Cochran Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Bert Cochran

Labor Union Trends

Knoll vs. Reuther on Political Action

(28 March 1949)

From The Militant, Vol. 13 No. 13, 28 March 1949, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by
Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

There are deep political currents at work today in the American labor movement. The 1948 elections produced an impact on the thinking of the workers that is far mote profound than many imagine. The ordinary rank and file unionist suddenly woke up to the fact that the working class, if it willed, could put its people into the seats of governmental power. The broad mass of workers never believed that possible before.

While Roosevelt was alive his magnetic personality dominated the political field and obscured the class forces at work. Nobody was sure who had the winning deck of cards. Truman’s mediocrity was the very thing that removed the scales from the workingman’s eyes.

After the election, Truman remarked to newspapermen that there were one million people in the United States who could do a better job as President than he. Many people felt that, if anything, this was an underestimation. So, if labor could win with Truman, it followed that it could win with pretty near anybody.

Labor’s prowess in getting out the vote and the effectiveness of its quasi-political organizations, the CIO-PAC and the AFL-LLPE, have convinced the labor bureaucracy that they are pretty important people and that the politicians had better start treating them, with a little more attention and respect, if they want to continue getting labor’s support.

The AFL and CIO big shots have grounds for this cockiness. They stand today at the pinnacle of their power. They head the two most effective national vote-producing political machines. They are partners, in the formidable alliance of the labor movement and the New Deal politicos inside the Democratic Party. For years, these synthetic heroes used to call themselves “labor statesmen.” Now they actually are beginning to believe it.

Nuance of Difference

Their very success in November, 1948 now puts the question to them most insistently: What to do next? Where do we go from here? The masses who voted for the Democratic Party expect the promises to be carried out, they expect to see the victory translated into understandable terms of dollars and cents. The labor fakers know in their hearts that this is easier said than done. Hence, the squirming, the soul-searching, the many gabby seminars and round-table discussions of the labor bureaucrats and the New Dealers to try to figure out what to do. This uneasiness about what the future holds has already produced a small rift, a nuance of difference inside the top ranks of the labor bureaucracy itself.

The National PAC leadership under the direction of Philip Murray wants to continue doing business in the same old way at the same old stand. Jack Kroll, National PAC Director, outlined the policy most recently before the UAW Education Conference held a few weeks ago in Milwaukee. As reported in the Jan. 22 N.Y. Times, he declared “that the CIO would not try to capture either the Democratic or Republican Party ... As proof of the CIO’s determination to maintain an independent political course, Mr. Kroll reported that he had asked the CIO to send formal letters of commendation to 49 Republicans in the House of Representatives for joining with the Democratic majority in voting to curb the powers of the House Rules Committee.”

As against this traditional CIO policy, Andrew J. Biemiller, New Deal Democratic Congressman from Wisconsin; elected bgwith PAC backing, urged the conference that labor go whole hog into the Democratic Party. “The election proved," he opined, “that a genuine, liberal, non-communist labor party is not necessary ... It proved that the Democratic Party has become the party to which intelligent union men and women can and will rally.”

Reuther’s Position

The Times correspondent goes on to report that “UAW leaders made it clear that they were not in full accord with either Mr. Kroll or Representative Biemiller ... there was a strong belief among the UAW leadership that persistent efforts should be made, in cooperation with the ADA and other labor and liberal organizations, to win control of the Democratic Party and force out its States’ Rights wing. If this drive failed, increased attention would have to be given to forming a coalition capable of starting a third party.”

This position of Walter Reuther’s is the slant of the whole Social Democratic wing of the bureaucracy. This same thought is expressed even more clearly in a “Round Table Conference” held Jan. 15 at the Hotel Carlton in Washington, D.C., attended by various dignitaries of the AFL, CIO, NAACP and the New Deal crowd. Joseph Lash, representing the New Republic, favored the same kind of policy as Biemiller: “It is about time that the liberal groups and labor groups married the girl. They have been going out with the Democratic Party long enough!”

In reply to Lash, Gus Tyler, remembered by some as a former “militant” of the Norman Thomas Socialist Party and now gracing the title of “Political Director” of the International Ladies Garment Workers, presented the position of Dubinsky and the ILG hierarchy: “Labor does not wish to tie its future up irrevocably with the still amorphous Democratic Party. A considerable section of labor believes that if the Democratic Party does not deliver – in terms of legislative performance – then there will be a worthwhile movement in the direction of a new party.”

Can They Restrain Labor?

Joseph Keenan, Director of the AFL Labor’s League for Political Education, whose position is the same as that of Kroll and Murray, expressed the fear of the bureaucracy that they may not be able to hold the labor ranks to the present line, At the “Round Table” he stated:

“You have only to go back to Europe. It was a set of circumstances such as we had here in 1947 that brought about the labor parties in the other countries. The reactionaries got in, and the labor people felt the only solution was to go into politics and elect candidates in order to impose their point of view. All of us are committed to the free enterprise system. We like it, but if the Democratic Party does not realize that it has a responsibility, then you are going to have a labor party [‘horror of horrors’] and everything that goes with it.”

The younger, more pushy crew of bureaucrats associated with Walter Reuther are putting their amended CIO policy into practice. In Michigan, the CIO is trying – not without success – to capture the Democratic Party. The Feb. 28 Detroit Free Press gives the new Reuther strategy a big front page write-up under the title, Gus Scholle Holds Reins in CIO’s Bid for Political Power; Victory of Governor Williams Gives ‘Operation Scholle’ Fast Start. (Scholle is President of the Michigan CIO and Reuther’s henchman in state politics.)

“Many CIO leaders,” the article reports, “believe Scholle may have hit on the magic formula to bring them a string- of victories.” And what is this magic formula? “It’s Scholle’s unqualified avowal that hereafter he will work exclusively within the Democratic Party and will back only Democrats for office.”

The article further states that the National CIO apparently told Reuther – what else could they do? – to go ahead with his scheme in Michigan. “After the purge [of the Stalinists],” we are informed, “Scholle served his ultimatum on Kroll. Kroll and CIO President Murray finally told Scholle to go ahead and marry the Democratic Party ... If it succeeds in Michigan, it’s bound to be tried in other states.”

What does all this add up to? Let us keep in mind that the labor movement possesses right here and now the organizational structure for a mass labor party; that if the leaders wanted to, they could give the word today, and no additional organizational effort would be required to set up a big party of the working class. The Reuther policy of infiltrating the Democratic Party and throwing labor’s weight around in more aggressive fashion is simply hastening an irreparable cleavage inside the Democratic Party between the Peoples Front liberallabor coalition and the traditional political servitors of Big Business.

And as the superbly organized American working class becomes disillusioned with Democratic Party politics and begins moving massively to the next political stage, the very least Reuther and the other bureaucrats and all their New Deal hangers-on – in order to maintain their leadership – may even have to hitch their star to a new political party plenty lavish in its promises of a better world for the working masses.

B. Cochran Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 2 March 2024