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Joseph Keller

Trade Union Notes

(3 March 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 9, 3 March 1945, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

U.S. Steel Contract

A “model” agreement containing no major improvements over previous contracts, and, of course, none of the basic wage demands of the steelworkers, was finally signed last week between the CIO Steelworkers Union and the United States Steel Corporation, leading steel trust. Five U.S. Steel subsidiaries signed the contract which is expected to be the pattern for the rest of the industry.

The contract includes the so-called “fringe” demands granted by the WLB at the time it turned down all the major demands of the union after stalling the steel wage case for over a year. This includes a four to six cents an hour premium for the two night shifts, one week’s vacation with pay for service up to 5 years, and some dismissal or severance pay. None of these concessions, however, are up to the Standards customarily maintained in the best organized industries.

The big “selling” point of the contract for the union leaders is a clause providing for a permanent three-man arbitration board with power to make binding decisions in disputes arising over application of the contract. This board, the usual “impartial” body selected by agreement of company and union officials, is hailed by the union officials as “a momentous advance in management- union relations.” It is actually nothing more than an additional means for stalling the workers’ demands and keeping them from taking independent action to enforce the contract. The previous contract provided for such a board only on a temporary basis from case to case.

CIO Steelworkers President Philip Murray crowed about a “great victory” when the WLB turned down the union’s basic demands. The tightening of compulsory arbitration is now hailed as a “great advance.” A few more such “great victories” and “great advances” and the steel workers will find themselves completely at the mercy of the corporations and back to their previous low level of living conditions.

* * *

Army and Ward ‘Seizure’

Army officials in charge of operating units of Montgomery Ward “seized” by the government to halt strikes provoked by WLB delay in enforcing its orders against the company, last week relinquished control over the two main units, the warehouse and mail-order house in Chicago. These are the central purchasing and distributing agencies for Ward’s 650 outlets, including the 13 now under Army control.

By a fancy method of bookkeeping, the government was debited with purchases of merchandise to stock the “seized” retail outlets while all sales receipts were turned over to the company. This meant that the government was constantly going “into the red” – everything going out, nothing coming in.

Naturally, the government, which is loathe to infringe upon “private property rights,” has found it almost impossible to operate the tiny segment of Ward’s under its control while the vast structure of the company remains in the control of Sewell Avery.

The recent federal district court decision declaring the “seizure” illegal gave the Army officials sufficient pretext for gradually withdrawing from their uncomfortable position of having to enforce WLB orders against an open-shop employer whose antilabor views generally coincide with their own. Thus, Sewell Avery is still successfully refusing to obey the WLB rulings after years of defiance.

* * *

Auto Barons Assail UAW

Charges of deliberate company provocations leading to numerous strikes in the auto industry made by CIO United Automobile Workers Secretary-Treasurer George Addes in a statement before the Senate War Investigating Committee have brought a counter-attack from the automotive barons.

Trying to cover up for the companies which have been emboldened to ever greater anti-union acts by the continuance of the no-strike policy, George Romney, managing .director of the Automotive Council for War Production, last week howled that the strikes are part of a scheme to “usurp management’s functions and responsibilities.”

“While Mr. Addes and other leaders feign a pious public attitude and pretend they do not want to control production, their union representatives in the plants are trying to muscle in on management for the greater aggrandizement of labor monopoly,” proclaimed Mr. Romney.

This is not a new argument. The auto corporations fought unionism in the industry from its earliest beginning by claiming that the unions intend to infringe on their “god-given” prerogatives to control production and boot the workers around any way they see fit. So far as the bosses are concerned, any attempt of the workers to have something to say about their conditions of work is “usurpation” of the “rights of management.”

Besides, what’s wrong with the idea of the organized workers assuming the whole function of capitalist management? The capitalists are only profiteering parasites and a brake upon production’. Guaranteed job security and uninterrupted production will be achieved only when the automotive and other basic industries are taken over by the government and operated under workers’ control.

* * *

CIO Newspaper Guild and Bridges

When Milton Murray, President of the CIO Newspaper Guild and reporter for the New York daily PM, exposed the Stalinist “traitors’ lobby” in, the CIO which secretly approached Congressmen urging them to vote for the May-Bailey slave labor bill, he did a service to the labor movement.

But he makes a mistake when he. permits his justified and understandable contempt for the Stalinist traitors to influence his position on the question of the government’s attempt to deport Harry Bridges, Stalinist leader of the CIO Longshoremen’s Union. Last week Murray and the Guild executive board turned down a resolution of protest against the Bridges deportation proceedings on the grounds that Bridges is a “misleader of labor” and a “quisling in our ranks.”

Everything the Newspaper Guild says about Bridges as a treacherous union leader is true. But neither the government nor the employers are attacking him for that reason. In fact, they praise his pi»sent policies. They instituted proceedings against Bridges because he is a union leader who is a non-citizen and once held radical views. His deportation could then be used as a precedent to harass and victimize other militant union leaders.

The job of eliminating elements like Bridges from the labor movement cannot be handed over to the capitalist government, whose motives are entirely anti-labor. That job belongs solely to the organized workers themselves, who need to rid the unions of the Stalinist blight in order to strengthen and protect their organizations against such employer and government attacks.

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