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David Coolidge

Murray Dependence on Truman
Costly to Workers

(25 February 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. X No. 8, 25 February 1946, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Before the beginning of the steel strike the leaders of the Steel Workers Union announced that the union was demanding an increase of $2.00 a day or 25 cents an hour. Before the strike began, President Truman recommended an increase of 18½ cents an hour. Philip Murray told U.S. Steel that he would not settle for less than 19½ cents. This was 5½ cents less than the original demand. Murray also demanded that the wage settlement be retroactive.

Benjamin Fairless, representing the steel corporations, told the government and the steel union that the steel manufacturers could not consider raising wages unless the government agreed to an increase in the price of steel. Mr. Olds, chairman of U.S. Steel, demanded that the increase allowed be $6.25 a ton. Representatives of the government suggested $4.00 a ton. The steel corporations also took the position that they would not agree to make the settlement retroactive.

Who Won the Strike?

These are a few of the relevant facts in connection with the steel strike, and the negotiations between the United Steel Workers, the corporations and the government. It is necessary to ask the question: who won the strike? Thousands of steel workers must have asked this question when they were told about the agreement which their elected leaders had made with the steel corporations and the government.

It is necessary to emphasize that the rank and file steel workers had little if anything to do with the wage agreement reached between their elected leadership, the government and the steel companies. It is true that the membership of the union has accepted the original demand for a $2.00 a day rise in pay. The corporations refused and the strike was called. The strike was a very listless affair. The steel workers stood in their places, so to speak, and only marked time. They were only waiting, and thousands of them must have wondered what this strange waiting was all about.

The Workers Party, in Labor Action, told what the waiting was all about. Murray and the leaders of the steel workers were waiting for Truman to act in behalf of the demands of the steel workers. They were waiting for the government of the steel manufacturers to do something for the steel workers and against the owners of the steel mills. Therefore striking steel workers were ordered to "mark time.” Everybody knows or ought to know that while you are marking time you do not advance, you do not move toward your objective. On the other hand, marking time may permit the enemy to move toward his objective.

This is precisely what happened during the steel strike. While the steel workers were watchfully and hopefully waiting, the steel manufacturers were maneuvering and conniving with THEIR government for an increase in the price of steel before they consented to any increase in wages above 15 cents an hour. The steel manufacturers put a gun to the head of THEIR government. Any class which has a government can put on pressure when and if it becomes necessary.

The working class cannot do this because we do not have our own government. If there were a Labor Party and a labor government in Washington, instead of the present capitalist government, the steel workers would not have had to stand marking time. They would have put pressure on this government to enforce the demands of labor, or they would have removed that government.

It is necessary to emphasize also that the steel manufacturers won a victory. They got everything important they were contending for. They got a substantial price increase. That is really what they were after. They were not primarily concerned with the difference between their offer of 15 cents an hour and the 19½ cents recommended by the “fact-finding” committee. They wanted that $5.00 price increase. They got it. To this day nobody outside the steel corporations knows what this increase will mean in the way of profits for the steel companies. The government doesn't know and the workers don’t know. This is a secret hidden away in the intricate accounting systems of the steel companies.

Why the Strike?

This wasn’t the whole story of the steel corporation’s victory. Instead of retroactive pay beginning as of January 1, as Truman “suggested,” the union leadership agreed to accept steel’s offer to pay a 9½ cent increase for work performed between January 1 and the end of the strike, February 17. Furthermore, not only did the union leadership not hold to the original $2.00 a day demand, it did not even hold the line for the 19½ cents increase. It accepted 18½ cents. This was the very figure which. Truman had recommended BEFORE THE STRIKE BEGAN.

The steel workers might well ask: "Why did we go on strike?” The only answer that can possibly make any sense is to say that the steel workers were on strike, to get 3½ cents more than the corporations had offered before the strike began. This was Truman’s recommendation. This can only mean that 700,000 steel workers were on strike to force their employers to accept, not their own demands, but the wage rise recommended by the capitalist government of their capitalist employers.

Why did the steel strike turn out as it did? Why didn’t the steel workers win their demands? There can be but one answer. Murray and the other leaders of these workers retreated. They retreated without a fight. They retreated at a time when millions of CIO workers in steel and other mass production industries were on strike or ready to go to the picket lines. Murray ordered his men to fire over the heads of the employers. When the employers did not frighten and run, Murray ordered his own men to run.

Murray and all the rest of the CIO leadership ABDICATED their leadership of labor. Murray turned over the leadership of labor to Truman; to the political representative of the employers, to the political leader of the capitalist class, to the government of the capitalist exploiters and oppressors.

We say again: Labor needs a GENERAL STAFF, a Political General Staff. Labor needs a government, a government of its own at Washington: A Workers Government.

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