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Susan Green

The WLB: Labor Leaders Must Get Off the Board!

(17 May 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 20, 17 May 1943, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Philip Murray and William Green are threatening to withdraw the labor members from the War Labor Board. They say that since the President’s “hold the line” order, the WLB no longer has any authority to remedy “inequities” and all that the board can do now is apply the fifteen per cent Little Steel formula. So what’s the use?

For Murray and Green this threat to withdraw from the WLB is merely a face-saving maneuver forced on them by the anger of the rank and file of organized labor which is sick to death of the pussy-footing of their officials, and is inspired by the miners’ stiff fight for a wage increase.

Up to now, Murray and Green have been ardent supporters of the WLB – in spite of the fact that since its inception the WLB has been the bargain basement for selling out labor. All this time the leaders of the CIO and AFL have been behind the counter with the bosses and the so-called representatives of the “public.”

Carried to Its Logical Conclusion

George E. Sokolsky, National Association of Manufacturers’ stooge, who writes for the New York Sun, has made the admission that “IF THE WLB IS CARRIED TO ITS LOGICAL CONCLUSION, THEN THE LABOR UNION BECOMES MERELY A SOCIAL ORGANIZATION FOR KEEPING LABOR IN LINE UNDER GOVERNMENT SUPERVISION.”

Get the full flavor of that sentence, you workers who have fought and bled to build your unions to protect your interests. The WLB is making of your unions – with the knowledge, consent and cooperation of many labor officials – a convenient vehicle for keeping you “IN LINE.’ And that is exactly where you’ve been kept – ABOVE ALL, BY THE LITTLE STEEL FORMULA, WHICH KEEPS WAGES DOWN – WHILE PRICES AND PROFITS HIT THE SKY!

But not even this unjust formula is applied universally. There is one of many instances in the case of the 1,750 employees of Lever Brothers. They were refused an increase in wages, even though they are getting less than the fifteen per cent permitted by the Little Steel formula. Why? Because – on the theory that two wrongs make a right – an increase for these 1,750 workers would mean increases also for the workers in the Cambridge and Edgewater plants of the same company – where the wages are also less than allowed by the aforesaid formula.

Let us look at some other outstanding decisions of the WLB.

There was the case of the General Cable Co. employees, who were denied a raise on the shocking theory that WAGES AS LOW AS SIXTY CENTS AN HOUR ARE NOT SUB-STANDARD!

Again, when the Textile Workers Union demanded that the wage differential between mills in the North and in the South be eliminated, the demand was refused by the WLB on the ground that “A DIFFERENTIAL IS NOT UNUSUAL.” Applying this principle, one may say that lynching is right because it too is “NOT UNUSUAL.” Though the labor members on the WLB wrote their own opinion in this, case, they CONCURRED with the majority!

The shipyard workers of the Bethlehem Steel Co. – one of the first-rank war profiteers – asked for two weeks’ vacation with pay for employees of one or more years’ standing because they thought the gruelling, tortuous labor of the yards entitled them to rest after one year. The WLB decided that ONE week for workers of THREE OR MORE YEARS’ standing is good enough. All the workers have to do is pray that they live that long.

There is the unforgettable case of the 32,000 New York transit workers, over which the WLB – by unanimous vote – refused to take jurisdiction, thus denying these workers even the dubious privilege of all other workers in the country to have their grievances buried in the files of the WLB. It might be said that in this case the WLB established its own precedent for being by-passed – as was done then by Mayor La Guardia, and as is now being done by John L. Lewis in the miners’ case. There are the many instances of WLB voting down wage increases where the bosses themselves – because of the labor market – were willing to grant increases.

A Graveyard for Grievances

And, of course, the method most often used to keep the workers “IN LINE” is simply to bury their petitions, demands and grievances. OF 2,119 CASES BROUGHT BEFORE THE BOARD IN TEN MONTHS OF 1942, ONLY 396 – OR LESS THAN ONE-SIXTH OF THE TOTAL – WERE SETTLED.

Today there are more than 10,000 pending cases. The President’s “hold the line” order has merely deepened the graves in which the WLB buries workers’ grievances. One can go on and on giving instances of how the WLB has employed labor leaders to convert the unions into bodies for keeping the workers “IN LINE.” But” no purpose will be served in multiplying the evidence.

To save the face of the WLB and of his faithful servitors in the CIO and AFL, Roosevelt may loosen the straight-jacket of his “hold the line” order – and allow the WLB to act on certain “inequities.” BUT WILL THAT BE A REASON FOR THE PAID OFFICIALS OF ORGANIZED LABOR TO STAY ON THE BOARD?


Fascism and Nazism demolish the unions outright. Capitalist “democracies” seek to accomplish the same purpose through no-strike pledges, War Labor Boards and other devices for pulling the teeth and softening the muscles of the unions. The workers of several unions have already raised the cry for their leaders to get off the WLB. This cry must become an earth-shaking shout from the throat of all organized labor before the “LOGICAL CONCLUSION” Mr. Sokolsky speaks of becomes a reality – and the unions cease to function as such!

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