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Labor Action, 23 May 1949


Murray Davids

Fact and Fairy Tale on Buffalo SWP Policy


From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 21, 23 May 1949, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


BUFFALO – Articles in Labor Action have already laid open to view the scandal of the policies pursued in Local 424 (Buffalo Auto Workers) by the Socialist Workers Party (Cannonites). To complete the picture in Buffalo there remains to consider the situations in Westinghouse Local 1581 of the United Electrical Workers, CIO, and Bell Local 501 of the United Auto Workers.

Here too the groups supported by the SWPers suffered smashing defeats. In a couple of articles in The Militant (SWP paper), the attempt has been made to rationalize this debacle and at the same time smear and slander all opponents of the SWP; the doubts of their own members have to be quieted. Once again and characteristically, the method used is the invention of a sinister conspiracy in which all opponents of the SWP of whatever stripe are lumped together.

We present first the facts, then the fairy tale.

The Facts

Last year a group called the Rank and File Caucus defeated the Stalinists in Westinghouse Local 1581, UE. The Buffalo Evening News intervened at that time against the Stalinists. The Rank and File campaign against the Stalinists, however, was on a trade-union basis. Following the election, the pro-SWP section of the Rank and File Caucus split from the new administration and made a bloc with elements of the ex-Stalinist administration led by the ex-president. The bloc became known as the Solidarity Caucus.

During a dispute over the ex-president’s financial delinquencies, the Buffalo Evening News intervened with a series of articles attacking the SWP in a particularly dirty manner. The articles were condemned by the executive board and the local union. The majority were supporters of the administration which The Militant condemned. (This was conveniently omitted in The Militant article.)

The tale concerning the Bell UAW local is a longer one.

Following the 1947 convention of the UEW, a Reuther caucus was formed in this local. Its origins can be found in the switch from Reuther to Thomas-Addes taken by the SWP- supported Rank and File administration. For the first time since it took office this administration was opposed by a complete oppositional slate. The Rank and File won all top posts but one. In the ensuing stewards’ election. however, a majority was won by the Reuther group. Just prior to this year’s election, the Buffalo Evening News attacked the Rank and File caucus as SWP-dominated, fingered many of its candidates as having attended SWP meetings and used the attorney general’s “subversive list” as a link in the articles.

Retract Slander

The first action of the Rank and File Caucus was to accuse the Reutherites of writing the article and calling them stoolpigeons and company stooges in the shop. This was then denied by the Rank and File Caucus and an appeal for a united front against the News was made to the “stoolpigeons and company stooges.” Then, at the union meeting, the leading spokesman of the Rank and File said: “We know that the leaders of the Reuther group had nothing to do with the News article.” At this union membership meeting they presented a resolution condemning the News. In the discussion following, leading Reutherites condemned the News articles and attacked Clark’s subversive list. They also attacked the Rank and File for its slanders and false charges of collusion made in the shop. During the discussion there was some red-baiting from both sides against the SWP, the Workers Party and the Socialist Party.

The discussion became for-or-against the administration instead of for-or-against the News articles. With this as the motivation a leading Reutherite made a motion to table the resolution. This was bureaucratically waved aside by the chair. In the vote that followed many workers from both caucuses abstained. The resolution was defeated. In the ensuing elections the Reuther slate swept all executive and bargaining-committee posts. The Rank and File Caucus then disintegrated and all ran independently in the stewards’ election.

These are the facts. Now let us look at The Militant articles on this situation.

The Fairy Tale

The second Militant article presents the following story: All the progressives supported by the SWP did a wonderful job. They were opposed by reactionaries who conspired with the boss press. As a result of this conspiracy the progressives were beaten but it was only a temporary setback.

First proposition: The “progressives” did a wonderful job.

Their Evidence: They made the following gains in three years: union shop, paid holidays, increased vacations, company-financed insurance plan ... the highest wage rates in the air-frame industry.

Facts: The facts arc that the union shop was won in spite of the Rank and File administration. They belittled it as a demand, saying that it was unimportant and unattainable. They were against signing the non-Communist affidavits and did so only after being outvoted by their opposition. It was only after this action that the union was able to have an NLRB union-shop election, the result of which forced the company to grant the union shop.

Further, The Militant omits the fact that the local union already had the highest wage rates in the airframe industry before the Rank and File administration took over. It also omits the fact that during the first year in which the greatest gains of that administration were made, two leading Reutherites were on the bargaining committee, one of them being the successful presidential candidate of the present “reactionary” group which defeated them. And it further omits the fact that the international representatives who aided them were part of the “Reutherite bureaucracy.”

Role of Reutherites

Second Proposition: The Reuther group that defeated the “progressives” is a reactionary group.

Their evidence: Assertion by The Militant that this is “a group of corrupt, incompetent and lazy office-seekers – utterly destitute of any devotion to the most elementary trade-union principles and lacking the slightest urge to fight on behalf of the workers; in a word, a group of bankrupts with nothing but the heaviest dose of reactionary prejudices to qualify them for union office.”

Facts: The Reuther group actively participated in making the gains of the local union, actively supported all strike votes and played no small part in obtaining favorable results, supported the Kutcher defense and has repeatedly come out for a Labor Party, on the union floor and in campaign literature. The year before it was criticized by some of the Rank and File leaders for being “too political” when it criticised the Marshall Plan in its campaign program.

In this year’s campaign it concentrated mainly on the shortcomings of the Rank and File administration in regard to trade-union issues, such as the failure to provide adequate education, political action and other committee work.

Since it has been in office, this Reuther group has won for the workers an upgrading program which the past administration had tried without success to win for a year. The first issue of the union paper put out by these “reactionaries” has come out for a Labor Party. It is now taking a strike vote to enforce the demands unanimously agreed to by the local union.

Further, it is fighting to protect some of the leaders of the former Rank and File administration from company persecution and discrimination. It has already won some unsettled disciplinary action cases left over from the past administration.

Third proposition: The Reuther group was in collusion with the boss press, in its red-baiting articles against the Rank and File Caucus and the SWP.

Their evidence: Assertion by The Militant that “Reutherite stoolpigeons supplied information to the Buffalo Evening News.”

Facts: Even the leaders of the Rank and File Caucus stated at the union meeting that this was false. One of them said: “We know that the leaders of the Reuther group had nothihg to do with these articles.” Further, any insinuations linking the Reuther group with such collusion were denied by responsible leaders of the Rank and File in the shop.

Fell Apart at First Defeat

Fourth proposition: The defeat of the Rank and File Caucus was only a temporary one.

Their evidence: In spite of the red-baiting attack by the News, it drew a heavy vote, says The Militant.

Facts: The actual facts are that the Rank and File Caucus was decisively beaten beyond its worst expectations. It lost 15 out of 15 posts, in many cases by from 3-2 to 2-1 majorities. Their defeat was so decisive that after the election the caucus split, disintegrated and went out of existence. Its members in the ensuing stewards’ elections all ran independently and in the main dissociated themselves not only from the SWP but from the past administration and its policies.

Today they have no organized opposition to the Reuther administration. But the component elements snipe from all directions and take no responsibility for each other. The sniping attacks range from the usual so-called left-wing attacks on Reuther and the Reuther group to redbaiting and flag-waving at the other extreme. The only bond remaining is a common opposition and hatred of the Reuther administration.

What are the real reasons why a tight-knit machine which held office for three years, a good part of that time without opposition, collapsed at the first major attack on it and could not even hold together after its first defeat?

The answer lies in three main factors: (1) the isolationist policy of this group; (2) the failure of this group to differentiate itself from the Stalinists in propaganda and action; (3) the unprincipled nature of the group and its lack of an ideological basis. These three factors, plus many minor errors, can explain its vulnerability to the outside red-baiting attack and its inability to meet its opposition in the union on fair grounds. What is the evidence for this?

Why They Disintegrated

This group made a switch from the Reuther to the Thomas-Addes camp without even settling the basis of the switch or the switch itself within its own caucus. The caucus was held together on the line of “We don’t care what happens in the rest of the country – we’re only interested in Local 501.” To carry on safely with this sort of line, it abstained from as many issues as possible, and abstained from most activities beyond the. confines of the local union from 1947 on, thereby further isolating itself from the broad currents of the trade-union movement. Its abstentionist policy even carried it to the ridiculous extreme of boycotting the UAW area compensation council.

Over this whole period of time that the group was opposed to Reuther, it in no manner differentiated itself from the CP in its attacks on the international union. And even when attacked by the Buffalo Evening News, it did not have a single sentence in any leaflet differentiating itself from the Communist Party. Rather it aped the Stalinists in then- tactics to alarming proportions. Even within the local union it sought no aid in rebuffing the News until it thrust away from itself its opposition by slanderous insinuations of collusion that later (after the election, not before) appeared in full bloom in The Militant.

The lack of a principled basis for this group and its subsequent lack of education and line bore fruit in its complete disintegration and showed that the basis for its existence was not a common union program but rather merely the common desire to maintain itself in office and to maintain the individual positions of its component parts. This was clearly brought out in the post-election period, when various members of the caucus ran for office with the line that “We are through with the SWP and we pledge ourselves to drive all socialists out of the local.”

It would have been better for The Militant to analyze the past policies and actions of this group rather than to further isolate itself by antagonizing and disgusting all progressive tendencies within the labor movement in Buffalo.

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