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Mary Bell

Rescinding the No-Strike Pledge
and the Boys in the Foxholes!

(December 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 49, 4 December 1944, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

On December 18, the ranks of the UAW will decide by referendum whether or not they wish to maintain the no-strike pledge. While their convention voted to re-affirm the no-strike pledge, given originally by the union leaders over the heads of the rank and file, they left the final decision to the ranks.

The officials of the UAW were forbidden by the convention to use union time or money, to campaign on the issue, but the CIO convention itself was used as a platform by union leaders to sound off against the UAW ranks who are opposed to the pledge. Many other spokesmen, including the President and military leaders, are trying to sway the members to keep the pledge.

We should like to deal with one of the most powerful and, at the same time, fallacious, arguments against labor’s once more asserting its right to strike. It is an argument that, in the mind of the rank and file union member, is often the main or the only one he has against rescinding the no-strike pledge.


Now, first of all, it needs to be pointed out that rescinding the no-strike pledge will not mean a strike-wave. Strikes have occurred, regardless of the pledge, and workers have refrained from striking in the past when they had no pledge against strikes. Strikes are generally the result of intolerable conditions in the shop. No working man or woman who has ever been through a strike embarks upon one light-mindedly. But in the face of an actual pledge not to strike, the employer is given an additional MORAL weapon against labor. He goes blithely about speeding up the work, turning down wage demands, shoving off all grievances to the War Labor Board. In the interests of an all-out effort to speed up the war? No. Solely in the interests of his profits.

Proof that the employer is interested in his profits and not the war effort? Merely the fact that the large industrial concerns went on strike before they signed their contracts With the government to produce weapons of war. They sat down and refused to turn a single wheel for war production until the government, met their demand for high profits.

(This comparison of the corporations with labor is most unfair – to labor. When the corporations went on strike they did it to increase the multi-million revenue of the Sixty Families who own and control the country and who, like the lilies of the field, neither toil nor spin nor do any productive work whatsoever. On the other hand, when union members strike, representing hundreds and thousands of workers and their families, they do so for five or ten cents more an hour, to gain a few more groceries or the down payment on a radio or refrigerator.)

There are some who, aware of these facts, say: “Yes, but regardless of the role of the companies, labor has a responsibility to the men in uniform. They are mostly our relatives. We should keep our pledge for their sake.”

Part of this argument is true. Labor does indeed have a responsibility to its brothers in arms. Labor has, first of all, the responsibility of seeing to it that good conditions are maintained for the returning servicemen who will come back, most of them, to take up their jobs as workers again.

What are the servicemen coming back to? What are the conditions that exist in industry which they will face?

The price ceiling pledge given by Roosevelt in return for the no-strike pledge has been broken. But the ceiling on wages, exemplified best by the recent insulting decision of the WLB in the steel workers’ case, remains intact. Is that what the ex-steel worker now on a gunboat in the Pacific, is fighting for?

Behind the recent strike of the telephone girls were wages of $18 and $21 a week. Is that what their brothers and husbands in the armed forces are fighting for?

This is most emphatically NOT what the workers in uniform are fighting for. This fact can be documented by thousands of letters from men overseas, some printed in union papers, some testified to recently by the telephone operators – letters of encouragement to strike for a decent living wage against the offensive of big business.

Soldiers Oppose Strikes

Now, it is also true that many soldiers are bitterly opposed to strikes in wartime. But their reaction is the result of the propaganda campaign of big business, which is on a union-busting and profit-making spree. All types of anti-labor propaganda have been used among servicemen and it is regrettable that much of it has had effect. Naturally the capitalist press is the worst offender. But it is also a result of the failure of the unions to put their case vigorously before the armed forces. What would be the reaction of these soldiers if they knew the truth of the matter – that while they are living in slit trenches, crawling through jungles, fighting and dying, big business is making the biggest profits of all time!

These same soldiers and sailors are supposed to be liberating the countries oppressed by fascism. What does “oppressed by fascism” mean? The working class is the first victim of fascism. Its right to strike is taken away. Its unions are destroyed. The profiteers, the wealthy, the business men – they get along well under fascist oppression. They can do – and have done – business with Hitler!

Strikes would take away weapons from the front, they say. But what a weapon is handed over to Goebbels by taking away the right to strike! The plutocrats rule in the democracies, he would say, and the workers do not have the, right to strike. So what hope do the German workers have at the hands of their democratic “liberators”? They fight all the harder against our doughboys.

On organized labor’s shoulders rests the responsibility for securing and maintaining conditions for the veterans. Business won’t do it. When a strike occurs, or when there is talk of rescinding the no-strike pledge, and business spokesmen squeal, “Think of the boys in the foxholes,” they are simply hypocritical and desirous of creating antagonisms between labor and servicemen. They didn’t think of the boys in the foxholes when business held up the war contracts, and when they peddled goods to Japan, Germany and Spain. And they don’t think enough of them now to give them severance pay, cumulative seniority for the time they are in service, vacation pay. They don’t think enough of them to guarantee, them, or any workers, jobs after the war is over. And the politicians in Washington of both parties don’t think enough of them to give them a clear right to vote.

What rights the veterans have now are due largely to the efforts of organized labor. But organized labor hasn’t done enough. Organized labor has to go forward to a guaranteed annual wage, to full employment, to make an end of poverty in the midst of plenty.

But for labor to stand still today means to go backward. Big business is out to “get” labor. Since labor made the no-strike pledge, big business has the Indian sign on unions. It has experienced the supreme delight during the war – for the first time in years – of making profits hand over fist without haying to jump the workers’ pay. The no-strike pledge is the root cause of the offensive of big business against labor and the plight of the labor movement today.

Labor has produced the goods for the war. Every government body and especially production boards, have been compelled to praise American workers for the colossal production of war goods. This alone gives the lie to their propaganda against strikers. Of that there can be no question. But business has taken the gravy.

In order to smash the vicious Little Steel formula, which is holding up increases, and restore collective bargaining, it is necessary to rescind the no-strike pledge. This is the key to progress in the labor movement today. If labor resumes the offensive, raises wages and betters conditions, it aids the veterans of World War II. If it remains subservient to big business, it only helps betray them.

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