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Susan Green

Anti-Labor Gang Behind Scare
on “Absenteeism”

Cook Up Scare to Put Over ‘Work or Fight’ Bill
and Other Anti-Labor Measures

(15 March 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 11, 15 March 1943, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Under Secretary of War Patterson declared before the House committee considering the Johnson “work or fight” bill that the absenteeism at one of the aviation plants was sufficient to build ninety-seven bombers last year.

Admiral Land, chairman of the Maritime Commission – that labor-hating gentleman who would be willing to see every labor leader hung at sunrise – is sure that absenteeism in the shipyards was enough to build one hundred cargo vessels last year.

Where do these soft-handed gentlemen get their figures? Perhaps No. 1 enemy of labor, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, is their authority, But never mind that. Suppose these swivel-chair toilers-with-their-tongues are right that so-ond-so many planes and ships could have been built. The question still remains: WHY DO WORKERS TAKE TIME OFF?

Secretary of Labor Perkins answers this question on which everything depends. Her answer leave no doubt on the subject. This is her department – she knows.


Enlarging on this subject, Secretary Perkins said further that improved working conditions could reduce industrial accidents by 90 to 95 per cent. Also many minor illnesses could be prevented by improved conditions in plants and at shipyards.

But do Secretary of Navy Knox, Under Secretary of War Patterson, Admiral Land, Representatives Johnson and Vinson and other “servants of the people” cry out for better conditions? Not on your life.

They are all for the Johnson “work or fight” bill. They want every worker absent “without prior authorization” to be reported to his draft board – as that bill would require. To allow the worker the right to decide whether he is able to go to work or not is allowing him too much freedom, according to the “guardians of democracy” in Washington. The worker must be intimidated into going, to work – sick or sound, hurt or hale – with the threat of induction into the Army. He must not be a free agent.

Secretary Knox is also eager to reach out and use compulsion on workers over draft age. He favors fines and wage penalties. “The place to hit them is in the pocketbook. If you dock their wages, you are hitting them where it hurts.” Such are the noble sentiments of the Secretary of the Navy in this “arsenal of democracy.”

The hullabaloo about absenteeism is false. It is raised to fool the public. What the political stooges of the bosses want is a noose around labor’s neck. They think the hullabaloo about absenteeism will give them the chance to slip it on.

Representative Curtis of Nebraska has introduced a bill which goes the whole hog in this respect. His bill would abolish the forty-hour week – and abrogate all union contracts for less than a forty-eight-hour week – and brand a worker putting in less than forty-eight hours a week an absentee – and cancel the draft deferment of a worker getting overtime pay under forty-eight hours of work. Mr. Curtis’ bill reflects the most ardent hopes of the most reactionary elements of the ruling class – AND HE INTRODUCED IT UNDER COVER OF THE HULLABALOO ABOUT ABSENTEEISM.

The Causes of Absenteeism

It is as clear as crystal that admirals, cabinet members and congressmen are not interested in absenteeism in itself. They are using it as a springboard to jump on labor.

Secretary Perkins suggested that good canteens in plants and at shipyards, better sanitation, rest periods and welfare service would go far to eliminate industrial accidents and prevent minor illnesses – both of which, as stated above, cause 80 to 90 per cent of the absenteeism. But not a peep about this from any of the aforementioned worthies. If they are so concerned about more planes and ships that might have been built, why don’t they tackle the CAUSES of absenteeism?

Other causes not mentioned by Secretary Perkins are: living long distances from the job; lack of decent housing; lack of sufficient doctors and hospitals for medical care – and lack of food that workers are used to, especially meat.

How would Admiral Land, for instance, fare in a “foxhole” in the bowels of a battleship in construction, cramped and overheated and breathing sickening fumes – and on top of that travel four to six hours to and from work every day – and on top of that get “home” to some primitive shack or sub-standard flat without even a bathtub to get cleaned up in – and on top of that have to eat an unsatisfying meal? How long would he last on the job under such – or any – conditions?

Some Workers Travel Sixty Miles

And would Under Secretary of War Patterson perhaps like a job at Ford’s Willow Run plant producing planes he talks so much about? There at least half of the workers travel sixty miles to and from work every day. There thousands live in shacks, basements, condemned houses, tents, trailers. These people are packed like sardines into these unhealthy surroundings. There the same beds are used over and over by different shifts of workers. There sanitation is not only primitive but there aren’t enough facilities to accommodate everyone. How long would Under Secretary of War Patterson last on such a job?

Representatives Bees of Kansas and Bryson of South Carolina introduced bills to curtail the sale of liquor around plants and shipyards – of course, as a cure for absenteeism in spite of the fact that drunkenness is one of its very minor causes. Naturally, the hard-talking admirals, cabinet members and congressmen, need something to pep them up – but airplane makers and shipbuilders working under conditions bad enough to take their heats out, need no pepping up!

None of the propaganda artists – from Rickenbacker up and down the line – bother to inform the public that while absenteeism now is about 7.5 per cent, during World War I it was 16 per cent – Secretary Perkins’ figures. As stated above, the hullabaloo is false.

Labor Has to Fight Back

Workers stay out of work because they are hurt or sick – or don’t get the time to do what every normal human being has to do. Workers must have the improvements Secretary Perkins enumerated, namely, good canteens, better sanitation, rest periods, welfare service (especially for women workers) – all these on the job. Besides, workers must have decent housing, sufficient doctors and nurses assigned to war industry centers – and adequate food, clothing and recreation, for which they must get pay commensurate with the cost of living.

FOR these things organized labor must fight – as well as AGAINST the Johnson “work or fight” bill, the Knox idea to penalize workers above draft age, the Curtis bill to abolish the forty-hour week.

LABOR HAS TO FIGHT – or that noose will be slipped around its neck!

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Last updated: 16 February 2020