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Joseph Keller

Trade Union Notes

(2 June 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 22, 2 June 1945, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Pent-House Blues

Residents in New York City’s swanky apartment house and pent-house belt are feeling blue these days. By a vote of 6,780 to 199, Local 82-B, AFL Building Service Employees, representing 13,000 elevator operators and maintenance workers, decided on May 26 to strike at 5,000 loft and office buildings in Manhattan. Some 13,000 other members of Local 32-B employed in residential buildings of over 6 stories are threatening to walk out with them.

This doesn’t worry the millions of poor workers in New York much, because most of them live in tenements and slums where there are no elevators and have to trudge up four, five and more flights of stairs.

The building service workers, who have to take much personal guff and abuse, are demanding shorter hours and higher wages. They have been stalled in negotiations with the big real estate interests since last February. The WLB has intervened at the last moment to try and head off the walkout.

One of the main union demands is for a 40-hour week for loft and office-building workers now working 46 hours at straight time, and for a 48-hour week for apartment building workers now on a 51- and 60-hour week.

Mayor LaGuardia has threatened to do his bit on behalf of the bunions of the fat-backs who aren’t accustomed to walking up stairs like the mothers and grandmothers in the tenement areas. He declared in his May 27 Sunday broadcast over municipal radio station WNYC that if the strike goes into effect he will get the Health Commissioner to declare an “emergency.” “I will issue a proclamation and delegate authority to the Health Commissioner to maintain elevator service deemed necessary,” he said. This is a threat to mobilize scabs, as was done during the 1936 walkout – a precedent LaGuardia did not fail to mention.

* * *

A Plan for Willow Run

How to maintain jobs for 140,000 auto workers threatened with unemployment by the shutting down of the Willow Run bomber plant has put the top leaders of the CIO United Automobile Workers in a dither. All they have to offer is a scheme to turn this vast government-owned plant over to some capitalist “genius” like Henry J. Kaiser, who can’t even provide jobs for his west-coast shipyard workers.

A lot of letters, many from onto workers, have been appearing in Detroit papers advocating that the union itself take control of the plant and operate it for the production of consumers’ goods. Finally, Hans A. Klagsbrunn, director of surplus property for the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, suggested in a conversation with UAW President R.J. Thomas and Vice-President Frankensteen that the UAW make an “offer” for the plant. He added, however, that the union must be prepared to put “cash on the barrelhead.”

From all reports, the UAW leaders were flabbergasted by this proposal. UAW Secretary-Treasurer George Addes hastened to issue a statement to the effect that the union is interested only in bargaining with capitalist employers, not in running plants. Thomas stated that some unnamed company is considering a plan to take over the plant to produce cars “that make 40 miles on a gallon of gas.” Not if Standard Oil has anything to say about it!

But what’s wrong with the plan for the workers themselves to take over the plant – and all the other plants that the bosses want to shut down? As for putting any “cash on the barrelhead,” the workers shouldn’t have to put up one cent for keeping these plants in operation.

These are plants built from the public treasury, paid out of taxes taken from the workers. Labor built these plants and has always run them. All the Fords and the Kaisers did was to milk profits out of them during the war.

It is the business of the unions to defend the interests of the workers. Their first interest is jobs. If the private monopolies can’t keep the plants going, it’s the duty of the unions to do so by demanding that the government operate them at full capacity. The government should provide all necessary materials and equipment – as they did for the capitalists during the war – and the workers should control them for the benefit of the people.

* * *

Propaganda Backfires

Ever zealous to issue anti-labor propaganda, Army publicists utilized the occasion of a WAC recruitment drive in Toledo, Ohio, to issue a smear against the Willy-Overland Unit of Toledo Local 12, UAW-CIO.

A local newspaper published an Army photograph of a former Willy’s office worker, now a WAC, by the name of Rachael Broter. Private Broter, slicked out in a natty uniform, was shown displaying herself in front of an x-ray machine. The caption under the picture read: “Disgusted because some of the employees of the war plant where she worked absented themselves from their jobs, Pvt. Rachael Broter ... decided to join the Women’s Army Corps.”

The union, much incensed, checked on her record and sent the following information to the press. In 22 months at Willy’s, Pvt. Broter herself had been absent a total of 108 days, 76 for which she was not paid, 32 for which she was, thanks to the union. The brass hats didn’t bother to check up on such facts – any anti-labor propaganda is good enough for them.

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