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George Breitman

Meaning of the Moves
for CIO-AFL Unification

(27 September 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 39, 27 September 1941, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The coming annual conventions of the AFL (Seattle, October 6) and the CIO (Detroit, November 17) will again bring to the forefront the question of trade union unity.

Militant trade unionists, who want to work out an answer to the problem of unity not on the basis of an abstract formula or ideal but on the basis of the concrete interests of the working class, will profit from a study of the positions taken by the different groups today advocating CIO-AFL unity.

Such an analysis will demonstrate that the slogan of unity as such is not progressive today, and that it is being used as the cover for extremely reactionary and conservative forces operating against the best interests of the labor movement.

Roosevelt’s Aims

Why, for example, is the Roosevelt administration so concerned about unification of the two union groups? Certainly not to enable the unions to better fight for improvement of labor’s conditions and protection of labor’s rights, because more than ever that fight in these days has to be directed against the efforts of the government as well as the bosses.

Roosevelt’s main interest in the unions, both craft and industrial, is to tie them to the war program, to get them in the interests of “national defense” to “make sacrifices,” to persuade them to give up many of their hard-won rights for the sake of “national unity.” A divided labor movement, entailing competition and a struggle for hegemony that leads to increased organizational activity, makes Roosevelt’s task more difficult. Roosevelt wants “peace” between the two labor federations as a prelude to “peace” between labor and the capitalists.

It is not hard to see that unity on the basis of Roosevelt’s program will reduce, not increase, labor’s strength.

The AFL Conditions

By and large, the bureaucrats of the AFL Council hold the same position today as they held a year ago when they expressed their willingness for “unity.” But the unity they want is the kind that will give craft unionism the domination of the unified movement and leave the industrial unions at the mercy of those who opposed their creation.

Such a unification as the AFL Council wants would be a blow to all of labor, for it would not only weaken the strongest unions in the labor movement, but it would encourage the bosses to go after the remainder, craft or industrial. One of the progressive consequences of the AFL-CIO split was that, in the wake of the pro-union spirit engendered by the organizational gains of the CIO union’s, the AFL was also able to add many new members. The dismemberment of the unions in the mass industries by the craft union leaders of the AFL might easily lead to the destruction by the bosses of the craft unions built near and around them.

What the Hillmanites Want

The Hillmanites in the CIO also support moves toward unification. They are not interested in seeing that the craft unionists become the dominant force – for they would prefer themselves in the dominant role, of course – but they are not worried about the prospect either. They feel that they could easily come to terms with the Greens and Wolls. Like Roosevelt, their main concern is in tying the unions in with the government.

At last year’s CIO convention the Hillmanites were the chief advocates of “resuming unity negotiations.” Although Hillman’s proposal was decisively rejected by the Lewis forces at the convention, and although Hillman himself was the object of an invitation to get out of the CIO and go back to the AFL by himself, he has chosen to keep his followers in the ClO. The reason for this was twofold. First of all, his use to the administration and the war machine rests on the idea that he “represents” the dynamic section of the union movement, the CIO. If he returned to the AFL, he would quickly sink to the status of another Dubinsky, a captive of the AFL Executive Council.

Secondly, Hillman has kept his forces in the CIO because it is there that he can be of most service to the administration in its drive to unify the unions on the basis of support of the war.

In the year since the Atlantic City convention, the Hillmanites have been “boring from within” the CIO, and it is unquestionable that they have made considerable headway since November 1940.

Role of the Stalinists

Last year the Stalinists fully backed the Lewis position against any unity proposals that would hot guarantee the victory of industrial unionism.

This year, however, they loudly proclaim, “conditions have changed.” Now they give unqualified support to the Roosevelt war program. Instead of collaborating with John L. Lewis against Hillmanites in the unions, the Stalinists have declared war against Lewis, although he is pursuing more or less the same union policies today as a year ago.

Criticism of Green and Hillman has entirely disappeared from the Daily Worker. The Stalinists have adopted the AFL Executive Council’s formula on “strikes and national defense,” namely, that unions must retain their right to strike but they must not utilize that right. (Daily Worker, Sept. 20)

The Stalinists are all-out for labor unification today. But unification on the basis of their program will be n different and no better than unification around the Roosevelt, Green and Hillman proposals.

Lewis’ Stand on Unification

The Lewis group is the only major force that shows any signs of resisting a unification that will put the craft unions in the saddle and make the labor movement wholly subservient to the war program.

Events of the last year have shown how correct was the decision of the CIO last November in voting down Hillman’s proposal. How many of labor’s gains in 1941 – the organization of Ford, Bethlehem, etc. – won through militant action, would have been achieved if the iron hand of the AFL bureaucracy were dominant in a unified labor movement? Wouldn’t much of the anti-labor legislation defeated by the CIO this year have become law by this time if the Hillman-Green tendency led the whole labor movement?

The Job for Militants

Of course, continuation of the split in the labor movement has its negative as well as its positive features, and a unification of the labor movement oft the proper basis is desirable. But class-conscious workers must never lose sight of the fact that a unification on the basis of the Roosevelt-AFL-Hillman-Stalinist terms can prove more harmful than no unification at all under present conditions.

To the demagogic and reactionaary plans of the Roosevelt war bloc in the unions, the workers must counterpose the struggle for unification of the labor movement on the basis of undisputed recognition of the victory of industrial unionism.

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