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David Coolidge

Electrical, Packinghouse Workers on the Line —

Labor Can Win This Fight!

(21 January 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. X No. 3, 21 January 1946, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

As Labor Action goes to press, approximately one million workers are on strike in the United States. The majority of them are members of the CIO, the industrial union movement. The latest to join the strikers’ ranks are 200,000 electrical, radio and machine workers and 250,000 packinghouse workers.

At least a million more workers would be out on strike if their leaders would heed and accept) the challenge being hurled at the labor movement today by the capitalist ruling class and its government at Washington.

The whole labor movement is being challenged by the big employers either to stand up and fight unitedly across the lines separating the various national sections of the trade union movement, or run the risk of being disrupted and seriously weakened.

But this is not all. The labor movement is being confronted by the Truman government with a proposal that the working class take a cut in real wages and also that labor accept what is virtually a new “Little Steel” formula. This is what Truman’s “fact-finding” boards are up to: pegging wages for the workers in the mass production industries.

This is the meaning of the “awards” being made by these fact-finding boards. They are really playing the role of wage stabilization committees. The fact-finding board reiterates again and again in its report, President Truman’s formula that labor must take a wage cut from its wartime take-home rates.

The UAW in the beginning asked for a 30 per cent increase. The fact-finders recommended 17.2 per cent. The Oil Workers demanded 31 per cent. The fact-finders said 18 per cent. The Electrical Workers asked 25 cents an hour increase and the recommendation was 19.5 cents an hour. The Packinghouse Workers demanded a 25 cent increase and later, after the pattern was set, offered to settle for 17.5 cents. The Steel Workers demanded approximately a 25 cents hourly increase but Murray agrees to accept 19.5 cents increase. Thus it is clear that the Truman government has decided to grant about the same meager increase to all the striking unions and get the workers back on the job.

The government proposal is one to save the face of the big corporations and the big labor leaders at the same time. The corporations are holding out, but they will agree with the proposals of their government. The workers will find their wages stabilized, just as during the war, while prices will remain where they are and the corporations resume their profit-making, adding billions to the reserves piled up during the war.

Murray and Fairless

The truly reprehensible aspect of the situation is the role of Murray and the top labor bureaucrats. They are capitulating all along the line. The UAW is ready to forget GM’s books and the 30 per cent demand and has agreed to take the 17.4 per cent award of Truman’s fact-finders. The oil, packinghouse and electrical union bureaucrats are all in full retreat. Murray decides that the steel workers can get along with six cents less an hour than was demanded of the steel companies.

Of course, no one has asked the union membership what is their opinion of the matter. After the conference in Washington on the demands of the steel workers between Murray, Fairless and the government, Fairless, of U.S. Steel, announced that he could not speak for his or the other steel companies. He would have to consult with those he represented before he could accept any offer made by his government. But not Murray. He himself could accept the suggestion of Truman that the strike be postponed for a week. Murray said: “I have personally agreed to postpone action on the strike for one week at the request of the President and will meet at the White House cabinet room at 2 p.m. next Wednesday with Mr. Fairless.”

“I approve the statement,” said Fairless.

Murray postpones the steel strike for a week so that Fairless can induce the steel manufacturers to accept an increase of 19.5 cents instead of the workers’ demand for 25 cents. The UAW is ready to accept 17.4 per cent without seeing the books of GM. All the big labor leaders are willing to be “reasonable” men, “responsible” labor leaders.

During the war they went along “with the President’s foreign policy” and gave a no-strike pledge. Now that the war is over they are willing and anxious to go along with the President’s domestic policy and accept a cut in real wages for the working class.

Labor Leaders Back Down

Despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of CIO workers are on the picket lines, the leaders are only marking time, only waiting for the “fact-finding” boards to set their wages. They are not really waging a militant struggle against the big capitalist corporations as in the old days.

This only underscores what we said in Labor Action last week. The great need of the strike situation today is for a National Strike Council, elected by the locals, to plan, coordinate and formulate uniform demands for the strikes. The strikes are planned and coordinated but the planning and coordinating arc being done by Murray and the top leaders without the consent of and consultation with the rank and file workers.

The present series of strikes got off to a good start with the GM walkout and the militant demand to see the books of GM. Without doubt this demand put the fear of the might of the working class into the capitalist ruling class and its government at Washington. But labor has not followed through.

Despite the lethargy with which it is being conducted by the CIO top leadership, the present strike wave is of tremendous importance. As we said last week, the capitalist ruling class has organized its general staff for the conflict. They act as one. Their publicity reads as though it came from one man and out of one office. Labor has no such general staff. If we had such a general staff, functioning in the present situation to protect the interests of the working class, we would not be witnessing the capitulation and retreat which is taking place.

How to Win

The CIO can still win its demands for the 30 per cent increase in wages. Those demands are just and they can be paid. The Truman government knows this, the employers know it and the CIO bureaucrats know it.

All the workers know that the 30 per cent can be paid and they know that they need it and more. The labor bureaucrats haven’t the courage to stand up and fight for their own demands, formulated for them by their own competent economic experts. They accept the opinion of the government experts, that is, they accept the opinions of the experts hired by the government of the capitalist employers.

We can win this fight. Not only can we win this fight, but we can use this struggle to lay the foundations for the winning of future and bigger fights. We can get, right now, not a “finger in the pie,” but a far bigger slice of the pie. Later it is possible for us to take the whole pie. It is ours. We made it and we should eat it.

But for this we need a political party and political action. We need a militant mass Labor Party. We need a general staff, a political general staff.

We need a WORKERS’ GOVERNMENT: OUR government.

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