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Susan Green

Labor Can’t Be Content with Sitting on Status Quo

(15 December 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 50, 15 December 1941, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Congress, representing “the will of the people,” is now mad at labor. Labor, you see – being only the great majority – is not the people and should have no will.

Anyway the President and Congress have discovered that “the people” want anti-labor, anti-strike legislation. The discovery came about in this manner: The capitalist and war-mongering press, radio and movies filled the eyes and ears of the people with malicious misrepresentations and lies about strikes – whitewashing capital and slinging mud at labor. Then the boss politicians conveniently interpret these misrepresentations and lies as “the will of the people.”

So Congress is on the mat. In this, corner, ladies and gentlemen, are the “champions of democracy.” Some of them come from the “free South” where democracy is handed out in exchange for a poll tax receipt – and where the rights of the Negro are protected by lynch law.

In the Other Corner

In the other corner, ladies and gentlemen, are those super-colossal “fifth columnists” – the workers of the country. They “unpatriotically” believe that democracy begins at home – that it must manifest itself in an unshackled working class, unhampered in its struggle for its right. Labor Action is also in this corner. And the fight is on.

As the debate in Congress proceeds, Labor Action will publish articles analyzing the different labor-suppressing provisions of the anti-strike legislation proposed by the boss politicians. The present article deals with the important issue of the closed shop, which was brought into the limelight by the captive mine strike.

Workers on strike have never been smeared by their enemies with such filthy falsifications as were these striking miners. And never was a strike more justified.

The powerful “steal” companies owning the captive mines had no leg to stand on. Being only a small minority of bituminous coal operators, they still blatantly refused to accept the agreement signed by the whole industry. They insisted on maintaining their advantage of an open shop – as a sword over labor’s head, to be let fall at the proper time.

No Choice But to Strike

The United Mine Workers had no choice but to call the strike, its agreement with the majority of the bituminous operators provides that the Union cannot give other operators advantages not contained in the agreement. Not to have fought the captive mine operators on the open shop issue, would have constituted a repudiation of the hard-earned closed shop clause in the agreement – and would have given all the bituminous bosses an opening for future attacks on the union.

But no “representative of the people” lifted his voice against the kingdom of “steal.” No war-monger shouted that the captive mine operators were holding up war production. Nobody discovered that the people want anti-capitalist legislation. Instead, THE HIGH-HANDED CONDUCT OF THE BOSSES HAS RESULTED IN A CONCERTED EFFORT BY THE LEGISLATIVE LACKEYS TO PUNISH THE WORKERS.

It is Representative Smith – of Southern vintage – who includes la his vicious anti-labor bill a provision to “FREEZE EXISTING OPEN AND CLOSED SHOP CONDITIONS IN DEFENSE INDUSTRIES.”


But labor has no “status quo.” Its status is never “quo.” Labor’s status is always shifting. Either labor is making progress or it is being pushed back – LOSING GROUND.

Therefore, when the rabid anti-labor contingent in Congress proproses the seemingly fair and innocent solution to “freeze existing conditions for the duration,” it is really delivering a punch loaded with lead right to labor’s jaw. And this is especially true on the issue of the closed shop.

Now, the closed shop is no luxury for labor. It is something labor must have. The difference between the closed and open shop is the difference between a double-fisted blow and a pat on the back of the boss. Only by the double-fisted blow has labor won its gains.

The closed shop transforms itself into a better standard of living – higher wages, shorter hours, human working conditions, the health, education and happiness of the worker’s family.

Contrariwise, the open shop is very desirable to the bosses. It divides and emasculates labor, it forms the basis for company unions. It is capital’s weapon against labor. The open shop, therefore, transforms itself into more power and profit for the boss – AND LESS OF EVERYTHING FOR THE WORKERS.

Labor has learned from long struggle that for extending the closed shop – which is synonymous with extending labor’s organized might – certain conditions are favorable and others definitely are NOT.

Today – especially in the war industries – the workers have a chance. Orders are at the peak, labor is in great demand, and profits are in the stratosphere. This opportunity to push ahead, to organize the unorganized, TO EXTEND THE CLOSED SHOP, to win better conditions, MUST NOT BE SACRIFICED. If it is, labor will regret its folly – WHEN IT IS TOO LATE.

For in the post-war period conditions will militate against the workers. The war boom will burst with a bang. There will be masses of unemployed. Jobs will be as scarce as snowballs in hell. The terrain will so decisively favor capital that labor will be bound to lose crucial battles. But only if it foolishly sits on its fictitious “status quo” in this period – when it should be forging onward.

If labor does use the opportunities presented today, it will be able to hold its own in the ominous tomorrow. If the unorganized are organized, if the open shop is dealt its death blow, if company union ism is exploded, if wages and working conditions are put where they belong, the workers will have strongly fortified positions from which to repulse and defeat the bosses’ post-war blitzkrieg. LABOR MUST NOT ALLOW ITSELF TO BE FROZEN TODAY – or rigor mortis will follow in the dangerous period ahead.

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