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David Coolidge

What Major Tasks Face Trade Union Conventions?

(27 September 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 39, 27 September 1943, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The organized labor movement in the United States is getting together in annual conventions. Two great federations of labor, the AFL and the CIO, will convene in Boston and Philadelphia on October 4 and November 1, respectively. Several of the more important internationals of these two federations are also holding their annual conventions. During September and October the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers, the United Automobile Workers and the Industrial Union of Marine & Shipbuilding Workers will have met.

These conventions will be made up of thousands of delegates, representing twelve to fifteen millions of workers. They will come from mine, mill and factory. There will be youth, male and female, attending their first labor convention. There will be grizzled veterans of the picket line and of the class struggle. There will be Negro delegates from the CIO industrial unions. There will be Jew and Gentile, Catholic and Protestant, native born and those born beyond the seas.

These thousands of delegates will assemble to hear the annual reports of their national and international officers. They will listen with attention as the officials report on their stewardship during the past year.

Thousands of worker delegates to the various conventions will discuss and vote on urgent and serious questions that confront them daily in the mines, mills and factories. They will pay close attention and give serious consideration to every major issue. They will do this because they represent millions back home who have elected them to be their representatives; to speak and vote for them, to argue for them and to represent their interests. And, too, these delegates, taking responsibility for their own acts, must report to the millions back home on their stewardship.

What are the main problems that these delegates will be confronted with? We can state them simply and directly. All of the conventions and each delegate will be faced with the problem of the Little Steel formula, this high wall which encloses labor in a concentration camp of low wages, and holds the working man and working woman to a permanent low standard of living as long as the formula is operative.

Each convention and delegate will be confronted with the government’s job stabilization decree, which makes it impossible for labor to improve its economic status, standard of living and working conditions by moving freely about from one employer to another.

Labor is faced with the Smith-Connally Act, which makes it a penal offense for labor to use its most powerful weapon, its numbers, in an organized and militant manner in order to wring concessions from the bosses.

Each convention will be faced with the problem of what to do about the War Labor Board, that monstrosity composed of labor, employers and “the public.” This is the mongrel group of bosses and their cringing stooges, the “public” group, among whom is one Wayne Morse, so-called “liberal,” the board’s “compliance officer” and, in plain language, its chief cop. This is the board that clutches at the throat of labor in full arrogance and malice, aided and abetted by the “protesting labor group” of the AFL and CIO.

WLB, Taxes and Profiteers

Labor has one important question to decide in connection with this War Labor Board: should its elected officers continue to sit as members of the WLB? Members of the unions cannot fully control and influence the acts of the employer and “public” members of the board, but labor does have the right and the power to control its own elected officials. It has been demonstrated that the labor group on the board has little or no influence to swing the board to the side of labor in any important way. Labor’s officials can only support the reactionary acts of the employer members and their lieutenants of the “public” group, as they did in the case of the coal miners, or hand in protests and unavailing minority reports.

Taxes have become a burden too heavy for the workers to bear. What position will the conventions take on this matter? How can labor continue to bear the heavy burden of income taxes and at the same time provide the families of the working class with a decent standard of living?

There is the problem of the OPA and its daily and weekly misrepresentations about controlling and rolling back prices. What does it mean to roll back prices a few cents on articles of food, like peanut butter, after prices have advanced from 25 to 100 per cent? And what worker believes that the OPA or any other government agency will really do anything effective in connection with price control? The only effective means of price control is to send the food profiteers to jail. These include the big meat packers, the canners, the big dairy monopolies, the chain stores and other huge food distributing combines. What worker is so stupid or naive as to believe that the government will fill the jails with the profiteers?

The profiteers don’t go to jail. They go to Washington and take over the Roosevelt government boards – the WPB, OPA, WLB, etc.

The Labor Draft and Sanctions

What will labor leaders and the conventions do about the semi-fascist Austin-Wadsworth bill, calling for labor conscription? This is a forced-labor bill that can be used to establish peonage all over the United States, similar to the practices indulged in by some of the Southern states.

Will Roosevelt’s vicious decree of August 16, ordering sanctions against labor, come up for free and frank discussion in the various conventions? Or will the union leadership attempt to stifle discussion of this labor-enslaving decree? Is labor prepared and willing to continue voting for a fourth term for Roosevelt after it understands what this man is doing to the unions and the working class?

What does Roosevelt’s decree mean? It says that, in cases where a union refuses to comply with the decisions of the WLB the plant may be taken over, union dues may be impounded by the government where there is a check-off, and other “benefits, privileges or rights accruing to it as such under the agreement or proposed agreement with the employer” may be withheld by the WLB “until the union demonstrates its willingness and capacity to abide by the obligations thereof.”

Further, the decree directs that “in the case of non-complying individuals” with decisions of the WLB, the War Manpower Commission may modify or cancel “draft deferments or employment privileges, or both.” That is, any worker who refuses to permit himself to be shackled by the boss-ridden WLB may be put into the Army immediately, or he may be denied employment! Labor’s Political Tasks

And this from Roosevelt, the “friend of labor,” the “author” of the New Deal, that great experiment in the “four freedoms.”

The United Mine Workers Journal correctly says that government “bureaucrats have the power to make a man work on the job they choose for him. They can keep him from getting the job he wants. They can determine his rights as a union man. They tell him what kind of union he can join. They tell him what part of the country he can work in. They tell him what kind of food he can eat. They can and do regulate what he can spend his money for and how far he can travel in his car. If he strikes he can be indicted for it.”

All of these things are being done to labor by the Democratic Party, the party of the New Deal, the “New Order”, in the United States which seeks to become the “World New Order” under the guidance of Roosevelt.

The Republican Party claims to be all heated up about the “bureaucracy in Washington.” They have some freedoms, too, that they want to spread over the earth. Willkie, the titular head of this band of outs trying to get to the trough after twelve lean years, is all ready for his second start. He too loves labor.

This brings us to another problem that will face the conventions. This is the question of political action by labor. What will the conventions say on this important matter? The CIO has already spoken. Murray, other CIO leaders and the Stalinist “Communist” Party are for the re-election of Roosevelt; for Roosevelt, with his WLB, his OPA and his WMC. Bill Green and the AFL have not changed a bit. They are still for supporting their “friends” and punishing their enemies. But there is a rising tide in the ranks of labor, among the rank and file, for genuine independent political action by labor. Some workers are thinking, rather vaguely, it is true, that, labor should form its own Independent Labor Party, and break away from the Democratic and Republican Parties. These workers begin to understand that neither the Democratic nor the Republican Party is the party of labor.

All of these are most important questions that will come before the conventions. Will the delegates insist on adequate, open and democratic discussion of these questions? Or will they permit a leadership already committed to the support of Roosevelt or Willkie, already promised to one or the other of the two boss parties, to sidetrack the discussion and lead it into “safe” channels?

Will the delegates permit the leadership to woo them away from their desire to rescind the no-strike pledge which was given by the trade union leaders without consultation with the membership of the unions which they claim to represent?

If the conventions give adequate attention to the problems before the labor movement that are raised here, there will be no place on the convention agendas for speeches by government officials, telegrams from Roosevelt, replies thereto and other types of sugar-coated but anti-labor ballyhoo, so highly esteemed by the trade union leadership. And these are the problems which are crucial for the labor movement.

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