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Jack Wilson

Vultee Strike Vital Test for Labor

Army Chiefs, Bosses Use “Defense” Lie Against Strike

(November 1940)

From Labor Action, Vol. 4 No. 33, 25 November 1940, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

LOS ANGELES, Calif., Nov. 16 – Terrific pressure by the war department, the federal conciliation service, and Sidney Hillman was put on the 3,800 production workers at the Vultee aircraft plant here to end their strike for a- half way decent wage scale.

Called by the aircraft division of the United Automobile Workers of America (CIO), the Vultee strike, involving a total of 5,000 employees, constituted the major showdown between aircraft manufacturers and the CIO in its effort to organize the 225,000 workers in this industry.

Nearly 65,000 aircraft workers in this area alone, most of them unorganized, are watching with keen interest the outcome of this battle on which the future of the CIO in aircraft hinges.

Want More Pay

Burning issue of the strike, and among all aircraft workers in this district, is wages. Most plants pay a minimum of 50 cents an hour, much too low for any kind of decent living standard. The Vultee strikers are demanding a minimum of 65 cents an hour, and a five cent an hour wage increase for higher paid workers.

Seven weeks of fruitless negotiation, combined with a growing impatience on the part of the workers, forced the calling of the strike, despite repeated efforts of Hillman, and federal conciliators to settle the issues by “arbitration.”

The strike was neatly timed also to put Hillman on the spot at the CIO convention at Atlantic City, since it gives an excellent opportunity to expose him as Roosevelt’s hatchetman in the labor movement against the workers’ interests.

Men Enthusiastic

Approved by the international executive board of the auto workers union, the strike is under the direction of Walter J. Smethurst, director of the CIO aircraft organizing committee, and former executive assistant to John L. Lewis. L.H. Michener, international representative of the autoworkers, and Wyndham Mortimer, aircraft organizer for the UAWA, complete the trio handling this strike.

Since the strike is well organized, the workers full of pep and enthusiasm, great responsibility rests on these individuals to prevent a phoney “arbitration” agreement. They are obviously acting under guidance ol their respective political factions within the CIO who are out to embarrass Hillman and expose Roosevelt’s pre-election demagogy about safeguarding labor’s gains.

In view of the heat against any strike action whatsoever, especially in aircraft, the mere calling of this strike represents a forward stride for aircraft workers since it emphasized that the aircraft workers not only have the right to strike but can strike successfully.

Of course, the filthy newspapers and gutter sheets here are filled with howls about a “calamity” against national “defense.”

Fantastic Profits

However, the aircraft companies are making such huge war profits and are so dizzy from prosperity that the general reaction is in favor of the strikers obtaining a substantial wage increase.

Vultee has a backlog of $80,000,000 in British and U.S. Government orders, on which a profit of between 10 to 18 per cent is guaranteed. Everyone knows this, so the old baloney about “we can’t afford to pay more,” hasn’t been attempted much by the company.

Rather, the company is trying to make “national defense” the issue, and cleverly hides behind the skirts of the war department, the federal conciliators and the notorious Mr. Hillman.

Martin Dies, notorious labor baiter, issued another violent statement about “1,200 spies and saboteurs” in the airplants around here, as part of the preparation to raise a phoney red and spy scare to force the strikers back to work without obtaining their demands.

Army Against Strike

A special delegation of U.S. Army officers made their appearance today at the plant, headed by Colonel Lowell Smith, army procurement chief, in a crude attempt to impress the strikers and terrorize them.

The tremendous national significance of this strike has not escaped a single one of the various forces clashing here. The U.S. Army is bitter about the shut-down. They want the strikers forced back to work and would like to make strikes considered treason.

The aircraft manufacturers know that if the Vultee strike is won, the minimum wage of 65 cents an hour will soon prevail in all other plants and cut in on their bloody profits. That’s why they have a solid united front against the strikers, and are putting pressure on all government agencies to assist them save their profits.

Vital for CIO

For the CIO it is a make or break proposition. The last attempt of the CIO in aircraft ended with the failure of the Douglas sit-down strike in 1937. Its loss caused a great decline in CIO prestige in this area to the advantage of the AFL.

The AFL machinists union is a strong competitor for organization with the CIO in aircraft. The AFL has contracts covering 14,000 employees of the Lockheed Corp. here, the Consolidated Aircraft in San Diego, the Vega plant in Burbank, and the Boeing aircraft plant in Seattle, Washington. Very important is the fact that the AFL was able, despite Hillman’s maneuvers, to obtain a 62½ cent an hour minimum at the Boeing plant recently.

Aircraft workers are not primarily concerned with the question of what are affiliated with. They want to support the union which does the most for than.

The CIO strike leaders realize this fact very well. They must obtain some real concessions for the Vultee men or the CIO is on the down grade again, in aircraft.

Since each action of the top leadership was taken in closest cooperation with the shop stewards and the rank and file of the union, it is clear that the union leadership understood thoroughly the need for the most powerful kind of solidarity in view of the great forces working against the strikers. There is no question but that the rank and file is ready for any kind of struggle to obtain its demands.

Since the John L. Lewis wing of the CIO is in full charge of this strike, its future depends largely on the course of the struggle between Hillman, representing Roosevelt and his war plans, and the Lewis forces at the CIO convention.

Effect on Aircraft

Developments in the next few days are bound to open the eyes not only of many of the strikers but of sections of the labor movement that “national defense” means defense of profits against the just demands of the workers. The Vultee strike has created ferment among all other aircraft workers in this area, judging by many reports, and the workers are solidly behind the Vultee strikers because they know a victory there means an immediate gain for themselves. Barring a complete sell-out, all the way down the line, much more is going to be heard in the next period from the aircraft workers. Even the forcing of a retreat on the part of the strikers by the acceptance of an “arbitration board,” with its inevitable chiseling down of the union’s demands, will only dampen, but not stop the aircraft workers struggle to better their miserable conditions.

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