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Harry Allen

Chicago CIO Maps Fight Against Wage Freezing

(May 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 18, 3 May 1943, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

CHICAGORepresenting 200,000 CIO workers, officials of 242 CIO locals in the Chicago district held an overflow conference on April 21 and gave emphatic approval to a broad program of action to combat wage cutting, sub-standard wages, job freezing, mounting prices on food and other necessities of life, and high taxes on workers’ incomes.

This significant gathering of CIO labor, reflecting deep-seated anger against inroads on the economic and civil rights of the masses, highlighted the meeting by calling for a national emergency conference of the CIO at Washington to unite labor nationally in struggle for its program.

The conference further specifically called upon the AFL unions to join with the CIO in carrying out its program, suggesting as an initial step the “immediate formation of community-action organizations of CIO, AFL and other neighborhood groups.”

Recognizing the need for mobilizing the widest possible mass support a/id understanding of its program of action, the CIO conference further proposed local community actions by individual organizations and groups, to be followed by a series of mass meetings, preceding the proposed national conference.

Hit McNutt Orders

Among the more important proposals presented by the Chicago CIO’s high cost of living and legislative committee, and strongly endorsed by the conference, are:

1. A demand that the WMC-Mc-Nutt order freezing workers to their jobs be rescinded. Speakers emphasized that the basis for labor turnover in Chicago is not a labor shortage, for there are still thousands of unemployed skilled and unskilled workers, but in pay inequalities. “Freezing workers to inequitable jobs is unworkable ... Remove the pay inequalities that cause such job changes.” It is time to protect labor, not just the bosses’ interests on the job, said a CIO spokesman.

2. Demanding that the OPA revert all prices back to the September 15, 1942, level, reduce prices that are patently high, and forbid any additional price increases, the program calls for the deputization of union members and other citizens by OPA to check on all stores to see that rationing laws and price ceilings are enforced.

There is, however, no need to wait for OPA to deputize the workers. The unions themselves can proceed, together with committees of housewives, organized in every local and on every block, to establish committees to check the food gougers and profiteers, while simultaneously demanding genuine enforcement by the OPA of such regulations as presumably aid the workers and consumers.

On this score, taking note of the operations of the black market as well as the huge profiteering through “legitimate” channels, the conference demanded that “dollars-and-cents price ceilings be set for all necessities of life. Rationing should be extended to cover all the necessities of life so that everyone will be guaranteed his fair share.”

$30 Minimum Wage

Exposing the myth of general high wage scales, the program calls for a $30 weekly minimum wage, based on a 75 cents an hour, 40-hour week basis. Anything less, the program states, is “sub-standard.” The fact is that there are tens of thousands of Chicago workers who fall into the “sub-standard” wage level.

The Little Steel formula for wages is denounced as inadequate, particularly in view of the enormous increases in prices of foodstuffs, etc. The report adopted by the conference on this score therefore demands increased wages for increased production, as well as a “fair share in any decrease in the cost of production.”

The report of the committee still evidences illusions in the War Labor Board for the adjustment of wage inequalities. The program proposes reconsideration by the WLB, with public hearings, of all cases pending prior to April 8 to determine what are “sub-standard” wages. At the same time the report states that the CIO will oppose any imposition by the government of a national wage incentive system.

4. The preamble to the program states its belief in Roosevelt as “labor’s friend.” Ignoring the anti-labor record of the Roosevelt Administration in recent years particularly, it places sole responsibility for labor’s woes and predicament on the “reactionary big business bloc in Congress” Hence there is no reference, either in the program or in the speeches by CIO representatives -at the conference, to the need for the labor movement, particularly the CIO, to initiate a movement for independent political action; for the formation of a Labor Party to espouse labor’s cause and program in all the legislative chambers in the cities, states and nationally.

Tax Proposals

5. Denouncing profiteering, which, the report states, “is unequalled in the history of our country,” the conference called for the repeal of the Victory Tax “because it imposes a flat five per cent burden on all wages down to the worker earning only $12 a week, with no regard to living costs, family obligations and dependents.”

The tax program further proposes tax exemption for single persons earning $800 or less and married couples earning $1,500 or less, with an additional allowance of $400 for each dependent.

With respect to the incomes of the rich and profiteers, it favors a $25,000 limitation, after tax payments; a tax increase on corporate profits to 55 per cent; five per cent profit limitation for corporations with initial capital investment of $10,000,000 and four per cent on all amounts above that, together with a 100 per cent excess profits tax on profits above these levels.

The CIO proposals, therefore, still accept responsibility for sharing war costs with the bosses, instead of an outright demand that the bosses pay the costs of their war through a demand, along with other tax proposals, for a capital levy by the government on the corporations to cover the financial costs of the, imperialist war – the workers already paying many times over with their bodies and lives in the workshops and on the battlefields.

Whatever limitations and inadequacies there are in the program of action of the Chicago CIO conference, the proposals as a whole point in a highly progressive and militant direction. The conference reflects the pressure of the ranks on the officialdom for protective measures. It is imperative that the laboring masses everywhere adopt similar programs of action and take measures to carry them out.

Locally, the CIO ought to proceed to the early convocation of the proposed series of mass meetings. Without a doubt, a call for a gigantic open air demonstration in support of the program of action, convened jointly by the CIO, AFL and other organizations, or even by the CIO alone, would be supported by tens of thousands of Chicago’s exploited workers.

Particularly deserving of support is the proposal for a convocation of a national emergency conference of the CIO to develop the necessary pressure, organization and program for a national struggle against the attacks of the bosses and government upon labor’s rights and living standards.

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