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T. Stamm

30 Hour Bill Legalizes Stagger System
and Furthers Plan for New Wage Cuts

A Quick turn in Policy on the Part of the Stalinists

(April 1933)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 26, 13 May 1933, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

On April 6th the Senate passed a bill introduced by Senator Black of Alabama forbidding, for two years, the shipment of interstate and foreign commerce of commodities made in industries which do not adopt the six-hour day and five-day week. The restricted scope of the measure, formally, is made necessary for the capitalist parliamentary cretins by the limited powers accorded the federal government by the “founding fathers.” Its negative formulation is imposed by the necessity of circumventing these limitations by legal language which does not violate the Constitution.

The provisions of the bill did not apply equally to all industries. The canning and printing industry were exempted as were several others. Nor were the thirty hours a week entirely binding. The bill provided for an extension of hours where business was seasonal.

As it stood the bill was a national legalization of the stagger system of Hoover and Teagle. Its ostensible motivation was to put men back to work. The bill, in this sense, represents an attempt on the part of the more far sighted section of the capitalist class to anticipate the coming struggles of the working class for a shorter workday and, if possible, as they think, to take the wind out of the sails of this struggle.

The bill had another aspect. Old boy moneybags understands that any reduction in hours through congressional legislation without explicit provisions to the contrary means a corresponding wage cut. The administration tried to sugar-coat this aspect of the bill by introducing an amendment through Secretary of Labor, Perkins, providing for a minimum wage.

Opposition to Bill

Opposition to the bill as a whole and in part developed from all sides. The New York Times of May 2 reports that:

“Spokesmen of the sugar, anthracite coal, cannery and building materials industries appeared before the House Labor Committee (where hearings are being held on the bill following its passage by the Senate) and opposed the thirty hour week measure as being too inflexible.”

Representative Connery asserted that unless the bill carried an amendment barring imports manufactured by industries operating on more than the thirty hours a week it would not carry. In this he was supported by those industries which are competing in the domestic market with the product of industries abroad. The administration is opposed to this provision. It contradicts all the presidential blah about trade agreements and freely flowing international exchange (Ramsay Mac Donald).

William Green appeared before the House Labor Committee and opposed the minimum wage provision. (Later he appeared again and urged the passage of the bill as it stands.). The New York World-Telegram of May 1 reports that “Eastern representatives of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Engineers are in favor of the principle of the six-hour day for railroad employees – with no reduction in pay. A resolution endorsing it is sent to President Roosevelt, Secretary of Labor Perkins, and chairmen of interested congressional committees.”

Under the accumulating pressure the administration retreated. Senator Robinson, the administration’s “whip”, announced that the bill is “not now in the picture.” The bill will probably die in committee.

In the period when this bill which so vitally affects the working class was in the process of becoming legislation, the official Communist party, caught unawares, did not lift a finger to rally the masses against its inimical provisions. The TUUL, to be sure, sent a representative to the Senate Judiciary Committee to put forward its view. That is one thing. Another is to organize a movement behind this delegation to give its view a force.

Why did the party stand by with folded hands? Why did it allow the initiative in opposing the bill to fall in the hands of Green and others?

The Seven Hour Day

There is a reason. The party was committed to the slogan of the seven hour day without reduction in pay. It has never explained why. At the meeting of the Resolutions Committee, in the N.Y. May Day conference, in voting down our proposal for the inclusion of the six hour day slogan in the May Day Resolution, Winter explained that the A F. of L. stood for the six-hour day and that the C.P. had to “distinguish itself from the demagogic A.F. of L. fakers!”

When the capitalists themselves proposed the six-hour day and the five-day week they inadvertently exposed the bankruptcy of the party’s position on the question. The Black Bill made it impossible for the party to advance the seven hour day any longer. And, as a matter of fact, the party press is now free of it.

Instead, with typical, bureaucratic cowardliness the Stalinists have changed the slogan without saying so, and without explanation to the party membership and the working class.

And to what have they changed the slogan! On April 8 the Daily Worker said that to the capitalist wage cutting bill we must oppose the slogan of a shorter work day without reduction in pay. This formulation is broad enough to include the I.W.W. slogan of the four hour day without reduction in pay. And it can also include the position of the A.F. of L. demagogic fakers for the six hour day, from whom, said Winter, the revolutionary movement, must distinguish itself by the clock!

But the Stalinists were unable to crawl out of a bad situation by the use of an ambiguous and confusion-sowing slogan. The struggle against the bill requires concrete measures and definite slogans. The Daily Worker of April 20 carried an article by Stachel, in which he reports that the TUUL appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee and proposed an amendment to the Black Bill providing for the six-hour day, five-day week with no reduction in pay advanced by the Left Opposition years before.

But the Stalinists do not say so openly to the party and the class. Worse! As yet they are confining the struggle to the parliamentary Held. Appearances before the Senate Judiciary Committee and the House Labor Committee (May 6) are undoubtedly correct. But when they are not backed by a mass movement they become opportunist.

That is how the question stands today. With a rise in the economic conjuncture the workers will begin to struggle against their bosses. A prominent place in these struggles will be occupied by the fight for the six hour day. If the party seriously means to influence these struggles in a revolutionary direction it must begin now to lay the ground.

It must begin to organize the movement. The first prerequisite for this is an open admission of the change in slogans and a Marxist explanation for it.

The second prerequisite is the organization of the movement. The positions of the leading working class organizations on the question makes the situation favorable. The A.F. of L. is officially on record for the six hour day. The railroad brotherhoods similarly. And the socialist party is also on record for it. A correct united front approach to these bodies by the party for a movement for this objective can yield fruitful results for the interests of the workers and Communism.

Over this possibility the policy laid down in the C.I. Manifesto hangs like an ominous cloud. This policy must be rejected. In its place we must adopt and apply the tactic of Leninist united front of workers’ organizations.

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