Bert Cochran Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

E.R. Frank

Wander of ILGWU Pleads He Is ‘Guilty as Charged’

Admits He Flouted Decision of 1,000 Union Members in Bayonne Negotiations

(27 January 1940)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. IV No. 4, 27 January 1940, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In the January 6 issue of the Socialist Appeal, we called attention to the signing of a new agreement between Local 160, attached to the out-of-town department of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, and the Maiden Form Brassiere Company of Bayonne, New Jersey.

The negotiations revealed, we pointed out, the absence of all democratic procedure in the out-of-town department and the reactionary policies pursued by its general manager, Harry Wander.

In the January 15 issue of Justice, official publication of the ILGWU, Harry Wander attempts to answer our accusations.

He states:

“Their (Socialist Appeal) accusation is that we refused to support the action of the shop when in the midst of negotiating a contract, one committee was abruptly withdrawn and another committee substituted.

“To this accusation I plead guilty as charged. My action was that of a responsible unionist,” etc.

A Dictator’s Idea of Unionism

Doesn’t it strike you as strange Mr. Wander, that you, one man, should possess the power to overturn the decision of a thousand union members? You state you did not think their decision was a wise one, therefore you would not recognize their regularly elected negotiating committee and you decided to discontinue the negotiations with the company. Doesn’t that bear out every one of our accusations that the local unions attached to your department enjoy no autonomy and that the appointed out-of-town department leadership exercises autocratic powers?

Doesn’t your own explanation, Mr. Wander, reveal that you do not believe that the workers have sufficient intelligence to conduct their own union affairs and decide their own policies, but must be supervised by union officials who possess dictatorial powers and can veto the decisions of the rank and file membership?

Your explanation of why you opposed the election of a new shop committee is positively humorous. You state that “changing committees while negotiations are in progress is almost always a bad procedure,” and besides such an action “offends members of the original committee.” Isn’t that a real gem ? Here is a group of workers, staging a revolt against your autocratic conduct and your reactionary policies as displayed in the negotiations; they remove the old shop committee, because it is apparently too subservient to you. You proceed to veto their action and toss their democratic votes into the waste paper basket, because it is going to hurt somebody’s feelings. How about the feelings of the one thousand workers whose democratic rights you have violated?

Your reply, in my opinion, serves only to underscore the crying need for reforms in the out-of-town department of the ILGWU by the introduction of democratic procedure in the negotiation of union contracts and the granting of full autonomy to all local unions.

Your article, I suppose, would be incomplete without its tearful reference to “Russia’s ruthless attack upon Finland” and the “cold and deliberate mass slaughter, including the bombing of open cities.”

When Hoover, Roosevelt, the U.S. Steel Corporation or the Chase National Bank get all worked up about “poor little Finland,” it is easily understandable. Finland is a semi-colony of the U.S. and the Wall Street men have a stake in a Finnish victory. What are you all excited about, Mr. Wander? Your trepidation is as indecent as that of a butler, who is in seventh heaven when his master’s stocks and bonds soar upward and who is down in the dumps when the master’s securities sharply decline.

Stalin’s invasion of Finland has been used by all of the open shop manufacturers and their lackeys to divert attention away from America’s ten million unemployed, the starvation and suffering stalking Cleveland and hundreds of other American cities, the billions of dollars that are being spent on armaments in preparation for war. These phony democrats have one-track minds. They can understand suffering and starvation in Finland. But they cannot recognize it in the United States.

You and your friends are the younger brothers of these phony democrats. You are ready to fight for democracy in “Poor Little Finland.” But you do not have a very great interest in democracy in the ILGWU. Like all worshippers of “bourgeois democracy,” you do not have a very high regard for it in your own labor organization. Before you get worked up about “Poor Little Finland” again, remember the words of a very wise man: “Charity begins at home.”

Bert Cochran Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 7 July 2016