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Joseph Keller

Trade Union Notes

(21 April 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 15, 21 April 1945, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

UE Militants Expelled

For allegedly conducting a “slowdown” when the Matam Corporation, Long Island City, stalled contract negotiations, six workers were expelled last week from Stalinist-dominated Local 1227, CIO United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers. Eight others, including three women workers, were suspended and fined sums ranging from $25 to $100 each. This suited the company fine. It promptly fired all 14.

The Stalinists are very ferocious when it comes to fighting against union militants. But they have only the most cringing attitude toward the employers and their government agencies, like the War Labor Board. Thus, for over a year, the UERMW leaders have been trying to get wage increases for 200,000 General Electric and Westinghouse Electric workers by begging before the WLB. Last Thursday, the WLB contemptuously rejected all their major wage demands. It can be expected that the Stalinists will now put up a more stubborn fight – against the union ranks!

* * *

White Collar Workers

The CIO Economic Outlook, March 1945, gives a vivid description of the plight of the white collar workers.

Only 13 per cent of the estimated 7,000,000 white collar workers in private industries are employed under union agreements, as against 60 per cent of the manufacturing wage earners. Only 5 per cent of clerical and professional workers in manufacturing and financial establishments, wholesale and retail trade combined are protected by union contracts.

By the end of 1943, according to the OPA estimate, “real” weekly earnings of finance, service, government and trades employes declined up to 5 per cent over the already low levels of 1939. The Social Security Board reports that the average weekly income of 4½ million white collar workers was only $29 in 1943. The average real annual income of all public education employees declined from $1,461 in 1939 to $1,156 in 1943.

The women telephone operators, who have organized and put up a militant fight for better conditions, recently winning wage increases, have shown the way. Militant union organization – that is the only answer for the white collar workers.

* * *

State Anti-Labor Laws

Philip Murray and William Green may have signed their “peace charter” with Eric Johnston of the Chamber of Commerce, but the employers are continuing to press for union-crippling legislation through the state governments.

For instance, the Texas House of Representatives on April 10 passed the notorious anti-closed shop bill. It is one of those “right to work” bills whose purpose is to prevent the enforcement of closed shop contracts. However, the “right to work” principle does not operate when employers want to fire workers.

Six state governments have already quietly passed, and 12 others are now considering, a bill which would defraud hundreds of thousands of time-and-a-half pay

for overtime work and permit employers to “chisel” on wages of those earning less than $16 weekly. If passed in every state, as it already has in Ohio, Iowa, Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Oregon, it would affect some 21,000,000 workers under the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

This extremely complicated law in effect reduces the time in which workers caw file claims for unpaid wages from six years to six months. Employers would be liable for only six months back pay instead of sums owed for several years. The amount of wage chiseling that goes on can be seen from the fact that the Wages and Hours Administration in 1944 alone collected $18,000,000 in back wages and overtime pay for workers. Since 1939, there have been over 250,000 such claims filed.

* * *

Two Kinds of Justice

In the March 31 issue of The Militant, this column described how for nine years – since 1936 – the Weirton Steel Company has successfully fought CIO unionism through murderous terrorism also how throughout all these years it has defied numerous federal court orders and NLRB rulings to grant collective bargaining rights to its employees. The company plans to defy these rulings for another seven years through the aid of friendly capitalist courts and slick legal maneuvering.

Last week, Circuit Judge J. Harold Brennan at Weirton, W.Va., sentenced 15 CIO United Steel Workers members to fines up to $100 and jail sentences of from 30 to 60 days on charges of “unlawful assembly” at the Weirton plant gates. Weirton is a company town, run by company officials and police, enforcing company laws. The CIO members were arrested for attempting to pass out union leaflets to the workers. Several of the CIO organisers were severely beaten by organized company thugs, armed with special clubs made in a special department of the plant.

Here is a typical example of class justice. A powerful corporation can violate federal laws – it can commit murder – with impunity. But its workers who seek to exercise rights recognized by federal law – are beaten and thrown into jail.

* * *

Double-Talk on WLB

Complaining against the CIO United Automobile Workers Executive Board’s resolution calling for the withdrawal of CIO members from the WLB, George Addes, UAW secretary-treasurer, writes in the April 15 United Automobile Worker:

“I disagree, for never let it be said that labor joined hands with Sewell Avery and his like in demanding that the WLB be scrapped or its power further weakened. If there must be resignations – and we believe there should be – let them come not from labor but from public members of the Board ...”

Linking the UAW opponents of the anti-labor WLB to Avery, who has his own special reasons for opposing the WLB, may be effective slander – but it isn’t an argument. Let Addes show where the auto bosses want to scrap the WLB. He can’t – because the vast majority of big corporations understand that the WLB is their agency which they have used effectively in enforcing the wage- freeze and curbing the workers.

What good would getting new “impartial” public members on the WLB do for the workers? All the old ones were also supposed to be “impartial.” Addes begs the real question. The WLB was designed to aid the bosses. It merely enforces official capitalist government policy. A change of public members would not change its anti-labor function.

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