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James Burnham

Their Government

The 1940 Legislative Program of the CIO

(23 December 1939)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 94, 23 December 1939, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The CIO’s Legislative Program for 1940, which was made public this week, deserves careful study. However inadequate we may think it, however much we may disagree with part or all of it, its contrast to the Platform of American Industry (the manifesto of the National Association of Manufacturers that I discussed last week) is immediately apparent and in all respects favorable to the CIO. The CIO document says something, and what it says is relevant to the concrete realities of present-day life. The N.A.M. said nothing; its platform is a meaningless jumble of abstract rhetoric. There is little doubt that the CIO deliberately intends to have its program appear in the public eye as the direct challenger of that of the bosses.

The C.I.O. States the Problems

John L. Lewis has many times proved himself a sensitive reflector of the moods of the workers in this country. This, indeed, is the source of his great strength and superiority as a labor leader. (That he ruthlessly exploits and perverts these moods for reactionary ends is another matter.) He is the shrewdest of opportunists, riding on the crest of proletarian mass sentiment. It was in this way that he took triumphant leadership of the industrial union movement, leaving behind in his wake the case-hardened old fogies.

The new CIO Legislative Program gives witness once again to Lewis’ sensitivity. In clear and open fashion, the Program states, and states correctly, the really major problems facing the American working class. Every worker will find himself in agreement on the statement of problems. There is no twaddle about “Hull’s trade treaties” or “balanced budgets” or “municipal corruption,” with which the boss press is now filled in an effort to confuse the people, but: the war, jobs, and democratic rights.

“The Congress of Industrial Organizations urges for the serious consideration by the Federal Congress a legislative program based upon certain fundamental objectives; (1) The United States must keep out of involvement in the foreign wars; (2) The attention of this country and the energies of our Government, industrial and labor leaders of this country, must be directed toward the immediate solving of the problem of unemployment; (3) The democratic rights and institutions of this country must be preserved and maintained; and (4) There must be continued assurance and protection of the rights of labor to organize and bargain collectively as the cornerstone for the preservation and extension of any economic and social program.”

These points are elaborated in the body of the program. In addition there are sections on the Wagner Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, Social Security, Health, Housing and Taxation. So far as they go, no exception can be taken to what is advocated in these sections. The demands, it is true, do not in any case go far enough if we judge them in terms of the needs of the masses, but their direction is undoubtedly right. As a matter of fact, they are more adequate and enlightened than I remember in any comparable CIO or AFL document in recent years.

In passing, it is worth observing that the old CIO policy of calling for “no amendment” to the Wagner Act, as the means of fighting against reactionary attempts at amendment, has been changed to a counterattack. The CIO now demands amendments of its own directed toward strengthening the Act in labor’s interests by providing criminal penalties for employers’ offenses against the Act, prohibition of government contracts to firms violating the Act, and prohibition of the splitting up of industrial unions.

What Is Left Out

From what I have said so far, it might seem that I ought to urge support and acceptance of the Program as a suitable platform for the Socialist Workers Party. Indeed, I do believe that most of its specific proposals ought to be supported by the S.W.P. and by all workers.

But a Program has a history; and must be judged by what it omits as well as by what it says. If we examine this CIO Program from a more extended point of view, we must add new conclusions.

The Program, for example, says nothing about whom labor must fight against in order to achieve its objectives; nor how to carry on the fight for them; nor also most important – what the record of Lewis has been in the past fights for similar objectives.

The Program advocates a minimum of 3.000,000 jobs in public works plus public jobs for all youth who are out of work and out of school. In the past also Lewis has been for jobs; but he persuaded the workers to fight for them by putting all faith in Roosevelt, who was the man who cut the jobs.

The Program advocates keeping out of war. In the past, too, Lewis has spoken against getting into the war; but he has been and remains a part of the Roosevelt machine which is itself the chief war-making apparatus.

The Program demands democratic rights for labor. But in the past Lewis has got the workers to support the candidates of the Republican and Democratic parties, who, once in office, are the ones who smash those rights.

The Program advocates decent housing, medical service, social security. But it says not one word against the rotted system of private property and private profits which, so long as it continues, guarantees that the workers will never have decent housing or medical service or social security.

This is the record, and this is why the Program, from the point of view of Lewis and his fellow-bureaucrats, is a fake, designed not to organize the workers for a real struggle toward the objectives of peace, jobs and freedom, but to head off such a struggle and to keep them tied to things as they are.

This does not mean that the Program should be just forgotten (as Lewis will forget it when the time for voting comes). It means that if its progressive aims are to be realized, the workers, and especially the CIO members, should take the struggle for those aims out of the hands of Lewis, and fight in closed, militant and independent class ranks.

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