Press and Sun-Bulletin/March 14, 1945
Contrary to the tenor of many shrill cries of alarm, there is nothing new or unconventional in the demand of John L. Lewis for a royalty of ten cents a ton or $60,000,000 a year, payable, not to the individual coal miners but to the treasury of their totalitarian union. Neither was the idea original with Jimmy Petrillo when, recently, in rowdy contempt for the War Labor Board (WLB) and President Roosevelt, he insisted on a sales tax on recorded music which he expects to yield about $4,000,000 a year, not to the musicians, but to his treasury.
The precedent exists far back in union practice, notably in the needle trades whose rulers are staunch New Dealers, and in certain local butchers’ unions which sell tags to be affixed to chickens killed under union conditions.
The basic principle of the case, the right of unions to collect sales taxes on commodities payable, in the long run, by the consumer, has long been established, probably without the knowledge of the people. Whether this tax accrues to the individual who does the work, is shared by all members of a union or flows into a fund inaccessible to them, is a secondary matter, loaded however with its own fascinating portents.
These rights, or assumptions, existed in a small way and in desultory and imperceptible practice before the New Deal. Since the New Deal began, however, they have been confirmed by recognition.
Mr. Lewis’ demand is in the public interest because it presents in shocking enormity the power of private organizations, subject to no income taxes and exempt even from the obligation to file reports of their income, to tax all the people, each in its own interest. Now the people have no excuse to remain unaware and if they continue to submit, they have only themselves to blame. Possibly they want it that way.
Mr. Petrillo expects to reap $4,000,000 a year to start, but hopes, by extending his sales tax to movie admissions, to run it up to $6,000,000 a year, at least. He says it is his intention to hold the money until the fund reaches $100,000,000 and then begin unemployment payments to musicians thrown out of work by the mechanization and repetition of music.
Assuming that this would take 15 years, many of the distressed musicians will be dead before their unemployment benefits are released and granting Mr. Petrillo’s argument that most of them will be thrown out of jobs very soon, it follows that most of them will take up other work and drop out of Jimmy’s union.
Thus, by the time the $100,000,000 is ready for distribution, the membership might be down to no more than, say, 25,000, a possibility that surely has not eluded men so shrewd and far-sighted as Mr. Petrillo and his counsel, Joe Padway, honored friends, both, and devoted followers of Mr. Roosevelt.
Or, under his constitution and with the advice and counsel of Mr. Padway, he could expel all the surviving members and cut up the money with Mr. Padway and any others toward whom he might feel generous. His constitution permits him to do this and no law forbids him.
At any rate, Mr. Petrillo’s mere “intention” to use the money for unemployment benefits or cultural works in the sweet bye and bye is not legal and binding. It is just a momentary idea, subject to change at his own discretion, under the close and curious structure of his union. So is the “intention” of John L. Lewis to use his sales tax of $60,000,000 a year for “modern medical and surgical service, hospitalization, insurance, rehabilitation and economic protection.” Mr. Lewis is strong and willful and a consummate politician as Franklin D. Roosevelt has learned in the touchy fingering of many bruises suffered in contests with one man who delights to draw him into fights and has licked him every time save 1940 when Mr. Lewis supported Wendell Willkie.
But there is no excuse for indignation against Mr. Lewis. He is only exercising a privilege of unions confirmed by the Roosevelt government and doggedly defended by Roosevelt henchmen in the Senate.
So if Mr. Lewis collects, say, $200,000,000 in the next four years and spends it all in the next election that is, after all, not his doing, but Mr. Roosevelt’s. He could do this on the precedent of Mr. Roosevelt’s own P. A. C., as an “educational” project for the attainment of his stated purpose to “provide for the economic protection” of the miners.