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Bert Cochran

Labor Union Trends

Stalinism and the Opposition in the UAW

(14 February 1949)

From The Militant, Vol. 13 No. 7, 14 February 1949, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Stalinists are again demonstrating that they are the mortal enemies of the genuine progressives in the trade union movement. At the very time they themselves are under fierce attack from the different sections of the Philip Murray machine in the CIO, the Stalinists are continuing to undermine the authentic progressive forces now arising to challenge the labor bureaucracy in the unions.

For 13 years, ever since the formation of the CIO, the Stalinists were the pernicious force which prevented the building of an authentic left-wing opposition inside the CIO. How could they get away with this? Because they had a big, well-knit and experienced political cadre on a national scale; and because they bad the undeserved reputation of being the extreme left wingers in the labor movement.

They based themselves on this moral and material capital to take over and head the opposition inside the CIO and. then to sell it out to the Murray machine. For a decade, they subverted the genuine aspirations of the most advanced elements inside the CIO for an honest class struggle policy to the class collaboration game being preached and practised by Murray and his lieutenants.

Thus, they joined with Hillman and Dubinsky in 1936 to form the American Labor Party in New York State – not to propel the New York workers toward independent political action, but to corral the labor and radical vote for Roosevelt. Thus, they opposed and squelched all moves to form an independent labor party or run independent labor slates. This policy of working With the capitalists was crowned With their shameless sell-outs during the war when they backed the no-strike pledge, pushed the speedup and company-union labor-management committees.

It took many years before the progressives in the unions, got wise to the Stalinist game, got wise to the fact that the Communist Party was not a real radical working class organization at all, but a conscienceless agency of the Kremlin; that the American labor movement was just a pawn, so far as the Stalinist leaders were concerned, in the Kremlin’s international diplomacy.

It took 13 years – to be exact – before sizeable groups of progressives could free themselves from the Stalinist grip and set up their forces on an independent basis for an honest struggle for militant unionism. Such a development took place in the CIO rubber union the past year. Such a development occurred in the auto union after the 1947 Atlantic City convention where Reuther took over full control.

But the Stalinists did not greet the emergence of these new virile progressive groupings with any satisfaction or approval. Nor did they try to establish loyal cooperation with them. In the auto union they have already fully shown their hand. They are out to discredit, to bust up, to destroy this new progressive formation. Why? Do they find its program inadequate or incorrect? They are not interested in program at all. What counts for them is the fact that the “Committee for a Militant and Democratic UAW” is not under their domination The Stalinist policy remains “rule-or-ruin.”

Two recent incidents in the auto union make obvious that the Stalinists are prepared to go so far as to strengthen Reuther’s hand, if it means at the same time weakening the independent non-Stalinist opposition.

The first incident relates to Briggs Local 212. Here the opposition caucus selected its slate about a month ago to oppose the incumbent Reuther-supported administration slate in the coming elections. Several Stalinist supporters fought bitterly in the opposition caucus against the inclusion on the slate of Ernest Mazey, a prominent anti-Stalinist militant. They were defeated and Ernest Mazey went on the slate.

The Stalinists thereupon ignored the caucus decision. They went into the plant and began an unrestrained campaign of slander, vilification and red-baiting until the whole slate – which up to this point had a reasonable chance of success – was so smeared as to virtually ensure the reelection of the Reuther-backed slate. In a subsequent meeting of the caucus, Ernest Mazey’s name was removed, over strong opposition, from the slate, a few others declined to run on the slate in protest – and the whole opposition campaign had been turned into a shambles.

The other incident occurred in connection with Plymouth Local 51. Here, Reuther’s International Executive Board placed charges against President Frank Danowski, long a supporter of Stalinist policy, and other local officers, for using the local union paper “in support of policies diametrically opposed to the policies of the National CIO and the membership decisions of Local 51.”

Danowski feared that Reuther might place an admistrator over the local. Members of the Stalinist-run caucus headed by Tracy Doll met, therefore, with the officers of the “Committee for a Militant and Democratic UAW” to solicit their support against any violations of union democracy. The officers of the latter group agreed they would back in every practical way a fight against imposing an administratorship over the Plymouth local. The joint conference ended on this cordial and cooperative note.

The officers of the Stalinist-run Doll caucus then called a meeting of their supporters the next day, misrepresented the position of the independent opposition, lied like troopers about their statements, maintained they had refused to cooperate, declared they were “capitulating to Reuther” and spent the major part of their meeting, not in organizing the fight against Reuther, but in attempting to discredit and tear down the independent opposition.

There is method to this Stalinist madness. There is a logic in Stalinist rule-or-ruin tactics. The Stalinists – and this they have demonstrated over and over again in the past decade and more – cannot and will not honestly cooperate with any independent progressives. They must run the whole show. They must have monopolistic control just as Stalin must have sole power in Russia. The reason is this:

The Stalinists are not a genuine working class opposition with mistaken ideas. They are an agency of the Kremlin and at a moment’s notice must be prepared to change their line as their muster dictates. How could they sell out an opposition, how could they reverse the policy overnight, if the opposition is independently run? They could not do it. That is why they would rather have Reuther strengthen his hand, here and there, if only they can smash up any independent progressive group and reestablish their own monopoly over the opposition forces. Later on, when conditions are more favorable, they hope they can again stage a comeback.

Such is the sinister meaning of the Stalinist conduct in the auto union. Let every militant in this union :and throughout the labor movement take this lesson to heart and guide his activities accordingly in the organization of progressive groups and the preparation for future struggles.

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