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Joseph Keller

Trade Union Notes

(17 February 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 7, 17 February 1945, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Wage “Rollback”

A two-hour work stoppage last Friday of over 8,000 members of the Pocketbook Workers Union (independent) in New York City served to emphasize the fact that Roosevelt’s War Labor Board is not merely a wage-freezing but also a wage-cutting agency.

The stoppage occurred when the union called a huge mass meeting to protest a WLB order eliminating bonuses, “merit” raises and other recent wage increases in this notoriously low-pay industry. For a large part of the workers, this would represent a pay-cut of approximately 15 percent, reducing basic wages to between 55 cents and 65 cents an hour. The manufacturers had to grant the increases in order to prevent labor from being attracted away to higher-pay jobs.

Back a couple of years ago, the CIO and AFL officials sought to quiet the workers’ demands for pay increases to offset price rises by a campaign for price “rollbacks.” The price “rollbacks” never materialized; in fact the cost-of-living soared higher than ever. The only “rollback” the administration has enforced is a “rollback” of wages like this one.

* * *

Paid Holidays

CIO representatives at a WLB hearing in Washington last week charged a “gang-up” by employers to eliminate standard contractual pay for holidays not worked. The hearings were called on appeals of more than 30 corporations against a New York WLB Regional Board ruling that the established paid-holiday practice be continued in pending new contracts.

Typical of employer arguments was the contention by a United States Rubber Company official that paid holidays “unstabilized” industry. He contended that “absenteeism mounts and production lags where workers receive a full day’s pay for not working when those who are asked to work receive only half-time in addition.”

This “big-hearted” employer doesn’t want to “discriminate” – so he’s all for cutting out paid holidays. The additional profits – of course – are no consideration. He’s just solely concerned about “production.”

We didn’t hear any of these employers squawking about “absenteeism” and “production lags” when Roosevelt in 1942 ordered elimination of all premium pay for Sundays, Saturdays and holidays as such. And we haven’t heard any subsequent clamor about the widespread reduction of double-time pay to time-and-a-half for work on Sundays and holidays that fall on the seventh day of the scheduled work-week.

But if the bosses are so worried about “production lags” because they pay only an additional halftime pay for holiday work, there’s a very simple way for them to ease their minds. Restore doubletime pay for work on all Sundays and holidays!

* * *

Forced Work Transfers

The New Jersey CIO, through its president, Irving Abramson, last week announced that it planned to resist a War Manpower Commission scheme to institute a forced transfer of 18,000 workers in the Newark area to “more essential” jobs. The WMC has refused to guarantee that transferred workers’ pay will not be reduced and that they will not lose their seniority in their present jobs. That is what happened in Allentown, Pa., to several hundred workers, the first victims of this scheme to force workers into the low-pay industries from better jobs.

A committee from the state CIO conferred with the WMC state director on February 2, after he failed even to acknowledge a letter from Abramson stating the conditions under which the New Jersey CIO would accept the “referral” plan. These include absolute guarantees of no pay-cuts or loss of present seniority.

The head of the Newark WMC, George Pfaus, stated that the WMC had “no authority” to make the guarantees demanded by the CIO. But it has authority to compel certain employers to fire a percentage of their workers and force these workers into any job the WMC commands them to take. Pfaus added the cynical comment: “If some workers have to take pay cuts, they are just home-front casualties.”

“Home-front casualties” is right – victims of union-busting, wage-slashing forced labor for private profit in the class war of the employers and their government against the workers.

* * *


Miners’ Demands

America’s coal miners are preparing for their biennial struggle against the coal operators and the government. Their contract expires this April 1. The United Mine Workers, has already served notice that it is going to press for substantial wage increases when contract renewal negotiations begin.

The UMW came very near to cracking the Little Steel Formula in the four historic general mine strikes of 1943. It won some increases, including partial portal- to-portal pay. Now it is reported, the union intends to demand a 25 per cent hourly wage increase, from the present $1 an hour to $1.25. The miners are also seeking full portal-to-portal pay instead of the present 50 per cent for travel time within the mines to and from work.

The coal operators, who are making the biggest profits in their history, have already begun their propaganda campaign against wage increases and particularly against another strike. One leading coal baron publicly wailed “there can’t be a strike in the coal mines, in the United States or Canada. If there is, the miners will be prolonging the war. A coal strike would create international chaos.” The miners will undoubtedly give the operators a chance to avoid “international chaos” by agreeing to less profits and more wages.

Coal miners in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have already voted to strike on April 1 if the Canadian National War Labor Board refuses to reverse its refusal to grant increases to the Canadian miners, organized in District 26 of the United Mine Workers. The District 26 convention recently voted for strike action in the event of a “further unsatisfactory” board decision.

* * *

Fur Workers Fund

The international executive board of the Stalinist-dominated CIO Fur and Leather Workers Union voted at a recent meeting to establish a Million Dollar Defense Fund to defeat a recalcitrant employer of 8,000 workers in New York City.

It seems that the Associated Fur Coat and Trimming Manufacturers, Inc., has refused to comply with a WLB directive covering arbitration of discharges and paid vacations which was issued last December.

The million dollars for “defense” will be devoted, we may be sure, not to strike action – Teheran forbid! – but to keep the Stalinist officials travelling back and forth in style while “fighting” on the Washington WLB front.

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