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Susan Green

Speed-Up in War Production
Kicks Safety Out of Window

(30 June 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 26, 30 June 1941, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Since its outbreak in September 1939, the criminal imperialist war has been reaping a harvest of dead and injured workers from the factories of this country, presumably at peace.

In 1940, according to National Safety Council statistics, 17,000 workers were killed on their jobs. This figure for 1940 is way above the industrial deaths of the preceding year.

Also in 1940 there were injured in American factories 1,400,000 toilers. Some are permanently crippled; others were temporarily disabled. These industrial wounded in “peaceful” America in 1940 alone amount to more than 10 per cent of the wounded in World War No. 1.

The Red Cross explain the increase in industrial deaths and accidents by the “increased tempo.” The New York Times refers to them as “a consequence of rearmament.” The magazine Business Week frankly states that “when emphasis is strong on production at any cost, safety precautions are likely to be relaxed and accidents rise accordingly.”

Thus there is absolute agreement from all sources as to the cause of the increase in industrial deaths and injuries. THE WORKERS ARE PAYING WITH LIFE AND LIMB FOR THE FRANTIC WAR PREPARATIONS OF THE IMPERIALIST ROOSEVELT ADMINISTRATION AND FOR THE HUGE WAR PROFITS OF THE BOSSES. These dead and injured workers are the victims of the bosses’ war just as are the civilians bombed from the air, the sailors torpedoed at sea, the soldiers slain on the battlefield.

More to Come

The industrial casualties of the war for 1940, high as they are, indicate only the beginning of the ravages of the war on the workers. Already for the month of March 1941, the workers needlessly sacrificed at their jobs numbered 7 per cent more than in March 1940. But this is a mere pimple on an elephant’s hide compared to what is coming.

This prediction is made by no less an authority on death and accidents than Norman H. Davis, chairman of the Red Cross. Says Mr. Davis: “Mass hazards are greater and will without doubt continue to increase.” Mr. Davis said a mouthful. THE INDUSTRIAL SPEED-UP IS BEING INTENSIFIED.

Ralph Hendershot, writer of the column Wall Street in the New York World-Telegram – which denotes for whom and to whom he speaks – attests to the coming intensified industrial speed-up. He is not satisfied with the results thus far. He comments that “despite the step up in the work week, American workmen are still considerably behind the general average in EUROPE in point of hours.”

In speaking to and for Wall Street, Mr. Hendershot does not have to pretend. EUROPE IS NOW DOMINATED BY HITLER. As far as ,hours, wages, working conditions and the general enslavement of labor are concerned, HITLERISM IS AN IDEAL WHICH THE WALL STREET INTERESTS STRIVE TO ATTAIN.

Already tool workers are putting in an average of 52 hours a week as against 42 hours when the war broke out. Some tool and die workers are even on a 60-hour basis.

Pressure is exerted on workers to forego their hard-earned vacations. For instance, throughout the Curtiss Wright Corporation, employing 38,000 workers, there will be no vacations this summer – except, of course, for the directors, officers and stockholders.

The president of the company softsoaps the workers by calling them “loyal” and boasting of the 60 airplanes, 280 engines and 175 propellers that will be produced above the schedule. He does not reveal the profits of the company on this additional production – in which little dent will be made by the vacation pay the workers will get. Nor does he allude to the great hazard to the life and limb of tired workers going at top speed without rest. Nor does he estimate how many deaths and injuries will result. Nor does he pledge to be “loyal” to the workers when he has robbed them of their nervous and muscular energy so that they can no longer make the grade.

“At Any Cost”

Plainly, the whole war-mongering fraternity are out to extract the last ounce of labor-power from the workers.

The production belt is geared in high. Hours are lengthened to the limit. Vacations are classified among “subversive” activities. Thus constant tension, enervation, exhaustion, will be added to the causes for industrial accidents in normal times, such as unsafe tools, lack of safety devices, improper ventilation and lighting. As Business Week puts it, “when emphasis is on production AT ANY COST,” payment is made in terms of the flesh and blood of the workers.

As the war progresses with the United States a belligerent – if the workers do not stop it – the 17,000 killed and the 1,400,000 injured in industry in 1940 will become a mere fraction of the industrial casualties. The destructive octopus of imperialist war will stretch its deadly tentacles into the factories mines and mills; and THE NUMBER OF VICTIMS WILL RUN INTO MILLIONS.

The Red Cross – that subservient scrubwoman kept by the bosses to mop up the blood they spill – is pre paring for the shambles it expects in the factories. It is organizing hundreds of volunteer first aid detachments to operate in industries. In accordance with the unalterable policy of the Red Cross at home and on battlefields, it does nothing to prevent the spilling of blood by the bosses. It merely provides more mops.

The workers do not want more mops. THEY WANT TO PREVENT A SHAMBLES IN INDUSTRY! They want to stay alive – AND WITH ALL THEIR PARTS INTACT!

Our Program

The Workers Party, believing that in this case the best defensive strategy is to take the offensive, comes out for a 30-hour week with overtime for all work above 30 hours.

Militant workers are putting up a grand fight for wage increases to meet the cost of living. They must fight just as hard against the speed-up and against the lengthening of the working week. They must fight to keep their hard-won vacations.

After ten years and more of lean earnings or none at all, workers are avid for a pay envelope WITH A LITTLE BULGE TO IT. They submit to the long work week and to working during vacation time because of the overtime paid. BUT THIS IS SHORT-SIGHTED.

That the workers should benefit by the present demand for labor is beyond question. But the bulge in the pay envelope should come out of the bosses’ war profits – NOT OUT OF THE LIFE BLOOD OF THE WORKERS. Higher wages, not longer hours, should make that bulge.



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