B.J. Widick Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Jack Wilson

Army Keeps Its Bayonets Poised
at North American

(June 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 25, 23 June 1941, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

LOS ANGELES – Although the strike was ended almost a week ago, the North American Aviation plant still resembles a Gestapo concentration camp.

For the U.S. Army has over 3,000 men at the plant, bayonets gleaming in the sun, the dull thud of the military boot and march resounding through the plant, and Col. Brandshaw in full control of hiring and firing.

The purpose of this crude display of military strength and brutality is two-fold:

  1. The army hopes to break the dauntless spirit of the union militants before it leaves this area.
  2. The army is aiding Richard T. Frankensteen, CIO aircraft division director and sell-out artist, in purging the union of its militant leaders.

Army Role Exposed

The only real effect of the Army’s presence here is to expose its strikebreaking role to the entire American labor movement. Its effect on the ex-strikers is just the opposite of that intended: the men have been sorer than ever before because of the dictatorial rules and injustices practiced by the army officers.

After the strikers voted to return to work in a wise strategic retreat, and carry on their fight within the plant since they were deserted by the CIO top officials, the army officers immediately broke the promise made by President Roosevelt that there would not be any discrimination.

At bayonet points, each of the union negotiating committee members who had been arbitrarily suspended by Frankensteen were taken from their jobs and to the police station for endless questioning about “communism.”

Colonel Brandshaw simply declared that “these men were not allowed to return because their faith was inimical to the government.”

No proof. No trial. No hearing.

Just a Hitler-like order carried out against the vehement protest of the North American workers who were held back by bayonets.

The men have filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board and expect other action as soon as the army leaves the plant.

Meanwhile union militants at Vultee Aircraft, at Chrysler, Willys-Overland Hiid other plants were summarily discharged in a co-ordinated plan between Frankensteen and the employers in this area to “purge the union of reds.”

Hillman Sends “Reserves”

Frankensteen’s blundering tactics have antagonized so many unionists in this area that Sidney Hillman, arch-red baiter of the CIO, is sending a crew of “experts” to help him out. Among them are Frank Daniels, alleged socialist of the Textile Workers, and Leon Kryzcki, social-democratic bureaucrat from the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, a Hillman hatchet-man from way back.

Thus far, Frankensteen’s attempts to build up an opposition within the North American union against its own duly elected leaders has not met with success. Only a few company rats are backing him.

The struggle within the union caused by Frankenstein’s “rule or ruin” policy – which he learned from his previous association with the Stalinists – is a smoke-acreen to keep the workers from thinking about the wage increases they want and need. The duly-elected leadership of the union is trying hard to concentrate on the main issue: get the signed contract with the “75-10” provision. But Frankensteen is deliberately shifting the issues and trying to split the union by setting up a fake negotiating committee which will sign a less agreeable contract. He has taken over the headquarters, while the regular union officials have another office, at CIO headquarters.

The entire question of removing Frankensteen and repudiating his strike-breaking policies will not be settled until the CIO auto workers convention in August in Buffalo.

The obvious strike-breaking of the army brought a reprimand from Philip Murray, president of the CIO, who sent a letter to all CIO unions to mobilize against the union-busting legislation before Congress and the use of troops to force compulsory arbitration.

Murray’s letter was a blow at Frankensteen, since Frankensteen had nothing but highest praise for the Army and its brass hats.

The position of Murray was adopted by the Los Angeles Industrial Union Council last Friday night at a densely filled meeting, which was expected to bring to an open head the clash between the “purgers” and the union militants of all shades and kind.

Phillip Connelly, executive secretary of the council, made a report on his activities in supporting the strike, as unanimously instructed by the previous meeting of the council. Debate on his report would have brought out the two main lines of capitulation or struggle against the Roosevelt union-busting campaign.

Fearing to take a clear stand on the matter. Connelly, backed by Wyndham Mortimer and L.U. Michner, UAW leaders who directed the strike, introduced a substitute motion to endorse Murray’s letter, and thus the whole debate was avoided.

The Murray letter, incidentally, contained some sharp and absolutely false statements about “subversive” groups within the CIO.

The strategy of the unionists slated for the widely-publicized Hillman purge apparently is going to be a defense around the slogan of “unity in this hour of crisis,” etc.

While the CIO continued its turbulent life and activities here, the AFL machinists signed a sell-out contract at Consolidated Aircraft covering 14,000 workers at San Diego. Wage provisions are a 55 cent minimum after three months service – 2½ cents less than that obtained by the CIO at Vultee.

Behind this entire story of the struggles within the union movement and the role of the army, etc., lies one basic fact: the 75,000 aircraft workers want higher wages and are determined to get them. All these moves are directed by Roosevelt or Frankensteen or the army to help the companies stop this demand.

We should add that the army’s presence here is supposed to terrorize not only the North American workers but all aircraft workers. “This is what you’ll get if you ask for wage increases,” is the unspoken speech of the army officials for Roosevelt.

But to no avail. The squeeze of the cost of living and lousy conditions and wages is a more powerful force than the army in determining the future of the struggle.

Bosses Run Plant

Since so many newspapers speak about the army control of the plant, perhaps it’s worth reminding our readers that this is pure bunk.

The company officials are in full control of production, their profits haven’t stopped one second, they are living in paradise right now, since that terrible thing called the union isn’t bothering them at present with negotiations.

The company didn’t have the nerve to fire the union committee. It was scared of the union’s strength. The army graciously performed this finky job for the company.

The army didn’t seize the plant. It smashed the picket lines and opened the plant so that company officials could again run production and make profit from labor.

The army had only one role here: strike-breaking which made the old National Guard activities look like the work of little angels.

B.J. Widick Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 29 February 2020