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David Coolidge

AFL Post-War Proposals

(15 May 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 20, 15 May 1944, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).


The real essence of the AFL statement comes in the section on “free enterprise.” “We believe in free enterprise as an essential in personal freedom. The right to start a business and the right to choose a job are the basis of a free life.”

Reducing It to the Ridiculous

Miners should have the right to open a coal mine, steel workers should have the right to put up a steel mill, sharecroppers should have the right to establish a bank and compete with Chase National. They already have this right. There is no law which forbids a miner to buy a thousand acres of coal land and begin producing coal. There is no act of Congress which tells a steel worker that he shall not put up a mill, and any sharecropper has the right to open himself a national bank.

“By free enterprise we mean a progressive economy which provides incentives and opportunities to individuals and groups to take the initiative and to assume the risks involved in launching new forms of productive activity. Freedom of enterprise means freedom of labor. Thus organized labor means by free enterprise bold initiative for the increase and the range of, production.”

Capitalism, you see, has not been bold enough. The railway buccaneers did not gobble up enough of the public lands. Old Rockefeller was too timid in establishing his oil empire. Bell Telephone had no business to let a few small companies escape in its “trend” toward cheap telephone rates. When Morgan formed U.S. Steel he wasn’t bold enough and the reason for this was the absence of “free enterprise.”

Brothers Green and Woll want homes for workers after the war but none of this New Deal foolishness. “Private initiative should play a leading part in post-war housing reconstruction ...” Of course, there should be “safeguards against speculative abuses.” There should be a public works program ready to be “let to private contractors” to supplement “private employment,” should a decline occur. “Our accumulated national debt and interest charges thereon will mean sustained high tax rates ...” The big bondholders will continue to get their interest while the working class continues to be subjected to the present high income taxes. THIS IS THE WAY THE AFL WILL REVERSE MONOPOLY AND THE CONCENTRATION OF WEALTH.

Analyzing Other AFL Demands

Among many correct demands, such as care of veterans, unemployment benefits for two years, better social insurance, the AFL wants the shorter work week restored. They do not say what the hours shall be. That presumably will be left to the boldness and initiative of the employers. The shorter work week is to be restored “without material reduction in weekly earnings.” The workers should not have their wages cut too much because “during the war wage earners have contributed increased productivity ... without compensation by increases in wage rates.”

The AFL leaders are ready to submit to wage reductions after the war, along with the cut in hours. They agree with the WLB. If we want more money let us work more; if we work less, then we should be satisfied with less money. The workers may work for a lower rate after the war but the income taxes will remain as of today. The workers mustn’t do anything to impoverish the employers. It is assumed that the amount of the wage reduction will also be left to the boldness and initiative of the employers.

The unions must be ready with cooperation for the maintenance of full employment. “This implies ... review and revision of rules and practices which were developed to protect workers in a depressed economy and severely fluctuating economy.” This sentence could have been written in the office of the New York Times, the NAM or the Daily Worker. Perhaps Eric Johnston of the U. S. Chamber of Commerce put this sentence in. The workers are to keep paying the present income taxes, they are to take a cut in pay and they are to reject the measures enacted under labor pressure in the early days of the New Deal. Thus the AFL will usher in the “century of the common man,” build up the “public conscience” and promote “free labor.”

It is in the section dealing with “equality of opportunity” that these AFL bureaucrats become completely disgusting and reprehensible. Equality of opportunity is denied, say these “bureaucrats, “wherever individuals are deprived of their civil and political rights ... it is denied wherever workers, because, of race, religion or sex do not have an equal chance to get jobs ...” The AFL is opposed to any and all of these forms of discrimination. For the AFL to say that it is opposed to these practices is a downright lie. The AFL officialdom has been for decades the main bulwark of these practices in the labor movement. THE AFL IS BUILT ON DISCRIMINATION: DISCRIMINATION AGANST THE UNSKILLED WORKER, DISCRIMINATION AGAINST THE NEGRO WORKER.

They know they lie. That is the reason they issue such a mealy-mouthed, statement on discrimination. If they are for political equality, why is it that the AFL never turned a finger against the poll-tax? Why, right now, do they announce their support of poll-tax Congressman Martin Dies? If they are so interested in eliminating discrimination on account of race, why doesn’t the AFL suspend the Boilermakers Union, the Machinists Union and other AFL unions which discriminate against Negroes?

In Conclusion

This whole statement of the AFL on the post-war world is a compound of ignorance, stupidity, reaction, mush, lies, craft union arrogance and puerile verbiage. Most of it could have been, written by any capitalist or by Earl Browder. Most of it can be supported wholeheartedly by the NAM and Stalin’s Communist Party in the United States. Green, Woll, Hutchinson and Tobin crawl into bed with Browder, Witherow and Eric Johnston.

Capitalism (“free enterprise”) today is a stinking and gangrenous dictatorship exercised by the capitalist ruling: class over the working class. The AFL bureaucrats in this statement only proclaim themselves the labor lieutenants and recruiting sergeants of this degenerate social order for the post-war world.

These aging buffoons, bootlickers and traitors seek to drive labor into the imperialist slaughterhouse today, and tomorrow herd what is left into the capitalist pens of exploitation.

The document is putrid with old-fashioned phrase-mongering and platitudes, totally unsuited for this age of international murder, destruction and imperialist savagery. It attempts to deliver the working class to big business right at the time that fascism threatens to engulf the whole world in one form or another. There is not one sentence on independent action by the working class; not one word on independent political action by labor. There is no practical criticism of what is going on today and ho guide to labor about what to do to achieve freedom.

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Last updated: 17 October 2015