Dienstag, 15. September 2009
A period of reaction is a time when labor has to be
especially vigilant. The Taft-Hartley Act is but one of the
insidious attacks on the right to strike put over in such a
time. There are others. In recent years, in a number of
States, laws have been adopted that tend through similar
provisions seriously to weaken labor's right to strike.
Of late the term has been used in another connection.
Particularly since enactment of the Taft-Hartley Law,
employers, with the help of Congress, have
used the phrase as a peacetime pretext to restrain and nullify
labor's right to strike. When certain key industries are
confronted with a strike, it is declared that if these work-
ers strike a "national emergency" will be created.
This has brought about a curious situation in America.
Those working in our basic industries, upon which our
entire economy depends, are reduced to a state approxi-
mating second-class citizenship. Buttonhole makers and
candlestick workers may exercise the right to strike be-
cause their cessation from work could not be said to create
a "national emergency." But railroad and steel workers,
coal miners and longshoremen are denied the use of the
strike weapon. (This partly explains why miners, steel
workers, electrical workers and longshoremen have put
up the greatest resistance to the Taft-Hartley Law.)
Add to the aforesaid encroachments on labor's basic
right the vicious interpretations and decisions of the Na-
tional Labor Relations Board in applying the Taft-Hartley
Act, and the picture becomes clear. The interpretations
and decisions of the Board constitute another attack on
the right to strike. What an insult it was to workers and
their unions when the Board decided that not only can
scabs remain in the factory, but that they have the right
to vote in elections supervised by the National Labor Re-
hat are the underlying causes that force workers to
strike? Economists, newspapermen and radio commenta-
ors have spoken and written millions of words against
strikes. They have attempted to prove that a prolonged
strike eats up the very wage demands for which the
workers are striking, and that it takes months to catch up
financially. They have argued that most strikes end in
compromise then why not compromise in the first place?
There are those who claim that there would be hardly
any strikes at all were it not for a small group of selfish
and power-hungry labor leaders. Increasingly we hear the
argument that the "reds are responsible for strikes." Some
newspapers even absolve the leaders of the unions in-
volved and put the blame for strikes and walkouts entirely
on "Communists." Others, again, concentrate on being
great defenders of the "public," which they portray as an
innocent victim of the strike. In recent years, the cry of
the "right to work" has been advanced as an argument
hese and other arguments are by now well known to
the average American worker. Yet strikes, and the number
of workers involved in them, do not diminish. On the
contrary, as time goes on, the strike weapon is resorted to
by ever new sections of wage earners such as telephone
workers, bank clerks, foremen, newspapermen, teachers,
engineers, insurance agents and similar groups. Indeed,
during the past decade there was hardly a wage earner's
family that did not have some member on the picket line.
Obviously, the arguments popularized in our press and
on the radio are not convincing, and obviously, standard
surface causes for this or that strike, or group of strikes
do not tell the whole story of why workers strike. The
strike is a social phenomenon of great significance in our
economic life and cannot be explained so lightly. What
the anti-strike economists and writers fail to understand
is that a strike is a social act and, as such, goes beyond
the boundaries of the immediate and specific economic
demands brought forward by the workers involved. In a
certain sense a strike is an elementary, unconscious ex-
pression of revolt against conditions which the worker is
no longer able to tolerate.
These broader aspects of strikes have been recognized
by many government experts on labor, and by the more
serious-minded economists and historians. Miss Florence
Peterson, for many years a leading authority of the United
States Department of Labor, in her preface to a study on
strikes, says very significantly:
The strike is a cultural development, a conventionalized expression
of discontent. It involves mass action and presupposes a belief in
the efficacy of mass action. ... A strike is an evidence of discon-
tent and an expression of protest...
But even from the viewpoint of dollars and cents the
strike is not a losing proposition. A study of wage move-
ments for a period of years will show that general wage
increases, in peacetime, came about as a result of a strike
wave, or a threatened strike wave. The latest examples
are the post-war strikes that established a pattern of wage
increases to meet the rise in the cost of living. We may
also cite numerous examples of wage increases to non-
union employees white collar and administrative work-
ers after the union employees struck and obtained such
increases. In certain unorganized industries employers
have granted partial wage increases in an effort to stem
the tide of organization, but in the final analysis even such
types of wage increases have resulted from the fear of the
strike weapon. There is unquestionably a connection be-
tween the relatively high standard of living of American
workers and their high degree of strike consciousness.
Moreover, another factor should be taken into consid-
eration when balancing up the credits and debits in the
"dollars and cents'* argument.
In recent years the anti-strike propagandists have con-
centrated on the argument that each strike wave means a
dollars and cents loss to the workers because strikes are
followed by a rise in prices. They elaborate on this by
stating something like this: "Why are you workers so fool-
ish? You go out on strike; you gain a wage increase; your
pay envelope is slightly higher, but when you go to the
grocery and furniture stores, or when you buy an automo-
bile or refrigerator, you pay a lot more/'
On the surface it sounds like a substantial argument.
But when analyzed, it falls apart. Strikes or no strikes,
prices have been steadily rising for the past four decades.
Numerous instances could be cited from the past and
present showing that prices have gone up without any
relation to wage movements. Examples could also be cited
of prices remaining the same after wages were cut. There
is nothing automatic about price increases.
In the 1900' s. The struggle for the 8-hour day and union
recognition remained the principal demands of the work-
ers in the nineties. It was also during this decade that the
strike movement spread toward the Western states. The
Western Federation of Miners and, later, the Industrial
Workers of the World were in the leadership of many
Western strikes, and up to this very day the deep imprint
of their militancy upon the Western labor movement re-
Pre-War Strikes-1910-1916. The period between 1910
and our entry into the First World War was a time of
growth for organized labor. The basic demands of the
workers remained the same the 8-hour day and union
recognition. However, in 1914, with the outbreak of
World War I, the workers were confronted with a new
problem: the tremendous rise in the cost of living. This
brought forward an additional central demand substan-
tial wage increases. In 1915 and 1916, 4,924 strikes took
place. Of these, 1,386 were for wage increases. The two
most important strikes during this period were the
Lawrence textile strike, in 1912, and the Colorado Fuel
and Iron strike in 1913-14 better known as the "Ludlow
Massacre." The significance of the Lawrence strike is that
it was one of the first mass strikes led by the IWW in the
East and that the strike was victorious. It was one of the
early tests in militant strike strategy, and proved superior.
The Colorado Fuel and Iron strike was not just an ordinary
strike for higher wages. It lasted fifteen months and still
remains one of the longest strikes in American history.
Over fifty people miners, wives and children were
murdered in this strike.
Wartime Strikes 1917-1918. During our two years in
the First World War the strike movement reached large
proportions. Over two million workers participated in the
strike struggles, despite the stubborn opposition of AFL
leaders to any wartime strike movement. The chief causes
were the ever rising costs of living and the determination
of the workers to obtain recognition of their unions. Out-
standing strikes of this period were the packinghouse
strike, the lumber workers' strike in the Northwest, the
machinists' strike in Bridgeport, Conn., the Seattle gen-
eral strike, the coal miners' strike, and the strike of the
Post-War Open Shop Offensive-1919-1923. After the
war the strikes assumed a general defensive character with
the unions fighting desperately against wage cuts and for
their very existence. In the basic industries the unions
were nearly wiped out, and many craft unions became
mere skeletons of their former selves. Never before did
the government assume such an open strikebreaking role
as during the open-shop offensive; the government's main
weapon was a wholesale application of injunctions. During
this period the most important strike was the great 1919
steel strike, led by William Z. Foster and receiving a varied
degree of support from 24 AFL International Unions.
The Coolidge Period-1923-1928. Despite the oft-
repeated theory that "strikes develop in time of prosper-
ity," during the Coolidge administration there were very
few. Every year there was a decline until in 1928 there
were fewer strikes than at any time since 1884. One great
strike there was the textile strike in Passaic,
led by the militants of the Trade Union Educational League. The
strike attracted national attention and received the sup-
port of the broad labor movement.
The Economic Crisis-1929-1932. When the depression
came, labor unions were too weak and demoralized to
fight back the new wage-cutting offensive of the em-
ployers. In 1930, for example, when the wage slashing
campaign was at its height, only 182,975 workers were on
strike. This, too, can be compared with the year 1884. A
relatively large number of strikes against wage cuts were
called by independent unions during the years 1929-1933.
The National Textile Workers, the Needle Trades Workers
Industrial Union and the National Miners Union, affiliated
with the Trade Union Unity League, are some of the
unions that led such strikes.
The NRA Period-1933-1935. With the establishment of
the National Recovery Act a strike wave once again spread
from industry to industry, coast to coast, electrifying the
whole nation. Causes? The failure of employers to wipe
out the wage cuts while reaping new millions of profits;
the growing determination of workers to organize into
their own unions, buttressed as this now was by Section
7-A of the National Recovery Act, which gave workers
legal sanction to join a union of "their own choosing." The
strikes were so numerous that only the most outstanding
can be noted. In 1933, 30,000 miners from the "captive"
and hitherto unorganized mines struck and won. The
strike of 60,000 garment workers, of whom the majority
were as yet unorganized, resulted in victory.
The outstanding feature of these strikes of
the late thirties was that during this period labor was
definitely on the offensive workers fought relentlessly for
wage increases and union recognition. Another outstand-
ing characteristic was that, for the first time since the end
of World War I, the workers in basic industries such as
auto, steel, rubber, electrical, etc. participated in such
great mass strikes and that nearly all ended in complete,
or in substantial, victory. A unique feature of this strike
wave was the introduction of the sit-down, or stay-in,
strike technique, which proved very effective. The sit-
down began in 1936 in the rubber plants in Akron, Ohio,
and spread to the auto industry. It has been estimated that
from September 1936 through May 1937 sit-down strikes
directly involved 484,000 workers and closed plants em-
ploying 600,000 others.
Although the newly organized CIO unions led the
majority of the workers engaged in strikes, the AFL
unions also played a major role. In 1937, for example,
583,063-or 30% of the total workers on strike-were led
by AFL unions.
In 1940 the strike wave declined sharply. The total in-
volved in strikes dropped to 447,000 and enabled Secre-
tary of Labor Perkins to declare that the number of strikes
was much smaller than in the somewhat comparable
period of national emergency, 1916-1917. In March of the
following year the first wartime medium to handle many
labor problems was created when President Roosevelt ap-
pointed the National Defense Mediation Board.
World War II Strikes-1941-1945. Even the most con-
sistent enemies of labor must admit that its wartime record
was one of patriotism, devotion and sacrifice.
The new feature of these post-war strikes was the in-
creasing "fringe" demands brought forward by the unions.
These included medical plans, insurance, pensions, holi-
day and vacation pay and portal-to-portal pay. Another
feature was the industry-wide character of the strikes;
such was the case with steel, auto, electrical and marine.
The fact that the strikes of the post-war years were of
longer duration than those of the late thirties indicates
that opposition on the part of the employers toward or-
ganized labor was growing.
A strike of major political importance was America's
first nation-wide railroad strike. This took place in May
1946. President Truman broke it in an old-fashioned way
by threatening to use the armed forces against the strik-
ers, and this act, more than any other, showed Truman's
complete departure from Roosevelt's labor policies. The
injunction obtained by the Truman Administration against
the coal miners, in November 1946 was a natural follow-
In this post-war period a development of great signif-
icance was the growing number of general strikes. At
Stamford, Connecticut, in January 1946, 12,000 workers
crippled the industrial life of the city in the first general
strike in that State.
Leading a strike is never a one-man project. It is a col-
lective effort. Although it often appears that a certain in-
dividual union leader is running everything, it takes a
team of leaders, each responsible for a different phase of
activity, to handle a strike. What qualifications are re-
quired of the men and women who make up this team?
First and foremost, there must be undivided loyalty and
devotion to the union and its membership. The team must
be composed of people with proved and tested records of
struggle. They must be men and women with courage
and steadfastness and endurance. The background of
strike leaders cannot be ignored. The union not only has
a right but a duty to review the past life of potential strike
leaders. Certainly men who scabbed in the past, or who
were employed by private detective agencies, should first
prove themselves as loyal rank and file strikers before they
are promoted to leadership. Likewise persons with past
criminal records, even if completely rehabilitated, could
at times do damage to a strike. It has happened in the past
that employers and the press played up such individual
records in order to alienate public opinion.
The capacity to win and hold workers' confidence stands
high on the list of qualifications for strike leadership. Rank
and file workers are oftentimes not vocal, but beneath
their silence there is clear thinking and sound judgment of
the men in front. It is only when the workers know their
leaders well and have basic confidence in the leadership
that they will give the strike a maximum, instead of token,
Self-control is another quality very important for strike
leadership. During moments of great provocation on the
part of employers or their hired agents or scabs, a leader
must remain calm. It takes more courage at times not to
fall for provocative acts than to lead head on into danger.
Calm also means not to be overwhelmed by the multitude
of problems thrown into the lap of strike leaders every
minute of the day. The ability to remain calm under trying
circumstances plus the ability to make correct spot deci-
sions and resolutely carry them out are at the core of
Another quality a strike leader must have is the knack
of delegating responsibility to the right people. The secret
of this, of course, is to assign to people the task they know
best. To ask a man who has native abilities as a speaker to
take charge of picketing, and to give a man who has or-
ganizing abilities an assignment as a speaker, is not to get
the best out of either.
It is very rare that any one person can possess all the
attributes and qualities outlined above. This is one of the
reasons why it is better that a strike be led by a team
rather than by a single individual.
For the convenience of local union leaders there is pre-
sented below a chart or blueprint of a strike plan. In the
event it becomes obvious that a strike is inevitable all
possibilities of a settlement without a strike having been
exhausted union leaders can follow this plan, taking from
it whatever is applicable to their conditions and circum-
stances. It should be remembered that proper timing is
the key to success. In seasonal industries, to plan a strike
at the end of the season is to invite a long strike. If condi-
tions are such that the union is free to choose when the
strike shall take place, it is obviously to the advantage of
the union to strike at the beginning of the season.
1. Call a meeting of the workers involved and present
an honest and accurate report on all the efforts the union
has made to settle the dispute without a strike. The entire
union machinery must be put to work in preparing for this
general membership meeting.
2. At this meeting a vote should be taken on whether or
not to strike. If the members vote to strike, the next point
on the order of business is to set up the leading strike com-
mittees. It may be advisable to have the officers or the
Executive Board bring in recommendations for such com-
3. Carefully examine the attendance record of the meet-
ing or meetings. If a substantial group of workers failed to
attend such an important meeting or meetings, do not take
it lightly. Those workers must be reached through the
mails, by visitation, or through a special meeting.
4. Issue a statement to the press announcing the im-
pending strike because of the employer's stubborn resist-
ance to reach an agreement across the conference table.
In the statement stress the needs of the workers, the de-
mands of the union, and make an appeal to the public.
5. Meet with the leaders of the key committees and
check on their plans and personnel. Pay special attention
to the picketing plan.
6. If there is need for additional strike headquarters,
these must be rented before the strike and properly
equipped. There should be a telephone, chairs, and first
aid supplies. A reliable striker should be appointed to take
7. If the strike is of major proportions in the community,
consider the idea of a radio address, an advertisement
in the newspapers, or a handbill to the public presenting
the union's point of view.
8. A committee consisting of the most authoritative
union officers and members should visit the mayor, the
city councilmen, and leaders of the church, veteran, and
other civic organizations to explain the issues and solicit
their good will and support.
9. A similar committee should visit the AFL and CIO
central bodies and labor unions.
10. Alert the union attorneys and put them to work on
legal matters, such as unemployment insurance, instruc-
tions to pickets, and analyzing city ordinances that could
be applied to strike situations. Also arrangements must be
made in advance with bonding companies for bail in the
event of arrests.
11. Call a meeting of the Executive Board and see to
it that a sufficient sum of money is allocated for various
phases of strike action.
12. Send an official report on the pending strike to your
International and outline your needs and how the Inter-
national could assist you.
13. Meet with the person in charge of security and
check if proper measures have been taken to protect union
offices, strike leaders, and strike headquarters.
14. Make sure that "coffee and" stations will be set up
and ready to serve as soon as picketing begins.
- from John Streuben