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George Breitman

Hillman Wins in Jersey CIO Body

Chance to Defeat Hillman Is Tossed Away by Lewis Bloc

(15 December 1940)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. 4 No. 51, 21 December 1940, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

PASSAIC, N.J., Dec. 15 – The Lewis wing of the CIO suffered a setback here this week-end as the Hillman forces in the New Jersey CIO convention succeeded in winning a victory which gave it control of the state executive board for the coming year.

The margin of votes between the Hillman-Abramson-textile forces and the Lewis-Stalinist bloc was not very great, however, and the tide could easily have been turned the other way had it not been for the bungling and timidity of the state leaders of the Lewis bloc.

As a result of this poor leadership, therefore, a strong weapon is now in the hands of the group in this state’s CIO which is ready,

when Hillman gives the word, to capitulate to the government and the craft unionists on the crucial issue of industrial unionism.

At the start of the convention Knapik, one of the Hillman leaders, made this clear when he stated that the CIO should immediately reopen “unity” negotiations with the AFL. The lack of applause was a warning to him, and he hastily added that negotiations must not lead to destroying a single one of the CIO international unions.

The Hillman leaders apparently decided that it would be unwise in a closely-contested convention to bring into the open their real position on industrial unionism, so they put it away in the background. The Lewis-Stalinist wing permitted them to do so.

Whitewashing Hillman

The first fight broke out on an attempt to whitewash the role Hillman is playing in the National Defense Council. If was dramatically announced that Hillman had entered a protest that day against the granting of a government contract to Henry Ford, and the Hlllmanites introduced a resolution to commend Hillman for this action.

A few delegates managed to get the floor in spite, of the bureaucratic chairmanship of Hillmanite Abramson, and to point out that this was a whitewash resolution designed to cover up Hillman’s treacheries. What about his handling of Bethlehem Steel? they asked. What about his handling of strikes? An amendment was made that the CIO oppose the granting of contracts to all violators of the labor laws. Discussion was cut off, and in the voice vote, it seemed, the amendment was carried. Abramson, however, refused a roll call vote and declared the original motion carried. After this, the

Hillmanites were very careful to see that no important issue at all reached the floor, and their opponents unfortunately played into their hands on this.

At a caucus of the anti-Hillman delegates held after adjournment the first day, it was agreed that the major issues of the convention were industrial unionism, opposition to curbing of labor activity, formation of an independent labor party, and control of the state board to advance the fight on these questions. “We will carry the fight to them on, every issue,” said a Stalinist spokesman, “and force a vote to see where things stand.”

However, this was not done. The Lewis-Stalinist leaders the next morning made an agreement with the Hillman leaders for a “test vote” on the constitutional provisions for electing the state board, and thus made this the major question of the convention.

The Hillmanites proposed that they be permitted to continue the practice of having representation on the state board from various sections of the Amalgamated and the textile union, although other unions are not permitted more than one or two representatives from any international. This would mean control of the board by the Hillmanites.

The Stalinists countered this by demanding only one representative from each international. And then, instead of exposing Hillman’s real, aims of, capitulation to the AFL, instead of a programmatic assault which would have won support, the Stalinists confined themselves to such arguments as: “It isn’t fair, it isn’t democratic, the electrical workers could do the same and ask for representation for their different parts of their industry,” etc. In this way, they obscured the main issues and conducted the fight on the plane where the Hillmanites wanted it.

Delegates who wanted to hammer home the principles agreed upon at the caucus the day before were denied the floor as the result of an agreement between the heads of the two blocs which cut discussion short after a few of the leaders had spoken.

The result of the test vote was 305 to 293. Thus the Hillmanites won a close victory where they might well have been routed. Responsible for this was:

  1. Lewis from the national office had sent down word urging that both sides avoid controversial “national issues,” thus taking away from his group in the convention their strongest weapon.
  2. The cowardice and stupidity of the state Lewis-Stalinist leaders who permitted the fight to be fought out on a machine, non-programmatic basis.
  3. The fact that the Hillmanites spent several thousand dollars prior to the convention getting their locals into good standing, while the Lewis leaders fumbled the job, getting for example a representation of 20 steel delegates when they might easily have had 60.

Instead of carrying the fight further during the rest of the convention, the Stalinists practically gave up the fight after this first vote. Almost everything else was referred to the incoming state board, which was elected with a majority of Hillmanites.

One interesting exception was the resolution that was adopted condemning fascism, nazism and communism. To this, for the first time, in a CIO convention the Stalinists took exception, demanded the floor, opposed it vigorously and rose against it on a standing vote. The Hillmanites jeeringly replied that what was good enough for the national CIO was good enough for them, referring to the fact that the Stalinists at the national convention had all voted for the same resolution.

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