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New International, November 1938


B.J. Widick

The Story of the CIO

From New International, Vol.4 No.11, November 1938, pp.346-347.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Story of the CIO
by Benjamin Stolberg
Viking Press. New York City. 1938. $2.00. 294 pages.

Benjamin Stolberg has for almost twenty years been reporting the labor scene for leading newspapers and magazines. He knows his subject at first hand; he expresses himself with clarity, and with such vigor that those who agree applaud vigorously and those who disagree are often infuriated. Although this introduction is reprinted from the jacket cover of his book, The Story of the CIO, it is substantially correct. Stolberg has written a timely analysis of the most significant social movement in America since the Civil War. No progressive unionist worthy of the name can claim knowledge of the labor movement unless he has digested the material in Stolberg’s work. Its specific virtue is its polemic against the Stalinist union-wreckers within the CIO. “Stalinism is a danger in the CIO. For one thing, it is not interested in American Labor as such; and for another thing, its violent red-baiting sabotages all genuine radicalism, without which a progressive union movement cannot grow,” Stolberg warns.

Stolberg makes a pitiless analysis of AF of L in the NRA days. “The Hutchesons and Whartons, the Freys and Tracys, who run the AF of L hate industrial unionism for exactly the same reasons the corner grocer hates the A&P. Industrial unionism would drive them out of business.” But industrial unionism is a life and death question to the great masses of workers in this epoch of monopoly capitalism based on large-scale industry. All the invective of which Stolberg is master is hurled at the black and treacherous record which marked the course of the AF of L leaders in recent years. He does a good job, weakened only by his undue delicacy in portraying the records of the CIO leaders, and John L. Lewis, in particular. Stolberg overestimates too, the role of those leaders in the fight for industrial unionism within the AF of L until the CIO was formed in November 1935. The pressure of the rank and file in auto, steel and rubber was a heavy factor in changing Lewis from a passive exponent of industrial unionism to a belligerent fighter for it. The rubberworkers, and to a large extent, the autoworkers had rid themselves of the dead hand control of the AF of L bureaucrats before the CIO was founded.

Little Steel

Stolberg has one weakness. He is inclined to see the trade union movement mainly through the eyes of the leadership. This is especially apparent when he discusses the campaign of the SWOC in Big and Little Steel. Perhaps nothing reveals so Stolberg’s position as the fact that he writes, without cracking a smile, about the SWOC convention in December 1937, “the delegates expressed their complete confidence in the leadership of the SWOC, so much so that no one even thought of reorganizing the Steel Workers Organizing Committee into a national union, writing its own constitution and electing its own officers.” It happens to be a matter of record that various steel lodges introduced resolutions precisely on these points but Philip Murray and the top CIO officials were able to side-track them.

The Little Steel strike petered out, Stolberg points out. It was a set-back to the CIO. The strike was lost because of over-confidence, the stupidity of Stalinist secondary leaders, the viciousness of the Girdler opposition, the strike-breaking of Governor Davey, Governor Earle, etc. All this Stolberg explains. But not one word is mentioned about a certain Mr. Franklin D. Roosevelt, president of the United States, “friend of labor” who consoled the widows of the Chicago massacre with a flourishing quotation from Shakespeare. “A plague on both your houses!” Stolberg ignores the strike-breaking role of the federal government. Besides, who wired Governor Davey and gave him the excuse to bring in strikebreaking National Guards? John L. Lewis. Who turned back 3,000 rubberworkers from Akron marching to protect the picket lines in Youngstown and Canton? The CIO top leaders. The class-collaboration policy of the CIO cost 70,000 steel workers a terrible defeat. Stolberg is too discreet on these questions.

A comprehensive survey of vigilantism is one of the outstanding sections of this book. The author succinctly outlines the notorious “Mohawk Valley Formula” which broke the Remington-Rand strike and was used successfully in Little Steel. A thorough understanding of the dangers of vigilantism is indispensable to every revolutionary worker. Stolberg shows how vigilantism is the basis for American fascism but again, however, he fails to point out the short-comings of the CIO leaders in fighting vigilantism. “Brilliant campaigns in auto and rubber organized the workers,” he writes. “Vigilante forces were defeated in Akron, Flint, Anderson and elsewhere.” It was precisely here that top CIO leaders were not in direct charge. Why not explain how labor licked its enemies there?

Stalinist Factionalism

Stolberg stumbles badly when he essays the role of prophet while on the auto situation. “The back of Stalinist factionalism in the union has probably been broken.” This was written shortly after the expulsion of the Stalinist clique in the executive board of the UAWA. Subsequent events, however, show a contrary trend. It is impossible, in the space of a book review, to take up the many questions in the auto-workers union fight. But Stolberg errs in his uncritical support of the Martin group, as when Homer Martin becomes, in his judgment, “the symbol of the new progressive trade union leader”.

In his section on factionalism and on the role of the Stalinists in various CIO unions, Stolberg largely repeats what he said in the series of articles that appeared

last spring in the Scripps-Howard press. They are polished up considerably, and the accumulated evidence against the CP is a powerful case against their union-wrecking activities. Harry Bridges, West Coast CIO director, is revealed in all his infamy. John Brophy is described, “like the character in Dostoievsky’s Idiot, he is surprisingly wise and brilliant in flashes, but utterly child-like and naive in social politics.” A perfect Stalinist stooge! Stolberg makes the same error in describing the East Coast Maritime situation that he did in discussing the auto union struggle. Joe Curran, Jack Lawrenson, Moe Byne and the other Stalinist coterie are well-exposed. But the revolt against this misleadership didn’t crystalize in the form which Stolberg outlines. The Jerry King-Mariner club bloc has done nothing to live up to Stolberg’s expectations. Quite the contrary. Heywood Broun, president of the American Newspaper Guild, and his associates, John Eddy and Carl Randau, are given a sizzling and well deserved ride by Stolberg. His portrayal of Broun as a Stalinist stooge is a classic.

Opposition to the Stalinists is coming mainly from the CIO rank and file. The militant American worker was profoundly stirred by the third Moscow trial. He is beginning to appreciate from his own experience, that the Communist Party is not a radicalizing but a red-baiting and reactionary force in American labor. And he is repelled by its Machiavellianism and complete disregard for all union democracy. “In the Transport Workers Union, the Newspaper Guild, Fur Workers Union, the United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers, and to a lesser extent in the International Woodworkers Union – which unions total a membership of some 270,000 – some opposition is developing to Stalinist tactics. Only four CIO unions are under the complete control of Stalinist officers. They are the American Communications Association; the Federation of Architects, Engineers, Chemists and Technicians; the United Office and Professional Workers; and the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing and Allied Workers. These unions give themselves a total membership of some 185,000. In fact they have at most some 60,000 members.” This is Stolberg’s summary of Stalinist control in the CIO.


What’s ahead for the CIO? Stolberg believes that if the CIO holds its own in the immediate future it will be because the rank and file has driven the Stalinists from office and replaced them with progressives. Should the CP win with Lewis’ aid, a decline of the CIO is indicated. The CIO is not, he thinks, getting ready for independent political action in 1940, but insists that the future success of the CIO partly depends on its backing a labor party. “If the CIO goes on organizing energetically, if it permits complete trade union democracy everywhere and autonomy to its national and international affiliates; if it tolerates every kind of radical or revolutionary dissent except political disruption; if it goes in for a labor party sooner rather than later; and if it plays a shrewd game of peace as against an indiscriminate game of war against the AF of L – then It Can’t Happen Here. Otherwise – anything may happen.” We might add, that these ifs will only become facts when the CIO rank and file is cognizant of the need for carrying out this program and forces its adoption. Viking Press withstood an organized pressure campaign of the Stalinists to prevent publication of this book. Its appearance is another blow at their machinations within the trade unions. It places their activities in the spotlight and they prefer to work in the dark. Even though Stolberg may sound much like Norman Thomas when talking about the Trotskyites, and he binds himself too closely with the top leadership of the CIO by glossing over unmistakeable faults, his book is definitely a contribution to the welfare of the labor movement.

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