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David Coolidge

ILG Workers Seek Action on Wage
Demands by Stoppage

(February 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 5, 1 February 1943, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The “stoppage” in the New York dress industry which began Tuesday morning, and the reasons for the strike given by the ILGWU leadership, raise some interesting questions.

In the first place, President Dubinsky and General Manager Hochman say that the “stoppage” is “spontaneous.” What does this mean when the facts in the case are taken into consideration? The union asked for an increase in pay, or “wage equalization,” The employers refused. Then the unions asked the employers to consent to arbitration. This request was presented to the employers in September 23, four months ago. All that the employer associations have done since then is stall. They wanted the OPA to approve an increase before they discussed wage increases. The union replied correctly that “we are not concerned with the OPA. We have no standing before the OPA. We don’t participate in profits.”

Furthermore, Mr. Dubinsky declared that “We cannot hold back our workers any longer, and we will make no more attempts to do so.” At another point Dubinsky said’ “All we can say is that our worker’s will not carry the burden for the continually rising cost of living. The employers have continually evaded and have finally rejected our offer of arbitration. The conferences are over. The workers will now take such action as they see fit and we cannot stop them.”

These are brave new words by Dubinsky. Not only brave, but democratic new words: “The workers will take such action as they see fit.” But in the circumstances as related by Dubinsky, they don’t add up to spontaneity. There have been long negotiations which got nowhere. Of course these workers are disgusted and want to strike. What else can they do? But there is nothing spontaneous about it. After weeks of organized and planned negotiations they got nothing. Then no doubt they began putting pressure on their leaders, Dubinsky and Hochman. This is perhaps the “spontaneous” aspect of the situation. They want the leaders to quit horsing around, get results and deliver the goods.

There is something else interesting about this “stoppage” that makes one wonder whether or not Dubinsky’s declarations are so brave. Is the stoppage a demand for a wage increase? No, the demand is for the employers to agree to “submit the controversy to arbitration.” That is, after four months of stalling by the employers they are now to have months more while a Labor Department conciliator investigates, then reports to Madam Perkins. Then Secretary Perkins must meditate on the matter and decide whether or not to certify the case to the War Labor Board. After running through all this red tape, the WLB may get the case and meditate for a few weeks. The board may then decide to order the employers to submit to arbitration. And by this time the Fourth of July may have arrived.

Can Cut Through Maze

The dress workers of course can cut through this maze. Should the stoppage involve the majority of the workers the WLB may decide to take the case directly and render a decision in about a week. Thousands of workers away from the sewing machines may have more influence on the WLB than all the talk about arbitration. And, after all, these workers are employed by and paid, by the dress manufacturers, and not by the WLB. Idle machines don’t produce any profits.

Dubinsky says that “real” wages in the industry are the same as in 1933. The average wage is $32 a week for about seven months in the year. An increase of $25,000,000 in volume of business last year over 1941 brought the gross income of the industry to the highest point since 1933.

The most interesting observation made by Dubinsky is in connection with the Little Steel wage formula of the War Labor Board. He said that the 10 per cent increase of August 1941 had been absorbed by the increase in living costs and any new wage rise would have to be above the Little Steel formula. Dubinsky said that the Little Steel formula “has outlived its usefulness and it is not a proper equalization formula under present conditions.”

The fact is, as pointed out previously by Labor Action, the Little Steel formula had outlived its usefulness immediately after it was announced. It was never a formula for increasing real wages. It didn’t even bring the wages of the steel workers up to the level necessary to bring the income of the workers abreast of the increase in the cost of living. The recommendations of the WLB panel made this clear. All this award does is to guarantee that workers don’t starve, go naked and live in the parks. And no WLB intervention was needed to guarantee this. As long as the employers are in possession of millions of dollars of government contracts, from which they are getting huge profits, they will see to it that workers get the minimum necessary to keep them alive and in condition to produce.

Dubinsky, like other labor leaders seems to be much in love with the words “readjustment” and “equalization” in connection with demands for more wages. They shy away from such good old-fashioned expressions as “wage increase,” “boost in pay” and “a raise.” But that is what labor needs and wants. No hifalutin’ phrases are necessary to express this demand. Labor doesn’t want its wages “readjusted.” It wants them made bigger. It doesn’t want any “equalization.” It wants more dollars in the pay envelope every week so that it can buy more food, clothing and the other things necessary for life and happiness.

We don’t hear employers talking about the readjustment or equalization of profits. They are for bigger profits and bigger salaries. As a means to this end, they are all for the “readjustment” and “equalization” of wages.

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