Main FI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Fourth International, August 1949


Bert Cochran

Wall Street’s Labor Salesmen


Source: Fourth International, Vol.10 No.7, August 1949, pp.214-218.
Transcribed: Daniel Gaido.
Marked up: Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The American labor union officialdom, especially the CIO section, as been in a coalition with the capitalist state since the advent of the New Deal. It was only in the war period, however, that they integrated themselves into the governmental machinery and became an indispensable cog in the administrative works.

Sidney Hillman, former president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, who had long been casting coy glances at Roosevelt in an effort to gain a bigger stage for his performance as “labor statesman,” gave the cue to his fellow bureaucrats by plunging into the “war effort” even before the shooting started. Throughout 1941, he served as co-director with William S Knudsen of General Motors in the “Office of Production Management.”

But Roosevelt soon realized that he needed far more comprehensive support from the labor bureaucracy for the successful prosecution of his war program. Hillman’s drawback was his lack of official recognition as a plenipotentiary of the labor movement. The tripartite National Defense Mediation Board broke down in 1941 for want of a suitable formula on union security.

Immediately after Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt looked to remedy this state of affairs by moving the bureaucracy right into the war machine. An extraordinary conference was held of all union, leaders, out of which came labor’s no-strike pledge and unqualified backing of the war effort; in return Roosevelt created the War Labor Board, which guaranteed the labor leaders their organizational strength and revenues by means of a bastardized form of union shop, “maintenance of membership.”

The OPM, in turn, was replaced by the War Production Board under the chairmanship of Donald M. Nelson. Here, too, a number of labor advisory committees were set up, and AFL and CIO representatives served as vice-chairmen in charge of manpower and labor production. The labor production division of the WPB had six leading AFL and C1O officials, and all subsidiary industry divisions included labor officials in advisory posts. The six AFL and CIO representatives on the WPB likewise served on the War Manpower Commission’s labor-management advisory committee. Labor dignitaries were also placed in the Economic Stabilization Board, the OPA, the Office of Civilian Defense and many other lesser war agencies.

This incorporation of the bureaucracy into the war apparatus went deep down into the ranks of the union officialdom. From one end of the country to the other, labor officers, from international down to district and-local rank, received official status through appointments to War Labor Board regional panels, local price and rationing boards, civilian defense, war relief agencies, bond selling divisions, and what have you.

The labor bureaucracy accepted the assignment of top sergeant in charge of the labor forces without any qualms. Its mentality was geared so completely with that of the capitalists that it saw no need to even justify its treacherous role in the war. Its vision extended only to safeguarding its own organizational bases and to seeking out all opportunities to augment its power and prestige.

The ease with which the Murrays and Greens slid into administrative posts and the notable concessions they secured from the Roosevelt war administration attested to the labor movement’s intrinsic strength and the indispensability of its backing for the execution of Washington’s imperialist projects. How strong labor had grown can be gauged by contrasting its situation with the position of Gompers’ AFL in the First World War.

What Gompers Gave – And What He Got

The AFL had a membership of only some 2 million in 1914 and was especially weak in the metal industries. Nevertheless, Woodrow Wilson’s war machine enlisted the support of Gompers and the other labor leaders not so much because of their hold on the American working people, but as a counter-weight to the important anti-war forces then present in the working class represented by the IWW and the Debs socialists. The support of the AFL was also needed to offset the influence of a serious pacifist movement which had been responsible for such demonstrative protests as the resignation of Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan in 1915 and Senator La Follette’s vote against the war two years later. In return for Gompers’ services, the AFL gained a number of concessions like the Adamson Act, which established the 8-hour day on the railroads, the La Follette Seamen’s Act, the prohibition of the Taylor system in arsenals, navy yards and gun stations.

Wilson welcomed the labor leaders into respectable society, at the dedication of the AFL building in Washington on July 4, 1916, with the declaration that no president could any longer ignore the organized labor movement. But, notwithstanding all this recognition and Gompers’ value to the government, the AFL received little more than crumbs from Wilson’s War Labor Board and could not even get a statement of policy in favor of union recognition or the basic 8-hour day, much less anything like maintenance of membership.

In some respects the labor movement has retrogressed since the First World War. In 1941, there existed no mass opposition to the war. The socialist opposition – represented solely by the Socialist Workers Party – was weak; the pacifist movement was much smaller, and the Stalinists were the loudest jingoes of all. But – in contrast to Gompers’ AFL – the union movement itself was a potent force and especially impregnable in the decisive mass production industries. That is why it was granted sizable concessions right away which put in the pale those won by Gornpers, and why the labor bureaucracy was provided places, and posts on all the war agencies as a matter of course.

The difference between the two labor movements is even more striking if we contrast the two postwar periods.

After the First World War, Gompers was rewarded for his patriotic work by the crushing of the steel strike and the coal strike by government injunctions, the “American Plan” and an all-out open shop drive that left the AFL decimated, impotent and in full retreat. The intentions of the corporations were hardly more honorable in 1945, but they couldn’t swing their union-busting this time. They were rebuffed on the strike fronts in 1945 and 1946 and rebuffed again in the elections in 1948. The organized union movement although hamstrung by Taft-Hartleyism has held its swollen wartime membership and the bureaucracy has more than maintained its wartime influence. It was this set of circumstances that forced the capitalist rulers to continue the alliance first projected by Roosevelt in the New Deal and carried over in more systematic fashion into the war period.

Recognition Aplenty But No Power

All the honors and encomiums showered upon the AFL and CIO heads should not give one any exaggerated idea of their actual voice in the affairs of government or influence on matters of policy. Actually, the labor leaders were pretty much limited to “advisory roles” and never granted the place in the coalition achieved by their cousins in England or by their counterparts in the pre-war coalitions on the European continent. The bureaucrats smarted under this inferior status and were continually huffing and puffing to demonstrate their “statesmanship” and “maturity” to the powers-that-be.

The wartime AFL and CIO conventions adopted sonorous resolutions chock-full of weighty recommendations on how production could be speeded up, bottlenecks eliminated, morale lifted, labor-management cooperation improved – if only “labor” were taken into full partnership and its leaders afforded the recognition which they felt they so richly deserved. The CIO began throwing its weight around for the adoption of the Tolan Committee recommendations to coordinate all the manifold war agencies under a single administrative body. At the same time, they were shouting for the establishment of labor-management committees to increase production. The 1942 Toronto AFL convention similarly demanded the “centralization and definite delegation of responsibility.”

Meanwhile, the international unions, especially those of the CIO, were frenziedly pushing their individual industry plans to “achieve total steel output,” “to assure the armed forces an adequate aluminum supply,” “a plan for the stabilization of the lumber industry,” “an 8-point production and conservation program for the oil industry,” an 11-point project “to obtain all-out production in the rubber factories of the nation,” the well known “Reuther Plan” to convert the automobile industry’s plants to mass production of aircraft, the UE-Stalinist scheme for War Production Councils and its offer to sponsor a campaign to increase output by 15% over and above any increases effected through improved methods, and so on and so forth.

But the banker-statesmen and dollar-a-year men, who were actually running the show in Washington, continued to hold the trade union chieftains at arm’s length, despite their zeal and service for the war. The labor moguls refused to be discouraged. Sensing their indispensability to the “American Century,” they never slackened their efforts to crash into the places of the mighty. Thwarted on the production end of the war, the AFL and CIO became active in civilian defense projects, consumer committees and in the different war relief outfits, even sponsoring their independent labor war chests administered by their own representatives.

This whole trend took a unique turn with the end of the war. At the very time that the monied interests were trying to whittle down the size and strength of the unions at home, they discovered a dire need for the services of this same labor bureaucracy in their imperialist ventures abroad. The bureaucrats, for their part, were not too choosy or particular about the policies and aims of Wall Street empire building, so long as “labor” got its share of patronage and recognition. As against, the first postwar period, when the imperialist sun stopped shining on Gompers right after the ending of hostilities, the recognition given the labor bureaucracy in the capitalist state machine now proceeded right through the postwar days and became especially pronounced in the departments directing Washington’s far-flung imperial enterprises.

Honeymoon Period of WFTU

Upon the conclusion of the war, the CIO unions, under the direction of its “global thinker,” Sidney Hillman, joined with the British and Russians to set up a new trade union international, the World Federation of Trade Unions. History has recorded all kinds of betrayals of the labor ranks, but certainly nothing like the WFTU has ever been seen before oh land or sea. Even the “Amsterdam International” in its worst days in the Twenties felt the need of covering up its perfidy with high-sounding socialist declamations. But this new combination of labor lackeys of Anglo-American imperialism and Stalinism knew neither shame nor the pangs of conscience. The spiritual guide of the new international was not Marx or Lenin, but Roosevelt, for whose “tireless efforts” the founding Paris Congress in September 1945 expressed its unbounded admiration “and recommended him as an example to the chiefs of the UN.”

In the essence of the matter, this was a governmental labor agency on an international scale. Not only because the Russian and East European unions were government- sponsored and controlled organizations, but also because the American and British labor officials had sold their souls to the capitalist governments and taken on the job of watchdogs of their interests. The Paris Congress adopted an innocuous “Charter of Human Rights,” okayed the Potsdam agreement and UN policy on Japan. The main purpose of the new international was to get “labor” representation in Roosevelt’s “grand design.” This clearly came out in the resolutions requesting WFTU representation, in an advisory capacity (Sidney Hillman was practical and realistic, after all), on the Allied Control Commission for Germany and on the Occupation Authority in Japan; to gain for the WFTU an opportunity “fully and effectively” to express its views on the peace treaties; “to take all necessary steps to secure representation for the WFTU or all other international agencies and commissions which may hereafter be established.”

The American labor bureaucracy refers nowadays scornfully to the corkscrew line of the Stalinists and how they twist and squirm with every new directive from the Kremlin. The hands of these “legitimate” labor fakers are no cleaner. Observe how slavishly these bureaucrats adhere to the State Department line; how Hillman and Carey changed their tune, no less than Kuznetsov and Saillant, Stalinist directors of the WFTU, with every motion of the director’s baton.

Murray and Carey as Stalin’s Apologists

All was peace and harmony between the two crews of labor bureaucrats in the WFTU while unity reigned between Western imperialism and the USSR. The CIO even went so far as to emulate the State Department in organizing its own “Mission to Moscow” to whitewash the Stalinist trade unions, a mission which included such paragons of virtue as James Carey, Allan Haywood and Emil Rieve. And let no one think that these people were hoodwinked by the Stalinists. They knew just what they were about.

Phillip Murray describes the purpose of the junket in his introduction to the Report of the CIO Delegation to the Soviet Union. He states:

“The CIO, the vanguard of American labor, rallied behind the plan of President Roosevelt and other leaders of the UN to continue this wartime unity into the postwar period ... I consider this document of first rate importance, not only for American labor but for all who are interested in knowing the truth about the Soviet trade union movement.”

At the conclusion of the CIO tour on October 19, 1945, James Carey held a press conference in Moscow, and here is what he said:

“As trade unionists, we have of course paid particular attention to the activities of the Soviet trade unions. We have been impressed by their promoting of the interests of the workers ... We have also noted with pleasure their many activities of a social welfare and cultural character and the comprehensive nature of the social security system which they operate. Our observations have increased our pride in being associated with such a great trade-union movement through the WFTU.”

In those days, Carey and Murray could hardly be distinguished from the “fellow-travelers” in glorifying Stalin’s totalitarian regime which had not yet been relegated behind an “iron curtain.”

When Roosevelt and Stalin were cheek by jowl, Carey and Kuznetsov were buddies and the totalitarianized Russian unions were declared to be fine outstanding organizations. As soon as their masters began to quarrel, the labor lackeys fell out among themselves.

The American labor bureaucracy is brazen in carrying through its knavish assignment. Here is the sordid account right out of its own mouth. We are quoting from Phillip Murray’s printed report to the 1948 Portland CIO convention:

The 1945 London Trade Union Conference was called at the invitation of the British Trade Union Congress and was enthusiastically welcomed by the Allied wartime leaders. Mr. Winston Churchill and Mr. Ernest Bevin expressed their strong approval of its purposes. The Conference charted unanimously a postwar program and laid the foundation of the World Federation of Trade’ Unions.

Last November, the WFTU Executive Bureau met in Paris in a diplomatic atmosphere from which allied wartime unity was vanishing. Sharp disagreement among the affiliated unions was at once apparent on the question of the projected European Recovery Program ... The WFTU Executive Bureau next met in Rome in May 1948 ... The CIO and the representatives from the other democratic trade union movements subjected the activities of the General Secretary (Louis Saillant) and his staff to searching criticism ... An agreement was reached in an effort to preserve the WFTU ...

The course of the WFTU, however, continued stormy and was further adversely affected by the diplomatic crisis over Germany and Berlin. In September 1948 the Executive Bureau met again for its regular meeting ... The deteriorating international situation, and the cleavage between East and West rendered these meetings nearly valueless ...

Two Strikes – A Study in Duplicity

Two events, not discussed in Murray’s report clinch the case that the Western labor bureaucracy – exactly as the Stalinists – view the international working class as mere pawns to be maneuvered this way or that at the behest of and in compliance with the requirements of their masters.

Last October the starving French coal miners went on strike. The Stalinists, who control the union, attempted to utilize the strike as part of their campaign to undermine the Marshall Plan. But the French coal strike was a legitimate labor battle and the French miners were fighting to redress genuine wrongs. Of course this latter consideration did not interest the American imperialists or their French juniors who, while shouting down the miners in cold blood, set up a howl about “sabotage,” “political warfare,” “Communism.” With the single honorable exception of John L. Lewis, the American labor officialdom joined in this unholy chorus and sided with the strike-breaking French bourgeoisie against the striking and starving French miners.

At present a strike is in progress in Berlin where the shoe is on the other foot. The hungry Berlin railroad workers are striking against the Stalinist-run administration, while the Western powers are trying to make use of the strike to embarrass the Kremlin. Now Stalin’s stooges are hurling choice epithets at the strikers, “pogromshiks,” “saboteurs,” “hoodlums,” while, lo and behold! the AFL and CIO officials, whose feelings of international solidarity froze up in the case of the French miners, are overflowing with generosity for the Berlin strikers.

James Carey declared: “The record seems clear, that the Communists in Berlin, backed by German Soviet satellite police from the Eastern Zone, and even Red Army officers, have been trying to break the strike.” He acidly observed that protests from Kuznetsov and Saillant were “strangely lacking.” The AFL sprang into action and sent $5,000 worth of CARE food packages to the strikers while Matthew Well, chairman of its International Relations Committee cabled the strikers the AFL’s “warmest solidarity” in their “courageous fight against Russian totalitarian oppressors.”

It all depends on whose ox is gored. Such is the “internationalism” of the two labor bureaucracies.

Under the circumstances, not only Roosevelt’s, but also Hillman’s “grand design” came to nought as the winds of the cold war began to blow more fiercely. But this, after all, was only a tactical incident in the lives and careers of America’s social-imperialistic time-servers. The CIO leaders presently joined hands with the AFL and their British cousins overseas to set up still a new labor international which will link the “free trade unions” in the struggle against “Communism.” The latest organizational change of line is dictated by the new orientation of the State Department and will serve as a better instrument to carry out Uncle Sam’s world program.

In the Service of Marshall and Co.

The second major postwar venture of Wall Street’s labor lieutenants was the underwriting of the Marshall Plan and an aggressive campaign to sell American imperialism as a liberal, humanitarian and peace-loving outfit. The ex-Prince of Wales used to be considered a wonderful salesman for the British Empire, but no imperialist power boasted of better salesmen than Wall Street’s labor division; so faithful, so energetic, so zealous – and so cheap.

The CIO at its 1947 Boston convention provided General Marshall with the labor forum to launch the Wall Street crusade under proper humanitarian auspices. The convention hastened to adopt a resolution giving blanket endorsement to the Marshall Plan even before the plan had been fully formulated and reduced to writing. The AFL meeting in San Francisco followed suit. Then the labor officials, with indecent haste, plunged into the feeding trough and started slopping up the patronage gravy. Clinton S. Golden, former assistant to the president of the CIO’s steel union, had previously been sent to Greece, under the “Truman Doctrine,” as Chief Labor Policy Adviser to the head of the American Military Mission, an appointment which received the warm commendation of both Murray and Green. The AFL and CIO already had representatives in Germany and Japan, in addition to a number of unofficial ambassadors building “free unions” in whatever countries the State Department deemed best. Now, all these multitudinous activities were streamlined and placed under central control.

Clinton S. Golden, fresh from his labors of upholding the Monarcho-Fascist regime in Greece, and Bert M. Jewell of the AFL were appointed as Labor Advisers to the ECA. They forthwith set up shop in Washington and Paris. They publish their own ECA Labor News Letter called Trans-Atlantic and direct a veritable army of labor officials, researchers, statisticians and newspapermen, swarming all over Western Europe, who keep themselves busy lining up and buying labor leaders, subsidizing papers, issuing language bulletins and, in general, waging political warfare against the Stalinists and working to swing the European masses behind American imperialism. Labor Advisers have been included in each of the ECA countries, as well as Trieste and Greece, and a Labor Division has been set up in roving ambassador Harriman’s office headed by the AFL Chief Economist, Boris Shishkin.

Among their many activities, the labor Marshall planners have sent labor missions abroad and received foreign labor delegations here in the United States, they have, set up the Anglo-American Council on Productivity to speed up production in British plants, have visited with the Pope, and maintain close working relations with the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. US dollars lavishly expended by the labor “diplomats” financed the split in the French trade union movement and led to the formation of the impotent social democratic “Force Ouvrière.” The same costly and disruptive venture was then repeated in Italy.

Nothing the imperialist brigands propose shocks or fazes this venal crew. They are ready for anything, so long as “labor” gets its due share of “representation.” For instance, the February Trans-Atlantic runs an article by Calomiris, Secretary of the Greek Federation of Labor, who has the gall to attempt a whitewash of the Greek terror regime. He assures his readers that “the workers of Greece are not prosecuted for their labor activities.” This is typical of the yellow character of the whole enterprise and the cynicism of the AFL and CIO staffs. Corruption has proceeded so far that no one was surprised, or expected anything different, when both labor bodies came out in unqualified endorsement of one of the most reactionary war alliances of modern diplomacy, the Atlantic Pact.

Is it any wonder, then, that Paul Hoffman, ECA boss, a hard-boiled American business executive, formerly head of the Studebaker Corporation, was so glowing in his praise of the “labor statesmen”? No one, he publicly declared, has done more for the success of the Marshall plan than Golden and Jewell. Wall Street is justly proud of its labor flunkeys.

Taft-Hartleyism and “Labor’s Diplomats”

What is ironic about this whole development is that it occurred at the very time when American capitalism was cracking down hard on the unions at home. The period of the breaking of the railroad and mine strikes and the enactment of the Taft-Hartley law was the very period in which the “labor statesmen” were busiest trumpeting the virtues of American “democracy” and “free enterprise.” This unique development is testimony to the power of the bureaucracy as well as its corruption; it further testifies to the weakness of American imperialism, which even now desperately needs the labor fig leaf for its indecent transactions. The complacency of the big brass of the unions has made possible a simple division of labor for the vested interests. On the one hand, they employ the labor bureaucracy in their imperialist undertakings and extol them for services rendered. On the other hand, the monopolists continue to use the Taft-Hartley club to beat down labor at home. The Murrays and Greens, adaptable and spineless, whine about the repressions but lap up the honors and jobs and continue to carry out Wall Street’s dirty chores.

Although the bureaucracy has made a lot of headway in gaining salaries and places in the government, it is still, in reality, relegated to second-class citizenship. In the ECA, for example, all of its numerous positions are “advisory,” outside of two recent appointments, that of John Gross, former official of the Colorado AFL to head a special ECA mission to Norway, and Victor Reuther, who has been named as co-chairman of the Anglo-American Council on Productivity. The fact that after the 1948 elections Truman did not appoint one single union representative to his cabinet speaks volumes about the real relationship between the labor bureaucracy and their capitalist masters.

Here and there, the younger and more ambitious of the “labor statesmen” are beginning to chaff under this inferior status. Irving Brown, former Lovestoneite and now AFL representative in Europe, writes in the April 1949 American Federationist:

What is needed, he says, is more than just “the participation of American trade unions in international affairs and organizations. This means something more than labor attaches, labor advisers or labor divisions in government agencies. Europeans must begin to see and feel the effects of American trade unionists in top policy positions abroad. For example, the appointment of a top trade union leader to America’s leading post in Germany would have an electrifying effect-encouraging our friends and astounding our enemies! On several occasions since 1946 the author has made this type of proposal to the top policy-makers of the State Department and on one occasion to a former Secretary of State.”

George Baldanzi, another ex-militant, who is Executive Vice-President of the CIO textile union, and belongs to the Reutherite wing of the bureaucracy, declared at the recent UAW Education Conference that more union man must be sent abroad “in posts of authority and not just as window dressing.” He went on to say: “Over there, a trade union card is a better label than all the diplomatic badges in the world.”

Small Payment for Big Service

There is something else involved. The more energetic and alert of the bureaucrats have measured themselves against the professional diplomats and feel – probably correctly – that they are just as smart and glib, and cannot see why they should have to play second fiddle. Bevin and the others are in the “Big Time” in England. Why not they? But although Brown has whispered into the ear of a former Secretary of State, and Baldanzi is making bellicose speeches (“I have seen people in the State Department whom I wouldn’t have as a shop steward”), and although a Supreme Court judge has even worked up the whole proposition into a thesis about the “Welfare State,” the financial blue-bloods remain unconvinced that such a policy is either necessary or desirable. This inflexible and stiff-necked ruling class did not even deem it discreet to throw the labor leaders a few crumbs on the Taft-Hartley law after its own ignominious failure at the polls last November. Why should it, then, unless constrained to do so, take the initiative in enlarging labor’s role in the present day backdoor coalition?

The immediate trend, though, seems to favor the labor bureaucracy’s ambitions. The peculiarity of the present situation consists in this: that in the midst of a sweeping reaction in all spheres of American public life, the unions have maintained their organizational strength and have absorbed all incidental defeats, with their basic structure and influence unimpaired. For this reason even in the midst of the Taft-Hartley era, American imperialism can no more rule without the aid of this social-imperialistic labor bureaucracy than the British Empire can now maintain its precarious existence without the efforts of the Bevins and Attlees. As the difficulties multiply at home and abroad, the Wall Street oligarchy will find it harder to rule in its own name, and hence will push forward its labor servitors on a more generous scale. By the same token, Wall Street’s labor salesmen, who are ready to countenance any crime so long as their own existence is protected, will disgrace and discredit themselves before ever-larger segments of the working class, thereby weakening the hold of capitalism upon the broad masses, and clearing the way for a new, stormy left-wing formation.

Top of page

Main FI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 5.7.2005