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Susan Green

A May Day Reminder of Recent History

Fruits of Class Collaboration

(26 April 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 17, 26 April 1948, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

To make progress, the labor movement must constantly examine itself, criticize itself, face its mistakes unflinchingly, benefit by them – a very good thing to do on May Day.

During World War II leaders of the CIO and AFL, but especially of the CIO, rubbed their hands with glee and triumph, thinking they had at last found the way, if not for labor to control its own destiny, at least for labor leaders to have full participation in shaping the policies of the government – the capitalist government, that is. The formula for this modest millennium was government-management-labor participation on more and more boards, committees, functions of government. Labor’s voice was to be heard and to carry weight as a third partner equal with the other two.

The new role of labor leaders during the war as one of the Big Three, turned the heads of many of them. For a while quite a few of them made public spectacles of themselves by speaking of their doings in Washington – especially of their confabs with Roosevelt – in the same manner as a young and ignorant office boy might boast when the boss, in a “democratic” mood, invites the boy out to lunch. Sydney Hillman was more guilty than most of this kind of silly effusion.

Later, top labor leaders took the wartime three-cornered arrangement more seriously. They considered that they had a permanent “in.” They concluded that a trend had been established for this new form of class collaboration. Labor would no more have to beg hat in hand, but would have its reserved seat at more and more conference tables where policy was made. The needs and point of view of labor were to be component parts of every national decision.

Turning back to past issues of the CIO News, one reads editorials and articles expounding this goal for the labor movement. A war having been fought for democracy a second time, what would be more democratic than for labor to be allowed to participate, along with government and management, in shaping the post-war world?Not only labor leaders and the union press but so-called labor columnists like Victor Riesel of the New York Post, envisaged a class-collaborationist paradise in which the strike weapon would be antiquated and any direct action by the workers would be horse-and-buggy stuff, because labor’s needs would be amply taken care of by a wise, understanding, co-operating triumvirate – government-management-labor.

Labor, therefore was permanently to throw its lot in with the capitalist class and the capitalist government – with labor having that reserved seat. So there was naturally no need for any new political perspectives. Labor was going to make the Democratic Party more democratic. The idea of a labor party was definitely outdated by that seat at the conference table. And, of course, the goal of a working people’s government as opposed to the capitalist government, just had no place at all when labor was sitting in with its good partners, management and government.

Not that labor leaders were completely satisfied with their role on the three-cornered boards and committees of wartime. They knew well enough that management didn’t like them around all the time, giving their unasked for advice. But the labor leaders were confident that time would heal the class sensitivity of the industrialists, that the ideal of national interest would finally prevail, that a more equitable division of national income between profits and wages would be accepted as for the general good, and so on. Hope springs eternal, and so does the folly of lbor leaders willing to believe in any-thing except the power, ability and historic necessity of the working people to work out their own destiny.

Totaling the Score

It didn’t take too much political astuteness to understand what the wartime government-management-labor so-called partnership amounted to President Roosevelt, suave and shrewd politician and manipulator that he was, used the device to get labor to swallow the bitter pills of war without too much coughing and spitting. When he had the labor leaders eating the bitter pills out of his hand, he often used that hand to slap them in the face. When he officially ditched the New Deal, it was a safe bet that he was also looking with a jaundiced eye on the government-management-labor episode.

Management – the inoffensive name for the capitalist class – was, of course, chafing at the bit. They could hardly wait for the end of the war to start their campaign to get rid of the labor “impostors.” The National Association of Manufacturers and its watchdog press knew they were going to do a job on labor to put it back “where it belongs.” Anti-labor propaganda began long before the bombs stopped falling. The miners’ strike was only the handy pretext for the Taft-Hartley anti-labor law. Its real motivation was the determination of capital to stop labor from throwing its weight around, to end the “nonsense” of a government-management-labor partnership, to put labor within bounds.

Totaling the score, now that the government-management-labor game is over, the capitalists and their government came out way in front. They succeeded in putting over on the workers, with the help of the labor leaders sitting in that reserved seat at the conference table, an outrageous wage-freezing while wartime profits kept soaring. To prevent the workers from doing anything about it, the labor leaders obligingly made the infamous no-strike pledge.

Next to the veterans, the workers emerged from the war as the worst-off section of the population. The wage-freeze on the one side and the skyrocketing cost of living on the other Caught the working people in an awful squeeze, where they are still caught. That’s the score on the workers’ side.

Having lost their seats at the long, mahogany tables, reserved only for the duration, the labor leaders now again stand hat in hand. James B. Carey, Secretary-Treasurer of the CIO, spends weeks in Europe trying to popularize the Marshall Plan with the European trade unions, and when the State Department hampers his efforts to help it, he gently complains. The AFL and CIO begged for representation at the Latin-American conference in Bogota, and the State Department lied that there are not enough rooms in Bogota and that anyway the State Department hasn’t the money to finance a labor representation. Jacob Potofsky, president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers and head of the CIO Latin American Affairs Committee, notes this as a regression from past inter-American conferences and sadly warns the State Department that it’ll be sorry. This is what has happened to the dream of the labor leaders that by being good class collaborators they would gain full participation in shaping the post-war world!

Have the CIO and AFL leaders, the editors and article writers, who were so voluble in their enthusiasm for the government-management-labor arrangement and in their hopes for its continuing after the war, found a word, a single word, for a public admission of their ghastly mistake? No! Neither have they moved an inch away from their basic policy of class collaboration, towards independent working-class policy and action.

This is something for the rank and file to think about this May Day.

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