Glotzer Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Sam Adams

War Labor Board

AFL Right in Fight to Revise Little Steel

(November 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 47, 20 November 1944, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The existence of the War Labor Board, from the point of view of the workers, becomes more dangerous with each passing day. There is hardly an organized worker who does not realize that the WLB exists for the primary purpose of preventing long overdue wage increases to be granted to millions of workers all over the country and in all industrial occupations.

At least one-third of all workers have not had a wage increase since the war began. Other millions have received only token increases which did not keep pace with the rise in the cost of living or even with the Little Steel formula.

The outstanding fact about the rise in the cost of living is that it has gone way beyond the increase in wages permitted by the formula. This is not merely asserted by the representatives of labor. It is acknowledged by the WLB itself in its own reports. Nevertheless, the WLB has held fast in its refusal to grant wage increases on the ground that it cannot do so as long as the President’s wage stabilization law is in effect.

In other words, the WLB shifts all responsibility to the President and his directors of economic stabilization. But neither the President nor his aides have taken a single step to change the law and alter the Little Steel formula. Oh, yes, many hints were thrown out during the election campaign that Roosevelt was seriously considering a revision in the formula and was prepared to change even before November 5. President Murray of the CIO even staked his life on this in an effort to head off the rebellious rank and file of the United Automobile Workers Union when they sought to rescind the no-strike pledge. But it is clear now that the Administration was again playing hide-and-seek with millions of American workers.

The Cost of Living Issue

When the issue of the rise in the. cost of living first arose, when the labor representatives presented irrefutable proof that the cost of living had risen so high that wage increases were absolutely necessary, the President had the WLB appoint a five-man committee to present its findings in the matter. Shortly after that, the WLB committee and the labor representatives brought in their respective reports. While the WLB report showed a cost of living increase of 23-plus per cent, the labor report showed that actually the rise had been 45-plus per cent.

The dispute in the WLB over the respective figures of the two reports ended in a rout of the special five-man committee appointed by Chair-man Davis of the board. Their report could not stand the light of day. They omitted many aspects of the cost of living which are vital to the life of the average worker and his family. The report omitted to state, for example, that those items in which the rise was greatest were precisely the categories for which the worker spent most of his salary: food, clothing, etc. It failed to consider deterioration of goods, which actually raised their costs to the worker and his family. It did not break down the areas of the country which showed that in the biggest industrial centers of the country, where the majority of the workers were concentrated, the cost of living had risen higher than in other non-industrial areas.

The net result of the dispute between the employer-public report and that of labor was that the whole question of wage increases was postponed until after the elections and is now again postponed.

More WLB Obstruction

Additional evidence that the main reason for the existence of the WLB is to prevent granting the workers their justified wage increased was the. refusal of the WLB to send any recommendations to the President on its findings resulting from the materials contained in the two reports. This cowardly evasion on the part of the board led to a division between the AFL and CIO representatives.

George Meany, head of the AFL delegation, took the position that it was no longer possible for the labor representatives to consider any individual wage cases before the board until and unless the Little Steel formula was revised. At first it appeared that the labor representatives were united on this question. But as it turned out the CIO refused to go along with the AFL because it had cases coming up before the board. It had hoped to gain something out of the hearings on those cases, especially the one relating to the United Steel Workers, who were scheduled to convene at the end of November. But, again, the WLB refused to act on their demands, leaving the CIO representatives in the lurch once more.

In the last few days we have had an extension of this division between the labor representatives. The WLB has suddenly finished its report to the President and proposed that the labor representatives go along with it – even though the board had no recommendations to make as a result of its investigations. The AFL representatives refused again, reasserting their demand for a revision of the formula. The CIO representatives, however, recorded their pleasure that the latest board report was better than previous ones in its admission that the rise in the cost of living was closer to 30 per cent than 23.5 per cent.

This should have been the signal for the entire labor movement to intensify its campaign for revision or abolition of the Little Steel formula. Instead, we have a division of the labor forces, one section sticking to its guns for revision, the other welcoming the “change” in the board report.

AFL Position for Increases

In the AFL fight there is posed the whole question of post-war unemployment and wages, showing that postponement of wage increases means possibly to allow them when there is widespread unemployment resulting from cutbacks. This is under the best circumstances. Actually the opposite is more likely.

Meany outlined his position, saying:

“What this means, in effect, is to continue the wage freeze and when plants are shutting down by thousands all over the country and when mass unemployment is an accomplished fact we should increase wage rates thirty per cent over our present rates.

“This suggestion is so ridiculous that it scarcely needs comment. The tendency of employers would be to reduce rather than to maintain or raise wage rates.”

Of course, this is substantially the position of the CIO, but its fight is weakened by half-hearted struggle resulting from its political alliance with Roosevelt.

Top of page

Labor Action 1944 Index | Writers’ Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 18 February 2016