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Ernest Lund

WLB Rejects Ship Workers Pay Rise

(August 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 32, 9 August 1943, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The War Labor Board has turned down the demand of the CIO Shipbuilders Union for a nine per cent general wage increase for the nation’s shipyard workers. This action follows several weeks of deadlocked negotiations between the union and the shipyard corporations, during which the latter have tried their best to break the back of unionism in the East Coast yards.

The refusal of the pay raise by the WLB is the board’s answer to the union, whose leaders have been telling the workers to “leave everything in the hands of the national office and the WLB.”

All of the important East Coast contracts are piled up in the files of the WLB. These include the contracts for Federal Shipbuilding of Kearny, N.J., Cramp of Philadelphia, New York Ship of Camden and dozens of others.

The local negotiating committees were turned down by the corporations when they asked for a wage increase. Opposing any kind of action to force the profit-swollen corporations to give their workers enough pay to keep up with rising prices, the national leaders of the union asked that all deadlocked contracts be filed with the WLB. Here the union leaders expected to make deals through their clever lawyers to gain something for the workers.

Leaders Fumbled Wage Confab

However, even in dealing with the WLB, the John Green administration of the union showed less understanding or courage than any local negotiating committee. Every experienced union negotiator knows that it is necessary to open negotiations by asking for the maximum demands of the workers.

The national leaders of the union, however, went before the WLB with a cringing and whining appeal in which they pointed out that although the cost of living has gone up eighteen per cent since the last pay adjustment in May 1942, all they were asking for was a nine per cent raise!

The conduct of the Shipbuilders Union officials stands in marked contrast to that of the United Mine Workers. The latter made the whole country aware of the just demands of the miners. They talked tough and acted tough. They treated the WLB with the contempt it deserves. Today there is hardly an honest rank and file union man in the country who does not understand that the miners’ case is just and who is not ready to back them up. With a little more heat under the John L. Lewis machine that runs the union, the miners will still succeed in forcing the Roosevelt Administration to grant them their just demands.

Owners Use Connally Bill

However, the decision of the WLB in the shipbuilders’ case has not created a stir. Many papers have not even taken notice. Why should they? They rely upon the John Green leadership, supported in many locals, by the even worse Communist Party-line boys, to hold the shipyard workers in check.

Meanwhile the companies continue their arrogant anti-union attitude which they have adopted since the Smith-Connally bill was passed. In one yard after another the militant shop stewards report that the mood of the men is turning toward a feeling of hopelessness and lack of confidence in the ability of the union to do something for them.

These militant shop stewards now have a doubly hard job. On the one hand they must fight the “do-nothing” policy of the national officials and on the other they must fight all sorts of anti-union sentiment and remarks in the ranks of the men, which is created by the leaders’ “do-nothing” policy.

The more active union men are now talking daily about the need of sending real fighting delegations to the national convention of the union in New York in September. Reports from a number of yards indicate that the militant shop stewards are plugging for the election of delegates pledged to repeal the “no-strike” pledge, recall the CIO members from the WLB, and repeal the Smith-Connolly bill by forming ah Independent Labor Party.

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