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Government Uses Ward Case
to Aid Anti-Strike Power

(13 January 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 2, 13 January 1945, pp. 1 & 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In the guise of a federal court action ostensibly directed against a recalcitrant employer in the Montgomery Ward case, the Roosevelt administration is attempting to fortify its legal powers for government strikebreaking through plant "seizures.”

That was the clear meaning of administration arguments before federal court hearings which opened in Chicago last Monday. The government is seeking an injunction to bar company “interference” with government operation of 16 Ward properties “seized” in order to halt strikes in Detroit, Chicago and Kansas City, Mo., as well as a threatened CIO “labor holiday” in the auto center.

In presenting the government’s brief Hugh Cox, Assistant Solicitor General, stated flatly that “the real question here is whether the United States has the power in time of war to take possession wherein a labor controversy threatens to interfere with the successful prosecution of the war.”

Not for Labor

“We are not here to argue the merits of the labor controversy,” he admitted, “because we are not here to assist labor or to vindicate the War Labor Board.” The main issue, he contended, was the threat to the “structure and organization of the War Labor Board,” that is, the government’s apparatus for preventing strikes through compulsory arbitration and for maintaining Roosevelt’s wage-freezing “wage-stabilization” program.

Cox argued the right of government “seizure” in the Ward case, where the government had failed previously to enforce longstanding orders against the company, specifically because of the strikes. He stressed particularly need for government action in the Ward strikes because of their “adverse effect” on the CIO United Automobile Workers referendum on the no-strike pledge.

Thus, Cox indicated, that non- compliance with a WLB order by an employer is not in itself a matter for government action. The government acts only where a “labor controversy” leading to a strike or threat of strike, to “interference with production,” occurs. This supported Attorney General Biddle’s previous admission that WLB orders, are only “recommendations.”

In reality, they are only “recommendations” so far as the employers are concerned. So long as the workers do not strike, the government admits in effect, the employer can disregard WLB directives when he doesn’t like them, or stall them with delaying court actions.

Aimed at Strikes

But the workers – against whom most of the corporation-dominated WLB’s decisions are directed – are compelled to accept WLB orders automatically. For the employers, who control wages, hours, working conditions, contractual relations, enforce these orders – except when workers go on strike. Whichever way the workers turn, their only recourse for self-protection is strike action. WLB orders against employers cannot be enforced without strikes – as the four-year old Ward case amply proves. Anti-labor decrees of the WLB cannot be resisted without strikes.

But it is precisely against strikes, under any and all circumstances, that the Roosevelt administration is directing its real attack. Strikes were the real motivation for these latest Ward “seizures.” It is the argument of strike prevention that the government is using in court to. justify these “seizures.” The net effect, regardless of the immediate outcome of the Ward case, is to reinforce the power of government “seizure” as a strikebreaking weapon.

This power will be all the more potent precisely because the “seizure” was demanded by the unions and directed, ostensibly, against an anti-labor employer. The most important instances of such “seizures” previously, particularly of the railroads and coal mines, were openly directed against the workers. This will be just as true in the future – with this addition: The government will be able to point to the Ward case in order to claim “impartiality” in its strikebreaking.

What is basically involved is the administration’s endeavor to reinforce WLB authority, challenged by Avery. But that authority is not needed because of the employers. Fundamentally, it is needed against the workers, because the very purpose of the board is anti-labor – to impose compulsory arbitration, bury labor grievances in red tape, and, above all, to enforce the wage freeze. That has been conclusively demonstrated in all the decisive wage cases, coal, railway, steel, auto, packinghouse, rubber, textiles. etc.

Avery, by his actions, was tossing a monkey-wrench into the very machinery for controlling labor that the employers as a class themselves require. Hence, the big business government was finally compelled to act – although “reluctantly,” as it admitted – against an employer who broke the discipline of his own capitalist class.

But only to be in better position ultimately to squeeze the vise tighter on labor!

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