James P. Cannon

The Betrayal in Rubber –
And the Road Ahead

(April 1935)

Written: February 1935.
Published: New Militant, Vol. I No. 18, 20 April 1935, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcription\HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
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AKRON, April 15. – After 18 months of organizing work and preparation the rubber workers went to Washington to get union recognition, the 30-hour week and the abolition of the company unions. They came back with the recognition of the company unions, no mention of the 30-hour week and a pledge, signed by their representatives, to surrender the strike weapon while the courts dispose of their “case” and the rubber production season slides down to its low point.

It was a deliberate, cold-blooded betrayal – the auto, steel and textile run-around all over again, with fancy trimmings. Scientific treachery reached its “peak” in the experience of the rubber workers, but in the furious reaction of the rank and file to this perfidy – if it is harnessed to a searching analysis of its technique – there is the making of a powerful movement for genuine unionism which can set the pace for the entire country.

An open struggle on the picket lines – the only place where any of the new unions can really be consolidated and “recognized” – is out of the question at present; the strike has been knocked in the head as effectively as sluggers at the stockyards, armed with sledgehammers, knock over a steer. The rubber unions are dizzy from the cruel blows which have been dealt to them in the past week-end, but they are not dead by a long shot. The roar of militant protest and denunciation, which rose from the floor at Sunday’s membership meetings, is the sign of unconquerable vitality, the promise of recovery from the cruel defeat. This will take time. What is possible right now, and what is needed, is a searching inquiry into the causes of the defeat; a probe of the complicated system of maneuvers and tricks which left the rubber workers bewildered and helpless at the decisive moment. This is the task of the hour. The rest will follow.

As in the case of nearly all of the new mass unions which have sprung up in the past two years, the mass of the members at Akron, including even the best elements of the local leadership, entertained the greatest illusions about Hie policy and role of the government in the situation. They thought the government was on their side and depended on it to help them. This was a fatal miscalculation which ought to be clear enough now.

The policy of the government all along has been to stall and delay action, involve the workers in a labyrinth of hearings, appeals and negotiations, and paralyze the preparations for a decisive battle until the peak of the production season had passed. Then, at the decisive moment, Madame Perkins misused the confidence of the workers to shift the scene away from the picket line to Washington. There the stage was all set and the infamous pact was stampeded through. The bosses got what they wanted – with the government seal on it. No wonder they are “jubilant.” T.G. Graham, Goodrich vice-president, said: “The agreement puts everything back in the same status it was before the Washington conference.” He was right, and so was F.O. Harold, Goodrich union delegate to the Central Labor Union, when he said: “The agreement doesn’t give us a thing.”

But the most important feature of this agreement that “doesn’t give us a thing” is the fact that the government put it over, just as the government put over similar deals on the auto, steel and textile workers. This is the policy and the role of the government in labor disputes. The failure to understand this is what caught the rubber workers off guard and made them easy victims of the run-around.

The rubber workers, including many of the best local leaders who are heart and soul for the union, saw the issue too simply: the workers versus the rubber companies. But experience showed that it was much more complicated. The government run-around was also a factor in the situation; at the critical moment, thanks to the mistaken faith of the rubber workers, it turned out to be the decisive factor. The rubber companies could never have put over such an agreement directly. So the government, through Madame Perkins, did the job for them. The fact that the workers didn’t expect a dirty trick like this and were taken by surprise prevented them from mobilizing their forces to reject the sell-out agreement and go through with the strike. In the general demoralization the strike was broken before it started and the fight for union recognition lost for the time being. The government had a big hand in this result.

Lesson No. 1. – The new unions must rely on their own strength and expect nothing from the government but the run-around.

“It becomes increasingly clear as the days go by that the danger to the rubber workers comes from an enemy within the ranks of labor itself. That enemy is the bureaucracy at the head of the A.F. of L. and of the rubber union itself.” These words appeared in an editorial in last week’s issue of the New Militant. Similar warnings were sounded in previous articles in the New Militant and in the March issue of the New International. These were the only papers in the country to try to put the rubber workers on guard against the betrayal which finally overwhelmed them. Yet, it is perfectly clear now that Green, Claherty & Co. worked from the first, and with especial effectiveness at the last, in the complicated frame-up machine which ground out a humiliating defeat for the workers.

The rubber workers didn’t see this, at least not with sufficient clarity, and this led to their undoing. These faithless leaders have demonstrated time and time again that their ideas and ways of life are alien to those of the struggling and exploited workers. They dread the thought of struggle. Above all they fear the growth and development of real mass organizations of the most exploited workers which would bring the fresh breeze of militancy and class struggle into the labor movement. Their field of action is the conference table and their deliberate strategy is to trade away the rights of the newly organized workers for political crumbs and concessions, legislative favors, appointments and even outright bribes for themselves. They never lift a finger to help a strike, but work like demons to prevent them or to sabotage and disrupt them.

No, the line-up in the struggle of capital and labor is not simply, as too many of the rubber workers thought, the unions versus the companies. It is far more complicated and deceptive. The government, exploiting the illusion of impartiality and even of “friendship” for the workers, in reality serves the bosses and demoralizes the trusting workers with flank attacks ; the treacherous officials of the A.F. of L., masquerading as “labor leaders,” stab them in the back. Madame Perkins put the government seal on the company union “agreement”; Green and Claherty put the union label on it. It took all these deceptive machinations to wreck the strike movement of the rubber workers for the time being. The struggle to regain the lost ground has to begin with an understanding of this shell game and the cappers and come-ons who participate in its operations. A part of the technique of the labor traitors, employed with exceptional success in the rubber situation, consists in talking militantly at moments when the workers clamor for action and even in putting forward individual members of the machine to play the radical. As the rubber strike movement reached the boiling point they even declared a truce with the Communist Party. In return for this favor the Communist Party refrained from criticism of Green and Claherty at the moment when their treacherous machinations were obviously coming to a head and when a timely warning against them was most urgently needed. When the calculated blow was finally delivered the workers were taken unawares. In the general confusion, disappointment and demoralization the shameful “settlement” was railroaded through the local unions at Akron.

Lesson No. 2. – Expect nothing from the officialdom of the A.F. of L. and its appointed agents but the most cynical betrayals every time. Those who fail to point this out to the workers, and above all those who know it and keep quiet about it, play the part of accomplices in this treachery.

When it comes down to a test of strength the workers, thanks to their numbers and their strategic position in industry, are much stronger than the bosses and can easily defeat them on a local, national and world scale. The defeat of the rubber workers is not fundamental. They have not been vanquished in a test of strength; they have been tricked, betrayed, out-maneuvered. And, above all, they have paid the price of their own lack of organization.

The bosses, plus the government, plus the labor traitors, could not have put over the sell-out agreement if the progressive forces in the local unions had been prepared and organized to meet it. The forces of the enemy worked like a well-oiled machine. The bosses, Madame Perkins, and the labor leaders all knew their parts and played them at the right moment – and then they all worked in unison to railroad the settlement through. The local progressives were not ready. They were not well organized. And before they had time to catch their breath the job was done.

Had the progressive and militant elements in the local unions thought the thing out more fundamentally; had they seen through the complicated game of the three-team combination – bosses, Perkins and Green – and put the rank and file on guard against the frame-up; had they organized their own forces to take the offensive and smash the betrayal the moment it was sprung – if they had done this while there was yet time there would be a different picture in Akron today. The traitors would have been swept aside by a human avalanche. The rubber unions would be enforcing “recognition” on the picket lines and the whole national movement of insurgent labor would be rallying around them. The Akron rubber strike would most likely be setting the pace for a great national strike wave of far greater proportions and potentialities than that of 1934.

Let the bosses and their hirelings worry about the possible consequences of such a struggle. The workers have nothing to loose. Every experience proves over again that there is no way to gain anything or to advance the cause of labor a single inch except by determined struggle. This struggle didn’t begin in Akron this morning, although the conditions were ripe for it. In the last analysis only one thing was lacking: a serious organization of the progressive forces in the local unions.

Lesson No. 3. – The militant and progressive forces in the rubber unions must organize around a program of militant action to cleanse the unions of the influence of traitors and convert them into fighting instruments of the workers. That is the way, and the only way, to scrap the company union settlement and get a real union settlement.

Last updated on: 28 July 2015