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Textile Union Ends No-Strike Pledge

TWU-CIO Leader Resigns From Membership on WLB

Textile Workers’ Actions Strike Heavy Blow
at Prestige of Roosevelt’s Anti-Labor Board

(3 March 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 9, 3 March 1945, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The CIO Textile Workers Union of America, representing over 500,000 members in the country’s lowest-wage industry, on February 20 withdrew the no-strike pledge for some 100,000 cotton-rayon workers. This is the first formal revocation of the no-strike policy by any CIO international union since Pearl Harbor. The action was taken by the TWU Executive Council at a meeting in New York City just prior to release of the War Labor Board’s long-delayed decision in the textile wage case.

At the same time, the union’s President, Emil Rieve, resigned from the WLB “in protest against the usurpation of its functions and the plain fact that the Board has now been reduced to little more than a rubber stamp.” This is especially significant because Rieve was one of the union leaders who originally committed organised labor to the no-strike policy and helped establish the compulsory arbitration WLB.

These simultaneous actions are the most serious blows struck at the union-shackling no-strike policy and Roosevelt’s tottering WLB since the coal strikes two years ago. They are a big advance over the action of the CtO United Automobile Workers’ executive board, which several weeks ago called on the CIO to withdraw its members from the WLB, but did not recall its own members and continues to uphold the no-strike surrender policy.

In response to the TWU action, the WLB hastily announced its decision in the textile wage case. This was a rejection of the 10 cents an hour general wage increase demanded by the union. The board also halved the union’s demand for a boost from 50 cents to a 60 cents an hour wage minimum, conceding only a 55 cents wage floor for an industry which the board itself admitted “pays the lowest wages of any basic manufacturing industry in America.”

However, this concession, plus some meager “fringe” awards, are not going into immediate effect. The board simply referred them as “recommendations” to Economic Stabilization Director Vinson. He must first determine whether such increases will mean price increases – the administration’s most recent pretext for stalling wage awards and upholding the wage-freeze. ”

This belated WLB statement has not altered the TWU actions. Following the WLB announcement, Rieve issued a press statement declaring that the union’s decision “still stands.” He scored the WLB ruling as “meaningless” and stated it would “not raise the wages of a single cotton- rayon textile worker.” The case, he charged, “is still where it was two months ago – in Vinson’s vest pocket.” He frankly predicted that withdrawal of the no-strike pledge for a large section of the industry would lead to strikes.

That the TWU top officials were influenced in making their decision primarily by the terrific pressure of the union’s ranks was clearly indicated by Rieve. He admitted that the union’s officers had been “deluged by request for walk-outs in telegrams by the bushel.”

The textile union’s action is all the more significant because it is part of important developments reflecting general rank and file pressure throughout industry for scrapping the no-strike pledge and scuttling the pro-corporation WLB.

Just prior to the TWU decision, a national gathering of CIO Packinghouse Workers representatives meeting in Chicago threatened to revoke the no-strike pledge if the WLB did not immediately release its decision in the PWU wage case which had been stalled for 19 months. This brought a speedy response with the issuance of a WLB order denying a general wage increase but recommending “fringe” grants. These however must still await approval by Vinson.

The CIO United Automobile Workers, largest and most dynamic union in the country, has urged the withdrawal of labor representatives from the WLB. This union has just concluded a national referendum on the no-strike pledge. While the results have not yet been published, it is conceded that hundreds of thousands of militant auto and aircraft workers, if not a majority of the union, have voted to rescind the no-strike policy. A new wave of strikes has broken out in Detroit, key war industry center, with the Chrysler-Dodge workers now taking the lead.

Moreover, within a few weeks the over 600,000 members of the powerful United Mine Workers may be enforcing their traditional “no contract, no work” policy. The UMW policy committee on February 26 at its opening session to prepare demands for forthcoming contract negotiations indicated the possibilities of another general mine strike by sending formal notice to Secretary of Labor Perkins, the NLRB and WLB that a dispute exists in the industry – the 30-day notification of strike intent required under the Smith-Connally Anti-Strike Law.

Important as all these developments are, they do not yet constitute a genuine, definitive break with the union leadership’s basic policy of reliance on government agencies and compulsory arbitration to win the workers’ just demands. Even Rieve, who has taken the boldest stand to date of all the CIO leaders, still holds out the hope of advancing labor’s interests by collaboration with the employers and their government through a differently constituted board.

Time for Action

Thus, the TWU’s executive board did not attack the WLB for what it is – a government agency deliberately constructed by Roosevelt, with the aid of the union officials, to curb the unions and enforce the wage-freeze. The TWU resolution urges CIO withdrawal from the WLB “unless the WLB’s original function as a decision-making body, acting in the interest of equal justice, is re-established.” Of course, the WLB never had and was not intended to have such a function. That was merely a fiction used to gain the worker’s support for the, board and their surrender of the strike weapon.

Nevertheless, the TWU decisions are further confirmation, of the correctness of the policies consistently advocated by the Socialist Workers Party and The Militant. From the very first, the Trotskyists have warned of the disastrous consequences for labor in the no-strike policy and support of the WLB. Today workers everywhere are learning the truth of the Trotskyist contentions through their own bitter experiences. They must now demand that the lessons of these experiences be translated into decisive action. The union leaders must be compelled to resign immediately from the anti-labor WLB. The no-strike policy must be scrapped. A united militant union offensive must be launched to smash the wage-freezing Little Steel Formula.

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