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Harry Allen

A Union Program for Worker Ex-Servicemen

(August 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 33, 16 August 1943, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The American Legion has announced that its membership today numbers 1,136,000, the highest in its history. These figures include some servicemen in the armed forces today whom the American Legion has been able to enroll. Despite the increases in membership, the Legion still remains unsuccessful in its labors to recruit the overwhelming majority of workingmen veterans of World War I. Nevertheless, the recruiting campaign of the American Legion poses today an extremely serious problem to the organized labor movement in regard to the worker-veterans of yesterday and tomorrow. What is to be done?

Worker-Servicemen’s Organization

It is time now for the labor movement (AFL, CIO, Railroad Brotherhoods, et al.) to take measures leading to the formation of a veterans or servicemen’s organization of workingmen.

It is time now for the organized labor movement unitedly to discuss this question and to emerge with recommendations and proposals.

The tentative name of a workers’ ex-servicemen’s organization Should be selected. A tentative set Of bylaws and a constitution should be formulated. The labor movement jointly should assign a committee to prepare a series of leaflets and pamphlets, setting forth why labor proposes a program for and the formation of a workers’ ex-servicemen’s organization.

One of the latter’s aims would be to counteract the reactionary organization and program of the American Legion. Just as the American Legion endeavors to reach all soldiers and present veterans with its scabby, fascist program, the labor movement must see that its literature, putting forth a progressive program for the veterans, reaches every union member and serviceman.

The national executive boards of the respective labor organizations should advise every local Union and central labor body to take up this question, with the object of crystallizing quickly positive views, a program and organization for the servicemen.

Defeat Reaction at Home

It will not be difficult to make the men and women in the unions, and the men and women in the armed forces, understand the validity of preparing the worker-veterans of World War II particularly for the storms ahead. Without a well-organized, disciplined army, no battles are won on the military front. Yes, American labor has enemies abroad; the fascists and Nazis everywhere are its bitter enemies. But labor has equally dangerous and reactionary enemies on the home or domestic front.

Labor must watch, circumvent and defeat these home front enemies, such as the bosses and their tools. The American Legion, with its present program and leadership, is an anti-labor organization. The Legion tries to use the ex-servicemen to maintain exploitation and capitalism in all respects. It is the job of labor to make common cause with the servicemen in the immediate and ultimate interests of labor and the ex-soldier workers.

Therefore it is time today for the labor movement to prepare all the necessary bases to recruit the ex-servicemen into a workers’ veterans’ organization just as fast as they are released into civilian life.

They must not become victims of American Legion propaganda and other reactionary forces in the country. As an obvious reason, therefore, the labor movement must reach and win the servicemen on labor’s side before the servicemen have a chance to become demoralized in the convulsive post-war world to which they will be returning.

Soldier and Worker Solidarity

A worker-servicemen’s organization is imperatively required which will maintain direct connections with the labor unions. The ex-servicemen must be in a position to turn to the labor unions as the instruments through which they will be able, to the greatest degree possible, to obtain jobs, either full or part-time.

Hence, more than ever the unions should try to increase their rights and powers on job hiring, etc., especially having in mind the released soldiers at that period. It is a necessity for the unions to cement a close alliance with the servicemen. The time to begin is NOW.

Whatever tentative organization and plans for a worker-servicemen’s organization are set up today by the labor movement, it must be clearly understood that, immediately after the war is over, a national convention of worker-ex-servicemen must be held. At that convention the rank and file soldiers and sailors themselves must ratify the form of organization and program of a worker-ex-servicemen’s organization; and elect all officers. By these measures alone, this veterans’ organization will set itself apart from the big business-controlled American Legion.

From the outset, moreover, all local veterans’ groups that are organized must be invited by the labor movement to send representatives or delegiates to the Central Labor Councils in each city. This is necessary in order to maintain direct solidarity between the ex-servicemen and the unions. Thus, too, the servicemen will have tangible evidence that the labor unions are really interested in their special problems.

In order that national policy and practice may be coordinated, the labor movement should also arrange to have the ex-servicemen represented in all its bodies, including the national executive bodies.

As a practical consideration, the unions should make special financial arrangements so that ex-servicemen may join or return to unions of their adopted or former trades.

Progressive Role for Servicemen

More so than the civilian workers, the ex-servicemen will find it difficult to adjust themselves in the post-war period. Their outlook, upon returning from the battlefields, can lead toward several conceivable developments, in which their role can be either reactionary or progressive and militant in relation to the labor movement. Certainly they will be in an aggressive, fighting mood.

The task of the unions is to make sure that these energies and moods are linked to and made organically a part of the interests of the organized labor movement. Then, the ex-servicemen’s post-war role can be a positive, valuable one. Now is the time – it is not too early – for the labor movement to look ahead and prepare its attitude and program in respect to the servicemen.

The proposal of William Green, president of the AFL, for workers to enter the American Legion to reform it is the wrong proposal today. Instead, the organized labor movement should take upon itself the task of initiating a program and organization of worker ex-servicemen of World Wars I and II.

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