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Gertrude Shaw

Steel Union Demands Raise

Other Unions Join in Fight Against Little Steel Formula

(6 December 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 49, 6 December 1943, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The International Executive Board of the United Steel Workers of America, CIO, has just come out for an increase in wages of seventeen cents an hour for the 750,000 members of that union. The present basic hiring wage is seventy-eight cents an hour.

This is good news for the whole working class of America.

The CIO convention recently held in Philadelphia went on record against the Little Steel freeze.

In his closing speech at that convention, President Philip Murray – who is also president of the United Steel Workers – said he was going to “present this problem to a special meeting of our International Executive Board.”

The definite demand for a wage increase for the 750,000 organized steel workers proclaims to the entire labor movement that the CIO means business. The Little Steel formula is actually junked – in accordance with the resolution of the CIO convention:

“The working men and women of America must be permitted, through the sound and stable processes of collective bargaining, to secure wage adjustments to levels necessary to maintain their morale, health and efficiency and to meet the special needs imposed on them in this war period.”

In line with this resolution, the International Board of the United Auto Workers has also recommended wage increases in the entire industry. It is expected that the first to carry out the recommendation and make specific demands will be the Chrysler department of the union, representing 70,000 workers.

Among the other CIO unions that have thus far taken action to implement the convention resolution kicking the Little Steel formula out of labor’s back door are the Aluminum, Electrical and Textile Workers.

The Executive Board of the New York State CIO also voted unanimously to urge “all its affiliates to immediately seek wage increases to meet the rapid increases in the cost of living.”

Outside the CIO, the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, an AFL affiliate representing 500,000 workers, has likewise come out in favor of wage increases in excess of the limits set by the formula.

Undoubtedly these and other unions will now follow the example of the Steel Workers Union and make definite demands with the utmost speed. Labor leaders can no longer resist the pressure from the ranks. The labor movement is on its way to end the injustice of a wage freeze with ever-mounting living costs on the one side, and on the other big business war profits for 1943 at over $8,000,000,000 clear gravy.

Other Progressive Demands

Besides asking for a wage increase, the Steel Workers Union will make other progressive demands. One is for “severance pay” for worker’s “when a plant or any portion thereof is permanently closed down.”

Four weeks’ pay will be requested for workers having one to three years’ continuous service, and eight weeks’ pay for those having three years or more of continuous service to their credit.

This excellent demand is also in accordance with a resolution passed at the CIO convention seeking to prevent workers from being thrown out of their jobs without any means of subsistence when war orders cease and reconversion commences. Presumably all CIO unions will make similar demands. While not in any way solving the post-war unemployment problem, such a demand should be pushed to the utmost for the temporary relief it can give,

The union will also be asking for the restoration of time and a half for the sixth and seventh days of every regular week worked – a right given up by labor leaders about a year ago.

Another protective demand to be made by the Steel Workers Union is for a guaranteed minimum weekly wage for eac*h worker for each week during the life of the new contract to be negotiated. This demand is to counteract partial lay-offs that would make deep gashes in the workers’ pay envelopes.

The five hundred locals of the United Steel Workers Union have still to vote on the recommendations of their board. They will undoubtedly push their demands with the utmost energy and determination. They are now out in front, with the whole labor movement watching them.

The auto, electrical and aluminum workers, every CIO union, every AFL union, all of organized labor likewise have to make specific demands for wage increases and for protective measures – and get behind their demands with all they have.

What Is Involved

It is not only necessary to smash the Little Steel formula once and for all time to enable labor to keep pace with the cost of living necessities – which in itself is as important as life itself. In a larger sense, however, it is also necessary for the labor movement to restore its militancy if it hopes to survive.

There will be grave post-war problems to solve which only labor will be able to solve.

In turn this means that the unorganized will have to be brought into the ranks of organized labor – where they can be induced to go only if the militant action of the unions is actually getting results for its members. The capitalists must not be given a chance to pit the unorganized worker against the union worker.

At the CIO convention, R.J. Thomas, president of the UAW, now on the eve of making important wage demands, delivered these stirring words:

“I think in this convention the No. 1 slogan of our convention should be the same as it was when the Committee of Industrial Organizations was organized, and that is to go out across this country and organize and, organize, and when you are through organizing, keep on organizing.”

To which sentiment must be added the reminder that when the CIO was organized, it did so on a fighting program, involving some of the greatest strike action in labor history. The rank and file ought to keep this shining precedent before them today. They also have the recent example of the miners who went out on strike four times, pioneering in the fight to break the Little Steel formula.

It is clear that the no-strike pledge must also go with the wind. In fact, it is the logical next step to the demands made by the Steel Workers Union and to be made by the other CIO unions.

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