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Mary Bell

As Opposition Fights Against Communist
Party Control Over CIO Electrical Workers –

UE Leaders Carry Split Motion at Convention

Stalinists Win in First Test Vote;
Minority Tightens for All-Out Fight

(20 September 1949)


From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 39, 26 September 1949, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).



CLEVELAND, Sept. 20 – The first test vote – 2376.55 to 1464.21 or 61 per cent against 39 per cent – occurred on the second day of the UE convention, on the collective bargaining resolution. This was less than the Carey leadership had officially counted on in its estimate to the opposition caucus. But it coincided with the guesses of the militant wing of the opposition which had been pressing for a firm, programmatic line against the UE leadership and understood the shortcomings of their own caucus.

The loosely organized, wavering opposition, in the expression of James Carey, ranged “all the way from zero to near-communism:” The zero end of the caucus had its way at first. While the Stalinists thrust forward their pro-Russian line with a pseudo-militant policy, the opposition leaders at first reacted with crude expressions of Americanism. Their dull and uninspired fight on the first day of the sessions would convince anyone that “Americanism” is not enough to defeat Stalinism.

A reaction took place after the first, day. Those who wanted to hit the Stalinists programmatically and principledly appeared to have won out. The transformation was overwhelming on the second day of the convention. The offensive was in the hands of the opposition. The debate was on issues, contracts, pensions, conditions.

*

CP Hack Muzzled

The test was dramatically precipitated. James Matles, CP whip and “big wheel” of the UE leadership, who was the reporter on the collective bargaining resolution, had the floor in summary against the vigorous campaign the opposition had waged alt day.

Forced to admit the contract gains of Sperry Local 450, an opposition local, he tried to take credit for them. The spirited opposition broke off his speech with boos and jeers. Fitzgerald could not restore order and Matles, his tail between his legs, never completed his summary.

Fitzgerald shouted. “Do you want the vote now?” Spearheaded by District 4 delegates, the opposition finally forced the first vote of the convention.

It was a new experience for James Matles.
 

Observers Unwelcome

As one might have expected, – the convention, organized by the Stalinist leadership, was the best policed convention in the entire CIO. It was the toughest convention for visitors, too, including first and foremost UE oppositionists or unseated UE delegates who wanted to get into the gallery.

Only a small section which could accommodate about 200 visitors was made available. The rest, which could hold 5,000, was roped off and policed by sergeants-at-arms. Even a union card from a brother CIO union could not get visitors in, and a daily passport was necessary for others.

But unquestionably this is the most democratic convention ever held by the UE, solely on account of the fact that the first big organized opposition to the Fitzgerald-Matles-Emspak machine is fighting. One proof: the Labor Action reporter had a minimum of red tape getting to the press table.

Chairman Fitzgerald was only reluctantly democratic. He violated the spirit of democracy constantly. The big debate of the first two days was the hotly controversial collectivebargaining resolution. By the end of Tuesday morning, eight administration speakers to three oppositionists had taken the microphone.

Only after Al Lowenthal, opposition delegate from District No. 4, Newark, objected to the president’s partiality did Fitzgerald agree to recognize alternate spokesmen. When Fitzgerald pleaded he didn’t have the ability to distinguish the rival delegates, a roar of laughter swept the convention.

*

Sperry Tells ’Em

A high point of the collective-bargaining fight by the opposition was reached in the speech of Paul Jennings of Sperry Local 450. He effectively exposed the hypocrisy of the Stalinist attack on the steel fact-finding panel technique by citing arbitration, cases of the UE leadership. It was a speech ringing with militancy And a stinging blow to the Stalinists. Malles had to admit the excellency of the contracts obtained in Sperry, the $135 a month pension, etc.

*

Cameron, district representative and delegate from Local 475, attacked Local 425, represented by Dillon, minority candidate for organization director. Cameron boasted of the $1.80 average wage and attacked the steel fact-finding panel decision. Dillon, in an effective answer, exposed the drop in membership in Local 475 from 25,000 to 8,000 members. Citing the $1.84 average in his plant, Dillon stated: “The Local 475 representative has been the best organizer for. the UAW and the AFL. The officers have been discredited and cannot mobilize workers in GE and Westinghouse.”

*

Unity or split is a question that lies underneath the convention proceedings but has never reached the surface. Will the opposition stick it out as a minority or will it split now or later? Will the Stalinists, faced with an opposition that can only grow and harrass it, institute further expulsions? No one is answering these questions.


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