Monday, September 2, 2013

On This Labor Day

A video sing along from Wisconsin:

An excerpt from "History of the American Working Class" by Anthony Bimba, revised edition, 1936
Recent tendencies, 1933 - 1936
The following main tendencies characterize this period:

(a) Inability of the ruling class to overcome the crisis.

(b) Contradictions in the ruling class over the uneven distribution of profits under the New Deal

(c) Disillusionment of large sections of workers, farmers and petty bourgeoisie with the Democratic and Republican parties, giving rise to the development of a Farmer-Labor Party movement

(d) The struggle for industrial unionism in the trade union movement

(e) Growing menace of fascism

(f) Inner crisis of the Socialist Party -- widening gulf between left-wing Militants and old-guard reactionaries

(g) The growth and influence of the Communist Party and the development of a movement for a united front.

The glowing promises of President Roosevelt to usher in prosperity through his New Deal did not materialize. The country still finds itself in the depression. The National Recovery Act has been ruled out by the decision of the United States Supreme Court which declared the N.R.A. unconstitutional for the simple reason that it was no longer needed by the uppermost strata of the ruling class. The N.R.A. had accomplished its mission. Prices had soared sky-high, the standard of living of the masses had been lowered, the profits of the big bankers, great corporations, and the trusts had been restored and greatly increased, the illusion of the workers that the N.R.A. guaranteed the right to organize and strike had begun to be dangerous. The Supreme Court had to act according to the wishes of the Bankers' Association and the Manufacturers' Association.
The lower strata of the bourgeoisie did not share in the profits of the New Deal. Hence the growing dissatisfaction in the ruling class itself with the present situation and the rise of such movements as Father Coughlin's "for social justice," Townsend's "two hundred dollars a month old age pension," Sinclair's "Epic" in California, and "share-the-wealth" in Louisiana.

It is true that with the birth of the Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.) and the provision of four billion dollars for public works projects, employment increased towards the end of 1935 by about two million people. However, as officially admitted, about twelve million workers are still unemployed and there is no prospect of their being absorbed into the regular processes of production. All agree that even with the complete return of "prosperity," over ten million men and women will remain a permanent army of the unemployed. 

The increase of production -- which at the end of 1935 has reached about 90 percent of the 1923-1925 average, but remains about 30 percent below the level of 1929 -- has been achieved through further rationalization: speed-up and new machinery. Furthermore, this increase has no firm basis. It is shaky and impermanent. Secondly, it has not been accompanied by a proportional increase in the purchasing power of the masses. On the contrary, with the continual lowering of the standard of living, the purchasing power has been further reduced. In his speech at Atlanta, Georgia, November 29, 1935, President Roosevelt admitted: "National surveys prove that the average of our citizenship lives today on what what be called by the medical fraternity a third-class diet, for the very simple reason that the masses of the American people have not got the purchasing power to eat more and better food."

The American workers did not accept the attack upon their standard of living without resistance. The year 1934, for instance, has gone down in history as a year of very militant strike struggles. That these were mainly local strikes does not make them less significant. Particularly the newly organized workers fought with a militancy which in many respects was unequalled before. The struggles of the workers of San Francisco and the entire Pacific Coast, of Milwaukee, of Toledo, of Minneapolis, and of dozens of the textile centers in the South and in other parts of the country show clearly once more that the American workers are able to fight and will fight.

The San Francisco General Strike, organized in sympathy with the marine strikers on the Pacific Coast, lasting from July 17 to July 20, 1934, and involving over 125,000 workers, was an historic event in every respect and struck the greatest fear in the hearts of the big employers. It smashed the conspiracy of the shipping interests to wipe out the marine workers' organizations.

There was but one national strike during this period -- the textile strike of 1934, conducted by the United Textile Workers of America. It started on September 1 and lasted for about three weeks when it was suddenly called off by the union leaders under the Winant Report which conceded none of the strikers' basic demands. The workers demanded a 30-hour week, minimum wages, increase in wages, union recognition, and the abolition of the stretch-out system. The strike was lost and about 80,000 workers in the South were locked out. All promises of the government to give them a fair deal were forgotten as soon as they were driven back into the factories. 

The year 1935 witnessed comparatively few strikes. The strike of anthracite miners in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., the general strike in Terre Haute, Ind, and the threatened general strike in Barberton, Ohio, were outstanding. Most of the strikes of 1935 affected the workers of the federal and state projects and were partially successful in forcing some concessions from the government in the form of higher pay and shorter hours.

The brutality of the ruling class in all these strikes can be compared with its brutality in the general railroad strike of 1877. Local and state governments freely gave armed aid to the employers everywhere. The Labor Research Association estimated that over forty thousand National Guardsmen in nineteen states were called out to suppress the workers in twenty-two strikes. President Roosevelt threatened to send thousands of soldiers of the regular army to crush the textile workers. According to the figures collected by the International Labor Defense, forty-nine workers were murdered by thugs or militiamen in 1935 alone during strikes and other struggles.

I would only add that everything old is new again, as many of these reports eerily parallel conditions today. Well, apart from that business about the Communist Party...

The labor movement, however, is barely a shadow of what it once was, and the most prominent strikes today aren't really strikes at all. They are walk-outs by some fast food and low-paid retail workers demanding a "living wage," or at least an increase in the minimum wage to something closer to decent standards.

We've come a long way, and we've backslid terribly.

What will it take to revive the labor movement? Or is it even possible any more?


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