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Labor Action, 9 May 1949


Philip Ganner

Concluding Section: The Truth About a Scandal
of Concern to All Labor Left-Wingers

SWP Squirms on Buffalo UAW Vote


From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 19, 9 May 1949, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Following is the concluding half of Philip Ganner’s article exposing the scandalous policies of the Socialist Workers Party (Cannonites) in the Buffalo Local 424 of the United Auto Workers. An exchange of accusatory articles has recently taken place on this situation between the SWP’s newspaper, The Militant, and the Socialist Party’s Socialist Call. References to The Militant article are to the disingenuous job by Cannonite Bert Cochran in the April 11 issue of The Militant. Last week Comrade Ganner discussed Cochran’s alibi for the smashing defeat which the SWP-supported Rank and File Group sustained in the union election, and his defense of that group as more militant and progressive. – Ed.


The Militant’s article denies the charge made by the Socialist Call that the Rank and File Group used anti-Negro propaganda against Negro supporters of the administration. And The Militant is perfectly correct in stating that “there is not a shred of substance to this charge.” The Call is definitely mistaken.

The Negro question in the union is involved in this case in a quite different way. It concerns the attempt by the Rank and File Group to form an all-Negro caucus in the local.

4. The Negro Question

The Militant whitewash by Bert Cochran has two things to say on this. First, he (quite correctly) points out that under definite and specific circumstance it MAY be necessary for Negro members in a union to form their own group. But since obviously nothing remotely resembling such conceivable conditions existed in Local 424, he is forced to conclude his irrelevant argument with: “I am taking particular pains to make this point clear even though it has no specific bearing on the Buffalo Chevrolet local elections.”

In the ACTUALLY existing conditions – not the theoretical possibility which Cochran finds it pleasanter to spend his space on – the attempt of the Rank and File Group to form an all-Negro caucus meant merely that they wanted to USE the Negro brothers as a factional instrument, to separate them from, and set them up against, the white members. This is something like Jim-Crow-in-reverse, and in any case thoroughly reactionary.

And so, in two sentences, Cochran categorically denies that such was the plan of the Rank and File Group, and says not another word about what is now public knowledge in the union.

At first the Rank and File Group also simply issued a flat denial, at a local union meeting where a Reuther supporter openly denounced two white leaders of the group for organizing a meeting looking in this direction. They said it was a lie.

On Second Thought

But the fact that such a meeting had really taken place soon became fairly common knowledge through the plant. The Reuther candidate for guide, a Negro brother, openly blasted this all-Negro caucus scheme. He said he had been present (uninvited) at the meeting itself; he gave the date, time and place of the meeting, where he had pointed out its meaning to the Negroes present.

The Rank and File candidate for president at this meeting no longer called the charge a lie. He had another explanation: it seems Negroes are reluctant to attend meetings held in white neighborhoods; therefore the group called its meeting in a Negro neighborhood in order to attract more Negroes.

This second thought was pretty thin, as can be seen from the following facts: Unlike other meetings of the group, of the 18-20 people present only two were white (last year’s and this year’s Rank and File presidential candidates); unlike all other of the group’s meetings, this one had as its sole and exclusive subject matter the question of Negro discrimination; the group’s most prominent Negro member was the chairman, etc. In short, the Rank and File Group had laid its plans but they could not survive in the light of the publicity.

5. Anti-Semitism

But where the Negro question involved here is a kind of Jim-Crow-in-reverse, the other charge of racism made by the Socialist Call is plain anti-Semitism, employed by the Rank and File Group particularly against the Reuther candidate for recording secretary. And it is true.

Not only that, but to all intents and purposes Cochran admits it! He quotes the Call charge that the group used anti-Semitic epithets against the Reuther candidate – “New York Jew” and “Jew Communist” – and says:

This charge, unlike the previous ones, is not simply woven out of thin air.”

And then – he immediately launches into what (to our ears) sounds like a left-handed justification. It’s not the Rank and File anti-Semites who are to blame; it is (honestly!) the Reutherites themselves. Because they’re so reactionary, dang ’em, that “under the circumstances, it is SCARCELY SURPRISING that he himself has become the victim of his own handiwork.”

The Reutherites brought this anti-Semitism on themselves – this is Cochran’s line of whitewash. Why did they do so? What brought on this “scarcely surprising anti-Semitism (from a militant progressive group supported by the SWP)? Because the Reuther candidate (who, Cochran goes out of his way to note, “is known as generally sympathetic to the Shachtmanite Workers Party”) “decided to line up with the new bureaucracy; because he “is busy thinking up wiseguy arguments against the militants [i.e., Cochran’s friends] in his own shop,” because he is not inhibited “from indulging in a bit of red-baiting on his own.”

There it is: the reason why the anti-Semitism of Cochran’s friends is “scarcely surprising!

Open Jew-Baiting

Cochran further denies (on the “solemn assurance of outstanding Buffalo unionists” otherwise anonymous) that any leaders of the Rank and File Group are besmirched by all this, but “it is entirely possible that some rank and file workers” are.

Now the fact is that there was nothing concealed about the anti-Semitism under discussion. IT WAS IN THE OPEN.

Its most vociferous propagandist was none other than the vice-presidential candidate of the Rank and File Group.

Even more admired by The Militant is the presidential candidate of this group. And this individual has fathered a line of justification along the following lines: What’s wrong with telling the truth about the Reuther candidate – namely, the fact that he is Jewish and originally from New York City? Don’t the Reutherites insist that it is legitimate for them to tell the members that the Thomas- Addes caucus was ideologically and organizationally under the influence of the Stalinists? Isn’t one truth as pertinent as the other? – Cochran’s beloved presidential candidate actually sees no difference between discussing and labeling Stalinism, as a union consideration, and discussing and labeling Jewish birth and geographical origin!

6. Pro-Stalinism

It is noted above that, in “answering” the charge of anti-Semitism, Cochran dragged in the accusation of red-baiting against the Reutherites and particularly against their candidate for recording secretary. What was this red-baiting?

In a Reutherite leaflet, one of the many points made was that the Rank and File Group was supporting a candidate who “distributed leaflets at our plant gates for the Addes-Thomas- Communist Party caucus before he was a member of our local union or even working at our plant.” There it is – red-baiting! To people whose stock in trade today is to act as left-wing apologists for Stalinism, it is red-baiting to point out that the CP was an integral component of the Addes- Thomas caucus!

The next point is going to sound confusing, but it’s not our fault. It concerns the actual red-baiting carried on by the Rank arid File Group against the Reuther candidate for recording secretary. This Reuther candidate was repeatedly denounced by Rank and Filers (supported, remember, by the “orthodox Trotskyist SWP) with the epithet – Trotskyite!

Peculiar, isn’t it? The “orthodox Trotskyists (Cochran and Co.) support the Rank and File Group, and this group red-baits a Reuther candidate as Trotskyite”! How come?

It is to the shame of the SWP and a direct result of its political line that the organizational leaders of the group it supports in Local 424 were widely regarded not as Trotskyists but as Stalinists and Stalinist fellow-travelers.

The Record Speaks

This attitude was by no manner of means the result of any name-calling but a conclusion drawn from a series of political and trade-union actions of the Rank and File Group and its leaders:

  1. It actively supported the Addes-Thomas-CP caucus.
  2. Its presidential candidate this year and last were original signatories of the local welcoming committee for Henry Wallace.
  3. Its candidate for trustee stated in the union paper that there was no need for Reuther’s new party since labor already had its own party, the Wallace party.
  4. This group actively supported the CP-inspired UAW-FE merger scheme in 1947. (Even the SWP did not.)
  5. Its presidential candidate of last year ran for state office in the last election on the American Labor Party ticket. Even the SWP now says the ALP is a Stalinist creature.
  6. Members of this group have openly supported the leadership of the CP-run United Electrical Workers in its current difficulties within the CIO.
  7. This group vociferously repeats the standard Daily Worker attack against the Reuther administration as dictatorship.”
  8. This group distributed in Local 424 copies of the Fisher Body Local 45 paper, the Eye-Opener. Even the SWP’s Militant has publicly labeled this local as Stalinist-dominated.

Thus in Local 424 as in other places the SWP’s friends are not differentiated from the Stalinists in the minds of many alert workers.

Whitewashing A Debacle

Here is in fact the starting point for understanding the SWP scandal in Buffalo. This group and its followers have been tail-ending the Stalinists, partly because of its own tendencies toward a left-wing Stalinism, partly out of purely opportunist (stupidly opportunist) considerations.

The debacle of their policy in the UAW has been so catastrophic for the bureaucracy of the SWP (and this groups shows how a pint-sized bureaucratism is as possible as a larger one) that some kind of whitewash, some kind of alibi, was necessary if only for their own people – even if no one else believed a word. They have to show that their mounting defeats are not due to their policy, but to “conspiracies,” or “red-baiting,” or something.

No one here looks forward with any relish to a return visit by Bert Cochran for another “full investigation.” Probably the wisest thing for the SWP to do is to stop squirming in printer’s ink and to hope that people’s memories will be short.

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