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Jack Wilson

Government Seeks Ceiling on Wages

(16 February 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 7, 16 February 1942, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Roosevelt Administration joined hands this week with the powerful corporations to prevent the CIO from obtaining a nationwide demand for a dollar-a-day wage increase to meet the mounting cost of living.

Leon Henderson, Roosevelt’s price administrator, sent a letter to the War Labor Board, which has before it two crucial CIO test cases, and urged the board not to grant any substantial wage increases.

Last Friday at the White House, President Roosevelt had read the same letter to the six-man CIO-AFL board which had its first meeting with him, according to the New York Times.

Significantly, neither, Phillip Murray nor William Green told their union ranks after the meeting with Roosevelt that he had put pressure on them against getting wage increases.

The CIO has before the War Labor Board the cases involving the Little Steel companies and their 155,000 employees. The SWOC, as part of the CIO, has demanded one dollar a day wage increases and the union shop from these companies.

Apparently knowing that the Roosevelt administration would assist them to beat down labor, the steel companies refused to grant any important concessions, and now the case is before the War Labor Board.

Since the War Labor Board itself is packed with friends of business, they hardly need any encouragement to turn down pleas of the CIO for wage increases and union security.

FDR’s Encouragement

However, the open assistance of Roosevelt and Henderson will give them further courage to prevent labor from getting enough wages to begin to meet the rising cost of living.

The fact that the CIO auto union also is demanding one dollar a day and the union shop, and that the CIO aluminum workers have presented a similar set of demands to their bosses, makes the steel union demands before the War Labor Board decisive, since the verdict of the board in the steel situation will be the precedent for the other union negotiations.

The wages of nearly 1,000,000 CIO men from coast to coast are directly involved in the demands before the War Labor Board, and the action of the President and Henderson therefore is a serious frontal attack at the CIO standards.

The mood of the ranks of the CIO, under the pressure of the rising cost of living, and the terrible toll that priorities unemployment is taking, were indicated over the week-end in the conference of over 160 delegates to the General Motors division of the CIO union in Detroit.

Even R.J. Thomas, president of the CIO auto union, talked in tough, plain language, fitting into the mood of the ranks who are fed up with the present run-around they are getting everywhere.

“Some people say we should give up the class struggle. I don’t know much about the class struggle. All I am interested in is better economic conditions,” etc., etc.

Pressure from Ranks

Thomas’ Speech doesn’t mean that the CIO top leadership suddenly has decided to go all-out in struggling for labor’s just demands. It shows, rather, how the leadership is being forced to respond to the pressure of the ranks, and put up some kind of a fight for the CIO demands. The Thomas speech assumes special importance in view of the fact that he was one of the six men at the White House conference last Friday.

The major argument of Henderson and the President against granting labor and wage increases was such an insulting one to the intelligence of workers, that apparently none of the top AFL or CIO leaders fell for it. It was the stock argument of all reactionaries at all times against wage increases.

“If you increase wages, prices will go up, and inflation will result,” claimed Henderson in his letter to the War Labor Board.

But labor knows that big industry is falling over itself in the huge profits pouring in from war orders. All labor is asking today is that part of those profits be turned into wage benefits. This could be done easily, without in the slightest increasing prices generally.

Big business always tries to increase all prices, every time it is forced to pay a wage increase, thereby trying to pass off the cost on the consumer. But the Roosevelt regime could prevent that easily, simply by telling the Corporations they couldn’t raise prices, and that labor’s wage demands should be granted by taking them out of the profit.

Instead, we have the brazen attempts of the administration to assure big industry that its war profits will be safeguarded, while labor pays the burden of the war on the battlefield, in the factory and at the store.

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