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David Coolidge

FDR’s Message to Congress

(24 January 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 4, 24 January 1944, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In his message to Congress, demanding the passage of a national service act, President Roosevelt makes the statement: “Although I believe that we and our Allies can win the war without such a measure, I am certain that nothing less than total mobilization of all our resources of manpower and capital will guarantee an earlier victory, and reduce the toll of suffering and sorrow and blood.” In other words, the act is not considered a win-the-war measure but only a means of bringing the war to an end sooner than could be expected without this act.

Bringing the war to an end with military victory for the United Nations involves many factors. There are the political and strategical aspects of the war, which are handled by Roosevelt and Churchill. There are the tactical and technical military aspects, which are under the care of the general staffs. There is the question of financing the war, which is under the supervision of the fiscal and legislative bodies. There is the matter of production, which is in the hands of the government production boards, the owners of industry and their hired technical, research and managerial staffs.

The other factor in production is labor. But labor has no control or appreciable influence in the determination of political decisions, strategy, appropriations for the war, research, planning, supervision, organization or military tactics. All of these matters are in the hands of the government and the owners of industry.

Labor Gives – Capital Takes

Labor’s role is to go into the plants, mills, mines and on the means of transport for the purpose of working under the supervision and direction of the government and the employers. It is admitted that labor has done this so well and to the extent that over 60,000 planes were produced last year. The steel industry produced up to capacity. Ships slid down the ways so fast and in such quantities that finding names and sponsors became a problem. Tanks rolled out in such huge quantities that the commanders on the fronts called for a let-up. Ammunition has been piled high all over the country. The workers have put hundreds of millions into war bonds, the Red Cross and the USO. Millions of workers are in the armed forces.

This is what labor has done. What have the capitalist owners of industry done? Their most outstanding feat has been to increase their profits, raise the salaries of their corporation executives without limit, pay more dividends than ever before in history and keep up an insistent demand for more rigorous control of labor by the government, for an increase in working hours, for a reduction in wages, and for higher prices. This has been the chief contribution of the big capitalist owners of industry toward winning the war or guaranteeing “an earlier victory” to “reduce the toll of suffering and sorrow and blood.”

FDR’s Little List

But Mr. Roosevelt calls for a national service act aimed solely at and against labor. This is the fact. Let the labor leaders explain this away if they can. To be sure, Mr. Roosevelt has other “demands” in his list of five: “a realistic tax law which will tax all unreasonable profits,” “a continuation of the law for the renegotiation of war contracts,” “a cost of food law,” “early re-enactment of the stabilization statute of October 1942.” This last is the infamous “anti-inflation” law which was to “stabilize” wages, prices and salaries.

Salaries went up, prices continued to rise and the only thing “stabilized” was wages. With the rise in prices, the real result was to lower wages.

Roosevelt says that he would not recommend a national service law “unless the other laws were passed to keep down the cost of living.” This means that the national service law probably will not be passed, and Roosevelt must know this. Congress may pass a law for the more stringent regulation of labor but it will never pass a law that will be equally rigorous with their masters, the capitalist employers and bankers. The capitalist government of Franklin D. Roosevelt will not and cannot pass a law that will effectively control prices or salaries. Such laws will only be passed and enforced when the workers are politically independent and have control of government themselves.

Here are some gems from the President’s message.

“National service is the most democratic way to wage a war.” This would be true of a real democratic war, of a genuinely people’s war, of a war being waged by the masses in their interest and in the interest of the nation as a whole. It is not and cannot be true of an imperialist war.

Imperialist wars are wars waged by one imperialist ruling class against another for the purpose of world domination and the exploitation and robbery of the workers and colonial peoples.

“It does not mean reduction in wages ... It does not mean that any substantial numbers of war workers will be disturbed in their present jobs.” This is nonsense. Any law “which ... will prevent strikes” will act as a bludgeon for reducing wages. The main reason that employers are against strikes is because strikes are mass pressure against that boss that forces him to yield to the workers’ demands for more wages or against a reduction in wages.

Hunger and Dictatorship

There is one part of Roosevelt’s message that labor should study again and again. He says that “true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence ... People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.” The first sentence is true, the second is a very dangerous half-truth.

For real individual freedom, economic security is certainly necessary. That is, to be really free, human beings must be secure from economic want, the fear of unemployment, poverty and the misery that the masses are heir to today. They must be free from the oppression of the boss. They must be free, too, from the necessity of serving in the ever-recurring wars of capitalist society.

Is Mr. Roosevelt trying to make us believe, however, that his national service law is a step in the direction of “true individual freedom” for the working class? How will such a law contribute toward “economic security and independence” for labor? A law which has been called “quack medicine” by Philip Murray and a law through which “the President wants to conscript labor for private profit,” according to spokesmen for the railway unions?

When the President of the United States makes the statement that “people who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made,” he leaves out the main point. We presume that Mr. Roosevelt means fascist dictatorships. Very few even hungry and unemployed workers succumb to the rantings, ravings and trickery of fascist demagogues, and not just out of a clear sky or because they are stupid, or perverse, or because they are against democracy.

Workers, except for rare exceptions, are not supporters of fascism. If any follow the fascist scoundrels, it is because they are the victims of capitalism, of capitalist oppression, of capitalist wars and of all the miseries suffered at the whipping posts of capitalist society.

A working class which is defeated by fascism is also the victim of bad trade union and political leadership. It is a working class which has been miseducated by its trade union and political leaders to support imperialist wars, the capitalist bosses and the capitalist government. It is a working class which has failed to take the road to independent political action. It is a working class which has failed to understand the heed for a mass independent Labor Party and a workers’ government.

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