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B.J. Widick

In the Labor Unions

(6 October 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 76, 6 October 1939, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

When our movement adopted the idea of a sliding scale of wages for union contracts last year to protect the living standards of the workers from wartime price boom conditions, many unionists considered it too theoretical and not practical enough.

Like many other advanced ideas, it took the hard impact of events to drive home the merits of this proposal. Yet, it was essentially a simple idea. Prices rise before and during war. Unless union contracts are signed that permit upward adjustment in wage scales in that period, the workers really take a wage cut because costs of living have increased but the amount of money the worker has with which to buy goods stood still. So part of our transitional program consisted of urging the workers to get a provision in union contracts which guaranteed a rise in wages to correspond with a rise in prices.

Prices Rise

The second world war already has brought a rapid rise in prices in America, and there seems to be no stopping. Right after Hitler marched into Poland, a sharp upward trend in the price of food became evident throughout the country. Prices increased from ten to twenty per cent on foods, etc.

The pinch was felt quickly by workers. They were making the same pay, working just as hard,and yet they could buy less. The rising price level was reducing their real wages. A nationwide cry against “war profiteering” was raised by the labor movement as part of the protest against this injustice.

Some Unions Act

More or less progressive unions, whose leadership had foresight enough to have clauses contained in the signed contracts which permit reopening of the wage questions, are using these clauses to begin negotiating along the idea of a sliding scale of wages.

Sidney Hillman, president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union, announced in behalf of 225,000 members that they would seek a wage increase of ten per cent soon to cover the men because of the rising price level.

The Textile Workers of America has also taken steps in this direction.

David Dubinsky, president of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, has advised all local unions to include provisions for cost-of-living increases in all new contracts. He proposed that wages be raised automatically when the price index figured out by the US Department of Labor goes up five points. Incidentally, the Textile Workers proposals are along these lines.

And there have been similar steps in other unions. Reports of the inclusion of the sliding scale of wages proposal in union contracts are beginning to appear in the labor press. It is entirely possible that the CIO convention will take decisive action on this question.

AFL War Stand

The AFL convention is facing an unusual resolution on the war question which was submitted to it by the executive council.

Besides the ordinary provisions about “we stand for neutrality, democracy, keep America safe and out of European wars” (which are a poor substitute for adopting a Let the People Vote on War slogan), the convention is being asked to call on the United States government to mediate in the second world war!

This section was introduced by William Green, president of the AFL. Who inspired him to introduce it? Since we know through Green’s long history as a labor faker that he, is an agent of American capitalism, we are inclined to doubt the theory that this was introduced as part of the “Hitler peace offensive.”

Did Roosevelt ask his good friend Bill to bring this matter before the AFL convention? And if so, why? Does Roosevelt want to be “forced” to try a mediation of the war which would not “succeed.” Which would mean America would have to go to war to “make peace possible?” The next few days will tell.

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Last updated: 17 February 2018