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B.J. Widick

In the Labor Unions

(27 June 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 45, 27 June 1939, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

We know some unemployed railroad workers in Astoria, New York, who will be especially interested in the following item we picked up in Cleveland, Ohio, this week.

The convention of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen is still going on. Its cost is now nearly $1,000,000. By the time the convention adjourns, over one million bucks will have been used from the union treasury for convention expenses! That’s more dough than the C.I.O. used to organize the auto industry!

Set-Back for Whitney

By the way, President A.P. Whitney took some severe setbacks at this convention. George W. Anderson, secretary-treasurer, who blasted the extravagance of the Whitney regime as reported previously in the Socialist Appeal, was re elected to his post.

Whitney defeated Charles H. Smith for presidency. He was shocked to find opposition to his office. Whitney’s attempt to get Smith defeated subsequently for the position of vice-president which he had held, was unsuccessful. J.A. Farquharson, editor of the Railroad Trainmen and national legislative representative of the brotherhood, another Whitney opponent, was also re-elected.

The climax in many respects came when 300 anti-Whitney delegates held a special dinner and dance to honor opposition leaders this week.

Whitney’s attempt to achieve dictatorial control of the Brotherhood has collapsed. Unfortunately, the opposition is no more progressive on most issues than Whitney. The worst aspect of the railroad unions is the huge bureaucracy set up which eats the finances of the unions and weighs them down into impotency. This convention illustrates the fact strikingly.

Technological Progress

An idea of what technological development and subsequent unemployment mean to a worker was furnished by a tire builder who reports the following:

“Ten years ago I used to make 28 special size tires in a day’s work. I was making 56 of the same tires until recently. They had improved the machine and figured out in time-studies how to save operations that increased my work to the 56 tires.

“Now I am scheduled to make 180 of these tires in six hours with a new tire-building machine they are setting up! And this is in six hours! My pay isn’t any higher than it was ten years ago! Of course, installing this new machinery will mean that one tire builder can do the work of three. What happens to them? They can’t even get on W.P.A. anymore.”

Incidentally, this tirebuilder isn’t interested in the slogan 30–30 for himself. He makes more than $30 a week for a 30 hour week. What he wants to know is what can be done and how can it be done so that he gets the benefit of his increased work.

While there is a lingering resentment against the introduction of new machinery, most workers show their resentment against the right place, the bosses. The job of the union is te fight for the benefits that company gets from the new machinery. Much higher pay and much lower hours is the way to squeeze the benefit from the bosses.

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Last updated: 16 January 2016