Philip Coben

Labor ’Scope

ACTU Finds a ‘Violation’
of Union Democracy in CIO

(2 January 1950)

From Labor Action, Vol. 14 No. 1, 2 January 1950, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The Association of Catholic Trade Unionists, the papacy’s organized “fraction” in the labor movement, believes in democracy, it says. We have no doubt that its unionists mean this in all sincerity, and we know that ACTU people have, on specific occasion, done good work for union democracy. But like so many other elements who “believe” in democracy – and even mean it as they say it – the ACTU makes its concept of democracy fit what it wants to do and say, rather than the other way around.

When the interests of Catholic ideology and ACTU influence get in the way, the ACTU has not been noted for its enthusiastic support of democratic processes. The Steel Workers’ union, with its heavy Catholic influence, is a case in point.

The November 30 issue of the ACTU’s weekly Labor Leader provides a less important but illuminating sidelight on how the great name of Democracy can be twisted out of recognition to suit a factional interest. In this issue of its organ the ACTU proposes a game to its readers, a quiz game. On one page it quotes a declaration of principles “taken from the constitution of a national organization,” and challenges the reader to “distinguish whether it is a political party or a labor organization ... The organization’s name will be found on page 4.”

The declaration of principles which it quotes is interesting quite apart from this little game. We reproduce it in an accompanying box for its own sake, as well as for its use by the ACTU.

Can’t Recognize Socialism

The kicker, however, is revealed in the Quiz Answer on the Labor Leader’s page 4. This is the “answer”:

“The Declaration of Principles is a bold statement of socialist aims. It is taken from the constitution of the International Union of United Brewery, Flour, Cereal, Soft Drink and Distillery Workers of America (CIO).

“The program accepts the concept of unending class warfare and hence violates principles held by thousands of Catholic members of the Union. IT HAS NO PLACE IN A DEMOCRATIC UNION CONSTITUTION.” (Our caps – P.C.)

It is the last sentence we are interested in, but first it should be said that the declaration quoted is not at all a statement of socialist aims, let alone a bold one. It IS a pretty bold statement of the class-struggle basis of unionism – but then the American Federation of Labor constitution has one too. Recognition of the class struggle, important as that is, is not equivalent to socialism – which goes further and adds that the existing class struggle must lead to the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of a democratic workers’ government if it is to be really true that "the earth and all its wealth belong to all.” (It should be added, unfortunately, that writing such excellent paragraphs into a union constitution is not, in turn, equivalent to putting these precepts into practice, as the case of the AFL shows.)

However, this merely means that the ACTU editors are not capable of recognizing a statement of “socialist aims” when they see one (or don’t see one), but it is still true that the declaration quoted runs counter to the philosophy of the Catholic hierarchy and its hatred of any and all class-struggle ideas. Let us concede, therefore, that the Brewery Workers’ constitution “violates principles held by thousands of Catholic members of the union,” that is, any who really believe the church’s generally reactionary social philosophy.

The ACTU, however, jumps in a single leap from that to the charge that such a constitution is undemocratic! In other words, a union (any other organization, for that matter) has no right to adopt social ideas which are contrary to those of the church, laid down in the popes’ encyclicals!

Sounds Like Hypocrisy

For the Quiz Answer does not claim that the declaration violates the principles of a MAJORITY of the union’s members – it violates the principles only of the Catholics. This is its crime against democracy!

This comes from a world church – the ACTU is only one arm in one country – which, in other countries, organizes not merely "associations of Catholic trade unionists" but whole unions on the basis of its sectarian social views, and claims the right to represent whole plants and industries whether or not all the workers therein are believing Catholics or not. This comes from an institution which insisted that God had to be written into the UN charter, which presumably represents all humanity – including free-thinkers, atheists, agnostics, and people who are simply quite uninterested in supernatural beings. This comes from an institution which wants (said Cardinal Spellman) ALL the people, through government taxes, to help pay for the upkeep of its own Catholic parochial schools. In tact, Cardinal Spellman denounced all opponents of his scheme as – undemocratic!

We have no quarrel here with the religious beliefs of any unionists, whether Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Mohammedan or Rosicrucian. That is another matter. But any church which seeks to impose its own SOCIAL tenets on groups much wider than its own communicants – it has the right to try – and then howls “democracy” when a majority choose their own social beliefs, is engaging in the kind of Jesuitical hypocrisy which makes the Catholic hierarchy vulnerable to a well-justified suspicion that it is no more interested, at bottom, in union democracy in American labor than it is interested in democracy in Spain.

* * *

What’s ‘Undemocratic’ About This?

As explained in the accompanying article, the Association of Catholic Trade Unionists cites the following declaration of principles from the CIO Brewery Workers’ constitution as “undemocratic.” We cite it as a good basis for a union to ACT on, as well as one to write into a constitution. Here it is.

“In our society of today there are two classes. On the one side stands the propertied class, that owns almost all the lands, all the houses, the factories, the means of communication and transportation, all the machines and raw material. Compared with the nation at large this class is only a small minority.

“On the other side stand the workers, who possess nothing but their physical and intellectual power, and this they are compelled to sell to those who own the means of production. The workers number millions.

“Every new invention in machinery, every new discovery of natural forces, inures to the benefit of the propertied class alone, which is still further enriched thereby. Human labor is, as a consequence, being constantly more and more displaced.

“Taking all these facts into consideration, we declare:

“1. That labor must organize locally, nationally and internationally in order to enable it to effectively cope with organized capital.

“2. National and international unions are in a position to exercise a great influence on production, oh wages on the hours of labor; to regulate the question of apprenticeship, to uphold their members in various emergencies.

“3. The struggles which labor naturally has to wage with capital brings it to the realization that individual unions must cooperate by assisting each other in giving mutual support for the common cause to advance the interests of their fellow workers.

“4. There is no power on earth strong enough to thwart the will of such a majority conscious of itself. It will irresistibly tend toward its goal. It has natural right upon its side. The earth and all its wealth belong to all. All the conquests of civilization are an edifice, to the rearing of which all nations for thousands of years have contributed their labor. The results belong to the community at large. It is organized labor that will finally succeed in putting these principles into actual practice and in introducing a condition of things in which each shall enjoy the full product of its toil.”

Last updated on 25 February 2023