office by April 1. An offer of more money or six months’ rent in advance wouldn’t change the owner’s mind. He got his orders directly frpm Donald Douglas and he had to carry them out.

Some smart apologist for capitalism will have to do a lot of talking before he can prove from this example how worker and boss are equals and can compete with each other on equal basis. King Douglas cracks the whip, the landlord jumps and the union has got to move.

There is, however, another side to this fight and that side has yet to be heard from. The workers at Douglas haven’t had their say. And we suspect Douglas’ action was motivated by a fear that will prove to have been well founded when the CIO organizes the 20,000 workers in his plant.

Tidal Wave of Anti-Labor Legislation

The California Legislature is having another field day with civil liberties and the rights of labor. A tidal wave of vicious legislation has flooded out of the committee rooms and it bids fair to engulf every organization in the state, down to and including the high school baseball club on the corner sand lot.

Every sort of organized group comes within the broad scope of the sweeping categories. Under one of the bills, trade unions will have to furnish membership files, names and addresses, from which a master state blacklist of all trade unionists will be made. Other weasel-worded clauses would make strikes, pickets and boycotts illegal, too.

Today California’s Stalinists find themselves in a very uncomfortable position with regard to these laws. Virtually all of them were drawn up and championed by the very people the Communist Party supported in the elections of 1938. But that was before the Stalin-Hitler pact, when the California Stalinists were literally drunk with the rewards of patriotic patronage. Now supporting the other side of the war. they find their fellow travelers – who are still patriots – aiming these new laws at them!

Unfortunately for the labor movement and the genuine anti-war elements, their suffering will go beyond “changing their line.” The Stalinists meanwhile content themselves with opposing everyone they previously supported, awaiting the next adventuristic turn of the Kremlin.

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