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David Coolidge

Mass Action

(10 September 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 37, 10 September1945, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Labor Day has come and gone again. As is the custom, the working class was regaled with wind and gas from labor leaders, government officials, “friends of labor” and preachers in their Labor Day sermons. Bill Green made a pilgrimage to Pennsauken, N.J., to speak at the ceremonies honoring Peter McGuire, the “father of Labor Day.’’

Along with Sam Gompers, McGuire was one of the founders of the AFL. He was an official of the Carpenters international and led the fight for a day to be set aside “as a tribute to labor and the working man.” He led a big demonstration in New York City in1822 for the establishment of Labor Day. Congress enacted a law in1894 and made Labor Day a national holiday.

It is customary each Labor Day for the labor leaders and others to extol the virtues of labor, of the working class and of “the laboring classes” in general. Labor is again told how important the working class is in the scheme of things and bow thankful everyone is that there is a working class. “Labor is honorable.” “Honest toil is commendable.” “Work promotes thrift and good morals.” “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”

The capitalist ruling class has always been terribly worried over “idleness” among the workers. This was true from the earliest days. Their main argument against reducing the working day from “sunrise to sunset” was their solicitude about what the workers would do with their “free time.” If the workers toiled only ten hours there would be fourteen hours left. This would be bad for the working people. Fourteen hours in which to take strong drink, steal, gamble, idle away one’s time fishing, be atone’s wife, and engage in all kinds of immoralities.

The fact that some workers might want to read or sleep could not be accepted as a reason for the shorter day. The ruling class was convinced that workers would not sleep, and even if they did this was a form of idleness also. And as for reading, this was bad also.

Decrying Idleness

This concern of the ruling class with idleness is not just a joke. An Associated Press dispatch from Detroit reads that the UAW is demanding “$25 a week for twenty-six weeks of idleness.”The UAW of course is demanding no such thing. The UAW is not interested in workers being “idle.” The unions are demanding that workers have jobs. It is the capitalist government at Washington and the capitalist employers who are the organizers and promoters of “idleness, ” now that the profit-making imperialist war is over.

Labor and the unions are only saying that they want jobs at high wages, short hours and better working conditions. If the federal government and the employers cannot or will not supply the jobs, then let them pay unemployment insurance.

The capitalist ruling class is very touchy about this word“idleness, ” but only when it relates to the working class. They really don’t object to millions of workers being“idle” so long as it doesn’t cost the ruling class anything. If the workers pay for their own “idleness, ”that’s a step in the right direction. That is what is known as“labor coming of age, ” “labor taking its responsibilities seriously.” But not only must labor pay for its own “idle, ” it must also pay for the idleness of the capitalist employers. Labor is expected to do this even when it is unemployed.

Listen to the Wind

Stripped of the drivel, nonsense and pap, this is about all the Labor Day speeches mean. Under-Secretary Patterson congratulates every worker for his “contribution toward victory.” They“deserve our highest commendation.” Gen. Arnold is convinced that “the workers who stayed at their jobs ... are entitled to the gratitude of the entire nation.” Gen. Devers thanks “the workers who forged the tools of victory ... including the atomic bomb.”

Secretary Scwellenbach said that “the wage earners of America ... stand today on the threshold of a tomorrow which they can and will fashion.” But how should labor fashion its tomorrow according to the new Secretary of Labor? “The rights of labor have been established ...” but “with the establishment of rights labor must be ready to express in greater and greater measure its responsibility to the common good which grants their rights’’

That great friend of labor Mr. Vinson asks for “intelligence and energy to wage the peace and the reconversion ...” Then we can have “an era of high wages, employment and a good standard of living for each and every worker.”

Phil Murray has discovered that reconversion is under way but there are bad signs. “There are many tragic signs that selfish privilege and governmental inertia are obstructing the fulfillment of this promise.” Bill Green thinks that Labor Day 1945 is a good time to begin putting “our economic house in order.” Bill is still for “a higher standard of living and security against depression and want.”

Preachers Join In

The preachers got in on the Labor Day festivities also. The Rev. William Kernan of Scarsdale, N.Y., had high praise for labor and for labor unions. He also believes that Henry Kaiser and Eric Johnston are “great friends of labor.” These men “clearly realize the validity of the labor movement.”

The Rev. Bernard Iddings Bell of Providence, R.I., doesn’t believe that labor is beginning to sprout wings. To the Rev. Bell labor is “as selfish, as covetous, as sub-human as ever the economic master classes have been ... We have found labor seeking to dethrone the old despoiling classes chiefly that its own despoiling forces may control and plunder.”

At any rate we are pleased to know that the Rev. Bell admits that some despoiling and plundering has been going on. We wonder though if the good Episcopal rector knows that some of the despoilers and plunderers were right there under his nose, in Trinity Church at the head of Wall Street, when he uttered those words. And also, what does he think of the fact that it is these plunderers who pay his salary?

All of these things took place on Labor Day 1945. They were going on right at the time three million workers are “idle” and many millions more face “idleness” because and only because capitalism right now has no use for them. The imperialist war of the Anglo-American capitalists has been won. The billions in profits are tucked away. The living, the maimed and the dead have been duly decorated, praised, extolled, and now may be respectfully forgotten.

All they need, do is 2rait together, with the discharged “soldiers from the factories” for another Labor Day.

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Last updated: 16 December 2017