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Walter Jason

Sloan Statement Illustrates
Economics-Politics Relation

(20 December 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 1, 6 January 1947, p. 8.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

DETROIT, Dec. 20 – If the CIO leadership is somewhat timid and conservative in explaining to its millions of members the profound significance of its new wage drive, big business is losing no time in coming to grips with the basic problems posed by the CIO demands.

The latest pronouncement from one of Wall Street’s mouthpieces, Alfred P. Sloan, chairman of General Motors, is a good sample of what the real rulers of America, the big capitalists, are thinking.

“The idea that a wage increase is justified by an increase in living costs is an economic absurdity,” declared Sloan this week. In its own way, this stands alongside the classic reply of Marie Antoinette before the French Revolution, to the cries of the hungry for food: “Let them eat cake!”

Capitalist Razzle-Dazzle

Let us take a quick glance into a conference room where CIO officials are trying to negotiate a wage increase with General Motors, for example. “Food prices are up, rent is up, clothes cost more, then men just can’t make a living for their families at present auto wage scales,” the union officials would declare, backed by a wealth of statistics that even the company couldn’t deny. GM’s answer would be: “Cost of living is up. So what?”

The point is that Sloan’s remark is a perfect illustration of the real attitude of Wall Street toward the people of America as a whole. And when CIO leaders talk about “the joint responsibility of labor and industry to solve America’s economic problems,” they are just kidding themselves and fooling the men in the shops, for industry recognizes no such responsibility. Industry’s business is making profits, and it sticks to it. The rest is just razzle-dazzle to keep the uninformed, uninformed, and the timid labor leaders, timid.

”The momentous problem of our day,” Mr. Sloan pointed out, “is the position of labor as a component group of the American economic structure.” The future of the system of capitalism – “free enterprise” – depends on what becomes of the position of labor in America, he warned his fellow industrialists. Thus, the major aim of the big industrialists in the coming wage struggles is to preserve the capitalist society. They are worried about the power they know – far better than most union men know – that organized labor contains within itself.

To carry out their strategic aim – saving capitalism – the industrialists have a set of tactics. These were outlined in a nine-point program of Mr. Sloan. “Collective bargaining on an industry-wide basis should be prohibited as monopolistic practice,” Mr. Sloan says. Outlaw the closed shop, keep foremen from being organized, etc., etc.

Relies on Government

The important thing about the proposals of Mr. Sloan are the kind of action they involve. In each case, Mr. Sloan insists that the government act to carry out his program against labor.

This is significant from two points of view. Certainly the coal strike emphasized again what every industrialist knows: organized labor today is too powerful to be smashed the “old-fashioned way.” That is, labor is too powerful today for direct union-busting campaigns. So labor must be strangled, hog-tied, emasculated and weakened by a Series of flank attacks. One aspect of this is constant provocations in plants against the union militants, namely, the stewards.

But the decisive aspect – and this labor must learn – is that Sloan and his Wall Street associates see the value of having the government do the anti-union job. They understand that this is a function of the capitalist government in Washington. The Truman administration and the court system have demonstrated this again and again.

The control of the nation rests in political power. Wall Street has that political power through its domination of the government which is its agency. What the CIO leaders, and John L. Lewis in the coal strike, failed to recognize is that fundamental fact about the relationship between “labor-management and the government,” to use one of their phrases.

Political Action

In deciding the strategy and tactics of the union movement in the fight for wage increases, aq indispensable part of a plan for victory is an accurate estimate of the enemy. Sloan’s speech should clarify any doubts on his views and the views of Wall Street. Truman’s role should bring some light on the question of the function of the government.

Only to the extent that this is understood will the CIO be in a position to fight a victorious struggle. Only to the extent that organized labor takes up the challenge of the capitalists will it be able to make genuine advances in the interests of the working people.

Wall Street has its government in Washington. When is organized labor going to start the building of a political force for its own government there? This is part and parcel of the coming struggle called the “CIO wage drive.” The coal miners’ strike emphasized this necessity. Mr. Sloan’s speech indicates that Wall Street appreciates this fully. The job ahead is to arm the labor movement with a sound and fundamental estimate of the situation and to hammer out a clear-cut strategy and flexible tactic for the struggle.

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