Susan Green Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Susan Green

Republic Boss Would Rather See Strike than Pay Pension to Workers –

Issue in Steel Hearing:
Profits vs. Needs

(5 September 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 36, 5 September 1949, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“I think that labor has got to be just as big as industry in seeing that the right results are reached. If labor is not big enough, then we have got to fight the thing out. That is the way I look at bargaining. If they think we are wrong, they strike us, see? That is the way this thing should work. It is a hell of a good way to work it.”

Every rough-and-ready word of the above came from the lips of C.W. White, president of Republic Steel Company, testifying before the fact-finding board in the steel wage hearings.

This is not the first time we have heard the upper-bracket executives of the capitalist system call for “bigness” from the $50-a-week wage worker. In this there is nothing new. But for a capitalist executive to utter words of approval of strikes is something for the books. For strikes, be it remembered, are the fighting weapons of the worker against this very capitalist executive.

Mr. White had even more to say in praise of strikes: “I have never been in one that did not come to an end – and there are worse things than a strike. Everybody gets a lot of things off their chests. They say a lot of dirty things and they seem to feel awfully good after it is all over and they are back to work.” Now we have heard everything.

Prefers Bullets?

For everything there is a reason. Perhaps we can guess at the why and wherefore of the opinion of the president of Republic Steel that “there are worse things than strikes” from his own and his company’s point of view.

The Republic Steel Company’s infamous strike record is well known. During the Little Steel strike of May 1937 when the CIO Steel Workers Organizing Committee was fighting desperately to establish itself in the Little Steel, companies, the scandalous Memorial Day massacre of strikers occurred at the Republic Steel’s South Chicago plant.

Does White prefer breaking a strike by getting a few “things” such as bullets into workers’ backs, as against trying to convince the fact-finding’ board and the public that the billion-dollar steel company profits are untouchable? Are the “worse things than a strike” that White talks about, explained by his present merciless position in claiming before the board that “neither employees’ needs nor the ability of the employer to pay are proper criteria for fixing wages”?

Another highlight in the testimony of the steel companies before the fact-finding board was afforded by Enders M. Voorhees, chairman of the finance committee of United States Steel. Brazenly he asserted that the issues in the dispute arise from the rivalry between labor leaders. Obviously referring to the successes of John L. Lewis in the field of pensions and other demands. Voorhees claimed that these successes “arouse other union leaders’ envy and goad them to seek equal or greater goals ... Hence the origin of the pension demand here made upon us ... It is a prime instance of the effect of the virus of big unionism.”

Company Dodges Aired

In his rebuttal, steel union and CIO President Philip Murray lashed back: “This attack is vicious and insulting. It is not only an insult to me. It is an insult to those who make Mr. Voorhees’ steel and those who mine his coal. There is a real human need for the benefits we have asked ... What is Mr. Voorhees in favor of? He has only one recommendation for this board – a wage cut for the workers in the industry. Thank God for the existence of this union. It prevents Mr. Voorhees from giving effect to this recommendation, and it will win its own just demands.”

Murray also dropped the tidbit that during 1949 Voorhees had gotten a “wage” increase of $21,567; Fairless, president of the company, enjoyed a raise of $20,165; and Olds, chairman of the board of directors, was boosted $22,367. Did we hear something about $50-a-week workers being “big”?

Also in rebuttal to the claim of United States Steel that its workers get an average pension of $44 a month, the union’s pension expert, Murray Latimer, stuck to his claim that $5 is the average worker retirement payment. He showed up the company’s trick in arriving at its figure by including the overstuffed pensions of executives and by omitting the many workers who are retired without an pensions at all.

Again and again, throughout this testimony before the fact-finding board, the crucial point arose whether bumper profits afford a criterion for wages. The union, of course, holds that the needs of the workers must be fulfilled out of profits. The companies, on the other hand, as was White of Republic, were adamant in insisting that profits are none of the workers’ business, in spite of their human needs, because profits must be used for reinvestment in plants and tools AND FOR THE PAYMENT OF DIVIDENDS.

Thus this hearing has posed the $64 question – the question of the basic conflict between capital and labor. The steel companies have affirmed the ironbound law of capitalist accumulation, against the needs of living people. Socialists believe this conflict in the longer run cannot be resolved and production cannot be freed to serve human needs unless the profit system is ended, though as socialists we are 100 per cent for the demands of the steel workers.

At this writing the union spokesmen have completed their rebuttal and the company representatives are still to be heard from in rebuttal. Then the board will deliberate and issue its recommendations. The level-headed United States News & World Report states that a settlement hinges on the pension issue. This businessmen’s sheet expects that the board will recommend a small wage increase of from five to ten per cent, which the companies will at first resist but will finally accept.

But if the board should recommend a pension settlement, it is predicted the companies will be against it and will not yield. Thus strike will again be the issue. On the other hand, if the board should not recommend a pension settlement, strike will also be on the agenda. Of course, Taft-Hartley is still the law of the land and President Truman can still enjoin a strike for eighty days under that law.

The steel industry, which has been getting red in the face shouting “totalitarianism” and “statism,” does not bother about being consistent. It insists on postponing the pension issue until next year because it feels that it will be in a stronger position then to resist the union’s demands. Why? Because Congress is expected to increase retirement benefits under the Social Security Act. So “New Deal-ism” and “statism” and “totalitarianism” do have their place in the calculations of “private enterprise.”

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

Last updated: 2 June 2021