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Joseph Keller

Trade Union Notes

Punitive Measures Against Union Militants

(27 January 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 4, 27 January 1945, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The corporation-dominated War Labor Board has come to the rescue of CIO United Rubber Workers President Sherman Dalrymple in his ruthless bureaucratic drive against the militant ranks of his union.

On January 17, the entire board of employers, “Public” members and union representatives in Washington directed the United States Rubber Company to deduct $10,582 from the wages of 572 workers who had engaged in a strike last October in Detroit.

This $10,582 is to pay union fines and reinstatement fees levied by Dalrymple because of the striking workers’ refusal to obey his arbitrary back-to-work order. Dalrymple had imposed on each of 800 strikers a $12.50 fine which had to be paid by a certain date or they would stand automatically expelled.

The 572 militants who refused to pay this fine were expelled from the union. Then Dalrymple, with a “militancy” he never displays in fighting for the union membership against the corporations, demanded that the company take action against the expelled workers under the provisions of the contract maintenance of membership clause.

The company didn’t find it expedient to fire so many experienced workers at one clip. It referred the issue to the WLB, which decided that “the urgent need for tire production as well as necessity for reinforcing” the no-strike policy required a different action than dismissing 572 workers. The company against whose provocations the strike was directed will deduct from wages the $12.50 fines and $6 union reinstatement fees exacted by Dalrymple.

While the representatives of the employers on the WLB have always voted against maintenance of membership or any other type of union security clause, they were more than happy to oblige in perverting its use to strike a blow at union militants. And even if Dalrymple can’t win any gains for the union from the WLB, he secured 100 per cent cooperation from it to strengthen his reactionary hand against the rank and file.

* * *

The WLB, which proved helpless for years in enforcing its directives against recalcitrant open-shop employers like Sewell L. Avery, does not lack punitive powers, or the will to employ them, against workers who refuse to accept the dictates and conditions imposed by the employers.

Under the guise of an “impartial” decision directed against “both” the Federal Shipbuilding and Drydock Co. and Local 16 of the CIO Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers, the WLB’s Shipbuilding Commission has granted only “conditional” maintenance of membership and check-off provisions to the local because of “unauthorized strikes.”

The WLB placed the union on “probation” for six months, during which time the former contract clauses will apply. At the end of the six months, the WLB Shipbuilding Commission will “reconsider” its decision in the light of the union’s “conduct” in the “trial” period. Thus, the WLB is using the threat of withholding union security to force the Local 16 workers “into line.”

The WLB decision indicated why the Federal workers were forced to go on strike. The decision first complains that the “union has almost literally ‘scraped the bottom of the barrel’ in its demands.” The union, you see, is first blamed for asking “too much.” But then, it is conceded, “the refusal of the company to grant any union demands, even of those issues where the commission action is known in advance by everyone in the industry, leaves it open to charges of refusal to cooperate with the union in meeting the common problems of the parties.”

In short, the company flatly refused to concede anything to the union, even provisions contained in the previous contract and customarily sanctioned by the WLB. This subsidiary of Bethlehem Steel corporation conducted a viciously anti-union policy which provoked repeated work stoppages. The WLB rewards these provocations by further undermining the union’s security.

That is a prize example both of the WLB’s “impartiality” and its exercise of punitive measures against the workers.

* * *

Over a thousand members of CIO United Automobile Workers Local 661 engaged in what, to our knowledge, is the first “sit-down” strike in this country since Pearl Harbor. Their two-day action last week at the Ranger Aircraft division of the Fairchild Engine and Airplane Corporation, Farmingdale, Long Island, was directed at “wage decreases” imposed by the company through the method of reclassifications.

The strikers argued that since they could not obtain wage increases without prior approval of the WLB, the company should not be permitted to reduce wages without agreement with the union and WLB.

This sound logic did not prevent the Army from intervening and forcing the end of the “sit-down” by threatening the strikers with the harshest punishment in its power.

* * *

In a recent 5 to 4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld UAW-CIO President R.J. Thomas in his appeal against a conviction under a Texas anti-labor law requiring the licensing of union organizers.

As a test case, Thomas had spoken at a meeting of Houston CIO oil workers and urged non-members to join the union. He was arrested and convicted. Thomas appealed against a $100 fine and 8-day jail sentence which had previously been upheld by the Texas courts.

The Supreme Court majority based its decision on the particular circumstances in the Thomas case, which they contended violated the free speech provisions of the Bill of Rights in the Constitution. At the same time, the Court did not invalidate the “right” of the state governments to pass laws regulating unions and union organizers.

On the contrary, the majority opinion, delivered by Justice Rutledge, said such a “right” could “hardly be doubted,” provided more was involved than mere verbal endorsement or solicitation of union members. If, however, a union organizer sought to collect funds or obtain subscriptions, the opinion declared, “he enters a realm where a reasonable registration or identification requirement may be imposed.” In such cases “solicitation would be quite different from the solicitation involved here.”

That is to say: it’s all right to talk favorably about unionism in Texas, but don’t try to do any real organizing without a license from the anti-labor government!

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