The Labor Scene: Steel

The hubbub caused by steel and coal strikes during recent weeks has obscured what may very well be the deciding factor in the negotiations still ahead; the delicate political position of Philip Murray as he attempts both to reach a settlement with the steel industry and maintain his leadership of the brawling CIO.

Murray is suffering from a five-way squeeze play. He is under pressure from industry and from much of the public to compromise before a stoppage that may cripple the economy; but this is the least of his worries. He has to go before the national convention of the CIO in less than a month with a record that will re-elect him to its presidency--in the face of both the raucous agitating of such Communist-led unions as the United Electrical Workers and the growing political strength of Walter Renther, who gave himself a big boost by coaxing a non-contributory pension plan from Ford last week.

Two other pressure points are being hammered by unionists John L. Lowis and William Green. Lewis, always pretty much of a maverick, has been attacking Murray for dropping the fourth-round wage demands that the mineworkers are after. (They already have a non-contributory pension plan.) Green, AF of L head, is using the same reason to knock Murray's handling of the CIO--like Lewis, he doesn't think much of presidential fact-finding boards, and is using Murray's acceptance of the report as a club to attack the CIO.

Taft-Hartley Law

The Taft-Hartley Law, focal point of last spring's bitter, congressional struggle, doesn't enter the picture too strongly. The steelworkers have already hold up their strike 77 days, just three short of the cooling-off period provided for under the national emergency clause of T-II. The special presidential board was exactly the same as that provided for under the law--and was equally unable to make a binding report. Since President Truman is unlikely to use the injunction (the unions feel that their voluntary delays would make it grossly unfair, and Truman probably agrees), the issue would seem to turn on internal political developments.

Murray had hoped to be able to throw out the Communists at the coming national convention. Armed with a strong steel stand, he might have managed it with comparatively little trouble; but now he is on very weak ground, open to damaging accusations that he has given up on the fourth round and is going along with big business. Now, Murray was undoubtedly right from a long-range point of view when he dropped the wage demands and stuck merely to pensions; but his locals won't see it the same way as the public. To them, it could be made to look like betrayal--if the United Electrical Workers' propagandists make enough noise. And in the background is Reuther, the bright boy from Detroit, who would certainly like the presidency of the whole CIO. Reuther is very available indeed; he has the Ford pension plan in his hip pocket to show some concrete gains while Murray is still wrestling with Big Steel.

Rough Month for Murray

So the CIO president cannot give in on pensions: to keep his standing in union circles he will have to hold out for a plan entirely financed by industry. Should he do otherwise, Lewis and Reuther will be on his neck. If he does follow this course, industry and the public will go after him. It looks like a rough month for him either way--but the squeeze from his own people must be more compelling than the pinch from industry.

It seems that politics and not economics will decide Murray's course, whether or not he is correct about the pension question. He may or may not be right; but he won't have a chance to reach his decision on those grounds. It is unfortunate for the entire labor movement that this man, who has played this one hard but fairly and wisely all the way, should be boxed in by his own people.