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Ernest Lund

What Labor Action Means to
Shipyard Workers of America

(October 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 40, 2 October 1944, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Hundreds of IUMSWA convention delegates who see this issue of Labor Action will recognize an old and familiar friend. They have received it many times before at shipyard gates and union halls, if they are not yet among the growing army of subscribers.

However, there will be other hundreds from various parts of the country who will see Labor Action for the first time. It is mainly to introduce ourselves to them that these lines are written. For Labor Action has nothing to hide. Quite the contrary, we are most anxious that everyone know all about us. It is for this purpose that we will try to say who we are, what we stand for, and what we hope to accomplish.

Labor Action is not the publication of any particular trade union, though it supports all unions that are legitimately engaged in a fight for the interests of labor. Labor Action depends entirely upon the support of the loyal and devoted trade union activists engaged in the fight for a basic solution to labor’s problems. It is their self-sacrificing contributions that make Labor Action possible. It is their paper in the fullest sense of the word.

Labor Action is, therefore, part and parcel of the organized labor movement. The problems of labor are our problems and the future of labor is our future. We, therefore, discuss the problems of the various unions, not as “outsiders” giving unsolicited advice, but rather as part of our constant fight for a progressive union movement.

Labor Action has as its chief aim the education of workers to an understanding of the economic and political reasons for the present condition of labor and to help establish an economic system in which the working people will, for the first time, enjoy the full fruits of their labor.

Labor Action maintains that the ills that beset the working class arise from the capitalist system of production for the profit of a few. It further maintains that it should be the aim of the labor movement to establish a system of planned production for use, which will guarantee plenty of the good things of life for all.

We say that the fight for such a system of socialist production is primarily a political fight, for it requires that the power of government be lodged in the hands of the working people, who form the overwhelming majority of the population. That is why Labor Action is more than just a “labor paper.” It is a labor-political paper with a definite political and economic program, expressed in the platform of the Workers Party, printed in these pages from time to time.

This platform sums up our basic beliefs that capital and labor have no interests in common; that since the beginning of modern industry there has been a constant struggle between the working class, seeking a better living, and the capitalist class, seeking greater profits; that labor has made gains only when it was prepared to wage a fight for them; that the advancement of the working people depends entirely upon their own organized efforts, rather than upon generous employers or so-called friends of labor in government; that labor must stand united, regardless of race, creed or color; that labor needs trade unions that are industrial in form, progressive in policy, democratic in procedure, and based upon an enlightened, well informed and active membership; that labor must organize itself on the political as well as on the economic field; and that labor needs a political party of its own, independent of all capitalist parties and their candidates – a Labor Party.

In line with this basic approach to the problems of the labor movement, Labor Action has consistently opposed the policy of surrendering collective bargaining by giving up the right to strike and placing the welfare of labor in the hands of the War Labor Board. The no-strike pledge has been one of the greatest follies in the history of the labor movement. Labor Action has campaigned consistently, from the day the pledge was given by labor’s leaders, for its repeal.

The No-Strike Pledge

No one knows better the harm the no-strike pledge has been to the trade union movement than the active union men of the CIO Shipbuilders Union. There has been little real collective bargaining in the shipbuilding industry since “the pledge” was given. The results of negotiations are almost always that the minor points are agreed upon by the company and wages and other important clauses are submitted to the WLB. Everyone knows what happens to labor’s demands once they reach the files of the WLB. It has become known as “the graveyard of labor’s hopes.”

Why should the WLB want to give labor what it rightly deserves? Why should the corporations want to honor the terms of a contract in grievance procedure and upgrading? Don’t they know that labor lies helpless, without weapons, once it gives up the right to strike? Little wonder that President John Green has traveled so often between Camden and Washington that he knows every telephone post along the railroad line and still has not got anything worthwhile for the ship workers.

We say that capital and labor have no interests in common. Neither do they have interests in common on the WLB. That is why we say to the labor leaders: “Get oft the WLB. Go back to the shops and shipyards and restore real collective bargaining.”

What Is Labor Politics?

But today it is becoming obvious to an increasing number of workers that economic action alone will not do the job. The interests of both capital and labor are closely tied in with the machinery of govetnment. Every step on the economic field today involves some agency or board of government. It becomes a question of who will control the machinery of government – capital or labor?

It is a fact known to every experienced union man that the forces of government are, in the last analysis, on the side of capital. This is true whether a Democratic or a Republican Administration is in control. If they vary in their treatment of labor it is a matter of method and not it is a matter of expediency and not of principle. That is why Labor Action has been consistently campaigning for the labor movement to take the machinery of government into its own hands and use is for the vast majority of the people and not for the select few.

Is there anything wrong with this idea? Are not the working people the vast majority of the population? Do they not create the vast wealth of the country? Are they not its most useful citizens? Then why must we go, hat in hand, to beg some political appointees of capital on some government board or other for a few cents so that our families will be adequately provided for?

Labor Action has been consistently campaigning to win the labor movement to the idea of organizing its own Labor Party, independent of the capitalist parties. This is the necessary first step toward placing the power of government in the hands of the working people through establishing a workers government.

Of all workers in the country today, shipbuilding workers should be interested in labor’s political role. The war is drawing to a close. The ship industry will once more shrink to its pre-war employment levels. If one out of ten ship workers is still employed in the industry after the war it will surpass all expectations. What will happen to the other nine ship workers?

Reconversion Issue

In other industries there is some hope for reconversion from wartime to peacetime production: The assembly lines in Detroit that have been turning out tanks may again turn out trucks or cars. But what can one turn out on the ship ways except more ships? With the present surplus there will be little need for shipbuilding for another ten or fifteen years.

The future of nine-tenths of the ship workers depends directly upon what happens to this country after the war. If we permit the capitalist system to continue to limit production for the sake of profits, the army of the unemployed will exceed that of the Hoover days. Yet the capacity of America to produce and provide work for everyone has been fully demonstrated during the course of the war. It is far more possible in time of peace. We can all enjoy a guaranteed annual wage, job security, decent home, and good education for our children. But it is not possible under the present system where all production is limited to what will pass through the bottle-neck called “guaranteed profits.” It requires a system of planned production for use, possible only with government ownership of industry and working class ownership of government.

These are the ideas of Labor Action. We are sure that few workers will disagree with them once they are understood. We hope that this issue of our paper will become the first introduction to a lasting friendship. Subscribe to it. Carry it back to your local and get others to subscribe. Join in the fight for a progressive labor movement and an independent Labor Party.

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Last updated: 17 February 2016