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Roosevelt’s “Seizure” Order Halts
Spreading Ward Strikes

(6 January 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 1, 6 January 1945, pp. 1 & 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

President Roosevelt last Thursday intervened to halt the Montgomery Ward strikes by ordering War Department “seizure” of company properties in seven cities where the administration previously had failed to enforce long-standing WLB directives against Open Shopper No. 1, Sewell L. Avery.

The administration’s action, similar to the one which broke the Chicago Ward strike eight months ago, was taken after nearly three weeks of the bitter Detroit walkout, which spread to Chicago and Kansas City and inspired the threat of a CIO “labor holiday” in the Detroit citadel of the mighty auto workers union.

Roosevelt’s statement made it clear that his “seizure” was dictated by his desire to prevent the spread of such strikes to the war industries and by the need to bolster up his wage-freezing War Labor Board’s authority, seriously undermined by Avery’s long and contemptuous defiance of WLB directives.

While admitting that Montgomery Ward “has waged a bitter fight against the bona fide unions of its employees throughout the war,” and “for more than a year” has successfully defied WLB directives affecting the “seized” establishments, Roosevelt did not motivate his “seizure” order on the fact of Avery’s non-compliance in itself. In fact, the administration has tolerated this for over four years.

Roosevelt complains only because Avery’s anti-labor recalcitrance has “threatened” the “confidence” of the workers in the government’s “structure for the impartial adjudication of disputes” and has led to the “distinct threat” of sympathetic walkouts of war industry workers in support of the Ward strikers. Roosevelt released a letter from WLB Chairman Davis, who gave as his first and main reason for advising government seizure the fact that Avery’s “persistent non-compliance” threatens the maintenance of the “no-strike pledge in Detroit” in the forthcoming UAW-CIO referendum.

Easy on Avery

It is already apparent that the latest Ward “seizure” will yield the Ward workers only the barest minimum of the WLB concessions originally granted. They will receive a raise from 39 cents an hour to 46 cents – which Avery himself had already agreed to pay as a result of the strike. But since Roosevelt’s order permits wage payments only out of current revenue there is admittedly little likelihood that the Detroit Ward workers will receive some $500,000 due them in retroactive wages. Nor is there any assurance that Roosevelt, as he did after breaking the Chicago Ward strike, will not restore control of the seized properties to Avery without the signing of a union contract.

The administration is carrying out the “seizure” order very gingerly, observing all legal precautions and making no move which might infringe on Avery’s “property rights” or further antagonize the big business open- shoppers. The boldness and ruthlessness which has characterized Roosevelt’s assaults on striking workers is completely lacking in his treatment of the union-busting plutocrat Avery.

There has been no spectacular removal of Avery from his Chicago offices, such as occurred eight months ago. Avery has not budged an inch, issuing the defiant statement that “I’m still in charge.” Avery’s underlings have refused to cooperate with Army officials in the operation of the business. Moreover, Montgomery Ward’s profits are fully safeguarded by the government and Avery is assured ultimate restoration intact of his property. Meanwhile, he is still free to operate his other 800-odd open-shop establishments and to continue his fight against the unions. So patently timid have been the government’s moves, that Attorney General Biddle tried to pass off the government’s obviously pussyfooting “caution” by facetiously claiming that Avery is “perfectly harmless.”

Tough Toward Labor

But the administration has never exercised similar “caution” in its attacks on labor. Roosevelt had no hesitancy or legal scruples when, six months before Pearl Harbor, he ordered Army occupation of the North American Aviation plant and drove strikers back to work at the bayonet point. He observed no legal fine points when he “seized” the railroads last December to head off a threatened strike. In his attempts to break last year’s mine strikes, he repeatedly took over the coal mines with no apparent reluctance.

Attorney General Biddle has conceded to Avery that the WLB directives are only “recommendations,” defending the “seizures” solely as a strikebreaking requisite. But the administration has never treated WLB directives to workers as mere “recommendations.” Such directives have been enforced promptly and firmly, and the WLB itself has been armed with punitive powers. In addition to siding with the employers 99 times out of a hundred, the WLB has penalized strikers by delaying concessions, withholding union security clauses, reducing retroactive pay grants, etc.

The workers can be certain that, whatever the ‘immediate consequences of the latest Ward “seizures,” they will operate in the long run only to reinforce Roosevelt’s fundamentally anti-labor policy, his kid-glove treatment of the labor-hating open-shoppers, and his club-wielding against workers defending their elementary rights.

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