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Joseph Keller

Trade Union Notes

(5 May 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 18, 5 May 1945, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Phone Girls OK Contract

Meetings of New York Local 101, Federation of Long Lines Telephone Workers, on April 24 ratified a wage contract, approved by the WLB, which grants average wage increases of $3.88 per week, plus retroactive pay amounting to $2,500,000. It will also give maximum pay of $37 weekly after 8 years service, instead of the former $34 peak after 12 years.

The new agreement, which is also being acted upon by the local operators in the Traffic Employees Association, was won after both unions voted overwhelmingly to strike against the flat $3 a week raise originally granted by the WLB. The unions had demanded $5; a special WLB panel had also recommended $5. The company had finally agreed to $4, but the national WLB pared it to $3.

A new schedule of wages gives beginners $23, plus certain fringe concessions, instead of $20 weekly. This increase is raised to $4 after 15 months, $5 after 35 months and $6 after 48 months.

The militancy of the telephone girls, who were just about to go on strike when the final contract was signed, forced the WLB to accede to the higher awards.

* * *

Less Take-Home Pay

Over 100,000 shipyard and ship repair workers in the New York area face large cuts in their weekly take-home pay as the result of an order by the War Shipping Administration directing operators to reduce hours and eliminate overtime and premium pay. The order was announced on April 24.

It was also revealed that there have been “moderate layoffs in recent weeks” although “no mass dismissals,” says the April 25 N.Y. Times, “are expected before three or four months.” That’s a way of breaking the news “gently” that there are huge layoffs pending during the summer.

All Sunday work at double-time is eliminated, except by special WSA order. This is a terrific sock at the workers’ weekly income. The shipyard workers depend upon this overtime to carry them through because of high prices, taxes and other war expenses. They will be permitted only one hour of daily overtime instead of two, which most of them worked before. This in itself means a loss of from $9 to $12 pay a week.

The CIO Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers is planning to demand wage increases in June when the present contract expires.

* * *

Six-to-One for Strike

Now that the War Labor Board has been compelled to approve the soft coal miners’ contract granting increases of around $1.25 per day, the hard coal miners, centered in Pennsylvania, are going after substantial raises when their contract expires at the end of April.

Like their brothers in the soft coal mines, the anthracite workers on April 27 showed they mean business by voting six-to- one in favor of strike action if the operators and government don’t agree to an acceptable contract. The United Mine Workers has demanded a 25 per cent wage increase.

The National Labor Relations Board reported the complete returns of the strike poll as follows: For strike, 41,952, against, 6,697.

When the coal miners take a strike vote, it’s no mere gesture or empty threat. That’s what the boss press said about the previous vote of the .bituminous miners – until they walked out by the scores of thousands even after the old contract was extended for a month. A lot of miners figured an old contract is no contract – and no contract, no work! Then the operators and government acted fast.

* * *

Textile Local Sued

A suit for damages of $259,680 from the United Textile Workers, AFL, has been filed by the American Enka Corporation, Ashville, North Carolina, in the Buncombe County N.C., Superior Court. The company is trying to knock down this huge sum from the union for alleged losses it claims it sustained during a strike of 3,000 workers last February. The company claims the strike, which ended in a government “seizure” on February 18, violated a no-strike clause in the contract.

The real intent of this suit is to smash the union. Since August 18, 1944, the company has been defying a regional WLB order directing it to arbitrate the union’s demand for shift differentials and paid lunch periods. The company refused, raising the pretext that by opening the contract for renegotiation of these issues it was reopening the whole contract. A second WLB order was likewise rejected. But it wasn’t until the workers struck, months later, that the WLB “got tough” – not against the company, but against the workers by initiating a strikebreaking plant “seizure.”

If this suit is successful, it may set loose a whole wave of attempts to bust unions by collecting strike “damages” through the help of pro-corporation courts.

* * *

What – No Peace Pact?

The April 6 Toledo Union Journal, organ of the Northwest Ohio CIO says editorially:

“Obviously if management does not have the intelligence, the tact and willingness to settle its unimportant differences with labor during these war years when the welfare of the country hinges upon unity and cooperation, how can we expect it to show a sudden birth of reason once the emergency has passed?”

We don’t know about those “unimportant differences.” That’s what the union leaders called them – but not the bosses, who have fought labor bitterly on every point during the war. But it’s a cinch, as the Toledo union paper states, that the corporations aren’t going to take it easier against labor with the war drawing to a close.

Philip Murray and William Green may sign their capital-labor “peace-charter” – but to the bosses that’s just a way to get labor to lower its guard and stick out its neck for a rabbit punch.

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