James P. Cannon

CIO Decision to Form National Body
Brings Unity Issue Forward

Six-Month Interval Provided to Give Hillman
Chance to Make New Peace Overtures;
Leaders Fed Up with C.P.

(April 1938)

Published: Socialist Appeal, Vol. II No. 17, 23 April 1938, pp. 1 & 3.
Source: PDF supplied by the Riazanov Library Project.
Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
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The conference attended by the chief officers of 38 international unions affiliated with the Committee for Industrial Organization in Washington, April 13, announced the decision to form a permanent organization of the C.I.O. at a general convention to be held next September or October.

Julius Hochman, representing the powerful International Ladies Garment Workers Union, abstained from voting, pending the further action of the executive board of his organization. Otherwise, the decision was reported as unanimous. It is known that there is strong opposition in the leading circles of the I.L.G.W.U. to any further aggressive action tending to deepen the split with the A.F. of L. Informed circles predict with more and more assurance that the Dubinsky organization will not go along if the C.I.O. formally constitutes itself as a rival organization.

Unity Still On Agenda

The decision of the Washington conference of the C.I.O. heads does not, as it may appear at first glance, take the question of unity with the A.F. of L. off the agenda. It simply brings the question of unity or of a deeper and more formally organized split closer to a showdown.

On the surface, the decision to call a general convention of the C.I.O. may appear to close the door to unity for a long time to come. But this, in our opinion, is not really the case. The formal announcement of the calling of the C.I.O. convention is more likely designed to force the hand of the A.F. of L. and to lay the ground for new negotiations.

This is borne out both by the unnecessarily long period of time allowed for the preparation of the convention – five or six months – and by the subsequent unofficial announcement in the usually well-informed column of Edward Levinson in the New York Post of April 14 that Sidney Hillman, president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, had beetn authorized to reopen negotiations with the A.F. of L.

Hillman and Conciliation

This appointment is significant. Hillman, a pseudo-statesman of the conservative give-away school, is far more qualified to lead a policy of conciliation than die-hard fighting. He is also known to be most uncritically subservient to the Roosevelt administration, which, as has been made clear already, thinks labor can be best regimented for support of the coming war in a united federation.

Contradictory forces are at work inside the C.I.O. After the stormy success which accrued from the great labor upsurge of early 1937, the developing economic crisis naturally brought the recruiting campaign to an abrupt halt. Along with this, internal difficulties have come more and more to the fore.

First, is the conflict of outlook and policy, and to a certain extent of interest, between the

older and more firmly established unions and the new mushroom giants of the mass production industries. Running a close second, is the increasing malevolence of the Stalinist abscesses and ulcers plaguing the C.I.O. draining its strength and halting its stride every way it turns. These internal difficulties are reflected in the double decision of the Washington conference to call a constitutional convention five or six months hence and, at the same time, to begin new unity negotiations, under the aegis of the conservative Hillman.

Unions Want Democracy

On the one hand, many of the new unions are pressing for an extension of democracy in the selection of officers by constitutional means; the dictatorial authority of the self-appointed and hand-picked chiefs, national, regional and local, is becoming somewhat irksome to the rank-and-file of these unions.

On the other hand, many of the older and more stable unions, having had a good dose of Stalinist manipulation and domina-tion, packing, finagling and maneuvering in the newly constituted local and state C.I.O. councils, look with apprehension to an extension of this nightmarish business on a general national scale. Fear of a permanent head-on conflict with the A.F. of L. is no doubt secondary to their panic at the prospect of further permeation by the Stalinist manipulators and expert disrupters.

The Stalinists, already well intrenched in the apparatus from top to bottom, have become the Achilles heel of the C.I.O. Lewis and his chief-of-staff, drunk with conceit and dazzled by monetary success, thought they could use everybody and outwit everybody, including the Stalinist bearers of Greek gifts to the C.I.O. The results up to date have been rather sad for these super-statesmen, and especially for the unions which have been receiving the “help” of the Stalinist highbinders.

Deal With Browder

Lewis parcelled out the Pacific Coast to the Stalinists like so much mandated territory, as a part of the national deal with Browder & Co. Besides being a cynical double-cross of the progressive elements of Pacific coast labor, this turned out to be a bad piece of business for Mr. Lewis and the C.I.O.

The bulk of the Pacific coast labor movement, including its most progressive and militant sections, turned definitely away from the C.I.O. and its appointed pro-consul, the garrulous Harry Bridges, otherwise known as the Pacific coast false alarm. Meantime, the Stalinist plants and stooges, caucus men, payroll bandits and delegates of paper organizations, have been running wild in the local and state councils of the C.I.O.

The result is truly devastating. In Los Angeles, for example, the older and more stable organizations, and the bona-fide unions generally, have simply quit participating. Other cities and states tell the same story, with slight variations. C.I.O councils having been “captured,” are being transformed into caucuses of the Communist Party, its stooges, hangers-on and hired men.

Situation in New York

The situation in New York, where the C.I.O. locals, expelled many months ago from the A.F. of L. central body, have not yet constituted their own council, provides the most graphic picture of internal contradiction expressed by indecision and paralysis. The Stalinists, who control a whole flock of C.I.O. unions in New York, real and more or less imaginary, are hellbent for the constitution of a C.I.O. council to romp around in. But the Amalgamated Clothing Workers and the I.L.G.W.U. are holding back; they don’t want to play. They would rather, like Hamlet, bear the ills they have than fly to others that they know not of.

The abstention of the I.L.G.W.U. delegates on the vote to call a convention and set up a definite organization, and the increasing indications that the executive board of this union will vote definitely at its May meeting against the proposition, is bound to cast a shadow over the whole project and to strengthen the forces in the C.I.O. which favor a conciliatory unity approach.

Insofar as the unity movement does not trade away the basic principles of industrial unionism and autonomy for the organizations in the mass production in-dustries, it is progressive and should continue to receive the support of the militant elements of the rank-and-file.

The move of the C.I.O. toward a constitutional convention does not eliminate the question of unity in the next period, but only makes it more acute.

Last updated on 30 July 2015