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David Coolidge

With the Labor Unions on the Picket Line

(22 July 1940)

From Labor Action, Vol. 4 No. 15, 22 July 1940, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A Challenge to the CIO

The National Labor Relations Board has rendered a decision against the Weirton Steel Co., Ernest Weir, his managers, superintendents, foremen and assorted thugs and gangsters. The Board charges that the company is guilty of anti-union practices in violation and defiance of the Wagner Act. Weir is the hard-boiled steel man whose lawyers got a federal court to dismiss a government suit against him in 1935, for failure to comply with the NIRA. Weir is also chief money grabber for the campaign war chest of the Republican Party.

Weir organized a company union back in 1933 known as the Weirton Steel Employees Plan. Like all company unions it was formed by the management for the purpose of defeating the plans of the works to form a real union. After the CIO arrived on the scene, Weir formed a “Security League.” Workers in the company’s plants at Weirton, W.Va., Steubenville. O., and Clarksburgh. W.Va. were “invited” to join the League. Mere invitation didn’t work however as the majority of the steel workers seemed to prefer the Steel Workers Organizing Committee. This, despite the fact that the Company paid the company union officers, spent $70,000 in three years to publish a paper for the workers, gave large sums to the Plan, hired the Central Industrial Service Company, a spy agency, to protect the “loyal” sympathizers of the company union to keep the plants from being dynamited.

The “special watchmen” did not however confine their operations to inside the plants. They roamed the streets in cahoots with sympathetic mayors and sheriffs. CIO organizers were clubbed, mobbed and kidnapped. During the 1933 strike the Weirton Steel Company’s police, gunmen and blackjack artists gave the workers a blitzkrieg long before Hitler got started.

The Board’s decision orders the Company to cease interfering with the union activities of its employees, quit supporting workers organizations, stop clubbing employees who disagree with Weir, cut loose from its spies, snoopers and provocateurs, abandon the company union and reinstate 17 employees with back pay.

The Board did not recognize the SWOC as the bargaining unit for Weirton employees and refused to order the reinstatement of 83 employees who had been fired.

This case is not ended of course. Weir has 20 day to file exceptions and 30 to file a brief with the Board. He will use both and then appeal the case to the courts. He will try to drag the case out until after the election and try in the meantime to raise enough money to buy the presidency for Willkie. With Willkie in the White House, or before. Weir will hope for revision of the Wagner Act and the dissolution of the Labor Board.

Something for John L. Lewis to Do

This is a challenge to the CIO to get busy and quit horsing around. Get a majority in the Weirton plants. Force collective bargaining on Weir and all the other Weirs, Tom Girdley included. Organize all the steel plants. Form an international union. Encourage the workers to run their own union and elect the officers they want. Let the union vote to accept or reject contracts. This is the only way to beat the Weirs.

If John L. Lewis would put in more time at organizing the mass production workers and less at president making, every worker in the country would be better off than he is today.

Holding the Poker by the Hot End

Iron City Lodge No. 1843 in the Jones and Laughlin Steel Company in Pittsburgh is playing with fire. This local union has written Steel Labor saying that the lodge “has taken the initiative in eliminating communists, nazis and other un-American subversive elements from its folds.” The letter also states that No. 1272 in Pittsburgh and No. 1211 in Alliquipa, Pa. are also cleaning house. “A committee against all foreign ‘isms’ has been formed of SWOC ex-service men to combat the 5th columnists under the leadership of John Dufy, charter member of local 1943.”

These workers will discover that they have the poker by the hot end and that they have been taken in. Who are these “communists, nazis and other un-American subversive elements” in their local? Have the rank and file of the local bothered themselves to find out? Are these “un-American subversive elements” anti-union people, spies, scabs, strike-breakers? Are they boss stool-pigeons who slipped into the union and who are opposed to high wages, short hours and strikes?

Who are these “ex-service men” and who is brother Duffy aside from being a charter member of the local? The rank and file better get busy and look into some of these questions.

There is nothing that would suit the steel barons better than to have the union itself start a witch hunt and a fifth column crusade. The steel manufacturers know damn well that whereas a stray nazi might get caught the overwhelming majority of the workers who would be hounded out of the union and out of the plant would be the most loyal and militant members of the union. Furthermore, if the union will kick out its best fighters the bosses can spend less for spies, rifles and tear gas.

The workers must remember that the terms “fifth column” and “un-American” were invented by the bosses and their literary stooges. The chief test of a good union member must be: Is he loyal to the union and the working class? Is he willing to fight against the boss and the bosses’ government for higher wages, shorter hours and better working conditions today, right now, not after the war is over? This is the only kind of worker that is worth a hoot to his class and his union. Any other type of worker is a Scissor-Bill Sam, the Boss’s Man, no matter how loudly he yells about his Americanism and even though he chant the Star Spangled Banner on rising in the morning, and at night before going to bed.

A State at Organized Labor

The fools in Washington who voted to deport Harry Bridges seem to hold to the belief that ideas and opinions can be transported around the world and hid away like traveling bags, whiskey and prostitutes. A congressional act to get just one man out of the country! And why? Because Bridges has carried out the Stalinist line of union wrecking and discrimination against non-Stalinist militants and dissenters? Because Bridges defended and carried the Stalinist class collaboration Peoples Front line into the maritime union? No, it is for none of these crimes against the working class that the House voted to deport Bridges. Nor is it because Bridges is an alien.

The House voted to deport Bridges because he is the leader of a workers organization with a militant rank and file. He led a big strike once. He is an experienced labor leader. The effort to deport Bridges is a blow at the unions and at trade unionism. They want to get rid of Bridges because the ship owners look upon him and the union as a threat to their peace of mind and their profits. The rank and file might get strike in their heads, refuse to listen to any compromise talk from Bridges and push him into organizing another strike.

This attack against Bridges is a stab at organized labor. It is a blow at civil liberties and an assault on fundamental workers’ rights. The defense of Bridges therefore, in this case, is the duty and responsibility of the whole working class. The bosses are not after Bridges but the union. These simple things were understood for decades in this country before the Stalinists spread their poison and treachery throughout the labor movement. It was a well established labor policy to come to the aid of any worker who was hounded by the police or who had fallen into the clutches of the capitalist courts. No questions were asked about his politics, race, nationality or citizenship. The only questions asked: is he a worker, is it a class struggle case? If so, then the workers closed ranks and organized the defense.

This is still good sound working class doctrine despite the many and criminal, violations of this procedure by the Stalinists and their GPU. The crimes of the Stalinists, including Bridges, against the working class must be taken care of by the congress of the working class and not by the congress of the ruling class at Washington.

Here and There

The AFL Aluminum Workers Union at Massena, N.Y. threatens to strike. They want an increase of 5 cents an hour. They get a 56 cent minimum now. The CIO aluminum workers have just been granted a 65 cent hourly minimum at the plants in New Kensington, Pa., Edgewater, N.J., Badin, N.C., Alcoa, Tenn., and Detroit. Should the Massena workers get the 5 cent increase they will still be 4 cents an hour below the rate in the CIO plants.

Quit Soft-Soaping the Bosses!

The CIO has announced the beginning of a national organizing campaign in the airplane industry. They better hurry or all the tremendous increase in income will be socked away in the jeans of the big stockholders. President Thomas of the UAWA announced a drive to “unionize and to insure stable labor relations in the aircraft plants of the country.” A lot of labor leaders are talking these days about “stable labor relations.” What do they mean? Profits are not stable. They are continually expanding. This means that wages should continue to go up. Hours should be shortened to assure employment to all the unemployed and leisure time for the workers.

Labor leaders should quit trying to soft soap the bosses with talk about “stable labor relations.” They can’t fool the bosses. The big boys know there is a class struggle going on even though Lewis and Green don’t. The employers will only accept stable labor relations on their terms. Their terms are low wages, long hours, company unions and no strikes.

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