James P. Cannon

Workers! Unite All Forces
Against the Union Wreckers!

(May 1938)

Published: Socialist Appeal, Vol. II No. 20, 14 May 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 “big push” of the Communist Party to take over or smash the United Auto Workers raises a question which is rapidly coming to a head in many unions. Supported by a strong press and apparatus, and with huge funds at their disposal, the Stalinists have become a big factor in the trade union movement, especially in the C.I.O. Catering to every prejudice of the most backward workers, combining with the worst types of labor fakers and even with discredited racketeers, cajoling, bribing, slandering and bull-dozing, the American operatives of the G.P.U. have taken the unsuspecting trade unionists unawares. They have inched their way into strategic control of many unions and are reaching out for power in others.

The first effects of this quiet and systematic penetration by the Stalinists are now becoming manifest. The affected unions are erupting in widespread dissension disruption and split as the victim of syphilis breaks out in sores and rashes. The labor movement is being frightfully weakened and undermined by internal disorders at a time when it needs all its strength for the external struggle.

The Workers Must Be Prepared

The economic crisis, plunging deeper and without prospects of alleviation, automatically endangers the position of the trade unions and sternly imposes upon them a policy of preparedness for coming storms. Production is away down and is dropping steadily. Unemployment figures are up to the 1935 level – the ultra-cautious statisticians of the A.F. of L. put the number of jobless at 11,232,000. If the entire history of capitalism means anything this state of affairs spells only one thing: organized and determined assaults of the employers to batter down wages and destroy the unions are on the order of the day.

Preparations for such a campaign are to be seen on every side. To meet this campaign successfully it is self-evident that the unions need a firm solidarity in their own ranks. The need to hold together, despite differences of opinion among the membership, and present a united front to the employers/

But this necessary internal cohesion is precisely what is lacking. The unions are sick. Take the almost daily reports of violent internal dissensions – auto union, maritime, pocket-book makers, New York painters, teachers, office workers, restaurant workers. Look

where you will, from one end of the country to another, in one union after another, the record of internal discord describes the fever chart of sick unions in convulsive struggles to throw off an alien poison. The name of this poison is Stalinism.

Crisis Aggravates Union Problems

The problems of the trade unions are many and varied. These problems are aggravated under conditions of the deepening crisis. In the newly formed organization in the big industries the problems are complicated by the inexperience of the workers and by the concentrated power of big capital arrayed against them.

Differences of opinion over programs and policies are inevitable. Trade union democracy alone can provide the arena for the responsible discussion of these differences and the disciplined execution of majority decisions. It is not possible, and it is not necessary, for all members of the beleaguered unions to answer all questions in the same way. But there is one thing upon which all constructive and responsible trade unionists must agree and co-operate. That is the preservation of the unions against disruption and disorganization. This is a common platform for all bona fide trade unionists.

From this point of view, the class-conscious and militant forces in the unions must take the lead in the life and death struggles of the unions to overcome the dread disease of Stalinism in their ranks. They must become the champions of the united front of all union-loyal and constructive forces against the Stalinite wrecking crew.

The Auto Union Situation

This is a burning problem right now in the automobile workers union. In their mad drive to control or wreck the U.A.W. the Stalinists have formed a factional combination with the ultra-reactionary, red-baiting Frankensteen and his similars against the Martin administration. This crooked factional maneuver is carried forward, of course, under the slogan of “an end to factionalism.” In this, the jingo-Stalinites only slavishly imitate the hypocritical tactics of the imperialist diplomats who always advance their war preparations under the guise of peace conferences and peace pacts.

Will a single intelligent militant in the auto unions be taken in by this cynical strategem? Can they really wish, after the horrible experiences of workers in the Stalinist controlled unions, to experiment with such “control” in the great organization of the auto workers?

In that case, you can be sure they will soon find out what disruptive “factionalism” really means.

The National Maritime Union, raised up through heroic struggles of militant and self-sacrificing seamen, gives the latest example and warning of what Stalinite domination of a union really means. A servile belly-crawling attitude toward the bosses; the signing of agreements which shame the labor movement; an internal regime of bureaucratic terror and expulsions; the factional exploitation of the Union for every twist and turn of Communist Party politics – that is what Stalinite domination of a union means, as the latest example of the National Maritime Union again demonstrates.

No, the militant and progressive members in the U.A.W. must give a different and more responsible answer to the Stalinite drive for control of their union. They cannot stand as neutrals on the sideline of the struggle either. If the militants in the auto union want to save their organization from such a fate, they need an active policy now in the present critical situation. That policy can only be the broadest united front in the union against a disruptive alien force. This is just as logical and just as necessary as solidarity on the picket line against a gang of scabs trying to break a strike. At bottom it is the same thing. And that is what it has already come to on the West Coast waterfront.

Support Martin

The policy here recommended does not imply extensive negotiations over questions of program, etc. It does not necessitate formal agreements of any kind. The most important facts are already known, and the duty of responsible militants is clear. In the crisis provoked by the Stalinite bid for power, the militants have no choice but to support the Martin administration as against the Stalinite-Frankensteen combination. And this support should be given openly, frankly and aggressively.

To be sure, the progressive and militant forces in the U.A.W. have grievances, and serious grievances, against the Martin administration. We have spoken of them before and will speak of them again. I am not suggesting that these criticisms be muffled or put aside. On the contrary, it is seasonable even now to point out that the opportunist policies and bureaucratic practices of Martin have alienated many of the best fighters in the ranks and made them easy victims of the Stalinist demagogy.

But even in criticism it is necessary to respect proportions and concrete circumstances. The U.A.W. under the Martin leadership remains, by comparison, the most progressive of the C.I.O. unions and by far the most democratic. The victory of the Stalinists would, swiftly put an end to all that. You have only to look around a bit to see what happens to a union that falls into the hands of the Stalinists and their stooges and bribed agents. To prevent that happening is the first task, and one that cannot be postponed.

In Other Unions

The same problem confronts the militants in numerous other organizations at the present moment. As this is being written the convention of the pocket book makers is split in two; Stalinists and gangsters combined to “end factionalism.” The West Coast sailors are fighting it out with the Stalinists on the picket line to protect their closed shop agreements. By and large the same policy is required everywhere. The class-conscious militants, while insisting on their right of constructive criticism, must always be ready for common action with all other bona fide unionists to defend the unions from external assault by the bosses or internal disruption by the Stalinists. Properly speaking, these are two sides of the same task.

The second is an even more immediate and pressing problem than the first. The Stalinists are a greater danger to the trade union movement than all the bosses precisely because they attack from within. They sail under false colors in order to deceive and befuddle the workers. They disrupt the unions with hypocritical cries for “unity.” They preach solidarity only in order to betray the workers more effectively. Stalinism is the worst and most destructive disease of the labor movement of the world. Stalinism is deception, disruption and treachery organized and subsidized on an international scale. It is high time to diagnose this disease and quarantine the labor movement against it.

Last updated on 30 July 2015