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Susan Green

Ship Workers and Reconversion

(30 July 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 31, 30 July 1945, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

It is astonishing to read in the CIO News of July 2 that in its plank for jobs the CIO Marine & Shipbuilding Workers Union demands “a first class modernized Navy,” according to reporter Helen Kay. The same reporter quotes union president John Green as calling, among other things, for “the experimental part of a naval program.” If this means, anything at all, which it does, it is tantamount to a proposal for a constantly improving United States navy.

This point in the ship union’s program hits one between the eyes even more forcefully because the first page of the July 2 issue of the CIO News is devoted to Ships for Peace and the inside article by Helen Kay is. also entitled Ships for Peace. Is building a navy second to none, the ship union officials’ conception of ships for peace?

The plan calls also for merchant shipping, of 20 to 25 million deadweight tons of first class efficiency, which means scrapping old tubs and building far beyond present capacity. But the union planners do not expect even their 400,000 union members of the 1,722,500 war-peak shipyard employed to get jobs, building ships for peaceful trade. So without more ado, they call, for ships for war, however, still calling their plan “Ships for Peace.”

Fallacy in Ship Program

In this there is grave danger for the labor movement. It means that union leaders are getting on the imperialist bandwagon heading straight for militarism and the next war.

The capitalist spokesmen for peacetime universal training want military regimentation of youth – of course, to keep world peace. The brass-hat advocates of an all-powerful air force and an unbeatable navy also, of course, do so in the interest of world peace. And all the groups who favor the San Francisco charter, coverup its plain implications by shouting loudly that the armed might of the Big Three will be used for peace, not for war.

It is sad to see that the CIO and AFL have officially given their endorsement to the San Francisco charter and have joined the supporters of capitalist “armed peace.” They have succumbed to the siren song of American imperialism, that, in the words of the New York Times: “... the United Nations have now organized themselves to harness force to the interests of peace.”

Certainly union president Green should, know better. In the old days John Green was a socialist. He should remember from the teachings of Marx and should have learned from the facts of life, that when rival imperialist nations are armed to the teeth, sooner or later they will resort to arms, to settle their disputes over power and profit. Who can doubt from the unconcealed rivalry of the Big Three, with the contentious little nations in the background, that not human, but imperialist interests are behind all their actions?

In spite of the transcendent question of employment no worker in his right mind will support a program of war preparedness for the sake of jobs, if the case is put to him squarely and not camouflaged with the words “Ships for Peace.”

Let it not be forgotten that Hitler gave jobs to over six million unemployed German workers – gave them jobs making the death-dealing instruments for World War II. At the same time he was staging tremendously impressive “peace demonstrations” to delude the workers into a sense that, after all, they were not producing war materials for war – but for peace.

This object lesson should be learned by all workers everywhere. Armies, navies and air forces, by their very nature, and by nature of the capitalist-imperialist nations which have them, sooner or later serve the purpose for which they are built. To build navies is to produce ships for war – for World War III.

Real Ships for Peace

There are, of course, other peace-time uses for ships of every kind. How about replacing antiquated boats that ply the rivers as ferries? How about scrapping the unseaworthy excursion boats that cause so many accidents and deaths? How about replacing these and building “a first class modernized” pleasure fleet for the people to enjoy the beautiful rivers and lakes that nature has given them? How about also building a “navy” of ocean liners; for quick and inexpensive travel so the human race can intermingle in enjoyment and friendship, instead of in fire and blood?

But try to get the capitalist private profit system to build ships for such “unnecessary” uses! Why, even the urgent need of the people for ordinary houses does not bring an adequate building program from the capitalist planners!

Then what about jobs?

The ship union’s demand for the reduction of the work week to thirty hours, is a good one. The demand for a guaranteed annual wage is also basic. Of course, the thirty hour week should be instituted with no reduction in pay; and the guaranteed annual wage should be a living wage of at least $2500 for every worker.

The CIO reconversion program for all its unions also has many good points, but it doesn’t go far enough. For instance, it contents itself with asking for an unemployment insurance maximum of $25 a week for only 26 weeks. Why not $30 for single workers, with upward gradation for men and women with dependents? And why not for the full period of unemployment, not for only 26 weeks?

However, the ship and all workers must understand that economic protections and jobs cannot be secured without, changing the status quo. It’s the case of the sacred rights of human life against the “sacred rights” of private property. Labor Action and the Workers Party declare that the letter must give ground. To achieve labor’s demands war industries have to be conscripted and placed under democratic worker control. The banks, big industrial monopolies and transportation systems must be nationalized and similarly placed under the control of democratically elected workers’ committees.

Furthermore, a dent has to be made in the money piles of the ruling class. A 100 percent tax on all war profits above a five percent return on invested capital, will yield, money for making adequate unemployment payments to workers and for the public building program. More money for these worthy purposes, must be procured by putting a $25,000 ceiling on all individual incomes, and a graduated capital tax on all accumulated wealth over $50,000.

Unless organized labor comes out with a plan for how to achieve its demands, they will remain, among the good intentions which pave the way to failure. And it is obvious that such necessary infringements on the “sacred rights” of private property and such overdue taxes on accumulated wealth will never be undertaken by a capitalist government, but only by a workers’ government.

From the above it is plain that the question of jobs is apolitical one involving a break by the workers with the capitalist class and the capitalist government. And this, in turn, can be accomplished only through the initial step of forming an Independent Labor Party, free from all capitalist connections, which will establish a workers’ government. For only such a government will make the necessary inroads on the parasitic capitalist class demanded by human needs.

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