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B.J. Widick

In the Labor Unions

(26 September 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 73, 26 September 1939, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Here is a choice bit of information that Attorney General (I Break Strikes) Frank Murphy let slip a few days ago in Washington.

“Detective organizations set up by industrial concerns to prevent sabotage would work closely with the Federal Bureau of Investigation” Mr. Murphy explained to a New York Times reporter.

Employ Spies

What does it mean? The federal government is enlisting the services of stool-pigeons, company spies, strike-breaking organizations, to fight “sabotage.”

And what is “sabotage” to a Pinkerton? Or a Tom Girdler agent? Or any stool pigeon in a union? Workers have had not a little experience with this in the last few years. “Sabotage” consists of being a good union man, fighting for rights and good conditions within the plant.

The federal government can’t just jail every good union man who feels that, war or no war, workers have a right to fight for just demands. That would be too crude. It would expose the war dictatorship too much.

Frameups Ahead

So the government must now prepare the ground work for a frameup. “Sabotage by spies” becomes the theme song of the FBI. Once that is accepted, any worker in the plant who remains a union militant is branded a “saboteur.” He “disrupts” national defense. Company stool pigeons will hurl the charge. The FBI is going to “work closely with them.”

Yet the United Rubber Workers of America’s convention, to mention the latest union convention held, went on record to support the Roosevelt administration in its war moves!

Seniority Rights!

Our prediction of last May that the question of seniority rights during war-time would become a greater issue apparently is being borne out by various information coming to the office.

Unions everywhere are beginning to ask for the continuation of seniority rights during war service. That is, if a workers is taken from the plant for army service, his seniority continues as though he remained in the plant.

What is our attitude towards this demand? We can only reiterate what was published then. Now every unionist is in favor of seniority rights under all circumstances. What is disturbing is the calm acceptance of the idea of conscription in wartime.

Workers should never give up an inch of their rights under any conditions, if it is possible. Fight for seniority rights in event of conscription? Sure. The best way to fight against it, however, is to fight against the conscription of labor.

While on this subject, it might be worthwhile to repeat certain other elementary strategy for unionists in this period.

War does not substitute new problems for old ones in the union movement. It adds new ones and intensifies the present problems. The rising price level makes the wage question more acute. The government demands for war production will intensify the struggle over hours of work, conditions of work and the speed-up.

What to Do

Every present headache of a shop committeeman increases. Before actual declaration of war, the bosses will give in to serious pressure because the prospect of additional profits is too tempting to permit big shutdowns.

However, the bosses hope to end all the business of making any concessions once war starts by the use of the federal machinery to hogtie labor.

The “impartial” labor boards consisting mainly of professional and business people are supposed to settle all labor disputes, backed by the US Army. What’s new for the labor movement is how to fight these boards. Direct negotiations between unions and employers is the general slogan around which this struggle can be carried.

The aim of progressive unionists is always the same. Get the best possible union conditions under any circumstances.

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Last updated: 6 March 2016