Felix Morrow

Congress Planning
Anti-Strike Laws

FDR Talks Lay Basis For Ban

All Legislators Need to Do Is to Enact
Into Law AFL Metal Trades Proposal;
But Such Laws Cannot Be Enforced

(11 January 1940)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. 5 No. 2, 11 January 1941, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The legislative mill of the 77th Congress has begun to turn, and it is already clear that it will grind out an even more vicious product than did its predecessor.

Shortly after Roosevelt had delivered his Message, Hoffman of Michigan introduced a House bill to repeal the National Labor Relations Act, and Senator Holman of Oregon re-introduced the Smith Committee amendments. These amendments were adopted by the House last session but died in the Senate Labor Committee. They will not die so easily this time.

These anti-labor moves are but the first. It is certain, in fact, that before this session of Congress is over, it will have adopted new anti-labor legislation, particularly anti-strike legislation.

That is the main item on the program of the ultra-reactionary bi-partisan bloc which dominates both houses. Roosevelt will make no move to stop them; on the contrary, he has given them sufficient encouragement in his Fireside Speech and his Message. They will merely be enacting into law Roosevelt’s declaration that the war arms drive “will proceed without interruption by strikes or lockouts” and his threat to “use the sovereignty of government” against “troublemakers.”

The AFL leadership has just given the reactionary bloc in Congress a perfect formula under which to enact anti-strike legislation. All Congress has to do is to enact into law the “Defense Plan” adopted last Sunday by the AFL Metal Trades Department.

“There must be no stoppage of work.” This sentence from the statement issued by (Major) John P. Frey, the metal trades department president, sums up the “plan.” All Frey asks in return is the establishment of arbitration machinery. This “plan’ is equivalent to the National War Labor Board enacted into law by agreement between President Wilson and Samuel Gompers in 1918. (A description of that board appears on page 2 of this issue.)

By this step, by William Green’s “no strike” pledge at the AFL convention and other similar moves, the AFL tops have outstripped even Hillman— for the moment only, he’ll catch up with them soon enough!—in leaving the trade unions helpless before the coming onslaught by Congress and the employers.

Two lines of “strategy” motivate these moves of the AFL leadership:

  1. By showing how far “labor” is willing to go in cooperating to end strikes, they will take away from the reactionaries any pretexts for enacting anti-labor legislation. This strategy is on a par with lifting a siege on a fortress by enticing the besiegers to come inside.
  2. Green, Well, Frey & Co. will in this way prove how much more respectable they are than is the CIO, so that anti-union capitalists will accept the AFL as a “lesser evil.”

Frey’s metal trades statement was obviously designed to show the superior respectability of the AFL. Frey had previously participated. together with the CIO shipbuilding workers’ union, employers and government representatives, in forming the Shipbuilding Stabilization Committee which, at its Dec. 5 meeting, issued a policy statement pledging exhaustion of all other methods rather than strikes and lockouts.

Now Frey gleefully announces: “Because of the emergency we make our policy even more emphatic than that proposed by the (shipbuilding stabilization) committee.”

The CIO union’s leaders are not, however, very far behind Frey. On the very same Sunday that the AFL metal trades department is meeting and rushing into print with its plan, the executive board of the Industrial

Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers, CIO, is also meeting, also acts, and also rushes into print. The board (1) bars “Communists” from national or local office in the union and (2) provides for expulsion from the union of “any member proven guilty of ... using the privilege of membership for propagating or furthering the cause of communism.” Any worker handing a shopmate a copy of the Daily Worker or the Socialist Appeal can be driven out of the union or the industry, under this broad provision. This CIO executive board may not be abreast of Frey yet, but it is trying hard!

In this vile game, however, Frey has a major advantage over the CIO union. The metal trades unions of the AFL are craft organizations. In the shipyards, for example, they cover but a part of the men engaged in the industry. Hence Frey has something tangible to offer the shipyard bosses and the Navy Department. They can play ball with his craft organizations and, in return, Frey and his associates will turn their backs on the men —usually the majority—in the shipyards, scab if a strike breaks out, etc.

But there have been too many instances in which AFL craft unions have refused to play this kind of game and have demonstrated their solidarity with their fellow-workers who are in CIO unions. Frey therefore proposes to take all policy-making powers cut of the hands of the AFL locals and their rank and file members:

“As explained by Mr. Frey, the jointly associated metal trades Union representatives would seek to negotiate agreements by regions and industries. For example, they would meet with employers in the shipbuilding industry on the Atlantic, Gulf, Great Lakes and Pacific Coast and negotiate single agreements in these areas for all the uhions.” (N.Y. Times, Jan. 6)

Speeds Anti-Strike Law’s

Far from forestalling anti-strike action by Congress, these AFL and CIO moves are grist to the legislative mill. They serve to create an atmosphere in which it appears that any union which strikes for its demands is a “saboteur” or “communist-led.” The simple fact that no union conducts a strike unless it has absolutely no other alternative, is being buried under these whining statements from AFL and CIO leaders.

With, the trade union leaders thus retreating, it is to be feared that anti-strike legislation by Congress is a foregone conclusion.

It is one thing to pass such legislation. It is something else, however, to enforce it! That’s what happened in 1918. The National War Labor Board was set up by law, because the boards which preceded it weren’t able to stop the strikes. But neither did that “super-board” succeed.

The inexhaustible vitality of the organized workers breaks through, in spite of the strangling machinery created by the government and the bosses with the connivance of the Freys and Hillmans. It happened in 1918. It will happen again now!

Last updated on 14 November 2020