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The end of World War 2 gave birth to the greatest strike wave in US history. Strikes in 1945-1946 involved more workers, and consumed more work days, than ever before. Workers at electrical plants, meat packers, auto workers, oil workers, steel workers, coal miners, railroad locomotive engineers and conductors threatened or engaged in massive, and sustained, job actions.
The bourgeoisie should have, could have, and probably did expect it. The war was over. The no-strike pledge that had effectively capped wages had lost its reason for being. Between 1940 and 1945 union membership had doubled. Industrial unions of the CIO, representing industries rather than crafts, or just shops, were drumming the beat of the labor movement.
Anticipating a strike wave is one thing; actually doing something about it; actually pre-empting a strike wave is something else altogether. The bourgeoisie still weren’t all the good on the preemption side. Yet.
When US railroad workers rejected the terms of settlement proposed by the railroads’ management, Truman seized the railroads, prepared to deploy the army to break the strike, threatened to draft the striking railroad workers into the military, utilizing the workers’ status as conscripts to abrogate the seniority agreements governing work assignments. The unions folded.
‘Twas a pity, Nothing would have accelerated class struggle more than having a fully organized work force absorbed into the military’s enlisted ranks, except maybe having a fully organized work force in the enlisted ranks with training and access to weapons. Unions could have welcomed conscription, demanded access to weapons, agitated among the enlisted ranks. However, anti-audacity, anti-audacity, and encore anti-audacity carried the day.
Truman played the same card in 1950, and ran the table again.
In 1946, the strike by (mostly female) department store clerks in Oakland, California became a city-wide general strike. The city council thought it could have its own Truman moment and sent in police with machine guns to break the picket lines. Truck drivers and transit workers struck in solidarity with the clerks and soon took over the entire city-center. The strike was so widespread and so militant that union leaders stayed away.
The Sailor’s Union of the Pacific (merchant marine) supported the strikers and walked off several ships. The strike spread to Emeryville, and everyone was waiting, hoping or dreading, for the other shoe to drop– which shoe was that of the dockworkers and warehouse workers in the Bay Area. Doubly dangerous, this was a black shoe. The shoe didn’t drop. The ILWU remained silent.
The CIO basically ignored the strike, tactically, until it was too late, strategically. Lip-service was offered, but we all know what lip-service is– it’s what you try to say when you’re going down on the bourgeoisie. What’s that? Can you hear me now? No? Good.
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters leadership didn’t ignore the strike. That leadership denounced the strike as a threat to public order and the government of the United States.
It took the AFL two days to gain enough courage to call off the strike, winning from the department store owners………..nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Zippo. The Big 0.
Whereas workers might or might not have been capable of “only trade union consciousness” “on their own,” on their own their actions were way ahead of such “consciousness.”
The Congress thought it had a better idea; an idea a bit more comprehensive than relying on 2,3, many Truman moments, or mini-Truman mini-moments; an “idea” built around the unions demonstrated ability to disorganize and smother workers’ collective action. The Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, known commonly as the Taft-Hartley Bill was passed, vetoed by Truman, and re-passed over his veto. So there, Harry, you don’t get to pocket that buck.
The Taft-Hartley bill outlawed jurisdictional strikes, wildcat strikes, secondary boycotts and picketing and closed union shops. The bill required that union officers certify that they are not communists, and authorized the individual states to pass “right to work” legislation.
Right-to-work legislation prohibits contracts between employers and labor unions that require employee membership in the union and/or the payment of union dues as a condition of employment.
The Taft-Hartley Bill was strongly supported by the National Association of Manufacturers, no surprise there. The bill was also strongly supported by senators and representatives from the southern states, no surprise there either. Where NAM saw a threat to the accumulation of capital in organized labor, the South recognized an end to a way of life in the organization of black labor.
The distinction, and boundary, between the “rational” interests of capitalists in maintaining accumulation, and the irrational, anti-semitic, racist, night-riding, Christian fundamentalist has always been fuzzy. Not a boundary, in truth, it’s a membrane always permeable allowing for the mixing of both.
In complementary convergence with NAM’s “rational” support for Taft-Hartley against organized labor came the violence of the Christian American Association in its agitation for right-to-work laws against the anti-Christ. The anti-Christ of course was Jewish Marxist Godless Communist Labor Organizers determined to stir up the bestial passions of the normally docile Negroes, known by its initials not as JMGCLO, but rather the CIO.
Nobody does meanness on grander scale than Texas, and the Christian American Association was the product of Texans– one Vance Muse, fundamentalist Christian, anti-semite, racist, and long-term lobbyist for…….manufacturers, including the Texas oil industrialists. There are no accidents in the almost-perfect and perfectly miserable world of capitalists. It’s not chance, it’s the genetics of property.
2. The Arc of Anti-Development
The Great Depression disrupted the historical relations of agriculture in the South and Southwest. Share-croppers and tenant farmers, existing in a more less continuous state of suspended bankruptcy, (or what would have been bankruptcy if they had any assets at all), had the sentence carried out and, with the help of the New Deal, were forced off the land and into the cities or into itinerancy or both as proletarians.
Organization of workers into unions was both a spontaneous eruption and a calculated strategy for gaining a measure of economic stability and de-politicizing the class struggle, containing that class struggle in the existing political institutions, administering the class struggle through those institutions.
World War 2 continued this process through the mechanization of Southern agriculture, and the expansion of industry. The introduction and aggrandizement of new sources of labor power was matched with the destruction of already accumulated capital, and value sources through warfare. The bourgeoisie made it a point to demonstrate, yet again, that capital accumulation is more than equally anti-reproduction of the class that is the source of value.
There was a real urgency behind this amalgam of “rational” capitalist industrial anti-unionism of the National Association of Manufacturers (and the like) with the “irrational” terrorist racism of the Christian American Associations (and the like) as a rallying point for supporting Taft-Hartley. In March, 1946, the CIO announced its “Operation Dixie.”
Operation Dixie was planned by the CIO to expand the unionization of workers into both the “traditional” and “new” industries of the South. The CIO announced the goal of Operation Dixie was nothing less than the organization of every manufacturing worker in the South.
In part, the campaign was an effort to protect gains already established in the North by preventing capital flight, “runaway shops” to the anti-union, lower-wage South. The CIO also intended Operation Dixie to break through the bedrock of reaction anchored in the Southern Redeemer cracker-aristocracy and its hold on the machinery of local and federal government. The organizing drives focused on parity of wages between North and South, and also involved attacks on certain aspects of racial segregation, including the poll tax.
The convergence of “modern” attacks upon Operation Dixie through the “archaic” post-bellum Jim Crow racism was in recognition of the significance of the black proletariat. Accumulation was (and is) locked into a battle against the reproduction, the expansion, of the class as a whole. The backward unity of past, present, and future capitalism is compressed in the state governments’ layering of right-to-work laws upon the edifice of Jim Crow.
Vance Muse gave voice to the coincidence, the co-dependence of this “entrepreneurial racism,” this unified core of reaction when he campaigned in Texas and throughout the South for right-to-work laws, claiming:
“From now on, white women and white men will be forced into organizations with black African apes whom they will have to call ‘brother’ or lose their jobs.”
Nobody could have said it any worse, which made Vance Muse the best man for job: racist, anti-labor, opposed to women’s suffrage, anti-semitic, dishonest, pious, vicious, sanctimonious– a man in full; capital in a business suit, cowboy boots…..and a white sheet.
3. Two Steps Backward, One Step Laterally
With Taft-Hartley, with the defeat of Operation Dixie, “labor” as such was contained. Still, irremediable “damage” had been done to the legacy relations of segregation through the industrialization/proletarianization of Southern agricultural production.
The civil rights movement emerged also as part spontaneous eruption, part calculated strategy, to both achieve and contain the struggle against this legacy within the institutions of government, through the right to vote.
The struggle for voting rights is a struggle for the equality of black labor only to the degree that it is the attempt to convert that equality from a condition of labor and into a relation of property, where labor is obscured by notions of ownership, citizenship.
The promise of voting rights is the detached, abstracted promise of 40 acres and a mule– minus of course the land and the animal, leaving only the promise.
The fury of the South, of the white reaction to civil rights was another gasp of vengeance from the undead body of slaveholders and their slaveholders’ rebellion, for the indignities imposed by the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the US constitution.
“States’ Rights!” is the form. “Anti-labor, anti-equality!” is the substance.
4. Now, Then
After the rate of profit peaked for US industry (around 1970), the bourgeoisie knew something was no longer quite right. Something had to be done. Something was. OPEC, transferring wealth up the social ladder was one thing. The overthrow of Allende, violently repressing the working class was another. Breaking the 1974 strike wave in the US was another.
The bourgeoisie went on the offensive. Ideologically, the mythology of growth, investment, deregulation,”opportunity,” free markets, entrepreneurship was inflated like the Hindenburg around decelerating growth, asset stripping, increased policing, roll back of equality of access, and attacks on wages and benefits.
The importance of the incestuous marriage of capital and racism, of manufacturers, financiers, real estate scammers, hedge-fund savants with avengers of the Confederacy, white militias, new Nazis demonstrated, and demonstrates, again its great use-value to the bourgeoisie in the overlapping of right-to-work legislation with voter-suppression actions with ongoing anti-immigrant attacks.
In 2017, Missouri and Kentucky adopted right-to-work legislation, bringing the total number of states with such laws to twenty-eight. The map of the US right-to-work laws looks like this (states with RTW laws in blue-green):
Voter-suppression in the United States, directed against African-Americans, Hispanics, the elderly, the poor and students takes a number of different forms, including use of the Interstate Crosscheck system to purge voter-registration rolls. That map looks like this (states using Crosscheck in red) :
The map of states using voter-id laws to restrict voting looks like this
The map of states that have passed laws considered hostile to immigrants from Mexico, Central, and South America looks like this:
The “hostility” to Hispanic immigrants has a class basis. In yet another iteration of dispossession, forcing the population off the land, out of subsistence production, into migration, itinerancy, and proletarianization, the reconfiguration of agriculture in Mexico and Central America, through legislation and terror, through abolition of the ejido, the rights of the pueblo, through abrogation of common use of the land enforced by death squads, through civil and drug wars forced million to begin the great trek to El Norte.
The bourgeoisie, in their relocation,and reconfiguration of manufacturing and agricultural production, in their asset-stripping, decertification of unions, runaway shops, reduced wages, have become increasingly reliant on migrant labor. Three-quarters of agricultural workers in the United States are foreign-born, with one-quarter of those undocumented migrants. One in eight workers in construction are undocumented; one in ten in the leisure and service industries are undocumented. The anti-immigration actions are designed to repress and intimidate this labor force, to reduce it to near chattel status. That these laws have/will restrict the ability of the bourgeoisie to adequately meet the need for such labor is indicative only of the irrationality at the heart of capital’s “rational” exploitation labor.
Opposition to these laws, this program of the bourgeoisie to intensify rates of exploitation, needs a response, needs responses, different from the old “unite and fight,” or “common enemy.” Those responses were inadequate then, and are inadequate now. A combat response recognizes that indeed the working class is fragmented, is fractionalized and that unity is not achieved in articulating “common concerns” that ignore the specific attacks on specific sections of the class. A combat response requires that workers, organized and unorganized, employed and unemployed, marginalized mobilize against right-to-work laws; that workers organized and unorganized, employed and unemployed, foreign and native born, specifically oppose voter-suppression actions; that all protect all immigrants from all attacks.
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