Mary Bell Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Mary Bell

Telephone Girls Take Strike Vote

(March 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 13, 26 March 1945, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Two independent unions of New York telephone operators have filed their intention to strike on behalf of 17,800 switchboard operators.

The issue? After a War Labor Board panel recommended a $5.00 increase to operators working for $21 a week (the wage of $32 a week, which is an exception in this industry, makes a telephone operator an aristocrat of labor), the companies offered $4.00; the WLB came across with $3.00; the company failed to back up its $4.00 original offer. This promise of $4.00 by the American Telephone & Telegraph Co. came in answer to a strike threat last January.

At the time of this threatened strike, liberals, communists and labor leaders shed crocodile tears for the poor exploited operators and shouted in unison:

“No! No! You mustn’t strike – our men in uniform – the war for democracy, etc.”

Some of the girls had an answer that almost stopped this anti-labor chorus. Their sons and husbands in uniform who knew of their plight supported their intention to strike.

It was only because of the serious resolution to strike that the WLB was moved to recommend the partial increase that would raise the operators’ wages from sub-sub-standard to plain, everyday sub-standard wages.

Those who are against strike action by the terribly underpaid operators are for the company. Let’s take a look at the company, American Telephone & Telegraph.

AT&T Colossus

AT&T is part of the golden J.P. Morgan dynasty. Its gross assets of over five billion dollars are estimated by Berle & Means to exceed in value the wealth of twenty-one of the forty-eight states taken together. It is controlled by a few of the Sixty Families who own and control most of the resources of the country.

Its annual gross income of more than one billions dollars is larger than that of most of the governments of the world. It is the largest private employer of labor in the U.S. Over 300,000 people work for this industrial kingdom.

We reprint from Labor Action of December 4, 1944:

AT&T Income and Salaries
(1937 pre-boom figures):

Net Income





Total Income

Taxes Paid

Net Income

Dividends Paid

Income after taxes and dividends: $219,000,000

Salaries of executives
in pre-boom year 1938:

President Gifford


Vice-President Cooper


General Counsel


Vice-President Page


Vice-President Jewett


And this corporation is unwilling to have its operators earn more than $21 a week!

The advertising ballyhoo of AT&T boasts that no individual owns so much as one per cent of its stock – therefore it is publicly owned and its policies are publicly determined. This is a farce. The wide dispersal of ownership only makes that much more possible the control by a few large, wealthy owners, who act in concert, or by holding shares nominally, while brokers manage their holdings.

The twenty largest owners of stock held only 4.6 per cent of the total, but that was enough to establish control – simply because the rest of the shares were spread so widely.

Contrast with Workers

Men who are wealthier than princes of the Indies, who inherited their wealth, married into it or got their start in piracy, plunder or pure and simple exploitation such as the telephone girls are being subjected to – these private owners of AT&T are the ones who determined the wage policy of the operators.

What the corporation refuses to pay the operators furnishes the wives and these men with $500,000 necklaces, $75,000 sables, hand-painted swimming pools, Carrara marble floors, yachts, palaces, etc.

“No! No! Don’t strike, girls. The boys in the foxholes, the war for democracy –”

Present the truth to the boys in the foxholes. Tell them “both sides” of the story – that of the profiteering corporation and that of the underpaid working women. Then we’ll take our chances as to which side they’ll support, the empire of AT&T or the right of these operators to a decent standard of living.

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

Last updated: 9 April 2016