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Mary Bell

A Socialist Review of 1944

(January 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 1, 1 January 1945, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

If one scans the headlines of the past year, they seem a hodge-podge of events, with little rhyme and less reason to them. As the year began, the railway workers and steel workers were taking strike votes; the Italian people had overthrown Mussolini and were being Amgotted. Later occurred the invasion of Fortress Europe, for which the world had been holding its breath in horrible expectation. The French people, aided by the Allies, expelled the Germans. A half dozen labor conventions were held in this country throughout the year, and the announcement was made of more than half a million American casualties in the course of the war. The year has ended in a new, bigger, deadlier battle on the Western front in Europe, with new heaps of twisted metal and torn bodies.

A year is an arbitrary division of time and a short one, reckoned by the span of history. But since this is the era of machine production, mass output, motor-driven transport, jet-propelled planes and rocket bombs, events occur rapidly. And it seems particularly fitting at the close. of 1944 to assess the important events of the year from a SOCIALIST point of view.

The locomotive of history, according to socialists, is the struggle of classes. Today, In capitalist-imperialist society, it is the struggle of the working class and the “little people” of the world for security.

Let us examine this struggle of the workers to better their existence and attain security.

Battle on the Home Front

Overall employment was still pretty close to the wartime peak. Unemployment was at an all-time low. But wages were way out of line with prices. Part of the class struggle was a battle of statistics, labor maintaining the cost of living had risen 45.3 per cent, the Bureau of Labor Statistics that it had risen only 23.5 per cent.

But the President’s directive had frozen wages to the famous Little Steel formula, by which they were not permitted to rise more than fifteen per cent over a 1941 average! Those anti-labor forces who ranted about the “wealthy war workers” stubbed their toes over the hard fact that 40 per cent of all American workers still make under 65 cents an hour, Senator Pepper’s recommendation for a minimum wage.

Of all the proposed freezes, only the wage and job freezes, those which lower the standard of living of the working class, held.

(Readers of Labor Action know that there was one exception to the “hold the line” of the wage freeze, That was in the upper brackets, among the captains of industry. Alfred P. Sloan, of General Motors, received $200,000 for his year’s work, or slightly under $100 an hour, on a forty-hour week. Some will say that prices went up for Mr. Sloan, just as much as for the sixty-five-cents-an-hour factory worker.)

The overall profits of industry for 1943 were announced in 1944. World War II proved a mint to business, which garnered ten billion dollars of profit during the year, according to the report of the Truman Committee.

The wage freeze for workers held for one reason only. Labor in 1944 celebrated the black mass of the third anniversary of the no-strike pledge, given originally by the top leaders of the unions over the heads of the membership.

WLB and the No-Strike Pledge

The corollary of the no-strike pledge, the War Labor Board, has become renowned throughout the labor movement as the cemetery of a|l labor disputes. When Van Bittner of the CIO was asked about the possibility of speeding up War Labor Board procedure, he replied with a contemptuous summing up of labor’s attitude toward FDR’s brain-child; “Yon can’t de-lonse a louse.”

The rank and file of labor became restive under the pledge, the high cost of living, long hours at no greater real wages, exhortations to speed up, to “sacrifice,” etc. The high peak of this dissatisfaction came at the UAW convention, where the ranks voted to submit to a nation-wide union referendum, the question of whether they want to retain the no-strike pledge. This action signified a mistrust of the leaders who gave the pledge and a strong sentiment against the pledge.

The struggle of the working class meant in other unions a struggle against the leadership, which was suffering from no-strike-pledgitis. These included the straight, old-fashioned, rock-ribbed type of Sherman Dalrymple, whose own local of the United Rubber Workers expelled him for a period when he went too far in firing and fining men for company-provoked walkouts.

Opposition was mobilized against the Stalinists (the label was changed on the bottle, but the Communist Political Association is still poison to the working class) in. the shipbuilding union, the electrical workers and others. The Communist bellwether in the NMU, Harry Bridges, nominated himself for the least popular man of the year by proposing a permanent no-strike pledge.

Since the unions were manacled, big business had a field day, not merely in the realm of profit-taking, but in a real offensive against the labor movement. The knight of this crusade was Sewell L. Avery, who pays his employees $21 a week, who has managed to defy the War Labor Board for over a year and who has provoked a strike in the citadel of labor in Detroit, where even the local labor leaders are forced to support the picket lines.

Reimbued with courage due to the business offensive against labor and perhaps realizing the government was more serious in crushing the left (the leaders of the Socialist Workers Party, who spent the year in prison for opposition to imperialist war) than the right (the assorted Bundists, Christian Fronters and pro-fascists whose prosecution has not yet been completed), such rabble-rousers as Father Coughlin and Gerald L.K. Smith took to the air and activity again.

Labor Politics and Reconversion

Labor did the usual thing politically in 1944, i.e., supported Roosevelt, but NOT in the usual way. The CIO Political Action Committee, organizationally independent from the Democratic Party, was born. Its prominent role in re-electing Roosevelt posed a question which unionists are still mulling over: If labor can do so much wth a political organization of its own, what could it do with its own program and genuine labor candidates?

Michigan brought forth a form of a Labor Party, the Michigan Commonwealth Federation, with a labor program. This organization, however, crossed class lines on Election Day and its evolution is still in doubt.

The soldiers’ right to vote was curtailed by the failure of Congress/to pass on a uniform federal ballot.

The first crack in the employment structure appeared at the very beginning of the year and was followed at intervals by others. We refer to the shock of the Brewster cutback, followed by others in Buffalo aircraft, National Tube, steel, etc.

The slogans of the sit-in of the Brewster workers, dramatized the plight of millions of workers to come:

We’ve got the tools,
We’ve got the ability,
We’ve got the experience,
We’ve got the will,
But we ain’t got the work!

In anticipation of the usual post-war depression and the growing cutback unemployment, labor became concerned in 1944 with full employment. Roosevelt was moved to promise sixty million jobs. But the pronouncements of capitalists gave the lie to any fulfillment of a promise by a capitalist politician to achieve that goal.

Ten million unemployed are normal, say the capitalists. In other words, except in time of war, when the factories and farms are used mainly to create goods of destruction, the U.S. must have a permanent depression. That is, if “free enterprise” – the system Roosevelt is pledged to uphold – remains, the days of apple-selling, ploughing-under and WPA will return.

They will return unless labor draws the lessons of the year 1944, and all previous years of capitalist exploitation, and forms its own political party, with its own program, to run society not for profits, but for peace, plenty and security for all!

The International Scene

Domestic anti-labor, pro-capitalist politics were carried abroad.

Despite propaganda to the contrary, the overthrow of Mussolini proved that most all Italians except the capitalists and upper classes were opposed to fascism, and were merely waiting for the opportunity to overthrow it.

The armistice imposed on the Italians grants to the Allied powers the right virtually to select the Italian government, despite the proclamation of the Four Freedoms and the Atlantic Charter.

The French people, too, showed their hatred of Nazism by helping to oust the invader. But no elections have yet been held in France. A usurper, General de Gaulle, has proclaimed himself leader of the French people, with Allied backing. Despite the aspirations of the people which he voiced prior to returning to France, such as expropriation of the monopolies and greater representation of labor, these have been unfulfilled, the Nazi-collaborators have not been wiped out, and France continues through him the exploitation of 10,000,000 colonial Arabs.

Again, in flagrant violation of the asserted principles of this war, Poland became a vassal to Russia. She was marked as part of the Russian sphere of influence at Teheran, and our State Department has agreed to this division of the spoils. Other parts of the Balkans, including Romania, where even the anti-Jewish laws remained intact, fell to the Russians in this second redivision of the world.

If the Atlantic Charter was torn and riddled before, it was buried in Athens at the end of, 1944. Here the ELAS, military organization of a people which had never compromised with fascism and which was on the side of the United Nations, was forced to fight the British for the right of self-rule. Britain imposed a government which represented no one in Greece save a handful of royalist reactionaries to maintain her hold on one of the outposts of her empire.

In Greece, Stalin too sees another neighboring state, with the possibility of a Mediterranean port, so valuable to trade, that would be a fitting jewel in the new Russian Empire.

And Roosevelt has acquiesced in these imperialist acts.

To the end of United States imperialism, Roosevelt has studded the new State Department with eighteen-carat millionaires, including Stettinius, formerly associated with J.P. Morgan and steel interests, and Clayton, cotton broker, who did business with fascism.

As for the solution to the war and international ills, it remains the same as for domestic unhappiness: the forward march of all laboring and exploited masses, to eliminate the profiteers, the war makers the class oppressors.

Socialists are for genuine national independence for the liberated countries, and a workers’ government.

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