Mary Bell Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Mary Bell

Nat’l Service Act Means a New Slavery

(February 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 9, 26 February 1945, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

While at this writing, Roosevelt has not yet appeared circled with the halo of Yalta, wearing the mantle of the Big Three to make a personal appearance to speak again for a slave bill, he and the Navy and Army chiefs appear to be losing the present round for a work or fight bill. The Senate Military Affairs Committee ignored the plea of Secretary of War Stimson and another written directive of the President to pass the May-Bailey bill and voted it down 12–6.

Undoubtedly, the men in Congress who are there by virtue of the labor vote, knuckled under to the heavy pressure of labor, unanimously opposed to “work or jail” with the exception of the Communists.

The fight is not yet over, however. A substitute, less drastic bill is being introduced by Senators O’Mahoney, Kilgore, Wagner, Chandler (D.) and Ball and Ferguson (R.). This bill would give the War Manpower Commission statutory powers to transfer labor. It would penalize employers rather than labor. It would offer transportation to transferees. But it is still a COMPULSORY measure. It is still a slave act, however modified.

And regardless of this “softened” slave bill, and the failure to pass “work or jail” legislation as yet – work or fight already exists! Men who leave war jobs are being transferred to Camp Ellis, Illinois, where they are given a month’s training in the army, then a choice of either going back on the job or continuing as soldiers. This is being done without a partial national service act! This is being done under current manpower controls! This is a fascist technique!

Strengthening the controls of the WMC, which are already used to draft workers who leave war jobs, only means the government will sink its teeth deeper into the freedom of labor. We have no doubt that Roosevelt will ask again that more drastic controls be imposed on labor.

Why They Insist

What is his motivation? Stimson complained in his plea to the Senate that the United States alone has no compulsory service law. Our Allies, Russia and Britain, have had national service legislation since the beginning of the war. And moreover, our enemies, the Nazified countries, are fighting us with weapons made by slave laborers. A national labor draft is indeed a totalitarian measure, and its adoption by our Allies means only that they, too, are moving in the direction of totalitarianism.

Roosevelt wants compulsory work for private profiteers because the voluntary method will mean transfer of workers to places where higher wages prevail, or to peace-time industries because of the cutbacks. Slave labor means you do not need to raise wages or revise the Little Steel Formula You can force labor to work for any wage. Freedom of labor under capitalism means freedom to work or not work, freedom to leave one employer and work for another, freedom to work or starve.

Compulsory labor means abolition of even this questionable freedom – the best capitalism has to offer, however – and chaining the worker to his job. This means enslaving the worker even more to produce for private profits, and then – especially and most quickly in the war industries – summarily dumping him when munitions are no longer needed and the plant shuts down. Capitalism does not guarantee him a job nor adequate unemployment compensation.

Draft the Profiteers

So, because Roosevelt, being a servant of the capitalists, cannot and does not want to force them to guarantee adequate wages and compensation for unemployment out of their mountainous profits (all made in the name of the war for “democracy”) he wants to force the workers to stay at their jobs. The controls are for the post-war period, too. Work-or-jail, no strikes, a dead calm of labor-management collaboration – these will aid American imperialism to carry on its trade and money-making without disruption.

Labor’s answer should be: Draft capital not labor. Since capital makes the profits, since it and not labor benefits from the war, let it pay for the war. Let the government take over all war industry. Let industry operate under workers control and supervision of production. Let profits – since they profess it’s a war to “destroy fascism and preserve democracy” – be eliminated.

Guarantee the workers a high standard of living out of the blood-profits of industry. Guarantee them high unemployment compensation in the post-war period.


Mary Bell Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers’ Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 9 April 2016