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David Coolidge

Bosses Show Their Teeth in Washington

(29 December 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 52, 29 December 1941, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The conference in Washington between labor and big business reveals once again how determined big business is to strangle labor at least for the duration of the war and the honeymoon period of big war profits.

One of the two main goals of industry and finance for the, past two years of war preparation has been to manacle labor and the unions. The other goal is to increase profits. The two goals of course are intimately related; the strangling of the unions, in the opinion of the bosses, will contribute mightily to the boosting of profits. Because if the unions are weakened so that they can be kicked around at the demand of the bosses, then these unions will not be in position to demand higher wages, or even to hold the wage scales they have today.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that the bosses and bankers don’t want to defeat Germany. Of course they do. That’s why they have drafted millions of youth into the Army. But the defeat of Germany also has some connection with profits, world trade, markets and the maintenance of “our system of free enterprise.” The Germans also want profits, world trade, markets and their particular “system of free enterprise.”

American labor doesn’t like the Hitler system, and rightly so. That’s the reason that labor in the United States has already demonstrated its willingness to make certain sacrifices. The two big trade union organizations have voted by overwhelming majorities to support the “President’s foreign policy.” This means that they have voted to support the war. The labor movement supports conscription and has entered the draft army by the hundreds of thousands. Labor has hit the ball in the war factories arid pledged itself to produce and produce and produce. Labor leaders have pledged not to stop production through strikes, if any possible way out can be found through mediation and conciliation. Unions and union members have bought war bonds running into millions of dollars. The unions have passed resolutions and revised their constitutions to provide for the exclusion from office or from membership in the union of all “communists, nazis and fascists; fifth columnists and subversive elements.” Labor has made all sorts of goodwill moves and gestures. It has agreed to virtually all the demands the bosses have made expect one. It has not agreed to liquidate the trade union movement. Labor has not agreed to place itself completely at the mercy of the manufacturers and the bankers. And this explains, the stalemate that exists between the bosses and labor at the Washington conference.

Not Enough for Bosses

The unions have made tremendous sacrifices so far, but this is not enough for the National Association of Manufacturers and the Wall Street bankers. They demand complete capitulation. The bosses demand the same thing of labor that they will demand of Germany; complete and unconditional surrender.

We said that the bosses want to defeat Germany. This is true. But they also want to defeat the unions. In the opinion of the boss, he has two enemies: internal, that is organized labor, and external, the German-Japanese-Italian imperialist rivals, There are many times when the bosses in the United States act as though their main enemy was in their own country. That is, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Wall Street bankers act as though they believed that organized labor is their main enemy.

This is all that one can say about the conference that is taking place in Washington. Labor leaders came into this conference in a most conciliatory mood. The organized workers had made all the concessions we have related and more. Murray proposed his Industrial Council Plan. the bosses objected and in continuation of labor’s conciliatory mood, Murray withdrew his proposal for the adoption of the plan. The AFL and CIO representatives unitedly proposed that the conference agree to the “union shop” set-up for the duration of the war. This proposal only means that labor wants guarantees from the bosses that the working class will be assured that its organizations and the right of collective bargaining will be maintained intact through the war.

The AFL and the CIO together are ready to abandon strikes during the war and have all disputes settled by a mediation board. The labor leaders were even ready to agreed to submit the union shop issue to mediation, in concrete instances, as was done in the captive mine dispute. All these proposals were rejected by Hook and the other industrialists at the conference. They demand complete surrender and capitulation. These bosses say that the union shop and closed shop questions cannot become matters for mediation or arbitration. Labor must agree in advance, right now at this conference, not to bring up the question of the union shop or closed shop until after the war is over.

This means only one very simple thing, as we have said again and again: the bosses want to break the unions, they want the opportunity to conspire with their company “union” outfits against the CIO mainly and to use these company unions to harass and weaken the genuine un[ion] unity but their national unity ideas can only result in the total wreck of the labor movement.

Labor Can Save Shirt

Labor may save its old shirt at the Washington conference but this will depend on its ability to understand what the present war is about, what the bosses are after and the point beyond which labor cannot go in making concessions if it is to continue to exist. The bosses know what they want. They are there to defend the interests, profits and the dividends of the boss class. As in the case of their religion, the bosses never permit patriotism to interfere with “business as usual.” This is especially their procedure when dealing with labor. This is the program of the bosses at the Washington conference. That’s why they are there. The question left over to ask: is: WHAT IS LABOR THERE FOR?

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