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B.J. Widick

In the Trade Unions

(5 May 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 30, 5 May 1939, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Two significant straws in the wind of the trends in the labor movement in relation to the coming world war were revealed last week. From Buffalo, N.Y., came news that the S.W.O.C. had signed a contract with the J.H. Williams Steel Co. which included a clause guaranteeing continuation of seniority rights to employees drafted for conscription in war.

Now every unionist is in favor of observation of seniority rights under all circumstances.

What is disturbing is the calm acceptance of the idea of conscription during war-time.

It remains to be seen if this is an official S.W.O.C. national policy or whether it was done purely on a local scale.

The steel company’s acceptance of this clause was a clever maneuver to pacify the resentment still felt by workers from their experiences after the world war.

Thousands of soldiers returned to U.S.A. and found that their jobs had been taken permanently by those, “who stayed behind,” as they were called. This fact was the source of considerable agitation among the ex-service men.

Purge Aliens

A report from North Tarrytown, N.Y., indicates how fa General Motors has gone with its policy of purging alien employees. Over 175 out of the 3,000 employees have been dropped from the pay-roll permanently because they were not American citizens.

Regrettable is the fact that this policy has been pursued pith the approval of the auto workers union. Joseph Galgano, financial secretary of Local 118, U.A.W.A., made it very clear in his comments to reporters that the union was not taking any stand against the dismissals.

He added that the purge was done with War Department approval. It was part of the preparation for M-day. A leading steel progressive from another area informed us that a similar purge was being carried on in many steel plants. Unfortunately, the S.W.O.C. is doing nothing to prevent this terrible kind of discrimination. In fact, even mention of this subject in some unions brings howls of disapproval.

Of course, this purge policy is in line with Roosevelt’s policy of throwing all “aliens” off W.P.A. and home relief.

We have heard not one word of protest over this cold-blooded plan of starving every non-American citizen living here from those who shed crocodile tears over the fate of the refugees in Europe.

Wealthy Don’t Suffer

It is not the petty-bourgeois or wealthy “foreigner” who suffers from this purge policy. Only the workers who came from Europe and plunged into the factories will suffer – the workers who toiled so hard that exhaustion at night prevented any activity but sleep in preparation for another day’s hard work.

It is these workers who are being blacklisted from all jobs. They face outright starvation! They can’t even get on relief!

Acceptance of this policy happens, among other things, to be a violation of the constitution of the C.I.O. which solemnly pledged to organize and protect all workers irrespective of race, creed, color, etc., etc.

More fundamental than this, it is a direct expression of the development of chauvinism and its deliberate extension by the bosses among the workers in an effort to divide them and also whip up their patriotism.

To those of us whose very life and ideas stem from the spirit of internationalism, sharpest struggle in unions to prevent this blow at working class solidarity is an elementary duty.

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Last updated: 15 January 2016