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B.J. Widick

In the Labor Unions

(24 October 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 81, 24 October 1939, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A conference on war prices was initiated by Labor’s Non-Partisan League of Massachusetts for the coming weekend at Boston.

No doubt, this is the beginning of a national move on this problem by affiliates of the CIO and by certain forces within the union movement, and it deserves considerable attention.

The official call for the conference states:

“One week after the beginning of war, wholesale prices of 30 foods had jumped 17 percent.

“No one knows how soon still higher prices, speculative or real, may seriously confront one and one half million in Massachusetts.

“The time to begin to organize for action is NOW.

“Labor, consumer, cooperative, farmer and social groups are cooperating to make this conference an effective step to protect standards of living.

Price Councils

“We urge you to take part in its program, which includes the following definite objectives:

“1. To create permanent War Price Councils, on a state, city and neighborhood basis.

“2. To support utmost use of existing federal, state and municipal safeguards against unjustified price increases.

“3. To supplement, legislation defending living standards. To create neighborhood buying groups, able to deal directly with farmers’ marketing cooperatives.”

The quick response of the CIO unions to the pressure of increased cost of living this fall indicates that such an appeal will meet with general approval. Many CIO unions have demanded a revision of contracts to allow for negotiations on immediate wage increases, as we recently discussed in this column.

Action Is Real Key

Direct action by the CIO unions is still the main job in the next period. However, there is nothing wrong in supplementary action provided it takes a proper course. Neither, it must be added, can take the place of a serious struggle against war, as the main way of fighting the evils attending imperialist war.

Participation in this and other conferences of a similar nature must proceed from this point of view if the labor movement is to accomplish its aims.

A blunt warning is in order too. Grave doubt can be expressed about the real nature and meaning of the Massachusetts conference under its present auspices.

Knowing what a stranglehold the Stalinists have had of the LNPL in that area, this looks suspiciously like another device to create a new “front” organization to replace those collapsing under the stigma of “stooge outfits.”

Every serious trade unionist must fight strongly against any attempt of the Stalinists to capture control or maintain it over an organization which many workers want.

Unless this is a preliminary step of the genuine union elements, the conference and similar ones will be sterile and serve only the interests of the Stalinists.

Too Vague

The vague character of the three-point program likewise doesn’t tend to create enthusiasm for what it claims to be its purpose.

The first conference if it is to have value, must answer more specifically how the war price councils will fight against increasing costs of living.

Getting more concrete about utilizing federal, state and municipal safeguards against “unjustified” price increases is also highly in order.

Unless these qualifications can be removed, one must state categorically that the whole move is doomed in advance to mere shadow-boxing with the problem of increased cost of living, with the additional curse of Stalinism tainting it.

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Last updated: 17 February 2018