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Joseph Keller

Trade Union Notes

(24 February 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 8, 24 February 1945, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Gang-Up on Miners

The government agencies and coal operators are laying down, their preliminary joint barrage in; anticipation of the impending struggle against the mine workers. Negotiations for a union contract renewal begin March 1 with the bituminous mine owners and April 1 with the anthracite bosses.

An editorial in the February 15 United Mine Workers Journal warns the miners that “poisoned publicity designed to arouse the populace against any and all wage demands” is already being widely peddled.

“The membership of the UMWA may just as well know how the deck is stacked in advance of the policy committee meeting and wage negotiations. It is a formidable opposition.”

All the government agencies are “backing the attack against the UMW” declares the editorial.

“The lineup includes Director of War Mobilization James Byrnes, Director of Stabilization Fred Vinson, the WLB, the Solid Fuels Administration, the OPA, the Roosevelt administration and the coal operators, all concentrating upon utilizing an assumed authority under executive decrees and the infamous Smith-Connally enslavement law to deny the mine workers’ wage demands on toto, regardless of the economic justice of the UMWA wage proposals.”

The editorial charged Secretary of Interior Ickes with “planting” statements in the public press designed to prejudice the miners’ case and discredit the UMW leaders. It further charged that one of the primary reason’s for Vinson’s recent ruling requiring OPA approval prior to any WLB grant of “fringe” wage increases is “to stop the UMWA.”

It is reported that the UMW’s policy committee, which meets to formulate demands on February 26, will consider a demand for a 25 per cent hourly wage increase, from $1 to $1.25, and full portal-to-portal pay instead of the present approximately 50 per cent won in the 1943 general coal strikes.

* * *


Of great importance for the impending miners’ struggle is the outcome of the negotiations for reaffiliation of the UMW, with its over 600,000 members, to the AFL.

The AFL executive council meeting in Miami, Fla., last week voted to accept the UMW’s request for reaffiliation with an apparent major concession to the mine union on the chief issue previously blocking the reaffiliation. That was the matter of jurisdictional disputes, especially around the disposition of District 50, the UMW’s organization for coal by-products workers. The AFL leaders agreed to accept the UMW “as is,” with jurisdictional questions to be ironed out after reaffiliation.

However, a further obstacle has arisen with the UMW’s insistence upon a post on the AFL executive council. The council members contend they have no power to give Lewis such a post without approval of the AFL convention. This new issue, it appears, will not halt further negotiations, as AFL President William Green is reported to be getting together with UMW President John L. Lewis for additional parleys.

* * *

Not Out Yet!

The CIO United Automobile Workers, through its executive board, has declared “Three Strikes on WLB.” The union’s official organ, the United Automobile Worker, February 15, announces the decision of the board calling on the CIO to “quit” the WLB. The paper states:

“The ‘little steel formula’ froze labor’s pay and deprived the War Labor Board of any authority to grant increases. STRIKE ONE! Current orders from ‘assistant President’ James F. Byrnes, transmitted through ‘Stabilization Director’ Judge Vinson, deprives the War Labor Board of the right to grant labor any concessions on ‘fringe’ economic issues, such as correction of inequalities, shift bonuses, severance pay, etc. STRIKE TWO! Federal Judge Philip L. Sullivan, declaring that government operation of the Montgomery Ward stores is illegal, has ruled that War Labor Board decisions cannot be enforced, they are merely ‘advisory.’ STRIKE THREE AND OUT!”

However the WLB is not “out” yet – and neither are the UAW officials on the WLB. Three strikes doesn’t disqualify in this game where the rules are made by the government and the employers. In fact, the UAW, whose president R.J. Thomas and other officials still function on the WLB, are still “playing ball.”

This game should never have been started, because the rules were all stacked against labor from the start. The UAW board just wants the WLB to retire to the dugout, but offers to give the big business government another chance at bat against labor with a new board.

* * *

NLRB Strike Polls

A real indication of the mood of the workers toward the no-strike policy is shown by the record of strike votes conducted during the past 12 months by the NLRB under the Smith-Connally Anti-Strike Act.

Seventy-one percent of the 98,224 workers voting in 381 strike polls favored strike action. Strike majorities resulted in 323 of the 381 voting units. Only 34 voted against strike. In 63 per cent of the cases where unions filed notices for strike, the notices were withdrawn before the vote, after mere notice of intent served to speed up settlements. In many cases after strike votes were taken, walkouts did not occur because settlements were hastily concluded.

These figures would indicate that the mere threat of strike backed by a solid vote of the workers in a number of instances proved effective in halting government and employer stalling on union grievances.

* * *

Employment Decline

Another exposure of Roosevelt’s phony manpower “shortage” claim, which he deliberately cooked up in an attempt to push through his forced labor scheme, was presented by UAW Secretary-Treasurer Addes to Senate committee hearings last week on, the May-Bailey slave labor bill.

Addes presented figures showing a 16 per cent employment decline in Detroit, key war-plants center. A survey of 192 major war plants showed a drop of 57,000 workers from the level of 347,000 in December, 1943, to the January 1945 level of 289,000. This would indicate a total decline of 100,000 from the Detroit employment peak of 700,000.

CIO Textile Workers President Emil Rieve disclosed that two thousand textile workers in the New Bedford area are threatened with unemployment because Army officials have demanded transfer of 800 key workers, whose removal from their present jobs would jeopardize production.

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