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Jack Ranger

Chicago: A May Day Survey

(26 April 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 17, 26 April 1948, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

CHICAGO, Ill. – Disunity in the union movement, even more than the Taft-Hartley law, is responsible for the economic and political weakness of the working class of this city on the eve of May Day 1948. Though many thousands of workers are courageously engaged in bitter strikes of many months’ duration in this city, they are fighting under the severe handicaps of an antiquated craft union structure, of the continuing division between the AFL and CIO, and of the current political jockeying between the pro-Wall Street and pro-Russian top union bureaucrats.

The longest strike is that of 1,500 members of the AFL Typographical Union No. 16 against the Chicago daily papers. Since the strike began November 24; the publishers have been issuing papers reproduced by the varitype method. The Chicago papers and the American Newspaper Publishers’ Association provoked the strike ostensibly over refusal of the union to sign a written contract. Actually, the publishers offered to permit the union to continue all its former working rules if No. 16 would give up its demand for a wage increase to meet the rising cost of living. Late in March, a federal judge in Hammond, Ind., issued an injunction against the ITU, along the lines sought by Robert N. Denham, czar of the Taft-Hartley law. The injunction forbade the union from continuing its “no contract policy.”

The union is negotiating, as ordered by the court. But it is still on strike.“This injunction doesn’t mean we have to accept the Taft-Hartley brand of open-shop contracts which the publishers have been demanding,” announced union officials.

The ITU is on strike in nine cities. Strikers have received the moral and financial support of many internationals, thousands of local unions,and hundreds of veterans’ posts, women’s clubs, and civic organizations. The union is asking all workers to refuse to buy the Chicago daily papers. A sad feature of the strike is that other craft unions in the newspaper industry, including many members of the striking union engaged in other work such as mailing, have continued to work throughout the strike. AFL drivers have continued to drive through picket lines. At no time have the labor-hating Chicago publishers felt the UNITED POWER of the workers.

Since the middle of March, several thousand members of the ITU in 47 commercial printing plants of Chicago have also been picketing, having been locked out by the owners when they refused to toil on “struck work.” Mailers are negotiating for a new contract to replace the old agreement which expired January 3.

“Hog Butcher” Is Idle

A division of the nation’s meatpacking workers between the AFL and CIO is responsible for the failure of the packinghouse workers to receive a decent wage increase from the industry. Since March 16, more than 100,000 packinghouse workers have been on strike against 62 plants, many of them in Chicago. An emergency board appointed by President Truman has sided with the bosses by terming “adequate” a measly offer of a 9-cent hourly wage increase. CIO strikers are demanding 29 cents. Since the strike began, Mayor Kennelly of Chicago (a director of Wilson’s, one of the “Big Four”) has kept 1,500 to 2,000 cops on duty in packing town. This “liberal,” hailed by the union bureaucrats as a great friend of labor’s when he ran against Albert Goldman, mayoralty candidate of the Workers Party in the last city election, hasn’t touched a single major problem facing the people of Chicago since he took office, but has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in protecting the big packers and the scabs.

At this writing, Armour & Co. has broken off negotiations with the United Packinghouse Workers and has announced it will try to operate with scabs. Police Captain George Barnes’ hated strike-breaking detail has begun to arrest pickets, and the mayor has thrown 500 more cops against the picket line.

The CIO strike has been greatly weakened by the fact that the AFL Amalgamated Meat Cutters accepted the 9-cent raise and members of that union throughout the nation have continued to work, 7,500 of them in Chicago. AFL-organized plants of the Big Four in other cities, together with unorganized independent plants, have moved into the marketing field previously held by the Chicago packers.

North Shore Rail Strike

Since March 26 about 800 employees of the Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee Railroad have been on strike, following refusal of the railroad to grant a wage increase of 15½ cents hourly which an emergency board recommended for the nation’s railworkers. Though the line has $2,400,000 in cash in the till, and doesn’t owe a dollar, it has refused to grant its workers the same increase obtained from other rail carriers. It is demanding a 100 per cent increase in fares of its 72,000 daily passengers from the Illinois Commerce Commission before it agrees to pay the wage increase and resume operations.

The same union involved in the above strike, the AFL Amalgamated Association of Street Railway Employees, has demanded a 23-cent hourly increase, with double-time for work on Sundays and holidays, from the Chicago Transit Authority for the 20,500 operating employees of the city-owned street cars and buses. The present union contract expires June 1.

For the past several months a valiant little army of AFL Building Service Employees has been striking against Chicago’s swank Union League Club on Jackson Boulevard. Republican big-shots in the club have been manning elevators, shoveling coal, and sweeping the joint up.

Political Dead End

The Chicago unions have not only been disunited in their current struggles, but they have gone into battle without the protecting guns of their own political party.

Thanks to the Phil Murrays and William Greens and A.F. Whitneys, the Chicago workers are as impotent politically as their brothers and sisters elsewhere. President Truman is held in such contempt by the city’s masses that Jake Arvey, Democratic county chairman and former Mayor Kelly’s chief henchman, has openly come out for Eisenhower, as has Professor Paul Douglas, a liberal phony whom the Democrats have nominated for U.S. Senator. The Democrats are doing their best to keep the “Progressive Party,” a Wallace outfit, off the ballot in November. Locally, the Stalinists have nominated Grant Oakes, international president of the CIO United Farm Equipment Workers, for governor on the Illinois Progressive ticket. The state and city CIO councils, controlled by followers of Phil Murray, have come out against Oakes. So far, Chicago workers have been offered only a choice between Wall Street politicians in the Republican-Democratic party and men like Wallace and Oakes who defend Russia’s brand of imperialism. Sentiment for an independent labor party, locally and nationally, grows increasingly stronger, but thus far the top union bureaucrats have been able to prevent its taking organizational form.

On the bright side this May Day must be recorded the important victories of union militants in a number of recent local union elections, and the very noticeable increase in interest among Chicago students and veterans in the teachings of revolutionary socialism. They are foreshadows of a brighter future in the tremendous mass struggles which are shaping up in this city in this Year of Discontent.

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