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David Coolidge

With the Labor Unions – On the Picket Line

(10 November 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 45, 10 November 1941, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Roosevelt Knows the Miners Are Tough

Myron Taylor, John L. Lewis and the President have come to some sort of temporary agreement about the strike in the “captive” mines. The question has been referred to the National Defense Mediation Board. Lewis announced that the calling off of the strike is only a truce and that it will be resumed November 15 if the Mediation Board does not render a decision favorable to the UMWA. This means a decision favoring the “union” shop.

No one can tell what the Mediation Board will do. They may feel that they burned their fingers in the Kearny shipyard case, where they decided in favor, of the “union” shop and render a decision against the union. Should the board do this there will be no other way for the UMWA but to renew the strike. It is to be expected that the board and Roosevelt will try by all means to come to some sort of compromise that will be acceptable to the miners, at least for a period.

It is interesting to behold Roosevelt proceeding more cautiously in this strike than, in the case of the North American strike. Then he was pretty cocky and rushed in the army with drawn bayonets. He didn’t feel the need .for any congressional legislation to deal with strikes in the “defense” industries. He could take care of these situations alone as commander-in-chief of the Army and Navy.

The miners, however, are a different matter. They are not a bunch of kids just out of high school. They are scarred veterans of a thousand battles. They are not scared by a couple of companies of soldiers or marines. The young workers at North American did a good job; they held out but they did not have the forces or the experience to continue the strike in the face of the bayonet assault by Roosevelt’s troops. Hence the strike was broken. The miners are something else and Roosevelt will hesitate a long time before he orders the Army in.

The setting of a deadline for the truce is correct procedure. The miners know what is involved in this struggle between 53,000 miners in the “captive” mines and the great steel companies. What is really involved is the matter of the “union” shop for the steel workers. U.S. Steel is the spearhead of a drive to break the unions by making it difficult for them to keep scabs and unthinking workers from getting jobs and refusing to become members of the union. If the steel and other corporations can get away with this it would be possible for them to pack the plants with stooges who of course would refuse to join the union. Under such a set-up the whole idea of industrial unionism would be destroyed. Also it would be possible for the AFL to creep into plants and industries where they have nothing now and where nothing of consequence is in sight for them. Think of the AFL getting an opportunity to enter the steel industry with its craft union layout. Bill Green’s outfit would divide the steel workers into about 21 separate crafts. Furthermore, the AFL would not attempt to organize all the workers.

Therefore it is imperative that the steel union (SWOC) obtain the “maintenance of membership” clause in its new contract with the steel companies. This is not a “closed shop” demand, as the capitalist press tries to make it appear. All that is demanded in a “union shop” agreement is that every worker be required to join the union after a certain period of employment in the plant.

Murray will be on the spot when the “Mediation” Board takes up this case. We can assume that he will vote for the “union shop.” There will be tremendous pressure on him however to remember the “national emergency,” and to come to the aid of “your country.” As we have said many times before: All the CIO leaders should resign from all government boards handling boss-worker relations. We confine our demand to the CIO, not because it is not correct for the AFL, but because we know that there is no possibility of the AFL leaders resigning from these boards.

“Orphan” Aluminum and Capitalist Skullduggery

After going through the nation gathering up all the old aluminum pots and pans to be used for the manufacture of bombers, we are now informed that this junk aluminum is useless for this purpose, due to the impurities it contains. This wouldn’t be so bad if it could be used for the manufacture of new cooking utensils. This can not be done, however, on account of aluminum priorities. There isn’t enough aluminum for airplanes and this demand has first call on all aluminum.

This scrap aluminum that was gathered in with such high and ostentatious “patriotic” fervor is now piled up all over the country and has been given the name of “orphan” aluminum. The New York Times business section reports that “unless this low grade ‘orphan’ aluminum is used in the near future, either by changing specifications or diverting it to civilian uses, it may be wasted for all time, for once the war is over there is sure to be a surplus, of high grade ‘virgin’ aluminum for civilian use.”

Thus we see one more example of capitalist skullduggery and “patriotic” hokum. These great “captains of industry,” these “industrial statesmen,” and government “economic experts” go through the country piling up thousands of tons of scrap aluminum that can’t be used. The government got into this jam because the “experts” couldn’t foresee how much aluminum is needed. They discover they are millions of pounds short and appeal to Mellon’s Aluminum Corp. to get out more. The Mellons don’t need any more aluminum production and sales because these would interfere with their aluminum monopoly prices. Then the government decides to give them a few million dollars to build new plants but the Mellons decide to take their own sweet time, and no plants are built.

There are the people who insult the workers by telling them that labor could never run the government and industry. The piles of “orphan” aluminum around the country are one more reminder that the present ruling class isn’t even competent to manage its own imperialist war.

Strikes Are as Necessary in War as in Peace

In his Navy Day speech, President Roosevelt told the country that the output of the war factories must not be hampered by “a small but dangerous minority of industrial managers” or by “a small but dangerous minority of labor leaders.” Roosevelt, was trying to serve notice on both these alleged small but dangerous minorities that he will crack down if they don’t behave themselves.

Some workers are inclined to fall for this kind of tripe. We will not enter into any fancied or real quarrel that Roosevelt may have with his buddies of the ruling class. He is their man and they are his men. All of them eat from the same trough. They can fuss with each other and be damned. If Roosevelt is having some difficulty getting his class of bosses solidified around their own imperialist war that is their business. Workers should take advantage of this temporary opportunity and try to get something for themselves.

Workers should never swallow Roosevelt’s hooey about equal responsibility of labor leaders and industrial leaders. Roosevelt has a right to get mad at the bosses who really sabotage the imperialist war that he is organizing for the benefit of the boss class. But this is not the workers war, and there can be no question of labor leaders holding up and hampering anything that is of any benefit to labor. When workers strike in the war factories they do no harm to labor but to the boss class, and it is the business of labor to do harm to the boss class. When the working class does something for itself it always does something against the boss and the bosses’ government.

Of course, strikes in the war industries hamper production. All strikes hamper production. If they didn’t hamper production they would be futile and useless. Workers win strikes because production is stopped., which means that the bosses’ profits, are put in jeopardy. The boss finally decides that it is better to give a small increase in pay than to have all profits stop. Also the boss is afraid that if he does not make a few concessions the workers will get mad, take over the industries and run them themselves.

There is no difference between striking in a war industry and in any other industry. The strike is just as necessary in war time as in peace time. The boss doesn’t give up his profits, interests and dividends in war time. He only demands that the workers give up their wages so that his profits, interests and dividends will be bigger. This is what is known as everyone sacrificing for the “national effort.”

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