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R. Fahan

A Problem for the Labor Movement

How Shall Ex-Servicemen Organize?

(October 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 42, 18 October 1943, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Even though the war is far from over, there is much talk in this country about the veterans of tomorrow. No need to wonder why – every political movement realizes that the men who return from the battlefields by the millions are going to wield a potent influence on the future of this country.

Certainly the forces of reaction realize this fact. Every political quack, every nightshirt demagogue, is polishing up the pie-in-the-sky promises he plans to hawk to the future veterans. From the nightshirt Nazis like Joe McWilliams to important and semi-official spokesmen of big business like Captain Rickenbacker, they are attempting to lure the soldiers into the camp of reaction.

The danger is so apparent – and, to face the facts, the success thus far of the Rickenbackers is So obvious – that even the timid labor leaderships are beginning to realize that labor must meet the veteran problem if it is to continue to exist.

What Will Soldiers Return To?

Of course, the ideal solution would be for the soldiers to come back home and be absorbed into the normal channels of civilian life. It would be preferrable, for example, if the returning soldiers, shortly after their discharge, would return to their old status as workers or farmers or students or whatever they happened to be in civilian life. In that way, the artificial grouping of soldiers, which has been forced upon the men and which is the mark of their separation from the normal processes of civilian life, would more or less disappear. In that way, the great masses of soldiers would return to the ranks of the working class from which they came, there to participate in the struggles of their class side by side with their brothers; and the tiny minority of soldiers who come from the wealthy capitalist circles – well, let them return to THEIR class, too. That process of separation would represent a healthy development.

But it is one of the marks of the rottenness of capitalist society that it will not permit the soldiers to resume their normal place as civilians even after they are discharged. Everyone knows that the post-war world is not going to be a very pretty one. All that the experts differ on is whether there will be twenty million unemployed or twenty-five million – and even the most optimistic hardly dare speak of less than ten million unemployed.

The Soldiers Will Organize

The capitalist politicians, from Roosevelt down, speak piously of “providing” some kind of work for the veterans, thereby admitting that the capitalist economy will not be able to absorb both them and the millions of war workers thrown out of employment because of the decline of war production.

The returning veteran will discover that capitalist society has no place for him. The heroes of yesterday will be the outcasts of tomorrow; we may again see men with the highest military decorations for bravery in action selling apples in the streets.

This situation will necessarily provoke the veterans to maintain their group allegiance. If they cannot gain a place in civilian life, it will be only too natural for them to band together in the hope of being able thereby to better their lot and to express their indignation at the fact that they, who suffered most during the war, will have had to return to a life of insecurity.

It is clear, then, that the veterans are going to organize. Probably they will organize into a number of groups, and perhaps some new version of the American Legion will be formed. Regardless, therefore, of whether we socialists approve of the general idea of veterans forming their own organizations (a situation, we wish to re-emphasize, caused more by the inability of post-war society to give them a satisfactory life rather than by any necessary desire on the part of the veterans), they are going to do so. Some of them will probably be pretty close to fascism. Some of the soldiers have fallen for the anti-labor propaganda which has been so industriously pumped into them; others may fall for it when they come home to a life of disappointment.

A Job for the AFL and CIO

It is a dangerous situation for the American labor movement. If our AFL, CIO and railroad brotherhoods remain indifferent to it, we will come to regret it. It requires action – bold and imaginative and immediate.

First of all, there is the general consideration that the labor movement must immediately begin a concerted campaign to get its point of view across to the soldiers. It must he in the forefront of the fight for soldiers’ needs. And it must begin to consider seriously the problem of a veterans’ organization sympathetic to and largely based upon the labor movement. This latter point may not be an immediate one – but if anything is ever going to be done about it, some thinking has to start now.

For instance, the CIO Shipyard Workers Union, at its recent convention passed a resolution urging the CIO to organize a veterans’ auxiliary within its ranks. This union is to be applauded for at least being aware of the problem, although we think its specific solution is inadequate. For one thing, such an outfit would be too narrow. It would occupy the same general status as the CIO Women’s Auxiliary, which is clearly not enough for the veterans.

And what about the AFL veterans, the veterans who belonged to the railroad unions, to the mine workers union, and those thousands who didn’t belong to any union? Secondly, we think that the proposal for such a CIO Veterans Auxiliary shows a certain lack of imagination. The veterans, rightly or wrongly, will want their own independent organization, which won’t be an auxiliary to anything.

We think that the labor movement ought to give serious consideration to the idea of stimulating the creation of a Working Men’s Ex-Servicemen’s League (the name isn’t important, of course). Such an organization, while embracing worker-veterans and while sympathetic to labor, would be an independent outfit and therefore could take in members from any union.

A Proposed Program

In order to insure its labor base and make certain that it not be “captured” by any reactionary group like the Stalinists, it would be well for such an organization to be based primarily on labor posts organized among veterans within various local unions – including members from all unions in its ranks – and also permitting the organization of neighborhood posts composed of members not actively engaged in unions. What could such an organization achieve? To list only a few things:

  1. It could reintegrate veterans into the labor movement and educate them in the spirit of trade unionism.
  2. It could fight for the legitimate needs of the veterans, such as medical care, bonus, etc., without at the same time falling into the trap of pitting these demands against the equally legitimate demands of the working class.
  3. It could utilize its varied experience to serve as the nucleus for union defense groups which will undoubtedly be needed in the post-war period to beat off the attacks of fascist hoodlums incited to destroy the labor movement.
  4. It could serve as a counter-force against the reactionary veterans’ outfits which will undoubtedly be formed and which will pretend to speak in the name of all the veterans.

Yes, the veterans are going to organize. On the one hand, big business, and also the native fascists, are getting ready to try to corral them into their kind of veterans’ organization. Will labor counter with a bold, fighting, imaginative veterans’ movement of its own? That is the challenge.

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