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Gertrude Shaw

Need for an Independent Labor Party Is Again Proved

Congress Bill to Draft Labor Really Hits at Unions

(22 February 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 8, 22 February 1943, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Last week there was introduced in Congress the Austin-Wadsworth bill to draft all men and women in the country. This legislative gem, produced by Senator Austin of Vermont and Representative Wadsworth of New York, would require all men between the ages of eighteen and sixty-five and all women between the ages of eighteen and fifty, to be conscripted by the government to any job assigned them in war industry, agriculture or any other occupation deemed essential.

This bill would take away, at one fell swoop a substantial part of the freedom that labor possesses. It is another attempt – using the smoke screen of war conditions – to put a noose around labor’s neck.

While the right of the worker to dispose of his own labor power is hardly the acme of human freedom, still it does distinguish the “free” worker under capitalism from the feudal serf and the chattel slave.

Furthermore, this labor-conscription bill would be a powerful weapon in the hands of the bosses against militant unionists. As we all know, bosses have their ways of exerting political pressure on all kinds of boards. The labor-drafting boards which this bill would establish could simply – at the bosses’ instigation – draft for other work the most active and faithful unionists – thus, dispersing their strength, and breaking up a union stronghold – while replacing them with cadres of “safer” workers also drafted.

Since the bill was introduced in Congress it has become even clearer that the real aim of its sponsors is to weaken the unions, disorganize the workers and place them at the tender mercies of their exploiters.

The New York Herald Tribune, that journalistic pillar of American capitalism, came out with an editorial letting the cat out of the bag in the following paragraph:

“The bill, as drawn up, does not deal too honestly with the situation created by the closed shop issue. It says to its prospective draftees that they are free to join a labor union if they desire. It does not say in so many words that they shall not be forced to join a union. Little imagination is required to suggest the weakness of this omission. Suppose, for example, that a free American is told that, for his country’s sake, he must mine coal and that in becoming a coal miner, he must pay dues to Mr. John L. Lewis, whose union has a closed-shop check-off contract with all the coal operators. It is one thing to tell him he has to work for Uncle Sam, quite another to insist that he work for Lewis also.”

These are not mincing words. Here is revealed the ardent hope of the boss class to re-establish the open shop as a step back to the boss paradise of the sweat shop. Note that the American worker reduced to industrial serfdom is still to be “A FREE AMERICAN.” But “most important in the above is that John L. Lewis is singled out as the embodiment of all that is horrible. For Lewis has – so far as least – been the most reluctant of all the labor leaders to abandon entirely the interests of the workers on the altar of war profits. His announced intentions to fight for a $2.00-a-day wage increase for the miners at the expiration of their present contract, has not sweetened the disposition of the bosses toward him.

The worker must not forget that when the New York Herald Tribune uses the words “work for Lewis” that means – in workers’ language – BELONG TO A UNION. The payment of union dues is not “working for Lewis.” A union must have finances, as every worker knows. It is up to the rank and file to see that dues are fair and that the union he belongs to serves his interests – AND FOR THIS IT MUST BE A MILITANT UNION. What the class for which the New York Herald Tribune speaks wants is to bust the unions and make the workers helpless against the bosses’ onslaughts.

The authors of the Austin-Wadsworth bill got the point made by this capitalist sheet and are more than willing to strengthen the anti-union import of the bill. In fact, they have submitted an amendment to the bill – to supply the “omission” pointed out by the Herald Tribune – as follows:

“Provided further, that every person assigned to serve under this act, including every accepted volunteer, shall have the right to join any union or organization of employees, but no such, person shall be obliged to join any such union or organization if he or she should not freely choose so to do.”

What a golden opportunity this clause would afford the bosses to negate closed shop agreements and “maintenance of membership provisions” in contracts! How they could shift, transfer, finagle, and presto a plant would; have a new roster of employees not in the union and not “obligated to join.” What a weapon against the union! What a giant stride back to the open shop!

It is important to record here that the above proposed amendment to the labor-draft bill to make it even more obnoxious, did not spring whole from the heads of Senator Austin and Representative Wadsworth. In that pie was also the finger of one Ernest L. Bell, Jr., of Keene, N.H., who is executive secretary of the new-born Citizens’ Committee for a National War Service Act – organized two months ago for the express purpose of furthering the labor-draft bill.

Want to know something about this Citizens’ Committee for a National War Service Act? None of the “citizens,” you may be sure, are workers. The committee consists of American Legionnaires, corporation lawyers, poll-tax politicians – the gentry looking for every opening to hit labor in the solar plexus.

Mr. Bell was formerly state commander in New Hampshire of the American Legion. Grenville Clark, a member of the rich man’s law firm of Root, Clark, Buckner & Ballantine, is secretary-treasurer of this committee – and incidentally a friend of President Roosevelt.

Bills, like this one to conscript labor presumably as a war measure but aimed at the unions; bills like the Hobbs so-called anti-racketeering bill that would make it easy to fake criminal prosecutions of unions, and impoverish them; these are all symptoms of the same boss tactic. Not content with up to 2,420 per cent increases in war profits, they become pay-triotic pioneers to meet every real or imagined “war emergency” with an anti-labor measure that will pay dividends not only for the duration but in the post-war period as well.

Every local union should pass a scathing resolution stating that the workers recognize in the Austin-Wadsworth and Hobbs bills hidden attacks on the unions, and protesting against their passage. Labor should also hold meetings to demonstrate its protest and get public support against such hypocritical measures.

But labor must take more fundamental action as well. The workers are foolishly supporting the capitalist class in wielding political power against them. For the workers still follow the boss parties and vote into office the very sponsors of anti-labor bills.

Whereas, with the mighty instrument of a real Independent Labor Party based on the unions, labor could not only protect its ground but fight for new gains. And not alone that. For the road of class-conscious political action leads beyond the bounds of an Independent Labor Party operating within the confines of the capitalist system – to a workers’ government and socialism.

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