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David Coolidge

WLB Again Turns Down Miners’ Wage Demands

(1 November 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 44, 1 November 1943, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

That malicious and contemptible little band of business men and college professors on the War Labor Board has again thumbed its nose at the miners in a decision rejecting the agreement between the Illinois Coal Operators Assn. and the United Mine Workers of America.

Supporting the decision of rejection were William Davis, WLB chairman, a hitherto obscure manipulator of patents for big business; George W. Taylor, vice-chairman; Frank Graham, of the University of North Carolina, and Wayne Morse, the WLB chief cop, known as the board’s “compliance officer.” Added to these three were Mead, Batt and Horton, for the employers.

Another business member, A.E. Roth, voted against the decision because it was his opinion that the Illinois agreement should have been rejected completely, with no concessions whatsoever.

The four labor captives on the board, Meany, Watt, Brophy and Bittner, “dissented.” We do not know their reasons, as no statement from them was carried in the press story announcing the decision.

The board is still mainly concerned to see to it that the miners do not get any real increase in pay. Since it is now clear to everyone that the board is in a trap and that something has to be done because the miners are again refusing to “work without a contract,” this group of envenomed business men decided to offer the miners a gold brick. They are willing for the coal diggers to have their weekly earnings “increased over the 1941–43 agreement by approximately ten dollars, per week ...” The original demand of the UMWA was for two dollars a day increase in wages. This would amount to twelve dollars a week.

There is a catch, of course, which the board reveals by saying that “the total effect of what we can approve amounts to a very substantial increase in the mine workers’ weekly wage SO LONG AS THE MINERS WORK MORE THAN FORTY HOURS A WEEK” (our emphasis). That is, the board is willing for the miners to get more money – but from overtime work. This is what they consider a wage increase.

Under the present “award,” the mine pay would be about $55.50 per week. For six days the pay would be around $60. Presumably, if the miners work seven days they can earn enough additional to bring the weekly pay up to around $70.

The point is, therefore: If you want more money in your pay envelope, then you should be willing to work more hours and more days at your present hourly rate. This, we suppose, does not make for inflation, because we have been told that this method of putting more money into the worker’s envelope does not “increase the unit cost of production.”

It is probable that the WLB, with its “experts,” economists and statisticians, went to consult with Byrnes and Vinson, who, presumably, appeared “with THEIR “experts,” economists and statisticians. Then Wage Czar Vinson went into a huddle with Economic Chief Byrnes, who in turn consulted with his chief in the White House. After all this “consulting” was completed, the WLB was told what to do.

Again, the Little Steel Formula

Under the Illinois agreement, the base pay for an 8½-hour day, including travel time, would have been $8.50. The board’s “experts” discovered that this agreement had hidden away in it a daily wage increase of 37½ cents. This, the board, according to its statement, could not allow. The board could only approve a daily wage of $8.12½. It was based on the WLB’s claim that productive time in an 8½-hour day is 7 hours and 45 minutes. The board’s decision means straight time for seven hours and time and a half for 45 minutes.

The board, in turn, approved the overtime provisions of the Illinois agreement because this part of the agreement follows “the statutory provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act ... the provisions: of the proposed Illinois agreement as to overtime are exactly fitted to the Fair Labor Standards Act and we can therefore approve them.”

It is by approving these “statutory” and “overtime” wages that the board very generously announces to the miners that they can approve an addition of from ten to twenty dollars a week in their pay envelopes.

Against the WLB, the UMWA contends that the Illinois agreement “does not involve an hourly wage increase. It lengthens the work day beyond the hours requested by the government. It is in no wise a violation of the ‘Little Steel’ formula. It meets all the requirements of the government’s heretofore stated objections.”

Miners versus Business Men

We don’t know all of the details of the Illinois agreement but what the miners say about the matter is good enough for us. We believe what the miners say. We believe this not only for the reason that the miners have competent officials and experts to deal with such questions but also for the reason that we know that the

WLB is composed of business men looking out for the interests of big business; fake liberals also looking out for the interests of big business; and four labor weaklings, without power or influence on the board.

Furtherrnore, we are against the Little Steel formula. We are against the lengthening of the working hours. We can see no reason why the “government’s hitherto stated objections” should be met by the miners.

Without doubt, the little concession that the board is making and over which it gloats so hypocritically, has been prompted by the fact that the miners, ate marching again. They don’t “work without a contract.” Added to this is the strike vote being taken by the railroad workers. Remember too that the shipyard workers have been holding a few demonstrations against unsettled wage grievances.

All of labor is dissatisfied and resentful. Even the WLB knows this. Vinson, Byrnes and Roosevelt know it. Murray and Green know it too!

The capitalist press is also dissatisfied and resentful. They don’t like the Wagner Labor Relations Act. It makes trouble for their masters, the big industrialists and financiers.

The capitalist press doesn’t like the Smith-Connally Act. It is too lenient with labor. They want an all out law banning strikes completely with no loopholes and no thirty-day “cooling-offi period.”

But the working class is stirring again all over the country. Thousands of miners are out waiting for a contract and a wage increase.

The Labor Situation Today

The railroad workers are having a referendum to determine whether or not they shall go home, tend their vegetable gardens and do the painting they have had in mind for some months now.

What else can they do? What can any of us do?

We are tied to our jobs by the government in Washington.

We have a Little Steel formula to hold our wages down.

There is the WLB striking out against us and spewing its poisonous decisions into every wage situation.

There is Congress listening to the voice of its masters in Wall Street, and coming out with its Smith-Connally anti-labor bill.

Labor leaders from the AFL and CIO sit on the WLB, They aid and abet the board’s anti-labor campaign by their mere presence there. If Meany, Watt, Brophy and Bittner were true to the age-old principles of the labor movement they would rush out of this board in disgust and anger.

If Phil Murray were true to the age-old principles of the labor movement he would not talk nonsense about John L. Lewis being responsible for the passage of the Smith-Connally bill. Murray ought to know that the attack on Lewis is really an attack on the UMWA. If he is not a complete nincompoop, he knows that an attack on the miners today is also an attack on the CIO and the whole labor movement.

The miners know this. The railroad workers are learning. Other workers will learn.

What else can they do?

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