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Gordon Haskell

No More Appeasement! –
Railroad Workers Want to Fight!

(31 May 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 22, 31 May 1948, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

SAN FRANCISCO – The employers of America have taken off the gloves. The brass knuckles are bare for all to see. The government has ripped off the mask of “impartiality” in labor disputes. The face revealed underneath is the grinning skull of capital,stamped with the dollar sign, and spewing forth injunctions, police assault on peaceful pickets, and the armed force of the national guard.

The victims were yesterday the miners, the meat packers, and today the railroad workers. The chips are down, the die has been cast. Either the unions are going to take the gloves off too, stand together and fight, or the issue cannot be in doubt.

Government “seizure” of the railroads and the anti-strike injunction is forcing railroad workers and the labor movement as a whole to make a vital decision. Baldly stated, it is this: Either the rail unions are going to fight the railroad-government conspiracy with every means at their disposal, or labor in America will be in danger of forfeiting the right to strike.

Workers Indignant

A previous article which traced the history of the present rail wage and rules movement (Labor Action, May 3, 1948) said:

“The last railroad strike proved one thing. Despite their misleadership, once the chips are down rail workers can and will strike to a man. Last time Truman intimidated the leaders, he didn’t scare the rank and file. He knows that, the men know it, the country knows it and the brotherhood chiefs know it. That is probably the thing which scares them most.”

That statement was not ballyhoo, it was sober truth. The rail workers’ reaction to their chiefs yielding before the phony “seizure” and the phony injunction was, as far as can be established, almost unanimous. They were and are just plain mad. They see the choice before them clearly, and if they were permitted to do something about it, there is no doubt that they would choose to strike in the face of all the injunctions, intimidation and pressure they know would be brought against them.

The three rail union chiefs, Johnston, Robertson and Glover, know this better than anyone else. Drew Pearson reports that they pleaded with Truman’s man Friday, Steelman, for an injunction and told him plainly that without it they couldn’t sell the idea of calling off the strike to the more “radical” members of their unions. These “radicals” are 99 percent of their memberships, the men who actually run the trains and switch the cars, not those who sit in comfortable swivel-chairs and draw thousands of dollars in union salaries.

Everybody’s Battle

The rank-and-file railroad workers want to strike, regardless, not just because they badly need higher wages and better working conditions. They want to strike because they recognize the fact that if they don’t they are giving up any hope of real improvements in the future, and, equally important, they are giving up their right to assert themselves as freemen. They know that if they submit to the lawless, brute force of employer-government strikebreaking which seeks to cover itself with a fig leaf of spurious legality, they are admitting before their employers and the world that from now on they can be treated as serfs who are incapable of defending their rights and their organizations, let alone of fighting for elementary economic justice.

Finally, they feel that in this fight rail workers are not battling for themselves alone, but for all Americans who have to work for a living. If the employers and their government stooges can get away with breaking this strike without a fight, they will use the same method against the auto workers, the electrical workers, the telephone workers, the maritime workers and all others. Someone, some union, has to make a stand sooner or later. It cannot be that the American union movement, fifteen million strong, will permit itself to be bound and destroyed without a struggle, without a whimper. With a deep sense of the risk they propose to take and the terrible hardships involved, rail workers are saying all over the country: somebody has got to make a stand. It might as well be us!

There is no use kidding anyone about what is most likely to happen. The rail union chiefs hold all the organizational strings in their hands. No matter what the memberships may think, they have no way of forcing the chiefs to lead them in battle, or of striking despite the leaders’ capitulation. And at the present writing, there is little doubt that the leaders intend to capitulate. They have shown no stomach for the fight. Bold words have been followed by craven deeds. They have already abandoned many of the most essential demands originally served on the employers. All that is left is to gain some little concession, some tiny sop for the workers which will make it possible for them to sell a “settlement” to the ranks which will reduce the resignations from the unions to a minimum.

Caught in Vise

The rail workers are caught in a vise. One jaw is the concerted force of the employers and their government. The other is a union structure which deprives them of any real say in the most vital decisions which face their unions and hence each of them separately. Until they have broken the jaw which holds them organizationally helpless, they are not free to break the jaw of the employer-government conspiracy.

What is to be done? Many lodges have already passed resolutions urging their union chiefs to strike against the injunction. Better go to jail, better have no treasury, than to submit to slow strangulation, to a creeping paralysis which will transform the unions from weapons of struggle for workers’ rights into instruments for imposing slavery on free men!

This crisis does not confront railworkers alone. It confronts all workers, all unions. Rail workers are willing to fight, but workers in all unions, CIO, AFL and independent, can help them to break the vise which holds them, NOW.

No Submission

In every union local or lodge in the country where Labor Action is read, workers should pass resolutions urging the rail workers and their unions not to submit to serfdom by injunction and promising them full financial and organizational support. Such resolutions should be sent to local rail lodges, to the rail labor chiefs, to the international officers of the AFL and CIO unions and to the government. All workers who understand what is at stake should use this opportunity to express their solidarity, and to serve notice on the union leaders, the employer class and the government that American workers are not slaves and that they will not permit themselves to be enslaved.

Such resolutions, whether passed by rail lodges or by other union locals, are not futile. They may not succeed in stiffening the spines of the flabby, frightened old rail chiefs who are weighed down by multi-million union treasuries and long-established habits of crawling on their knees before the might and power of the rail companies and their government. But such resolutions will lay the groundwork for the battles which lie ahead. They will serve notice that the workers of America know what the employers and their government are proposing to do to them, and that they are through with compromise, with appeasement, with retreat.

One battle doesn’t make a war. One defeat doesn’t mean that all is lost. Resolutions passed by union locals urging the rail workers to stand and fight and promising them full support may not stave off defeat in this wage and rules movement. They can be the first step toward uniting and preparing the whole labor movement for the next battle in the war capital has declared on the working people of America.

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