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Mary Bell

Stalinists at UERMW Convention Triumph
over Unorganized Opposition from Ranks

(21 September 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 38, 21 September 1942, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

CLEVELAND – The eighth annual convention of the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America, CIO, was held in Cleveland the week of September 7–12. The UE, according to its officers’ report, has 435,000 members in 810 plants. The UE convention did not represent its 435,000 rank and file members, however. It was controlled from start to finish by the Stalinist machine, and practically every resolution might have been lifted bodily from the yellow pages of the Daily Worker.

There was opposition at the convention, to be sure. But it was a minority, lacking a voice, unorganized, provoked to red-baiting by the Stalinist appeasement tactics, and most important of all – lacking a program of militant union struggle to oppose the Stalinist sell-out.

James Carey, secretary of the CIO, whose home union is the UE, refused to accede to the request of a caucus of sixty delegates to oppose Fitzgerald for the presidency. His main distinguishing characteristic, however, seems to be a rabid anti-Stalinism.

Officials Re-Elected

The three officers of the UE who have led the union through a series of constant capitulations were re-elected: President, Albert J. Fitzgerald; secretary-treasurer, Julius Emspak, and organization director, James Matles. There were only abstentions and scattered “no’s” in opposition. The trustees are Charles Fay, Lottie Lee and Francis Bradley.

How the Stalinists packed the convention is shown in the fact that in one Pittsburgh local with a membership of 7,000, only 400 voted; that international representatives appointed by the Stalinist-controlled officers and general executive board entered the locals just prior to elections and had themselves elected as delegates; and by the usual filibustering methods in other locals that sent most of the members home until the Stalinists had a majority to elect their delegates.

They were so confident in their majority that they spoke boldly, openly invoking the names of Karl Marx and Eugene V. Debs to support their anti-Marxist, anti-socialist program of capitulation to the bosses’ war for profits, which Marx and Debs taught and fought against.

Stalinist Hand Visible

Beginning with the “second, front” resolution, the crude hand of the Stalinists was visible throughout all the resolutions passed by the convention.

Harry Bridges: Financial and moral support for the CIO’s committee fighting against deportation.

Red-Baiting: This was condemned because it leads to the “disruption of unity within the country.” An attack was made on John L. Lewis in passing.

Condemnation of Lewis and Support of Murray: Could this be because Lewis has maintained standards and wage increases, whereas the Stalinists and officers of the UE have been willing to sacrifice overtime and wage increases for the workers.

Racial Discrimination: The Stalinists are opposed to discrimination against Negroes, Jews or any other minority because “unity of all the U.S. is the prime requisite for victory in ’42” not because anti-discrimination is a principle of the labor movement. And they have amply demonstrated that when the fight against discrimination comes into conflict with “national unity,” as in the March on Washington Movement of the Negroes, they take their stand four-square on the side of “national unity” – and to hell with race discrimination. The resolution on anti-poll-tax legislation was passed with the same choral accompaniment of “national unity.”

Independence for India: Yes, India is to be freed, according to the Stalinists, only to fight beside the .Allies and they exclude mention of England’s centuries-old oppression of India or the kind of wages British industrialists pay Indian workers. The freedom for India is to be achieved by the intervention of Roosevelt with the British government!

Independence for Puerto Rico: Yes, the Stalinists are for this, too – in the name of the Atlantic Charter! And in order that Puerto Rico will not also disrupt Allied unity, although they fail to explain why Puerto Rico will be so eager to defend that American democracy which will not grant to Puerto Ricans their democratic right to independence;

Post-War Plans for Industry: This was referred to the incoming executive board, naturally enough, since the Stalinists have no plan except to win the war through sacrificing all labor gains according to the dictates of Moscow diplomacy.

Political Action: Labor is to be pledged to support any “win-the-war” candidate, regardless of party, just so they’re anti-Axis, pro-Roosevelt, pro-labor. A genuine independent Labor Party resolution, citing the need for independent political action by labor to combat “wage freezing, profiteering, etc.,” was defeated upon recommendation of the resolutions committee. Labor Action can only infer that the Stalinists are not opposed to wage freezing and profiteering!

Autonomy of Local Unions: Since they could get no local union to sanction such an amendment to the constitution, the general executive board proposed under negotiations and contracts to empower a representative of the international to negotiate with the local union on behalf of the international and sign contracts on behalf of the international! Passage of such a measure would have effectively destroyed the independence of local unions and would have put the locals directly under the thumb of the Stalinist officials.

Knowing that there would be stern opposition on this motion and feeling incapable of holding even the Stalinist bloc in line, the proposed amendment was withdrawn. But the fact that the board dared place such a proposal before the delegates shows their contempt for the rank and file union members.

Constitutional limitation, however, will not prevent the Stalinist officers from interfering in local affairs. They proved that when, prior to the convention, an international representative signed a contract over the heads of local officers and membership of Pittsburgh, Local No. 615, surrendering wage adjustments, vacation increases, classification of rates, and permitting time study the way “the company wants it.”

Wage Freezing: The executive board of No. 1237 of New York presented a resolution “condemning the general secretary-treasurer for arbitrarily instructing locals to freeze wages” while even Philip Murray was for wage increases. They disapproved the “undemocratic, appeasing action of the officers for this request to freeze wages” and “voluntarily” refraining from making wage demands in the coming year,

There was a larger minority opposition on this question than any other, although the resolution was, of course, defeated. A representative of Local 435, Long Island City, spoke in opposition to forfeiting premium pay for holidays, Saturdays and Sundays. A delegate from Local 801 complained of the loss of double time. “The workers gave all, the companies gave nothing,” he said. And the only excuse of the officers was that the UAW had given up double time.

Delegate Rubey of Local 425 asked: “Where is your equality which is what this union stands for, when UE officers announce in the paper before the convention that overtime for Saturdays and Sundays was given up?” Genuine applause, not led by the Stalinist claques, greeted these remarks.

On this, the most important question facing every union in the country, President Fitzgerald said: “We can’t waste (!) the time of the convention with those who want to disrupt the convention.” Further discussion was voted down and the ranks who were concerned with the legitimate business of the union, wages, hours, and working conditions, were gagged.

Working Hours: The convention went on record as in favor of an eight-hour day, 48-hour week, one day’s rest in seven, 30-minute lunch periods.

Organization: Resolutions were passed that a campaign to organize the government arsenals and the business and office machines factories be initiated, but what success that campaign will meet under the Stalinist leadership can be imagined if the wage demands in this low-paid industry come into conflict with “national unity.” Thirteen women organisers were added to the staff to handle the influx of non-unionized women into industry since the war. A resolution that every plant of over 300 workers should have a child welfare bureau to take care of children of working women was passed. Equal pay for equal work regardless of sex was approved.

War Bonds: One hundred per cent participation in buying of 10 per cent of one’s salary every pay day was pledged.

Dies Committee: Motion to investigate and dismiss was passed.

Profits Biggest Argument

The convention was a field day for the Stalinists and the work of the local union members becomes thereby increased in order to maintain their gains and attempt to get wages somewhere near commensurate with the rising cost of living.

The one big argument the workers have to get wage increases in the wanton, unrestricted profits the corporations are making out of the blood and murder of this war, while labor is asked to sacrifice and submit to wage freezing, This argument is one that the Stalinist leadership of the UERMWA dare not use. Any breath of suspicion that the bosses are making money out of the war might disturb this “national unity” which they are pledged to uphold. And they are supporting that “unity” against wage increases, against overtime pay, against race discrimination, against all the genuine interests of the workers, even if it means, according to one of the convention delegates, “we work twenty-four hours a day with no pay.”

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