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[Jack Wilson]

From Our West Coast Correspondent

Open-Shoppism Gets a Terrific Jolt

(April 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 15, 14 April 1941, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

LOS ANGELES. April 6 – Los Angeles is about to be stripped or one of its most cherished honors – it is well on the way toward losing its place as “the home of the open shop.” Last week, 17 CIO led strikes were in progress in this cozy little stronghold of reaction.

And on this widespread front labor won hands down. Reaction has been more unabashed here than usual, too. Agencies for recruiting scab labor have been thriving in the open and police and municipal administrations have been outdoing themselves in fighting labor.

Notable example of what labor can do if it really decides to fight was the United Mine and Smelter Workers’ strike at the Price-Phister Brass Foundry. Here cars of scabs, guarded by official police escorts, were run into the plant daily. Police on duty at the works openly recruited passing motorists to help run the scabs through. And the usually vicious cops surpassed themselves in brutality as well. There were more than the customary number of unwarranted attacks on pickets – men and women alike.

This only added fuel to the fire of the union’s determination to see the strike through to a successful end. And they won. The contract they got calls for a beginning wage rate of 60 cents an hour, 65 cents after six months, a 5-cent-an-hour blanket raise, and 5 cents an hour additional for night shift workers. Reclassifications for 27 workers will mean a $4,000 yearly increase in wages.

Most important of all, the plant will have a closed shop. At the CIO industrial council meeting the union’s delegate revealed rather abashedly that the company had agreed to a union bulletin board on the door of the men’s lavatory. Another delegate got up and said, “I always knew where the the best place was to put a bulletin board, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen it written into a contract.”

The large number of Mexican delegates at the CIO council meetings is a good sign. Los Angeles Mexicans are used to being kicked around even more than the Negroes out here. So they, like the Negroes, offer one of the potentially most militant sources for union membership.

The council here is forging ahead in its anti-jim-crow drive and the Negroes are taking an ever move active part in the fight for a decent wage standard. Among the white unionists there is less jim-crow prejudice than might be expected. The real battle, recognized by white and Negro alike, is against the employers. They both realise that the sooner unity within labor is reached the sooner a strong fight against the common enemy can be waged.

Darnell Rubber Workers

The United Rubber Workers ended a hard-fought strike against the Darnell Rubber Company in Long Beach with a good contract. Wages now range from 62½ cents an hour to $1.15. Before the strike, the weekly spread had been from $14.50 to $25. The range now is from $25 to $46 per week.

Out of this strike came a demonstration of the progress workers out here are making in the only real school – the picket line. The Darnell workers learned through bitter experience with cop-employer brutality and strike breaking tactics that a labor victory depends ultimately on labor’s strength and not on “good will” or public opinion. Plans are now under way to form flying squadrons of unionists who will be ready for strike duty anywhere in the city. This recognition of the indispensability of workers’ defense guards is a real step forward for Los Angeles.

Because so much of this town has been open shop, workers out here have had little experience in real inter-union cooperation. Once they get the honest-to-God labor solidarity, there is nothing they can’t and won’t do. Because the boys out here are in the mood to try anything.

Discrimination in Aircraft Hiring

Aircraft management out here is crying in its beer because there is such a shortage of skilled labor. At the same lime any number of skilled workers are denied jobs because they are Negro, Oriental, or Mexican, or because they are not SECOND GENERATION Americans. Already Douglas and Vultee are hiring women on production jobs for which there is an oversupply of male workers who, however, can’t meet requirements that might have been cooked up by the membership committee of the DAR.

That can mean only one thing, since we know that the sabotage scare is nothing but a smokescreen for anything the capitalists want to put over on the public. The aircraft tycoons are not going to be caught short when we go to war. The Army isn’t so particular about the background of the men it recruits or drafts. And men who can’t get work even in these boom days are perfect bait for recruiting sergeants.

So the deal works two ways for the capitalists – they get more men for their army and they are prepared to keep production going to provide an uninterrupted flow of profits when the country goes on a total war footing.

Trona Outlook Good

The big strike of the United Mine and Smelter Workers at Trona is unsettled as this goes to press but the union delegate promises that the “most amazing union contract you have ever seen” will soon be announced. Be that as it may, amazing things have been happening in the company town of Trona since the strike was called several weeks ago.

Company cops have been in the company jail – afraid to come out – since the men hit the bricks. The union polices the town. Company officials wouldn’t hear of the closed shop before the strike, but now only men certified by the CIO can go into the plant. Other CIO unions in the state have been cooperating magnificently with food and funds, and the union can hold out indefinitely. But at the present writing, it looks as if this won’t be necessary.

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