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David Coolidge

With the Labor Unions – On the Picket Line

(8 September 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 36, 8 September 1941, pp. 2 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A War Department Labor Day Message

Labor Day this year, as heretofore. brings forth the usual flood of “Labor Day Messages” from all sorts of organizations, individuals and the government. The Under-Secretary for War, Mr. Patterson, writes the AFL and CIO and expresses the War Department’s “profound gratification over the matter in which they (labor) are rising to the needs of the present emergency.” Then Mr. Patterson goes on to remark that “labor has most at stake in the preservation of democracy.”

We take it that when Mr. Patterson is speaking of “democracy” he is thinking of “our system of free enterprise” – capitalism. That, of course, is exactly what Mr. Patterson is talking about. Therefore Labor Action would like to remind him, and labor also, that there is another group that has something at stake “in the preservation of democracy.” We are talking of precisely what Mr. Patterson is talking about: that is, what the workers get out of “our system of free enterprise,” and what the bosses get.

We read, for instance, that in 1939 one-fiftieth (1/50) of American families got one-ninth (1/9) of the national income. The income from the ownership or control of property amounted to over 21 billion dollars. Fewer than one million persons or families got nearly 5 billion dollars of this amount. That is, these people got 5 billion dollars in income not through productive labor but only because they OWN the mines, mills, factories, land and banks. They do no useful work. They only sit and wait for their hired corporation officials to drive the workers to the production of wealth, which these take.

In 1939 “our system of free enterprise” gave 43 persons net incomes of over one million dollars. After allowing for salaries to themselves and other expenses, this group had left control of property a total of over 73 million dollars. Their average income from property was over one million dollars each. What does Patterson mean when he says that “labor has most at stake in the preservation of democracy”? Furthermore, we read about 26 corporation executives who were paid over $100,000 each as salary in 1940. Do these gentlemen have no desire for the “preservation of democracy,” that is, American national capitalism? Mr. Grace, of Bethlehem Steel, got $478,144 in 1940. Mr Vaughn of Curtiss-Wright got $148,671. Mr. Weir of National Steel got $245,000. Mr. Girdler of Republic Steel got $176,000. Mr. Fairless of U.S. Steel got $139,610 and Mr. Wilson of General Motors, $278,324.

The workers who created the wealth that made these huge salaries possible got between $1,500 and $2,500 for a year’s work. And yet Mr. Patterson has the brass to write to the leaders of the AFL and CIO and tell them to say to AFL and CIO workers that “labor has most at stake in the preservation of democracy” (Capitalism).

Green Crawls On His Belly – As Usual

Brother Green of the AFL and Brother Murray of the CIO also issued Labor Day manifestos. As is his custom, Green crawled on his belly before the bosses and the government. Green is “gratified to report” that the AFL workers “have refrained from strikes SABOTAGING the defense program.” To Green strikes in the war industries represent sabotage. Green knows of “no single thing that the government has asked the AFL to do for the sake of the defense program which we have hesitated or failed to do ... the members of the AFL ... are determined to prove now and for all time that free men never can be conquered by slaves.” The members of the AFL may “never be conquered by slaves” but they better watch or they’ll be conquered by Green, Hutchinson, FBI Tobin and strikebreaker Frey for the benefit of the bosses and their man Roosevelt.

Green pretends mighty concern over the workers of Europe. They are “slaves” and “in tragic plight.” The AFL has learned a lesson from this, says Green. And what is this lesson? Nothing more than that workers should “love their country.” Didn’t the workers of Germany and France love their countries? Did this save them from Hitler and Petain? Green says that there has been an attempt of selfish individuals and interests to “smear labor and snipe at its basic rights.” And how was this attempt thwarted, according to Bill Green? By the goodness of Congress, for “every anti-labor bill had been rejected in Congress by overwhelming majorities.” The pressure of the organized workers, particularly those in the CIO, had nothing to do with the votes in Congress: such reactionaries as Silk Stocking Baldwin, of New York, voted against the May-Connally amendments out of love of labor and “democracy.”

Murray of the CIO has more sense than ex-Deacon Green. He mentions the victories over Ford and Bethlehem. (Green, perhaps, isn’t so stupid as to mention the “victories” of Frey and Tobin.) In the last six months, the CIO has won wage increases of over $800,000,000. Murray doesn’t have as much faith in the goodness of Congress as does Green. He reports to the workers that “there will be new proposals and new hysterias.” Murray also recognizes that “in a period of war production, the real wages of American workers will be beset on all sides. They will be threatened by rising costs of living, by wage taxation and by all kinds of schemes for forced savings.”

At least Murray understands that the workers have something more to do than just “love their country.” This wouldn’t occur very vividly to Bill Green. John L. Lewis remarked at the last CIO convention that he had explored Bill Green’s mind “and I’ll give you my word, there’s nothing there.”

And What Is the “Spirit of Capitalism”?

The Federal Council of Churches also issued a Labor Day message. They want the American people to work together democratically for a better order of society. They want this better society based on the twin pillars of religion and the productive labor of hand and brain. (Norman Thomas will agree with the hand and brain part.) These comfortable and well-fed sky pilots say that the fundamental religious concern with industry has to do with its spirit and purpose ... “if we are to develop an the spirit of Christ, who came not to be ministered unto but to minister, the primary test of production and distribution must not be a private advantage but the common good.” Then the theologians go on to talk about the necessity for industrial civilization extending more democratic control to producers and consumers, or face a totalitarian state.

We don’t pretend to any proficiency in the mystery and oracles of theology and such like, but we do know would like to inform these gentlemen of the cloth that the “spirit and purpose” of capitalism is to get more and more profit and bigger and bigger dividends and interest every passing year. Industrial civilization (capitalism) is interested in religion and the pronouncements of the Federal Council of Churches only to the extent that it can aid in this “purpose.” In fact, this is one reason why the Christian capitalists maintain such organizations as the Federal Council of Churches. Such organizations help make capitalism palatable to workers and make them believe they are getting something. The capitalists know better even if the preachers don’t.

We are a little skeptical about the effectiveness of the preachers. They have been at it now for several centuries but they don’t seem to get far. One reason for this is the fact that the preachers, especially those of the big churches and such outfits as the Federal Council of Churches, are part of the baggage of the capitalists. They don’t have an independent existence. The capitalists build their churches and pay their salaries. The capitalists are members of the churches and such organizations as the FCC. These capitalists can kick the preachers out of the churches and break up the Federal Council of Churches whenever they feel that the “spirit and purpose of capitalism” are not being served.

We should like to remind the preachers also that their group supported the First World War and that they didn’t learn anything. They are also giving full aid to the Second World Imperialist War.

Hillman’s Got A “Plan” – For Tomorrow

Mr. Hillman, “labor’s representative in the government,” was also dripping with Labor Day fervor. He is concerned with tomorrow: “the ability to produce today guns and tanks and planes would tomorrow be used to provide better homes, better clothes and better food for every American family. According to Hillman, the proper way to get adequate food, clothing and shelter for the people is to get an imperialist war started. This war will require tanks, airplanes, guns, bullets and powder. You build an airplane factory in every city, huge new powder plants and tank factories. Then you turn the automobile factories away from the production of passenger cars and refrigerators. You stop the aluminum factories from making pots and pans. You stand peacetime industry on its head, dislocate it. You tell a typewriter manufacturer to begin making bullets and shells. You take mechanics away from the construction of homes and put them at work building barracks and military camps.

You take millions of young men off of consumer production, send them to camps to learn the art of modern warfare. You take these same young men out of teh factories where the managers do know a little about tractors, steam engines, chemistry and electricity, to fumble around in military camps under officers who know next to nothing about modern military organization and operations.

All this is for the purpose of teaching these young men how “to provide better homes, better clothes and better food for every American family.” This is what the Second World Imperialist War means to the boss-Roosevelt lackey, Sidney Hillman.

When all is said and done, the workers won’t get much from the Labor Day messages, sermons and speeches. This annual love feast of the bosses, the government, labor leaders, reformers and those whose mass militant picket line will produce more wages than all the hokus pokus about love of country, service to human need and the spirit and purpose of industry.

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