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David Coolidge

Labor Turning Away from FDR

In 1944 Workers Need an Independent Labor Party

(10 January 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 2, 10 January 1944, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The threat of twenty railroad unions to call a strike resulted in the taking over of the railroads by the government of the Roosevelt Democratic Party, but the railroad workers have been given a few cents increase in pay. Roosevelt reversed Vinson, who had decided that railroad labor was entitled to only four cents an hour increase.

When 175,000 steel workers refused to work without a contract or to trespass on the property of their employers, Roosevelt decided that his WLB was in error in their decision against retroactive pay for these workers.

Many of the trade union leaders, the liberal “friends of labor” and, of course, the Communist Party will claim that by these little bits of concession Roosevelt has once again proved that he is a “friend of labor” and that he would do more if a “reactionary Congress” would only let him.

FDR Is Patching

But Roosevelt is only doing a little judicious patching. The capitalist garment is bursting at the seams, the seat is worn thin and the pants are threadbare at the knees. Labor finally begins to understand in a somewhat vague way that this garment is too small; that it has become worn and shabby.

If this wasn’t clear to the workers at the beginning of the Second Imperialist World War, it is certainly beginning to dawn on them today that Roosevelt and the Democratic Party, with the aid of the AFL-CIO, leadership, betrayed the confidence that labor placed in them. This fact is becoming clearer and clearer each day to the working class in the AFL and the CIO. Two full years of the war have taught us something. One thing labor has learned is that a policy of constant retreat doesn’t pay. The workers quietly accept a no-strike pledge agreed to between their leaders and Roosevelt. From fifteen to twenty hours are added to the work week. The steel workers accept a Little Steel formula which becomes the measuring rod for all of industry and ties the workers to a standard of living below the subsistence level. The WLB replaces the foreman, the superintendent and the corporation president.

At the very top sits Roosevelt, saying to the workers that he will decide their grievances and they are to accept his decision. Collective bargaining is all but destroyed. Thousands of grievances pile up and contracts are buried in the files of the WLB awaiting excavation or for Roosevelt to return from a flying trip to Asia and Africa.

Accompanying the “stabilization” of wages was a heavy burden of income taxes and strong-arm tactics to extract money from the pay envelope for war bonds. “Ten per cent for war bonds.” Buy this, that or the other, “but buy a war bond first.”

Promises to Labor

Labor had been promised that if it agreed to the “stabilization” of wages, prices would be held down. After prices continued to soar and the OPA had admitted that “prices have got out of hand,” the government promised to “roll back prices.” But the meat packers, the canners, the milk companies, the egg and butter producers and all the other huge combines, corporations and coupon-clippers were willing for Roosevelt to have his little rollback joke so long as the land, factories, mills, railroads, mines, plants and banks were left in their hands and under their control.

These capitalists had learned a long time ago that the purpose of running a business is to make profits and that in time of war one must make sure that the profits are bigger even than in peacetime. And then when the war is over, the capitalist has a nice nest egg to tide him over the depression days when the workers are evicted from their homes and sent to the soup lines and the bunk houses.

And so, despite the fine talk about holding prices down, labor has seen the cost of living rise steadily and the profit jump to the highest levels in the history of “free enterprise.” The profits of 385 companies for nine months of 1943 are 11.4 per cent over 1942. The railroads gain 21 per cent over 1942 and the automobile industry 24 per cent. Twenty-eight officials of automobile (aircraft) companies are paid over four and a half million dollars in salaries for 1941.

This isn’t all, of course. What is important is the fact that this year, as in previous years, hundreds of millions of dollars will be paid in dividends and interest to that comparatively small group of capitalists who know that this war is being fought for them – and for them alone.

Labor Awakening

Now that labor begins to understand some of these things they become more assertive and forget the no-strike pledge which was put over on them in the dark. Following the lead of -the miners, who are not so easily fooled, the railroad worker and the steel workers talk of mass action.

Long after they should have known it, labor begins to understand; that when the government, the capitalist press, the Stalinists and the employers were trying to dig John L. Lewis’s grave, it was really the UMWA they were after. The capitalist bosses and their government knew, even if Murray and Green aid not, that it was not just Lewis they had to deal, with but 500,000 organized and well disciplined coal diggers.

The more conservative labor leaders of the CIO and the rail unions were forced to follow the leadership of the miners. Murray learned, that he too had to talk like Lewis. The hidebound elder statesmen of the rail unions used strong language – far stronger than even Lewis had used.

Strikes have been threatened or have taken place in spite of the Smith-Connally and all manner of state anti-labor bills. The capitalist press fumes and rants. Vinson and Byrnes, in the true style of capitalist government bureaucrats, raise the big stick. The WLB mutters some ancient jargon about Little Steel formula. The hired hands on Capitol Hill in Washington decide that the Brewster local of the UAW and its militant president, De Lorenzo, are the monkey-wrench in the machinery.

Crawford, chairman of the National Association of Manufacturers, makes the amazing announcement that “there is much talk of maldistribution. We have maldistribution due to the lack of productivity and to the failure of the underprivileged worker to produce enough to give him a fair share of the things he wants.” Crawford then promises the workers that if they will only be patient, “if we can continue the free enterprise system (capitalism – D.C.) for one more generation, we can have ninety-five per cent of our people above want.”

This should be comforting to a working class which starved through the last capitalist depression, which is being shot to bits on the imperialist battlefields today just as its preceding generation was twenty-five years ago, and whose only outlook for the post-war period of capitalism is more unemployment and hunger. It is interesting to note that Mr. Crawford doesn’t promise that capitalism will feed all of the people, even after the passage of another generation. According to this “industrial statesman,” even after the passage of another generation of capitalism (”free enterprise system”), and if the population should remain stationary, there will still be over six million people in need of food, clothing and shelter. And this is all that the leaders of capitalism have to offer after the war is over.

The emerging mass movement of the working class, which has been evident over the past months, is not only distrustful of people like Crawford, but also shows the beginnings of distrust of Roosevelt and the Democratic Party. Labor is learning out of the trials and tribulations of its own bitter experience. But we have taken only a short and halting step. Labor is sore at Rosevelt and the Democratic Party, but what about Willkie and the Republican Party?

This reactionary, anti-labor outfit lies in wait to cash in on the “mistakes” of Roosevelt. Willkie, the knight in shining armor, is ready for another start. He wants labor to have a place in the Cabinet and to have a say in the making of the policies of the government. This from a little Wall Street lawyer. Are we going to be fooled by Willkie and the Republican Party? Didn’t labor vote for McKinley, fifth cousin Teddy Roosevelt, Taft, Coolidge, Harding and Hoover? Are we going to be stupid enough to go through all of this again? From the frying pan into the fire and back into the frying pan!

Labor is surely on the move in the United States. But where are we going? By now capitalism and capitalism’s government have certainly taught us something. Or they should have taught us something. They should have taught us that the whole capitalist class and its government in Washington, from the Capitol to the White House, is arrayed against us.

This class of manufacturers, bankers and government officials presents a solid front against the working class. We should make no mistake about this. In the elections next year the capitalists will be concerned only with deciding which one of the two candidates will best defend capitalism and guarantee their profits. They want to win the war, but that’s what winning the war means to them: markets, territory, raw materials, profits, cheap labor, domination of the world.

Labor’s Demands

The working class wants jobs, decent wages, food, clothing and shelter, happiness, freedom, security and deliverance from destruction in the ever-recurring and ever more destructive imperialist wars. We want a government which guarantees these things to us, which fights for us, which represents us. This can only be a government of our own. We can get this kind of government through a party of our own, a Labor Party of workers and trade unions with that kind of a fighting program. Roosevelt and Willkie both know that if labor organized its own political party, based on the trade unions and the working class majority, and carried on a genuinely militant fight, labor would turn the capitalist parties out of control and take possession of the factories, mines, mills, banks and railroads and operate them in the interest of the masses of the people.

That is why Roosevelt is trying so desperately to keep things patched and in repair. He makes no basic alterations; there is nothing new. As the working class breaks through he puts on another patch. Crawford and the other capitalists hope and pray that the patch will hold.

But labor is on the march. On the the march toward renewed militancy, political understanding and independent political action. The old wineskins will not for long hold the new wine that is being fermented in the daily experience of the working class.

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Last updated: 11 August 2015