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AFL-CIO Ranks Stand Solid
Against Shipyard “Yellow-Dog” Contract

Bureaucrats Tried to Put Over “Master Contract”
by Back-Door Scheming and by Preventing Democratic Vote

(May 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 21, 26 May 1941, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

SAN FRANCISCO – Every lousy trick in the books has been employed to try to break the strike of over 2,000 AFL and CIO machinists in the shipyards here, but the ranks are holding solid.

And 18,000 other unionists working in the yards have respected the picket lines, refusing to walk by them, in a remarkable demonstration of solidarity and defiance of orders from big shot AFL leaders.

The latest trick against the strikers was a threat of Acting Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal to use sailors and marines to bust the picket lines.

At a mass meeting, a union leader reminded the strikers that the coal miners had been threatened the same way and had stuck to their guns and won.

“John L. Lewis told them to call the army and see how much coal they could dig with bayonets. It is even harder to drive rivets with a bayonet.”

The strikers know that no one can take their jobs. There just aren’t skilled men around. Labor is finding its own power here. And that is why other techniques than old-fashioned picket line busting are being used.

Ma Perkins, Secretary of Labor. denounced the strike, hoping to frighten the workers. It was a puff of hot wind in a hurricane.

The AFL Metal Trades Council in the Bay area, of which the machinists are members, denounced the strike. but they haven’t got jurisdiction over the strikers and were told so in plain language.

John P. Frey, president of the AFL Metal Trades Department, even got the Los Angeles Metal Trades Council to pass a resolution against the strikers.

But all this was moire than counteracted by the immediate support given by other AFL unions and the whole state CIO movement. Even Harvey Brown. CIO president of the Machinists Union, endorsed the strike, since he saw his dominion invaded jurisdictionally by Frey.

Eli P. Oliver, a Hillman stooge, came here from Washington last week and tried to sell a fast deal to the local union leaders of the strike.

“Why don’t you come to a union meeting and tell the strikers this,” the local leaders taunted Oliver, while he cussed a blue streak, at which game the local boys showed him a thing or so, too.

“Tell it to the rank and file,” is the technique of the strike leaders to the various phonies who seek a behind-the-doors sell-out. So far, all have been afraid to face the strikers.

Frey, for example, threatens to head personally a march through the picket lines if the strike isn’t settled pretty soon. There are a lot of boys who would like to see him there. They just want to shake his hand, you understand.

Now there is a clever stunt engineered by Governor Olson for Tuesday night, which might take in some of the strikers.

Governor Olson came out with a statement admitting that the men are striking to maintain conditions and wages already won.

He added:

“I find a deep resentment against the assumption by the international president of the Metal Trades Department of the AFL (Frey), in whom the machinists do not seem to have confidence, of authority to make a contract without their approval.

“These machinists’ unions did reject the agreement when it was presented to them, as did all machinists’ locals from San Francisco north.

“A majority of the Bay Cities Metal Trades Council ratified it, but the objection to it, no withstanding that ratification, is that the machinists or other crafts are not represented according to their numerical strength.”

Now you can imagine how strong the strikers’ case is when even Governor Olson, who just got through signing three bills against which the entire labor movement, AFL and CIO, protested, comes out with a statement as accurate as this one.

He did it for a purpose. It will be revealed this Tuesday night, long before this story appears in LABOR ACTION. He is going to address the strikers.

The line will be:

“You are in the right: your leaders have sold you out, but what you must do is change leaders first. Meanwhile, as good patriots, go back to work.”

Yes, the strikers should bounce all the misleaders. But one excellent way of discrediting and defeating them is first to win the strike.

Olson is using the most insidious method of all to break the strike. He seeks to utilize the bitter resentment of the men against the sell-out artists in the AFL and the CIO to get the strikers to go back to work. Before the meeting Tuesday, the newspapers helped whip up a huge scare that the picket lines would be smashed Wednesday morning if the men didn’t accept the Olson sugar-coated poison pill.

What they all forgot in this situation, however, is that their actions and the role of the government officials did more to convince the workers that the war isn’t one for democracy, but rather for the rich man’s profits, than all the soap-box speeches in San Francisco since the First World War.

There’ll be no “national unity” here. The class lines have been too sharp and plain.

Labor, in opening its eyes up to what the war is really about, has already won a major victory in this strike. It can win a couple of more before this thing is over, Olson to the contrary notwithstanding.


The strike was called against a sell-out “yellow-dog” contract imposed on the unions through the unwanted, unasked-for agency of John P. Frey and the government’s shipbuilding stabilization committee. Among the many objectionable features of the contract, the one that sticks out like a phony penny is the provision of time and a half for overtime. In two strikes in 1936, totaling three and a half months, the unions won double time for overtime, which in effect, means less wages for the workers at a time when the cost of living is rising and the bosses are figuring profits in terms of astronomy.

Other features of the contract in which the workers figure to lose from their present agreement are related to the “no strike” clause. The terms of the new contract, signed for two years, call for “discussions” in regard to pay raises, with “no strike, no lockout.” This means the bosses can keep on discussing while all the men can do is take in the hot air. The AFL bureaucrats, who hate strikes like poison, are, of course, in favor of this clause. But the men are wise to the short change they are being handed.

How Arrived At

It is interesting to know how this so-called Pacific Coast master contract was arrived at. It developed from the shipbuilding stabilization conference, called by the shipbuilding stabilization committee. This committee, in turn, was established by the National Defense Advisory Commission – Sidney Hillman, superintendent.

Mr. Hillman, with the able assistance of Frey, dreamed up most of the contract in Washington, D.C., before even coming to the coast. Details were worked out in San Francisco and other Pacific Coast ports in conferences held from February 3 to April 3. On the committee were such labor-conscious persons as its chairman, Morris L. Cooke, industrial engineering consultant attached to the National Defense Advisory Commission; Gregory Harrison, representing the Pacific Coast shipyards; Admiral Emory S. Land of the U.S. Maritime Commission, and others. So-called labor “leaders” sitting in on the conferences did not represent the Pacific Coast unions; no representatives were elected to go from any union, and no union asked any of them to negotiate anything. The labor members present were “invited” to attend by the conference committee itself and, significantly enough, no CIO member was given an invitation. The CIO took no part in the discussions and had no voice in the decisions reached. This was strictly an AFL bureaucratic clam-bake, with no “outside” influence wanted.

Prevent Real Vote

After the committee had made the master contract to its own liking, it started the ball rolling to put it down the throats of the rank and file – no easy job, but with a little twisting here and there it was done. The first step was to prevent a true referendum vote of the membership. This little trick was accomplished by giving each international union in a port six votes; so that if, as was the case with the San Francisco area, there were three locals of a union, each would get two votes. Machinists Local 68, with a membership of 1,300, for example, got two votes and voted NO; Local 1330, with a membership of about 400, got two votes, and voted NO; Oakland Local 284, with no men at all in the shipyards with with a membership of less than 250, got two votes and voted YES. So it was that the democratic process was defeated and a minority, with the pressure of officials upon them, overrode the desires of the majority and drove in the reactionary “master contract.”

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