Susan Green Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Susan Green

To the Wives of Union Men!

What the Labor Movement Signifies

(20 September 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 38, 20 September 1943, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Housewives listen to the radio more than any other group of people – that is, the working class housewife who sends her kids off to school, markets and lugs her bundles, makes lunch, does her own housework and some or all of the washing, cooks supper, cleans up once more, and finally puts the kids to bed with a sigh of relief. The women whose work is never done have the radio turned on pretty much of the time to keep them company.

The Palmolive Formula

There is another group of people very much aware of this habit of the housewife and very energetically trying to cash in on it. They are the National Association of Manufacturers.

This outfit, as you know, is what might be called the bosses’ union of this country. In numbers, this boss organization is very small – maybe 9,000 companies as against more than 50,000,000 workers in the country. But this handful own nearly all the plants in which the 50,000,000 have to work, and represent about $60,000,000,000 of wealth – a pretty penny.

So while you are told how to get young and beautiful in twenty applications of Palmolive soap and what department store will make your worn-out living room suite equally young and beautiful, the news is given to you with an anti-labor bias. And you listen to plenty of hooey about how workers are holding up the war effort – with nary a word about the pay-triotism of the bosses that can be measured only in terms of dollars. All this propaganda against more than 50,000,000 workers and against the labor unions is ladled out by clever radio commentators – with perfect diction and with the bosses’ fat pay checks in their pockets.

This high-pressure, reactionary and fascistic propaganda of the bosses does not mean to workers’ wives what it should mean. It should galvanize them into action. They should think: “That’s dangerous stuff. That hits me. I’ve got to do something about this!” For actually the anti-labor campaign of tha National Association of Manufacturers is a direct menace to every working man, woman and child.

What We Owe to the Labor Movement

Yes, an attack on the unions is an attack on everything that working people sum up in the word PROGRESS.

The eight-hour day – instead of the twelve-hour day – is a union accomplishment. Shop committees and stewards in the plants to take care of workers’ grievances – instead of leaving workers to the tender mercies of the boss’ stooges – are the result of union strength. Union contracts in which wages and working conditions of ALL the workers are set down, black on white – instead of EACH INDIVIDUAL worker being subjected to the unrestricted exploitation of the boss – have come about because of great union struggles.

Translated into the intimate conditions of life, what does this mean?

We owe it to the unions that a worker has a little leisure. We owe it to the unions that at least a section of the workers earn enough so that their children can go to school, and are not forced, as in earlier years, to work in mines and factories at a tender age to help earn a living for the family. In fact, the expansion of educational and other public facilities – insufficient as they are – is mainly the result of the pressure of organized labor and liberal elements to wrench from capitalism a few of the basic needs for decent living. Even the radio over which comes the anti-union propaganda, is a bit of not strictly “necessary” furniture that the worker’s family can afford only because of the wage struggles put up by the unions.

Of course, the war has made inroads into the accomplishments of the unions. Wars benefit the bosses in more ways than one. Not only do they enable the bosses to scoop up billions in war profits and to spread out into the world markets for higher peacetime profits. Under the headings of national unity and “equal” sacrifice, war is also an excuse to take’away labor’s hard-won gains.

But just imagine how far the bosses could go if there were not such powerful labor unions as the CIO, AFL, Railroad Brotherhoods, United Mine Workers to stop them!

Working Women Who Know the Truth

There are many working class women in this country on whose minds and hearts has been written in indelible ink the truth that only in the labor movement is there any hope for a better life for working people – not in boss politicians, not in their fancy charters, which are only war propaganda; not in their shiny post-war promises.

You will find these class-conscious women in the mining districts. They are women who helped build the United Mine Workers Union and who shared in raising the status of miners from the actual serfs they used to be. They saw their husbands and sons shot at by boss thugs and by troopers sent by boss politicians, but instead of urging their men to quit the fight, they joined the picket lines.

You will find these brave women in the steel districts – women who placed themselves between their men and the firing end of cops’ guns in strike after strike to get more wages, an eight-hour, day and union recognition.

They are in the textile towns – these women who understood that in union the workers have strength – who with their children joined their men on the picket lines in great conflicts with the bosses through which our powerful unions were built.

There are such women,in the Detroit region – women without whose invaluable help the United Auto Workers Union could not have come into its own. For in the great sit-down strikes, the wives, daughters, sisters and mothers of strikers attended to food and supplies for the men in the plants. These women bucked the police and even won fheir sympathy. They went through the towns soliciting the support of the people for the striking workers – and got it!

Yes, there are millions of working women who know what a worker’s life was like before the unions became powerful enough to force a little improvement.

You couldn’t tell these women that it was out of the goodness of their hearts that Roosevelt and the New Deal politicians favored the passage of the wages-and-hours law and other pro-labor measures. These women learned from first-hand experience that neither the bosses nor fheir politicians give up anything to the workers unless they are forced to.

It is a grim fact that every pro-labor law on the statute books was placed there as a concession to labor’s strength, and is enforced only because labor is strong enough to insist on it. It is indeed no coincidence that the so-called pro-labor policy of Roosevelt and the New Dealers came with the organization of the CIO; and it is likewise no coincidence that this so-called pro-labor policy of the Roosevelt Administration has gone with the wind as labor leaders have surrendered labor’s rights and union militancy.

It cannot be made too emphatic that an attack on the unions is an attack on everything that working people sum up in the word progress. And progress for you and for me, in truthful terms, is simply what organized labor has been able to force from the profit-clutching grip of the capitalists and their political lackeys.

It is quite natural, therefore, for reactionary and fascistic forces stemming from that boss organization, the National Association of Manufacturers, to strike at the very heart of progress – THE LABOR MOVEMENT.

What is not natural is that union men and their wives do not sense the grave danger and rally to strengthen the unions by their own wide-awake and energetic participation in all union meetings and activities.

How come that right now, when the fate of the common people actually depends on the alertness, strength and militancy of the labor movement, union meetings are so wretchedly attended? Isn’t it a crying shame that out of a union membership of several thousand, often not even a hundred members attend a meeting? Isn’t it something for the bosses to shout about when out of a membership of 15,000, maybe a couple of hundred unionists come to their meetings?

If a conscientious unionist gets into a conversation with one of the stay-at-homes and reprimands him for his indifference to union matters, the chances are the latter will hem and haw about his being a family man, about the children, about the wife wanting to go to the movies, etc.

But it is just because a worker is a family man, has children, and a wife who likes to go to the movies that he and she must be staunch unionists. The unions are the bulwark of working class life. Without the labor movement to fight for an adequate standard of living and for more and more progressive demands, there can be no happy future for a worker’s children – no, not even money for the movies!

You wives of unionists who haven’t been through the mill of union struggle and have not learned the value of the labor movement from your own experience, have you given a thought to YOUR OWN post-war prospects?

Post-War Prospects

We face the post-war prospects of anywhere from ten to thirty million unemployed. A strong labor movement can fight for a short enough work week with a decent wage so that your husband and every other worker can have a job. With the probability of such unemployment, all the capitalists and their politicians have to offer is a WPA job – or relief to accommodate some workers.

That means that the future of every working class family depends on the power of the labor movement. It Is the first and foremost duty of the wife of a unionist – a duty to her own family – to see that her husband attends his union meetings and participates to the fullest in all union activities. He must be on hand to express his point of view and stand up for the interests of the rank and file worker – not only against the bosses, but also against labor leaders who are prone to forget who pays them for their services and what their duties are.

But this is not enough. Every union local should have a ladies’ auxiliary, working in close touch with it – to help it when help is needed and to be helped by it in launching a program against high prices, the black market, unnecessary food shortages and other housewives’ war worries.

The labor movement is the bulwark and hope of the working people. Wives of unionists, pitch in to give it more power!

Susan Green Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers’ Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 14 June 2015