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E.R. Frank

Lewis FDR Split Reflects Mass Feeling

Discontented Workers Are Looking
Toward Independent Labor Action

Otherwise Break Will Help Only Boss Politicians

(3 February 1940)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. IV No. 5, 3 February 1940, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

John L. Lewis dramatically broke with Roosevelt and his administration at the “Cross Roads of Destiny” Golden Jubilee convention of the United. Mine Workers of America, meeting this week at Columbus, Ohio. In scathing terms he denounced the New Deal and its recent attacks on the labor movement.

Reading a prepared statement at Wednesday’s session of the convention, Lewis stated :

“As the current year opens the Democratic Party is in default to the American people. After seven years of power, it finds itself without solution for the major questions of unemployment, low national income, mounting internal debt, increasing direct and consumer taxation and restricted foreign markets. There still exists the same national unhappiness that it faced seven years ago. I am convinced that, with conditions now confronting the nation and the dissatisfaction now permeating the minds of the people, his (Roosevelt’s) candidacy would result in ignominious defeat.”

Lewis accused Roosevelt of breaking “faith” with organized labor and complained that “in the last three years labor has not been given representation in the cabinet, nor in the administrative or policy-making agencies of government.”

“In the Congress,” Lewis pointed out, “the unrestrained baiting and defaming of labor by the Democratic majority has become a pastime, never subject to rebuke by the titular or actual leaders of the party.”

Where is Bread?

Speaking the following day to newspapermen at the Neil House, Lewis remarked:

“I see by the papers that William Green hauled a cake over to the President on a truck. While the people are crying for bread, Mr. Green hauls a cake over to the President, if the President eats the cake that Mr. Green provides him, the common people feel entitled at least to have bread.

“Those democrats who are good historians might see an historical allusion and say ‘Let them eat cake.’ Rather than spending my time toadying to the President with cake, I’m going to spend my time and efforts trying to get bread for the people who are crying for it.”

Lewis Reflects Masses

On more than one occasion, John L. Lewis has revealed his sensitivity to the feelings and needs of American labor. Lewis knows that the existence of a permanent economic depression with ten to twelve million workers doomed to unemployment and insecurity, and the Roosevelt policy of steering America headlong into the European bloodbath, is storing up tremendous dissatisfaction, bitterness and hatred, that is bound, before long, to explode in the face of the New Dealers.

The CIO is based on the mass production industries, steel, coal, auto, rubber, oil – the very nerve centers of American economy. Lewis has seen the militant workers of these industries in battle. He knows their indomitable courage and their determination to win economic security for themselves and their families.

Knows What Is Coming

Lewis has learned, in the recent years, to understand what independent strength the American trade unions possess. Disturbed by the deep, subterranean rumblings of dissatisfaction throughout the country, Lewis is beginning to roar out against the New Deal and its agents. He is demanding a higher price for the support of Labor. He understands the impending revolt and is determined to lead it. To lead it, of course, in a “safe” direction, not toward the necessary Labor Party but back into a deal with capitalist politicians.

Obviously, Lewis made no effort to reach an agreement on his new anti-Roosevelt policy with the other top officials of the CIO, prior to its presentation to the Miners convention. The next day, Hillman, President of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America and Emil Rieve, President of the United Textile Workers of America, rejected the Lewis policy and urged continued support for a Roosevelt “third term.” David Dubinsky, President of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, independent of both the AFL and CIO, is expected to take a similar stand this week in the magazine Newsweek.

Sure of His Ground

Lewis is keenly aware of this opposition inside the CIO, but is convinced that economic conditions and the dissatisfaction on the part of millions make it obligatory to break with Roosevelt and take the leadership of this new movement. This, Lewis believes, will fully compensate for the non-support of Hillman. It is, of course, a foregone conclusion that all mid-western unions will follow the Lewis policy and that it will carry in the CIO Executive Board.

Lewis and his lieutenants are convinced that the coming period will be marked by great expansion of all war industries and that the CIO, with its industrial structure and its modern and aggressive methods of organization, will be enabled to win definite hegemony of the trade union movement. That is why he is determined that the CIO unions and policies, under no conditions, be subordinated to the moribund AFL Executive Council. This constitutes Lewis’s answer, in effect, to the “peace campaign” of Dan Tobin of the Teamsters Union.

Fight For Labor Party!

Progressives in every local union must now convince all rank and file unionists of the utter bankruptcy, not only of the old-fashioned Gompers’ “reward your friends and punish your enemies” politics, but also the streamlined Lewis version of playing around with capitalist politicians. The bankruptcy of the old policies in this field must be utilized to force the unions to break completely with all “company unionism” in the sphere of politics and to utilize the energy, finances, and strength of the unions to build an independent political party of labor, based on a fighting program for jobs, security and the struggle against fascism and war.

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