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Albert Gates

Workers, Fight Political Reaction!

Build a Labor Party

Congressional Anti-Labor Bill Must Be Fought With Independent Political Action

(June 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 25, 21 June 1943, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The viciously anti-labor Smith-Connally bill, passed by the Senate and the House, is now resting on the President’s desk, awaiting his signature to make it a law of the land – or his veto, which would send it back to the reactionary legislative halls of Washington. It is only now that a storm is brewing in labor and liberal circles over the passage of this “fascist bill” as William Green, president of the AFL, described it.

While the bill was passing through Congress, too many of these labor leaders and liberals were busy denouncing John L. Lewis and the coal miners for their gallant struggle in the interests of all American labor against the oppressive conduct of the WLB and the coal operators. Had they understood the real meaning of the Smith-Connally bill earlier, the fight against it would have started some time ago Not that the liberals could have accomplished much; but certainly the organized labor movement was in a position to wage war against the designs of the congressional lackeys of big business and their allies, the Southern Bourbons.

Starting late, the labor leaders have a difficult struggle ahead of them. But their difficulty is caused not merely because their fight has begun so late, but also because their weapons cannot help a great deal. The labor leaders do not rely upon the independent and organized strength of labor. They are relying upon “pressure” on the President; they are living in hopes that the political interests of Roosevelt and his administration will direct him to veto the bill.

Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins has joined Green and Murray in a denunciation of the bill and in requesting a presidential veto. Dean Alfange, erstwhile gubernatorial candidate of the American Labor Party, also denounced the bill as anti-democratic. In that, he merely echoed the position taken by the ALP. But a real ferment is to be found in the ranks of labor where the workers are fully aware of the repressive nature of the bill.

The so-called liberal press, in characteristic fashion, blows hot and cold on the issue. While PM has attacked the bill from the start, the New York Post is opposed to it merely because it would bar political contributions by labor unions. This is particularly anti-democratic because, while the Post doesn’t give a fig about the other fascistic measures of the bill, it is concerned with money contributions since it is already hawking the fourth term for Roosevelt and would like to see the labor unions help to pay for his campaign!

Any way you look at if, the Smith-Connally bill is the most vicious piece of anti-labor legislation to pass the House and Senate in many years. Arrayed behind the bill is a powerful, reactionary bloc of industrialists, politicians, the Southern Bourbons who sponsored the bill, and a host of professional labor-baiters and flunkeys of big business.

Tear away the veil of pretenses and the weasel words, and the object of the bill is clear: to destroy the powerful union movement and to render labor impotent to fight in defense of its basis interests!

The yellow boss press knows its stuff. It has been fighting for this bill from the day it was introduced and it knows how to emphasize the importance of this bill to big business. Its criticisms of the President and the Administration are not on account of their “pro-labor” policy, but on the grounds that they have not been fighting the union movement and the workers with “proper weapons.”

The Smith-Connally bill is a “proper weapon” because it can tie the labor movement hand and foot by “legal” means, by legislative action. Any attempts made by labor to break the restrictions imposed by the provisions of the bill can be met by fines and imprisonment!

All the real threats and penalties of the bill are clearly directed against the working class. That the capitalist press understands this is obvious from the fact that all the material published by it has stressed the penalties that may be employed to destroy the militancy of the labor movement and its allies!

It has been charged that the bill is a means of taking revenge upon the labor movement because of the miners’ strike and the militant conduct of John L. Lewis. This is, of course, pure rubbish. The reactionary congressional bloc and their big business associates have been trying to pass such a bill for years. They have succeeded now because this is the most reactionary Congress in history. From the very opening of this Congress, it has been flooded with similar anti-labor bills, some more drastic, some less so.

The point to be brought home, however, is that there weren’t enough struggles, like the one Lewis and the miners waged, to defeat such a bill. It is only because of the conduct of the officialdom of the AFL and CIO that the bill passed so easily. Had they been more determined, had they threatened to invoke the power of the united strength of the labor movement against the bill – they MIGHT have prevented its passage.

But it is only now, when the bill is on the President’s desk, that the leaders of the union movement have become alarmed. How do they fight the bill? By relying upon the personal intervention of the President, hoping that his political ambitions will redound to their benefit, they are really weakening the fight of the labor movement.

We have mentioned the fact that pressure from all sides is being exerted on the President. Roosevelt is in a dilemma for only one reason: a presidential election is due in 1944 and he plans to run for a fourth term. His problem is to satisfy all forces in order to insure his nomination and then his election. There are, then, two reasons for his hesitation. He is afraid that if he signs the bill he will lose the labor vote. And he is afraid that by making the bill a law, labor’s dissatisfaction will be so great as to interfere with war production. In either case, it would mean his defeat in 1944.

This brings us to the political heart of the present situation, for the Smith-Connally bill forces the question of labor political action to the forefront. Up to now, the labor chiefs have tied the union organizations to one or another of the boss political parties. The results have always hurt the workers because they have been compelled to rely upon the political flunkeys of the capitalist parties. By their own experiences, thousands upon thousands of rank and file unionists know that in every crisis, great or small, the professional politicians have acted against the best interests of labor.

The great political need of the workers today is an Independent Labor Party based upon the trade union movement. Only such a party, free from any entanglements with the Republican or Democratic Parties, can offer any political hope for labor. All that the workers have gained from the official policy of supporting one of the boss parties or another, either because one was a “friend of labor,” or under the theory of “rewarding your friends and punishing your enemies,” is a stab in the back.

The action of the conference of Labor’s Non-Partisan League in Detroit (a report of which is published elsewhere in these columns) is symptomatic of the feelings of American labor. They are getting fed up with the political run-around from the Democratic Party with its share of reactionaries, labor-baiters and Southern Bourbons who dictate the actions of the party in Congress. They know that there is nothing to expect from the Republican Party of big business.

Great possibilities are offered to the labor movement in the creation of such a party. It would give the workers a powerful weapon on the political field to supplement their weapon of trade unionism. Unified politically as well as economically, American labor can advance the position and power of this country’s exploited millions.

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