Ernest Rice McKinney Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

David Coolidge

With the Labor Unions – On the Picket Line

(9 December 1940)

From Labor Action, Vol. 4 No. 35, 9 December 1940, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Lesson of the Vultee Strike

The strikes in the Aluminum Co. plant at New Kensington, Pa., and at the Vultee airplane plant in California, have been ended. These two strikes, especially that at Vultee, set the whole pack of employer-wolves and their stooges in the capitalist press howling and yelping about the workers holding up the “defense” program. The Vultee strike was instigated by communists they said. In Congress, little two-by-four guys from the backwoods pool tax districts of the South, foaming at the mouth, prepared bills to make strikes in “defense industries” illegal. All this because the workers refuse to work any longer for 45 and 50 cents an hour while corporations are piling up huge profits and paying out millions in dividends to a bunch of loafers who do not work.

The chief gain of the Vultee strike, aside from the increase in wages and improvement in working condition!. was the example these workers set of refusing to return to work until at least some of their demands were granted. They stayed on the picket line until the company came across. They didn’t return to work and wait for some government “conciliator” and one of their leaders to beg the company to make a few minor concessions. This strike should be a lesson to workers in all the “defense” industries. The only thing the bosses understand is power and pressure. They and their representatives in Congress and on the press are only interested in profits. They howl about national defense being jeopardized; what they mean is that profits and dividends are being jeopardized.

Now is the time for all workers, all unions to make organized demands on the bosses, for the 30 hour week and a minimum of $30 wages.

On Protecting Civil Rights of Draftees

The CIO convention passed a resolution entitled “Protection of Labor in Administration of Conscription Law.” This resolution calls for the protection of the civil rights of men in the army, the right to vote, the right to communicate with their unions and families. The resolution also opposes the maintenance of “harsh and repressive discipline” in the army.

This resolution is all right as far as it goes, which isn’t far enough. In this imperialist war the workers in the army must go far beyond the CIO in making demands on the ruling class. This is not the workers’ war; they were not for conscription; they were forced into the imperialist army. The workers must have military training and this is the only interest they can have in the present imperialist army.

Soldiers in the army should demand the right to hold political discussions under their own auspices. They should have their own publications, to discuss the war and anything else connected with their interests. They should demand the right to receive any political literature they desire.

The soldiers should insist on the right to retain membership in the unions and political parties to which they belonged before being drafted. They should demand the democratic right to elect grievance committees to present grievances to their commanding officers.

The worker-soldiers should fight against all racial, political and religious discrimination in the army.

The minimum pay should be raised to $60 a month exclusive of “keep.”

Frances Perkins: Just a Time-Waster

Frances Perkins, secretary of labor, told the AFL convention to be on guard against influence from “dishonest or subversive sources.” Madame Perkins of course was speaking for the government and therefore for the employers. She means therefore by “dishonest and subversive” sources all those organizations and individuals which attempt to show workers how to raise their wages, and improve their standards of living to a degree commensurate with the wealth that the workers produce.

It’s all right for the workers to be chivalrous and courteous to speakers at their conventions, but these workers don’t need to believe what these speakers say, or heed their advice. Frances Perkins and the other outside speakers at the AFL convention do not represent the workers or their interests. As far as the working class is concerned such speakers as Frances Perkins and other such people are only useless window dressing and time wasters.

Impotence of Craft Union Set-Up Demonstrated

The NLRB has ordered an election in the airplane plant of the Curtis-Wright Corporation at Robertson. Mo. The International Association of Machinists (AFL) asked for renewal of its contract. The company then threw a dummy company union together and stalled the IAM. The company union demanded that the NLRB certify it as the bargaining unit for all employees. The dummy union had no constitution of by-laws and presented the board with the constitution of the company union in the Curtis-Wright plant at Buffalo. The craft union set-up came up against difficulties here as elsewhere.

The IAM was only interested in the skilled workers in the craft represented by the IAM. There are other workers in the aircraft industry however. There are unskilled workers in these plants not eligible for the IAM. Also in this particular plant are 800 office workers. Because of the fact that the dummy union was taking in all employees, the IAM was forced to consider, not the office workers of course, but all types of production workers, even the unskilled. This incident demonstrates once again the impotence of the craft union set-up in the modern industrial structure.

“Red Caps” Lose, Railroads Profit

When the minimum wage law came in, railroads were forced to pay a minimum wage to station “red caps.” The “red caps” had always existed off the tips they received from travellers. The railway companies decided that they could not pay the wage and decided to get the wages from the public. A fixed fee of 10 cents per parcel was set to be collected by the porters and turned in to the company. Out of this, the company would pay the “red cap” his minimum legal wage.

The wages and hours administration has discovered that the 10 cent per parcel system not only pays the station, porters’ wage but at the Washington, D.C. union station, returned a profit to the railroads. This year the profit will be about £50,000. On the basis of this, the wages and hours administration began an investigation of other cities, notably New York.

There has been a great deal of dissatisfaction with this system among the “red caps.” They probably didn’t know the companies were making a profit on the arrangement, but they knew that something was wrong and that they were turning in far more money than they were being paid.

Ernest Rice McKinney Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 4.11.2012