Strikes--With a Vengeance
A RELATIVELY new and unfamiliar term has appeared with increasing frequency of late in all the talk about labor troubles. It is ‘jurisdictional strike.’ From the way in which the expression is used, there seems to be general realization that this sort of strike is different from other stoppages in production.
Men of pronounced liberality, who are tolerant of most labor disturbances even when they are not actively sympathetic, condemn explicitly those that bear the label ‘jurisdictional.’ Spokesmen for organized labor mention them apologetically. At the headquarters of a powerful union, while I was gathering material for this article, the suggestion was made:
‘This wasn’t really jurisdictional. I hope you won’t describe it that way. We’ve always been proud that we never are involved in jurisdictional strikes.’
The international union at whose local office that disclaimer was offered is one which has been under heavy attack on the contention that it is addicted to racketeering in a number of vicious forms. But jurisdictional strikes? ‘Please,’ they said, ‘don’t brand us with the stigma of those. We’d be ashamed.’
We were virtually at war, in October of 1941, against the greatest military machine ever assembled. Upon America’s production of the matériel of war, upon our ability to transport armaments and munitions and food to the British Isles, rested the fate of democracy.
Nothing in our contribution to the anti-Axis fight was more vital than the building and repairing of cargo vessels to transport goods, and of naval craft to keep open the sea lanes. We had appropriated more than eight billion dollars to finance the construction of fighting ships alone, and more than three billions for cargo boats. Lacking adequate dry docks, we had allocated almost six hundred million dollars to pay for new ones. And, because we did not possess sufficient skilled man power, in spite of this financial prodigality we found ourselves seriously handicapped in the race to create a bridge of ships to Britain before totalitarianism could destroy democracy.
Meanwhile, to conserve both man power and raw materials for the most vital uses, we decided virtually to eliminate the construction of homes for civilians, notwithstanding that Federal authorities describe a full third of the nation’s housing as ‘substandard.’ By this we released steel for ships and tanks and guns, copper for cartridges and wiring, factories for production, and men for defense.
How many men that ban on ordinary building will deprive of their normal means of livelihood I do not know, nor does anybody else, yet. To number them by the scores of thousands is conservative. They include carpenters, plumbers, electricians, painters — skilled artisans affiliated for the most part with the American Federation of Labor’s craft unions.
It was taken for granted that when this army of clever craftsmen was arbitrarily put out of work, while hardpressed shipyards were pleading for more than a hundred thousand carpenters, painters, plumbers, electricians, and men of affiliated trades, the skills of these experts would be utilized to help save Britain and defeat Hitler.
Were they? Oh, no. There was a jurisdictional question involved.
The Office of Production Management proposed to send these men into some of the 150,000 jobs which Labor Secretary Frances Perkins had found waiting in shipyards. But the Congress of Industrial Organizations, through its Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers, controlled some of the shipyards. And these unemployed belong to the American Federation of Labor.
The plan was given up because the CIO warned that strikes would shut down naval and cargo ship construction if those A. F. of L. members were permitted to build ships!
Here was a situation that involved none of the social goals which by Congressional declaration have been made the concern of the United States. Here was no question of wages, hours, or working conditions. The issue was very simple: —
The CIO, through its leaders, refused to help build and repair ships to beat Hitler if members of the A. F. of L. were permitted to share in this emergency patriotic activity. And, more than that, if A. F. of L. men were hired at some shipyards the CIO not only would take its own men off the jobs there but also might do its best to see that no vessels were built or repaired elsewhere.
The CIO leaders do not want to help Hitler conquer the world. But they are helping him.
Probably the industrial turmoil of the Second World War thus far has produced no better illustration of the viciousness of the jurisdictional strike, actual or potential, than this. The CIO is placed in a pretty bad light. The A. F. of L. is indignant. But make no mistake — when William Green and his associates protest, in this instance, a very sooty pot is calling a kettle black. The records show that A. F. of L. unions have carried jurisdictional excesses even further than has the CIO. The craft unions not only quarrel with their industrial enemies — they spend a lot of time, needed to fight Hitler on the manufacturing front, cutting throats within their own family circle.
When the history of labor’s part in this war is written some day in cold blood, I do not venture to predict what the verdict will be on whether unions should have sacrificed their privilege of striking in defense industries. I have not the slightest doubt, however, that the wave of jurisdictional disputes and strikes we have witnessed in 1941 will remain an ineradicable stain upon labor’s escutcheon.
What is a jurisdictional strike? There are several types. Roughly they can be classified as follows: —
1. Strikes in which members of the A. F. of L. refuse to work, directly or indirectly, with members of the CIO, or vice versa. They can take any of several forms. Occasionally the trouble involves refusal of one union to let its members work side by side with those of a rival in the same plant. Sometimes a union will decline to deliver supplies to a factory whose employees belong to the rival, or to handle the finished product of that factory. Again, a union may lay down its tools because members of the rival are employed in some other plant within the same industry.
2. Strikes in which one A. F. of L. craft tries to take or keep work from another A. F. of L. craft.
3. Strikes in which A. F. of L. or CIO unions refuse to work directly or indirectly with members of an independent union. (From this category I exclude controversies concerning actual or possible ‘company unions,’ and have in mind only those independents which have been accepted as bona fide by the National Labor Relations Board.)
The records are filled with illustrations of each of these major categories, with variations that multiply the subclassifications to unmanageable length.
These are not strikes over questions of wages, hours, working conditions, the right to organize — any of those things which quite generally are conceded to be unionism’s legitimate goals. Some believe that democracy’s peril has become so great that even these things should be subordinated until we have beaten Hitler. But I am not arguing that. What I am discussing is that type of strike which everybody condemns, which responsible union spokesmen abjure, and for which union organizers apologize — those strikes in which a union seeks to deprive certain workers of their statutory right to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing.
Consider the battle royal that resulted when Patrick J. Currier of Detroit offered to build 300 homes for defense workers at a price of $3265 each. His closest competitor asked $4700 — a difference of $1435 per house.
The OPM, which supervises the spending of our sixty-five or more billions of defense dollars, turned down Currier’s offer, although nobody questioned that the Detroiter was capable of fabricating and erecting the houses at the low price he quoted. Co-Director Sidney Hillman has accepted full personal responsibility.
Why? Well, Currier has a contract with the CIO, whose men would have built these houses. But Mr. Hillman is party to an agreement giving the A. F. of L. an effective closed shop on all defense building projects.
The A. F. of L. was very frank. Its officials told the United States of America that if Uncle Sam dared let Pat Currier’s CIO members build 300 houses — at a saving to the taxpayers of $430,500 — every defense construction job in the state of Michigan would be suspended. That covers a pretty broad field. I won’t attempt to catalogue the vital projects that the A. F. of L. would close in preference to letting Currier build 300 single-family houses. I will name just one — the Ford bomber plant at Ypsilanti, for some of whose future employees the 300 houses are to provide homes.
This controversy has ramifications which serve to point many angles of the jurisdictional struggle. For that reason I should like to tell something about its background.
The Currier Mobile Homes Corporation, a subsidiary of the Currier Lumber Company, makes fabricated houses. They are constructed in a suburban Detroit plant and trucked to the homesite in sections. There they are assembled. Less than ten hours from the time the first truck reaches the lot, a family can move in. It is possible to place an order Monday and start housekeeping in the new home Saturday.
Currier’s plant is self-sufficient. There is no subcontracting. His organization handles surveying, excavation, cement work, plumbing, heating, electrical wiring, plastering, painting, and trucking. When a house leaves the factory all services have been incorporated in its walls ready for connection by Currier’s men.
The houses are not built to order. They are fabricated in advance on somewhat the same mass-production, interchangeable-parts principle that has made America’s automobile industry what it is today. Therefore Currier’s 1500 men are employed fifty-two weeks a year, instead of only when orders come along.
This is why P. J. Currier can pay his CIO men from ten to fifteen cents an hour above the A. F. of L.’s Detroit contract scale, give them steady year-round employment, and yet produce houses 30 per cent cheaper than his competitors. And that is what he offered to the Federal Works Administration when 300 defense homes were needed right in his own back yard in Wayne, Michigan.
But last July the A. F. of L.’s Building Trades Department quietly entered into a ‘stabilization agreement’ with Hillman of the OPM. The unions promised to accept pay-and-a-half for overtime instead of demanding double pay; to waive the old penalty rates on second and third shifts; to refrain from strikes on defense projects. In return, without mention to the public, Hillman granted to the A. F. of L. what President John P. Coyne’s annual report to the Building Trades Department described as ‘a virtual closed shop on all defense construction projects.’
Hillman’s office estimates that the unions’ concessions will save the taxpayers $200,000,000 on $5,000,000,000 of defense construction that the OPM expects to let before this war is over.
When word reached Detroit that Federal Works Administrator John M. Carmody was giving the $979,500 Wayne contract to Currier, A. F. of L. leaders got busy. Their exact words are not matters of public record. Carmody says they made no ‘threats.’ But they did convince the OPM that if the United States dared accept this $430,500 saving the entire ‘stabilization agreement’ would be tossed overboard. Furthermore, word came from Washington that then there would be a ‘reign of terror’ in Michigan — or, in the words of one of the best and most accurate of newspaper labor reporters, Louis Stark of the New York Times, a ‘virtual civil war’ in the building trades.
The CIO’s refusal to permit A. F. of L. craftsmen to help build ships, and the A. F. of L.’s refusal to let CIO men build houses, are only two spectacular recent incidents in a long series of jurisdictional controversies that have handicapped our national defense effort and given aid and comfort to Adolf Hitler.
Skimming through some of the reports made by the Army and the Navy during early 1941, I find twenty-one frank and unadulterated jurisdictional strikes. These affected directly, among other things, two training camps, an arsenal, four shipyards, four naval parts producers, plane factories, metal plants and smelters, ordnance makers, and three vital Curtiss-Wright propeller plants. They involved eighteen cities in twelve states from coast to coast, I have studied others which the War and Navy Departments did not mention.
Up in South Boston a thousand A. F. of L. craftsmen walked out on the badly needed dry dock they were building, because the Naval Base ventured to add some WPA and civil-service workers to its staff.
In the Ingalls shipyard at Pascagoula, Mississippi, where $150,000,000 worth of naval and cargo craft are under construction, A. F. of L. unions have struck twice in internecine squabbles. The first time, in March, the boilermakers and ironworkers were fighting over which should do certain work. In October four hundred welders loafed for three days in a row with brother craftsmen.
In Philadelphia structural steel workers and carpenters, both A. F. of L., got into a dispute last January as to which should place the cement-pouring frames after the former had assembled them. They wore working on the world’s largest dry dock, in which the Navy hoped by mid-September to lay the keel for a 45,000-ton battleship. Navy publicists say the delay was negligible — but near the end of October the dock was not complete and the keel had not been laid.
On Wright Field at Dayton, Ohio, the Army was rushing a huge new wind tunnel in which to test 2000 to 2500 horsepower engines, designed to add many miles an hour to the speed of fighting planes. In all the United States we had no tunnel capable of handling these giant power plants. So five hundred A. F. of L. craftsmen were at work. A subcontractor who employed CIO men under a legal contract was given a $36,800 electrical job. He sent five men in January to do the work. The five hundred Federationists promptly walked out. They returned when the War Department called the subcontractor temporarily off the job. But when he was ordered in March to complete his assignment, the Federationists struck again for eighteen days — until the Army threatened to finish the tunnel with civil-service employees unless they went back.
The Curtiss-Wright Propeller Company erected a new factory in Caldwell, New Jersey, to work on orders for $100,000,000 worth of propellers for pursuit, fighter, bomber, interceptor, and patrol planes for the Army and Navy. To determine what union should bargain for the employees, the National Labor Relations Board held an election. Propeller Craft, an independent, beat the A. F. of L.’s Aircraft Lodge No. 703 more than two to one. (The vote was 1094 to 526.) Without any attempt to appeal by statutory methods, the A. F. of L. approved what started as a wildcat strike and for eight days almost closed down the steel-blade department. Because of this, at least 2000 badly needed propellers were not made, and hundreds of fighting aircraft, otherwise ready for service, now are standing idle and useless.
This was the second jurisdictional trouble which had afflicted that one very important defense manufacturer. A dispute between steam fitters and plumbers as to which should install process piping had delayed for two weeks the moving in of the first machine. And there was a third holdup. When another new plant was constructed, in Beaver, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, transformers and permanent power lines were leased from the Duquesne Light and Power Company. The A. F. of L. threatened to stop all construction if the power company was permitted to install this electrical equipment with its own men. The independent union to which Duquesne’s men belonged promised to shut down all power in Pittsburgh if the A. F. of L. did the installation. The A. F. of L. called a strike, and 40 per cent of the men quit. They were out ten days, until the independent union, in the interest of national defense, withdrew its claim and permitted the A. F. of L. to do the work.
As this is written the entire Pittsburgh area, one of the busiest and most important in the national defense scheme, is threatened with a general tie-up in the controversy of which the propeller plant was one victim. During the past few months the A. F. of L. has called strikes on millions of dollars’ worth of public and private construction there because the Independent Association of Duquesne Light Company employees insists on handling new electric installation work.
The Pittsburgh Building Trades Council has notified A. F. of L. President Green and Federal officials that unless its claims to jurisdiction are recognized and enforced a general strike will be called all over the world’s largest steelmaking centre, which already is finding it impossible to meet armament demands and care also for pressing civilian needs. A quarter of a million workers, including street-railway and bus employees, are supposed to lay down their tools when this threat is made good.
The question of what union shall make installations of electrical equipment has been a troublesome one generally. In New York this summer it threatened a general building strike and actually did interfere with the $17,000,000 expansion program at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Among the more serious of jurisdictional threats to the national defense progress was a recent affair involving the Spicer Manufacturing Company of Toledo and its subsidiary Hillside Steel Products Company of Hillsdale, Michigan. Spicer has orders to supply transmission parts for 70 per cent of the light tanks being made for the Army and our allies, and for most of the half-tractor and Jeep combat vehicles. For steel, without which these could not be made, Spicer depends upon the Hillside subsidiary.
As the result of a National Labor Relations Board election, the Spicer home plant entered into a contract with the CIO United Automobile Workers. But in the Hillsdale plant the A. F. of L. United Automobile Workers won the right to represent employees and obtained a contract.
After the A. F. of L. became legal representative of the Hillside workers, there being no closed-shop clause in the contract, A. F. of L. and a few CIO men toiled side by side, bitterly and with continual bickering. The Federation claimed that CIO men were trying to disrupt production. The CIO contended that the A. F. of L. was trying to coerce its members into switching allegiance. Eventually, all available evidence indicates, the dominant A. F. of L. persuaded the management to discharge the remaining twenty-six CIO men under penalty of having the steel plant shut down. So the CIO, which did not represent the Hillside workers, called a strike there nevertheless. Only 38 out of 800 employees walked out, but this did not faze the CIO. Its officials instructed Spicer employees at Toledo not to work on steel from the allegedly ‘struck’ Hillside plant.
Presto! A jurisdictional squabble — and production on transmissions for the mechanization of our Army was stopped, for eight days.
In Ypsilanti, Michigan, the Ford Motor Company has begun erecting the biggest bomber plant of its kind in the world. There, on an almost mile-long assembly line that will apply to the full the motor magician’s genius at mass production, Ford plans to turn out the monster B-24 Consolidated fourengined bombers which, more than any other aircraft yet proved, can safeguard this hemisphere against invasion from abroad.
Steelworkers and carpenters, in sister A. F. of L. unions, struck for double pay for overtime. On the merits of this claim it is no function of mine to pass now. Suffice it to note that the steelworkers went back because word came from St. Louis that unless they did their own union would fill their places. The carpenters, however, did not return with them. Inquiry revealed that these craftsmen declined to go to work until they received a guaranty that no CIO men would be used on the job.
Here was the ultimate in forehandedness. Only A. F. of L. men were being used. There was no intimation that any others were to be employed. The carpenters’ organizer said he had heard that CIO men were to place the machinery. But in fact, as he could have ascertained easily, that contract had been given to an A. F. of L. employer. Eventually the hammer-and-saw men consented to resume their defense labors after the architect agreed that no CIO men would be used on any portion of the project under his control.
But meanwhile the steel work had been held up almost seven weeks on this very vital construction, and the carpentry had fallen eight weeks behind.
Why prolong the catalogue? There is no argument about what has been going on. President Roosevelt has condemned it in so many words. Alfred E. Smith, who seldom agrees with the President, has castigated it. William S. Knudsen and Donald Nelson have attacked it. The OPM officially has denounced it. William Green has promised to end it. Nobody rises in defense of the jurisdictional strike — not even the unions. Fortune magazine took a poll among union workers, who voted two to one that strikes in defense industries, on jurisdictional grounds, were improper and undesirable.
In October 1941, Local #1224 of the CIO’s United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers entered into a pact with the competitive Local #3 of the A. F. of L.’s Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, mutually pledging themselves against raiding and jurisdictional strikes. Much was hoped from this compact negotiated by Mayor La Guardia’s labor secretary, Mrs. Ethel S. Epstein, wife of New York State’s Solicitor-General. But observers could not refrain from recalling the negative results six months previously when the A. F. of L. Building and Construction Trades Department announced a new national policy prohibiting jurisdictional strikes on defense jobs.
As a matter of fact, most of the jurisdictional disputes I have recounted have taken place since that announcement last March of a new national policy.
All over the country the American Federation of Labor’s International Brotherhood of Teamsters has been a fruitful breeder of jurisdictional disturbance. Assistant Attorney-General Thurman Arnold has been biting his nails for months in eagerness to get after that outfit with an antitrust action that would rest, among other things, on a quaint but profitable claim the Brotherhood makes — and enforces in many localities.
In New York and New Jersey, in Chicago and other major centres where interstate trucks swarm like ants at a picnic, the teamsters have a rule that as soon as a vehicle enters the local jurisdiction a member of the home union must climb aboard. Theoretically he operates the truck. Actually he usually sits and visits with the out-of-town chauffeur, who continues to do the work. For this he receives a day’s pay, which may amount to eight or ten dollars.
A Midwestern contractor, who didn’t know New Jersey customs then, took a major job there for one of his regular customers. His intimates say that he lost everything but his shirt. One of the profit-melting items was this eight dollars a ‘day’ to hire local teamsters to ride every truck that crossed the city line, even though the cars already were completely manned with members of that same International Brotherhood of Teamsters — who belonged, however, to different locals.
The drivers have got away with this geographical version of the jurisdictional grab in many instances. But last summer they tried their strength in New York against a bunch tougher than they — Jimmy Petrillo’s musicians. The theatrical teamsters’ local demanded the right to place its men outside movingpicture theatres using ‘name bands’ for the purpose of carrying the players’ instruments inside for them. The drivers’ business agent said publicly that this applied only to orchestras traveling as bodies, and not to lone musicians. The rule was intended, he said, to create employment for his local’s members and to protect their livelihood.
But officers of the American Federation of Musicians, and particularly of Local #802, interpreted the demand differently. As it reached them the plan was for a teamster to meet each piccolo player as he left his own car or taxicab, carry the instrument into the theatre, and for this collect a day’s pay. The day scale is ten dollars, a not insignificant sum for lugging a flute, a violin, or even a bass drum or cello a few dozen yards. But the night scale, for the same service, was to be twenty dollars!
The musicians indignantly refused to pay. The teamsters picketed theatres and then announced that until they were permitted to handle instruments their union would not move scenery into or out. of show places. Several houses actually were closed temporarily. The row was settled eventually. The musicians still carry their own winds, brasses, and strings. The theatres, supposedly uninterested third parties, made ‘concessions’ to the teamsters.
The alternative to coöperation is compulsion. Already there is a rising demand for Congress to outlaw all strikes that interfere with the national defense. Excess always breeds counter excess. Responsible Congressional leaders actually have introduced a serious proposal to prohibit any work stoppage that affects production on government-sponsored war orders.
It is reasonable to suppose that even if Congress were to defy organized labor and enact so sweeping a law Mr. Roosevelt would not sign it. Certainly our statesmen would not override a veto on so controversial a matter. Must we then throw up our hands and wait in patient resignation until Hitler is ready to take us over?
Rather, why not consider a modification of the broader bans — one that confines itself exclusively to the strike nobody loves, the jurisdictional strike? Here, as a bone of contention if nothing more, is a three-part program that in my opinion is reasonable, workable, and possibly less unattainable than some that have been discussed.
Let Congress withdraw the protection of all ‘labor legislation’ from any union that shall impede defense work for jurisdictional reasons.
Let the President use the physical might of the United States of America to protect every person who is willing to continue working in a plant where a jurisdictional stoppage has been attempted.
Let Congress provide, by amendment to the Conscription Act, for automatic drafting into Federal industrial service, at buck private’s pay, of any person who, being guaranteed such protection, remains on jurisdictional strike.
This might result in violence — once or twice, until malcontents discovered that Uncle Sam really meant business. That would be regrettable. But if heads are to be split and blood to be let, are the heads and blood of shirking workers more precious than the lives of the young men in our Army, who may have to fight Nazi tanks with wooden guns unless we do something to ensure their proper armament? Are the dignities and prerogatives of a few labor ‘leaders’ more important than the preservation of democracy?
The solution I suggest is hard-boiled. So are the evils it would seek to cure. So is the much broader proposal that all defense strikes be banned, whatever their provocation. So is the fact that the President of the United States, the Commander in Chief of the armed forces of a great nation actually at war, is forced to concede to reporters that he can make some men face shells and gas and bullets for thirty dollars a month but he can’t persuade others to work forty hours a week at high pay under pleasant surroundings.
Who is it that must sacrifice to save democracy? We? Or they? Or everybody?