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George Clarke

Riveting War Chains on Labor

The CIO and the Third Term

(24 November 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 90, 24 November 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The New York and New Jersey State CIO conventions meeting last weekend adopted unanimous resolutions favoring a third term for President Roosevelt. Exactly one month was required for the top CIO leadership to clarify its non-committal position at the San Francisco convention and to jump on the Roosevelt bandwagon in double-quick time.

There is little doubt that an attitude of open hostility on the part of John L. Lewis to the third-term campaign would have made the passing of these resolutions at the state conventions difficult if not impossible. What happened in the month to give Lewis a change of heart is not known. The deal that Lewis made with Roosevelt – trading CIO support to the president in return for miserly concessions in war-time? – has remained the property of secret conferences. All we know is that in the disagreement in CIO top circles on the third-term, Hillman’s point of view appears to have prevailed.

Whatever happened in the secret conclaves with Roosevelt – certainly nothing of benefit to the labor movement – there is not the slightest plausible reason for the trade unions to back Roosevelt in 1940. This is said entirely aside from the general proposition that labor commits hara-kiri every time it supports a capitalist candidate. Specifically, Roosevelt’s record in the past year has been viciously anti-labor.

Roosevelt Attacks the Labor Movement

The heaviest blows the labor movement received in the past year came from Washington. In a single shove, a million workers were flung off the WPA rolls at the command of Roosevelt. In his own words: “We must and shall finish with this business of relief.” With his blessing, the Woodrum Bill drove an axe into all WPA standards by equalizing the differential between North and South, and slashed at union wage standards by increasing the monthly hours to 130 at the same rate of pay. It was a gentle hint to private industrialists to chop down the wage scales of skilled workers.

When a half a million workers rose in strike action throughout the country against the starvation, union-busting decree, Frank Murphy, Roosevelt’s Attorney General, made the Hitlerite pronouncement: “You can’t strike against the government!”

When they did nevertheless strike against the government, Roosevelt’s WPA administration fired the WPA strikers for remaining away from work five days. In Minneapolis, where a powerful labor movement stymied such quick strikebreaking, the G-men were turned loose on the workers as agent provocateurs. The frameup trials and convictions of WPA workers in that city on the charge of “conspiracy” is the direct work of Roosevelt’s Department of Justice. The vicious onslaught now being carried on by the G-men against the teamsters movement of the Midwest is part and parcel of Roosevelt’s anti-labor drive, as are the Department of Justice’s prosecutions of building trades unions throughout the country.

In the same period the personnel of the National Labor Relations Board was transformed to meet the demands of the National Manufacturers Ass’n and the Chamber of Commerce. So utterly hostile to labor’s interests is this new Labor Board that the CIO national convention advised its affiliates to go before the labor board as little as possible. It was Roosevelt who engineered this change in the labor board.

Roosevelt Prepares for Dictatorship over Labor

Side by side with these overt actions against labor came measures more subtle but even more inimical to the trade unions. Billions of dollars were appropriated for the super-armaments program for America’s imperialist intervention in the war. Roosevelt’s War Department staff worked out the last details for the military strait-jacket to be tightened around the unions when he openly enters the war. In the commanding position of the M-Day dictatorship over labor were seated its worst enemies, appointed by Roosevelt: three lieutenants of the firm of J.P. Morgan and the fourth a scion of another of the Sixty Families.

In face of Roosevelt’s record, the support tendered him by the New York and New Jersey CIO bodies can be characterized as a monstrous betrayal of the interests of labor, callous and scornful in its disregard of the rank and file workers of the CIO unions. The leadership of the CIO is riveting the chains of a reactionary War Deal administration around the ankles of the workers. And by this fact, it is in advance committing the American unions to supporting Wall Street’s imperialist war. By this action, the CIO leaders become a partner to the M-Day dictatorship plans of the Roosevelt administration.

Stalinists Meet Issue Facing Both Ways

The resolutions for the third term at the New York and New Jersey conventions were adopted unanimously. The Jersey resolution was made unanimous after a vote of 96–66 carried it. These unanimous votes included the delegates from the Stalinist-controlled unions. Have the Stalinist trade union officials bucked the party line of opposition to Roosevelt, laid down by Earl Browder in his Boston speech? Browder said in that speech:

“The President and his Administration succumb more and more every day to the greed for profits by American monopoly capital, and makes use of its former prestige among the masses to secure their acceptance of the program of Wall Street.”

That the president fed “the greed for profits by American monopoly capital” since the day he took office – Browder cannot say. Only yesterday, as everyone recalls, the President was still the White Hope of Browder and Co. Browder no longer backs Roosevelt only because Roosevelt’s foreign policy is no longer consistent with Stalin’s foreign policy. Hence the decree to the party members and all its trade unionists to go into opposition.

In the New York CIO Convention, Michael Quill of the Transport Union and Irving Potash of the Fur Workers, as well as other Stalinists, voted for the Third Term resolution. In New Jersey 66 delegates, most of them Stalinists, at first voted against the Third Term resolution. How is this to be explained? Confronted with the acid test of going into outright opposition to Lewis, Hillman and the Roosevelt administration, Quill and Potash backed down. They had too much to lose by fully supporting the position of the Kremlin bureaucracy. In New Jersey, on the other hand, second line union bureaucrats could make the gesture of opposition – and then join in the unanimous vote – without facing the consequences that would be in store for top leaders like Quill and Potash at the hands of Lewis.

Stalinist Speeches Show Party Line Hypocrisy

The speeches of Quill and Potash, qualifying their support of Roosevelt are perfect examples of how spurious and hypocritical is the new “radical” line of the Stalinists.

“We believe,” said Quill, “that endorsing a third term at this time is correct. But we are dealing with the President’s record only up until now. From now on labor has no right to predict what the President will do. And while we now adopt this resolution and support him, we remind and warn the entire labor movement that it should look out and see that President Roosevelt and any official of the American government should never attempt to drive the American people into war. We are against war.”

Potash spoke in a similar vein.

How can anyone say he is against war, and support the “president’s record only up until now”? “Up until now” the president has made his biggest strides towards plunging the US into the war. “Up until now” a five-billion-dollar armament program has been passed. “Up until now” the United States has been turned into an armory for the Allies under the new Neutrality Law. “Up until now” the president’s public declarations on the war have been indistinguishable from those of the belligerents. “Up until now” the President has used the Department of Justice and the FBI as a political police to frame up and smash the labor movement. “Up until now” the President has taken almost every step in the war game but the actual declaration of war.

That Quill and Potash, who, have been accomplices in every step in the preparation of war, will balk at the final step, the declaration of war, is a fairy tale to deceive little children. But that they were able to support Roosevelt “up until now” is just another way of expressing the Stalinist line: so long as Roosevelt and Stalin were in the same war camp, the “president’s record” was good enough; but now that Stalin has jumped into the Hitler camp, we must “be vigilant and watch everybody from Washington down ...” as Potash put it.

It isn’t exactly consistent to call Roosevelt an agent of “monopoly capital,” to urge distrust and “vigilance” on the one hand, and on the other support him for a third term. It isn’t consistent, indeed, because the Stalinist policy is a fake from beginning to end. That’s why there is not one word of criticism of Quill and Potash in the Daily Worker. The Stalinists are not mobilizing the masses against Roosevelts war policy; they are merely trying to frighten Roosevelt into coming to terms with the Hitler-Stalin war camp. The Stalinist opposition to Roosevelt is just as fraudulent as is the Lewis-Hillman defense of the workers against Roosevelt.

* * *

The CIO organizing drive two and three years ago became a crusade of effective strike movements only because the workers, the third camp, seized the handle of opportunity in their own hands.

The CIO today needs a third camp again. This time to beat back the war-mongering Lewis-Hillman supporters of war-monger Roosevelt and the Stalinist war-mongering supporters of war-mongers Hitler-Stalin.

A third camp of the rank and file from the shops and factories against the war and against capitalist reaction at home! That is the need of the hour.

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