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The New International, January 1947


Editorial Comment:

The CIO Convention


From New International, Vol. XIII No. 1, January 1947, pp. 6–8.
Transcribed &; marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


In the present critical situation in the United States, the CIO convention, held in the middle of November at Atlantic City, offers a timely and valuable opportunity to observe the present stage of development of this, the most advanced section of the American labor movement. The convention, representing six million organized workers, was characterized as “dull” and “routine” except for the “Communist,” i.e., the Stalinist, issue. This is true only on the surface. A sober examination of the convention and developments arising from it give us a revealing enough picture of the CIO, on which today hangs the future not only of the labor movement but, in large measure, of American society as a whole.

The convention was divided into two main tendencies, the so-called lights and the so-called lefts. This division, however, had no real meaning because of the fact that the Stalinists, helped by the bourgeois press, arrogated to themselves the title of left. Thus, Walter Reuther, president of the Auto Workers Union, would in any current alignment be called a left trade-union leader. In the convention reports, however, he was called a rightist, because of his anti-Stalinist position. On the other hand, R.J. Thomas, still an aspirant to the post of president of the UAW and with this aim, maneuvering with the Stalinists, was considered as one of the lefts. In reality, Thomas is admittedly one of the more conservative labor leaders in the UAW.

The most powerful of the so-called “left,” i.e., Stalinist, unions, is the United Electrical Workers, which ranks as third in size in the CIO, coming after the UAW and the Steel Workers Union. The Stalinists dominate about a dozen of the 40 CIO unions; among them are the Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers, the National Maritime Union, Longshoremen, Fur Workers and Public Workers. Against these Stalinist-controlled unions are the Steel Workers, Automobile Workers (in the majority), the Textile Workers, Shipbuilding Workers, Amalgamated Clothing Workers, Rubber Workers, and Retail and Wholesale Clerks.

There were 305 delegates to the convention (omitting the delegates from local industrial councils). Of these the Stalinists controlled between ninety and a hundred. This gives an exaggerated picture of their real strength since the smaller unions, with membership up to 5,000, are allowed two delegates, while unions of over 100,000 get only eight delegates and one additional delegate for each 50,000 members.

The Stalinists incessantly claim or try to give the impression that everything progressive in the CIO is in some form or other their work. That is absolutely false. The great wage struggles of the past year were initiated by the UAW, the Steel Workers followed, and the United Mine Workers have borne the brunt of the burden last Spring and again recently. The wage struggles of the coming period are to be led jointly by the CIO “Big Three”: the UAW, the Steel Workers and the Electrical Workers, with the decisive leadership in the hands of Murray and Reuther.

The Political Resolutions

A mere glance at some of the most important resolutions passed will show how far the CIO today is from being a union confined to purely economic interests. The CIO declared its continued support to PAC and asked the unions to give it “special attention.” It pledged itself to continue its “historic task” of organizing the South. It means that this is not purely a union drive but an attempt to accomplish a task long posed by history, the bringing of Southern labor, and particularly the Negroes, within the borders of the social and political liberties from which they have been excluded from the beginning of American history to the present day. The convention pledged support to the movement to oust Bilbo from Congress; promised to renew the struggle against the poll-tax, approved a seven-point program for struggle against all forms of racial discrimination, and condemned the Wood-Rankin Committee, the body by which Congress conducts its inquisition into the political opinions of radicals and smears whomever it disapproves with the label “Communist.”

The CIO called for establishment of friendly relations with farmers and called for joint “farmer-labor” committees. It advocated the furtherance of equal rights for women, pledged support for the United Public Workers drive to organize the teachers, and demanded amnesty for conscientious objectors.

In foreign affairs it reaffirmed support of the World Federation of Trade Unions and pledged aid to the Greek workers in their struggle. It demanded the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, called upon Britain to open Palestine to Jewish refugees and, what is more significant for American labor, demanded admission of 100,000 Jewish refugees into the United States. It demanded a “progressive foreign policy based on unity of the Big Three,” but coupled with this liberal froth went a denunciation of peace time conscription. It called upon all the powers to withdraw from China.

Timidity of Leadership

On the whole, although there was much that could not be supported by any revolutionary socialist, the general tenor of the resolutions is highly progressive. The CIO stands at the head of all mass organizations in the United States today, not only in its strictly economic demands but as a social and political force. All this has been achieved in ten years. One only has to look back to 1936 and recognize the significant strides that have been made by American labor toward social and political maturity. If the resolutions do not go further, it is due to the timidity and downright cowardice of the CIO leadership in the face of the tremendous problems pressing upon the workers from all sides.

Of the prevailing crisis Murray is well aware. But on every possible occasion he presented the same contradiction: militant, almost incendiary, language to appease the rank and file and pleading, capitulation, sometimes a maudlin sentimentality when faced with the necessity of defining action or a program. Murray’s opening report to the convention contained the following sentences: “There is not an honest economist in America who does not predict a bust to follow our present boom. It is purely a question of when the bust will occur. The estimates range from the third quarter of 1947 to the early part of 1948.”

So that according to him, at the outside, the workers face a collapse of the United States economy within at most fifteen months from the day the report was issued. In the face of this, he reminded the members that “one of the fundamental aims of the CIO is the establishment of the guaranteed annual wage in American industry in order to achieve full employment.” He denounced the profits of capital and claimed that excessive profits was the cause of the impending crisis. One would have expected after all this, a rousing call to the delegates to mobilize for struggle. Instead Murray accompanied the concrete plans for the struggle of the “Big Three” by constant reiteration that “there was no strike in the offing.” In fact it is rare for one labor leader to have uttered so many apologies in the course of a single convention. His speeches abounded in phrases such as these. The CIO policy on Communism “should not be misconstrued to be a repressive measure.” The Stalinists are accused of threatening our institutions. “But what could constitute a graver threat ... than this fiscal picture that I presented to you?” Was the United States using loans and relief for political purposes? Said Murray “It would indeed be regrettable and unfortunate.” Perhaps the most nauseating (and the most significant in the light of after events) was his references to the victory of the Republicans. Listen to this, delivered on November 18, 1946.

Is there anyone in this convention hall, or any sincere thinking individual anywhere in the United States of America, who could believe in the innermost recesses of his heart, his conscience, his mind that the voters of the United States of America gave to the Republican Party a mandate to put a cross on the back of labor, march it to Capitol Hill, and there in public gaze witness the actual crucifixion of American labor?

Can anybody believe that? Does the Republican Party believe that? Do the leaders of that party believe that? If they do, they are making a grave mistake. No, they can’t do that to the American people.

This was not only Murray’s personal style. It was characteristic of the tone given to the convention by the leadership as a whole. It can be seen most clearly in the treatment of the conflict between the UMW and the government.

The convention was in session when the news broke that the government intended to prosecute John L. Lewis and the UMW. The CIO unanimously decided to oppose the injunction and support Lewis. It could hardly do less. But the manner in which this was done merely underscored the general policy of the leadership.

Said Van Bittner, resolutions committee chairman: “We are not going into the merits of that controversy in any way except, as the report states, we are dealing with the issuance of an injunction in a labor dispute.”

What a mentality is this! Van Bittner and Murray are both former officials of the UMW. If anyone knew what was at stake, they would. Yet they were not going into the merits of the controversy! How utterly wrong and false this attitude was could be seen within a few days. After the convention had dispersed, after the UMW had been fined $3,500,000 (with threats of still greater fines to come), Murray found himself compelled to write the following: “It has become self-evident that there is a deliberate and monstrous movement under way to cripple, if not destroy, the labor movement of this country.” What could be more serious than an attempt to “cripple, if not destroy die labor movement?” And if so, when did it become “self-evident”? The delegates to the convention had not been told of this “self-evident” truth. Instead Murray had been whining that the Republican Party could not, could not do “that” to the American people. Who were these “predatory interests” who “arrogantly refuse to engage in collective bargaining in order to provoke strikes.” Who were these men of “evil design” who create “intolerable conditions” for labor.

All this came in Murray’s letter to AFL President Green and the Railroad Brotherhood’s Whitney. Yet only a few days before, Van Bittner, explicitly, and Murray, in all his actions, had declared that they were not in any way going into the merits of the controversy between the government and the UMW!

Now, although we agree with Murray about the “predatory interests,” the “evil design,” etc., we have to point out that there was one predatory interest, one inspirer and fomenter of hysteria, one proponent of vicious propaganda, one who aimed “to shackle labor,” who stood out above all the rest. That was President Harry Truman, leader of the Democratic Party, persecutor and prosecutor-in-chief of the UMW, late actively vicious enemy of the Railroad Brotherhoods, and, according to Arthur Krock, so determined to break Lewis and the UMW that he was preparing to demand the use of the Army to protect strike-breaking miners. Every child knows this. But, just as in the convention, in Murray’s letter appeared not one word against Truman and the administration.

Whitney’s Speech

To show the calculated pusillanimity of Murray, the hopeless position in which he finds himself because of his fear of independent political action, one only has to read extracts from the speech of Whitney, leader of the Railroad Brotherhoods. Whitney lashed out at Truman, in fact so scathingly that some of the Emily Posts who live in the labor movement found some of his remarks in bad taste. Said Whitney:

Trade unionism dies when militancy disappears. Some unions are satisfied with a small measure of success and think Utopia has been reached when an issue of the Wall Street press appears without an attack on labor.

The second danger which labor must be on the lookout for is the attempt to turn members against their unions and leaders. Through insidious propaganda they will seek to turn the workers against the men who represent them.

His [Truman’s] appeal, however, fell to deaf ears, as the train, engine and yardmen of the nation have no more respect for him than they have for the Pendergast cesspool from which he gained political recognition.

Whitney is a labor bureaucrat. We have no illusions about him, but his presence there and his speech show the movement toward labor unity and the bitterness which pervades the ranks of labor at the naked repression wielded by Truman. The CIO leadership assembled its delegates, pointed out to them the seriousness of the crisis in economic and industrial terms and then dismissed them, having as far as possible, riveted the chains which bind labor to the Democratic Party.

The same timidity characterized Murray’s handling of the Stalinist menace. It is to be admitted that the problem as it presented itself at the convention was no easy one to solve. On the one hand, there is the pressure from the government and big capital to purge the labor movement of this support of Stalinist Russia in the United States. Allied with them are the genuine right wingers in the labor movement. On the other hand, Murray knows the unscrupulousness of the Stalinists and their readiness to ruin the CIO or the whole American labor movement if need be in pursuit of their ends. At this stage, a split in the CIO could ruin the struggle of the unions in the coming crucial battles over wages and against the strike-breaking Truman. A compromise was therefore arrived at. The Stalinists swallowed a resolution directed against them and a joint statement was agreed upon after days of debate. But if Murray finds himself in this position today, it is because of the ingrained opportunism of the CIO leadership. They are incapable of carrying out a firm political line which is both anti-Stalinist and simultaneously anti-capitalist.

All signs point to the fact that the great mass of the CIO workers show the freshness and eagerness of a proletariat which has not suffered serious defeats. The labor leadership, however, shows all the vices and senility of the most discredited of the European labor bureaucracies. To still further confuse the labor movement we have the Stalinists, corrupting all political issues and doing far more than the bourgeoisie to demoralize the understanding of both the workers and the general public. To the revolutionary socialist movement, the pattern is familiar. It is world-wide. It can be solved only by the development of the revolutionary socialist party in uncompromising opposition to the Murrays, the Reuthers and the Fosters.

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