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Susan Green

Shipyard Workers Meet

Top Leadership Jams Through Sacrifice on Double Time

(19 April 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 16, 19 April 1942, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

CAMDEN, N.J., April 10 – John Green, president of the International Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers of America, got the convention, held here today, to give up overtime pay rates for Saturday and Sunday work. But he paid the price of sewing discontent in the rank and file delegates.

After the resolution was passed at the morning session, many delegates left the hall grumbling about dictatorship in their own union. For President Green rode the convention with a tight rein, using his gavel much too freely, cutting off discussion, refusing to entertain motions from the floor. He also took it upon himself to argue against each delegate who opposed the proposition, instead of acting as chairman in the accepted parliamentary manner. He even tried to squelch opposition delegates by disapprovingly waving a copy of Labor Action at them. For Labor Action contained an appeal to the shipyard and auto workers not to give up their hard-won overtime standards. Furthermore, many delegates felt more or less dazed. They didn’t know just how far this retreat will set them back, how hard it is going to hit them, and their president didn’t give them much enlightenment. The natural question looming in the minds of thinking delegates must have been just what their president was doing down in Washington if he didn’t get the answers to the problems this sacrifice will entail for his union.

The tone of the afternoon session, however, was quite different. When the admirals and politicos from Washington gave their usual pep talks about speeding up production, sacrificing and co-operating to break the shipping bottleneck, they let loose a tornado of angry speeches from the floor. One delegate after another accused the shipbuilding corporations of sabotaging production, of stepping up cost bills to the government, of making untold millions out of the war. One delegate demanded that the FBI investigate the shady practices of Bethlehem Steel.

The vote on the resolution, surrendering overtime for Saturdays and Sundays and substituting overtime for the sixth and seventh consecutive workdays, did not reflect the true sentiments of the assembly. Many of the delegates who had expressed opposition and worry were intimidated by President Green’s tactics. Though they were far from satisfied with his repeated assurances that they were not giving up anything – even though in the same breath he called it a sacrifice – they did not vote against the resolution. A delegate representing 600 pipe fitters with an agreement for double time for all overtime worked, wanted to know why they should sacrifice what the employers had been willing to pay for over thirty years, what they had paid during the last war and what they can pay now. To his demand to know what the capitalists are sacrificing, President Green replied that this imperialist struggle for world domination is not “a capitalist war” but “our war.”

A Local on the Spot

The delegate from Local 53 declared that the resolution puts his local on the spot. He represents a new yard without a contract as yet. Wages and conditions are terrible. The men must have their Saturday and Sunday overtime to get “bread and butter.” If the convention passes the resolution, he said, they would be letting his men down because he was promising them the very things the resolution is giving up.

The delegate from Local 4 wanted to know who would determine whether a man was sick or just “laying off” in figuring out the sixth and seventh consecutive days of work. He described the hardships of the workers in the shipbuilding industry. They travel as many as sixty-five miles to work, breath in the smoke and fumes from galvanizing and other processes which poison their bodies. After four days of such toil, it gets them. Who will say whether they are sick and entitled to their overtime? President Green didn’t help much by his admission that this question “is beyond me” and will have “to be worked out locally.”

The opposition speech that got the biggest hand came from a young delegate who apparently made his maiden speech. He resented the charge that it is “unpatriotic” for workers to try to hold on to what they have. Workers are told that MacArthur’s men are not getting overtime, but neither are they getting profits, he declared. He sailed into the Kaltenborns who attack labor though labor’s standards have been lowered by the cost of living, taxes and now wage cuts. The unions yield up their rights, but what does Standard Oil do?

The speaker declared that not only are the bosses making untold millions out of the war, but they think they have labor on the run because it has surrendered its right to strike. He asked the delegates whether they should appease or fight. He predicted that appeasing the Smiths and Connallys will lead to more yielding on labor’s part. Will the 40-hour week go next? he asked.

Warns Against Yielding

He forcefully warned the delegates against the “yielding” policy of the resolution and, though he was not permitted to finish his speech, got quite a bit said before President Green’s gavel cut him off. Waving a copy of Labor Action, President Green shouted that he recognized the “political philosophy” of the speaker. It so happens that this delegate has not been a reader of Labor Action. But it is quite true that the “political philosophy” of Labor Action is labor militancy and President Green correctly implied that every militant worker is represented by Labor Action.

As far as answering the speaker’s points, President Green had to agree that “we don’t know what will follow.” He pledged himself to fight for the 40-hour week, but confirmed the speaker’s contention that the bosses think that labor is on the run by adding it will be a “bigger job than you think.”

To counteract the effects of this militant speech, President Green recognized a stream of pro-resolution delegates, deliberately hammering down those who were not known to be in line. When the vote was finally taken, only four delegates out of about 150 had the courage to openly express their opposition. After some wrangling about a roll-call vote, these four demanded that their votes be recorded, to which President Green consented – with the “democratic” comment that it will act as a “boomerang” against them.

Too Much “Delicacy”

In the afternoon session the most important resolution was dispensed with in purely routine manner. This was resolution No. 6 calling for the “security of our union.’’ It was presumably aimed at legislation ‘’freezing the open and closed shop,” but it didn’t come out and say so. This “delicacy” in handling a vital problem before labor could be easily interpreted as an another illustration of labor being on the run – or rather labor’s officialdom.

With from ten to twelve million additional workers expected to stampede the war production industries before the year is up, the delegates should have been impressed with the paramount need for an intensive organization drive and for a grim, relentless fight against “freezing” legislation. This was not done. Two delegates took the floor for short speeches. The delegate from local 37 in Massachusetts – President Green didn’t let him speak in the morning session – tried to ring the alarm by pointing out the situation in a closed shop covering 2,000 workers where only 1,100 are union members.

The resolutions calling forth the most fire from the delegates were Nos. 7 and 3. The former instructed officers, committeemen and shop stewards of all the locals of the union “to impress upon every individual worker in every shipyard coming under the jurisdiction of this Union the absolute necessity of making his full contribution to the winning of the war by building and repairing ships in record time.”

Local 43 Delegate Tells ’Em

The delegate from Local 25 wanted to know how it is possible to produce and repair ships when there are no ships to produce and none to repair. He blamed the companies for this condition. The delegate from Local 43 told about continued layoffs in Baltimore shipyards “for no reason.” The truth of what these delegates were saying was loudly attested by the volume of applause. Resolution 3 called for the establishment of the Shipbuilding Stabilization Committee to consist of government, management and labor and “to administer and regulate the shipbuilding stabilization program.” The discussion from the floor added up to a barrage of accusations against the corporations, repeatedly referred to as the Quislings of production.

The delegate from Local 13 in Brooklyn accused corporations of violating the hiring halls agreement and insisting on the old-time “shape-up” which caused the loss hundreds of thousands of labor-hours for skilled labor. He charged corporations with holding up work to “get theirs” in profits, and volunteered to give proof to the government representatives on the platform.

The Chester delegate from Local 2 drew a laugh when he described managerial bungling, as for instance when fittings belonging in the engine room are “by mistake” installed in the steering room. Every blast at the companies was loudly applauded by the delegates. In contrast, President Green’s repeated protestations that he understood exactly how the delegates feel, sounded rather weak.

Cost of Living Problem

The convention pinned too much hope in this Shipbuilding Stabilization Committee. It is not being born under good auspices. Questions from the floor brought out that the committee should have been convened many weeks ago, but was not because the leaders feared the Smiths and Connallys in Congress might hot like it. They deferred the undeferrable matter of adjusting shipyard wages to the increased cost of living, as called for in the regional agreements of the Union, which the committee was scheduled to take up. The adjournment of this committee is another instance of labor officialdom being on the run before the reactionary bourbons in industry and politics. The delegate from Mobile [line missing in printed text]

In the early part of the convention Philip van Gelder, secretary-treasurer of the Union, rightly said that the future of the Union will not be determined by a piece of paper but “by the strength of the Union.” However, the policies which he, President Green and the other officers of the Union steam-rollered through the convention – namely, relying on committees which meet in Washington and wind up by demanding another sacrifice from labor – have not resulted in strengthening the Union. Should the rank and file patiently wait for the next sacrifice? Or should it express its organized determination and defend its rights to the end?

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