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Ship Workers’ Convention

Ernest Lund

The Shipbuilding Workers Convention – An Analysis

(October 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 42, 16 October 1944, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

(Last week’s edition of Labor Action carried Ernest Lund’s news report on the CIO Shipbuilding Workers convention at Atlantic City. The following is his analysis of the meaning of what took place. – Editor)

Part I

The recent convention of the Industrial Union of Marine & Shipbuilding Workers of America, CIO, marked a definite turning point in the history of the union. It marks a turning point for the following two reasons:

  1. The control of the union passed, in large measure, into the bands of the Communist bloc, leaving: President John Green with only nominal authority.
  2. The widespread discontent in the ranks was, for the first time, expressed in a convention of the IUMSWA by the appearance of a firm and fighting opposition based upon progressive policies.

These two factors foreshadow the nature of the struggle within the uni0n for the coming year. It will be a race between the rising strength of the progressive opposition forces and the attempts of the Communist-manipulated General Executive Board to clamp down on locals and individuals who threaten their control.

What Commie Victory Means

Both the victory of the Communist bloc and the appearance of a fighting progressive group set off this convention in sharp contrast to the 1943 convention. At the convention of last year the Communists were thought to have suffered a disastrous defeat.

Last year’s convention was entirely empty as far as any serious discussion of policy was concerned, above all, any discussion which gave voice to the progressive demands raised in many locals.

The 1943 convention had as its central issue the case of Irving Velson, who had been suspended from the GEB on charges of membership in the Communist Party in violation of the reactionary clause in the union constitution which forbids Communists to hold office. The Communist bloc suffered a defeat on this issue When the convention upheld the ousting of Velson. However, the fight ended in a compromise when Phillip Vangelder, secretary-treasurer of the union, who had played the role of “front” man for the Communist bloc, was re-elected to office in a deal with John Green. This deal placed a key post in the hands of the Communist bloc. How well they used it in the past year was seen in the results of the recent convention. From the persecuted, defeated minority of a year ago, the Communist forces reappeared at the convention this year with decisive control of the majority of the convention and in a position to exercise their power in electing a new GEB that suited them.

In analyzing how it was possible for the defeated group to stage such a comeback, serious trade unionists in the IUMSWA will learn many a valuable lesson about politics in general and trade union politics in particular.

The first lesson that this demonstrates is that it is reactionary and, in the end, futile to fight the Communists simply on the ground that they are Communists. This is the method of the red-baiter. It is simply an attempt to capitalize upon the prejudices and fears created in the minds of workers by Hearst and the capitalist press generally. It teaches the workers nothing. Instead of an attempt to examine intelligently what a man is proposing, the red-baiter shrieks: “That man is a Communist.” This is no better than to say: “That man is a Catholic,” or “That man is a Jew” or “That man was born in Lithuania.”

Not only is such a fight against Communists reactionary, but it is, in the end, futile. This is proved by the case of Velson. After much spying upon Velson, with the assistance of the FBI, a case was made out for his membership in the Communist Party. So Velson was removed from the GEB and was prevented from holding office in his own local. But this year Velson sat in the convention hall and pulled the strings which ran the show. Today Green is more at the mercy of Velson than Velson was at the mercy of Green a year ago.

How to Fight Stalinism

Then how is one to fight Communist domination of the union? By opposing the specific policies they advocate.

But that is where the rub comes in for such self-proclaimed anti-Communists as Green. There was not a single important issue before the convention upon which Green differed from the Communists. Whether Green likes it or not, he is in a political bloc with the Communists. Basically, blocs are determined by what one stands for. Not only do the Communists have the same policies in the union as Green, but the Communists are more active, more ruthless and more fanatical in carrying them out.

What is Green’s policy on the no-strike pledge? He is 100 per cent for it. The Communists are 101 per cent for it.

What is Green’s policy on labor support to the War Labor Board? Green is in favor of keeping labor members on the board despite the kicking around which the WLB gives to labor. The Communists are just as willing to have labor take a kicking around to keep the WLB going.

What is Green’s policy on support of Roosevelt and the line of the Political Action Committee? Green is 100 per cent behind the policy of complete faith in Roosevelt and tying labor to the Democratic political machine through the PAC. The Communists support this same policy 100 per cent.

The three points summed up here are not chosen at random. They are the three main questions that came up before the recent convention. They occupied, all together, perhaps 75 per cent of the time of the convention. Each question found Green seeing eye to eye with the Communist line.

Does this mean that Green is a Communist or that he supports the Communists? Of course not.

All it means is that Green and the Communists each represent within the labor movement outside powers which today are allied in their immediate aims.

Green represents in the labor movement (as does the entire officialdom of the CIO) the Roosevelt Administration. Green supports the policies of the Administration 100 per cent. He supports the Administration in its war aims, in its conduct of the war, in its wage and price policies, and its general line on the home front. He carries out this Administration policy within the union by supporting the no-strike pledge, the War Labor Board and the PAC campaign to re-elect the Democratic Party politicians.

The Communists represent the Russian government. Before Russia became involved in the war the Communists fought Roosevelt tooth and nail. They called him a “warmonger.” They wore buttons which said “The Yanks Aren’t Coming.” And Roosevelt fought back. He had Browder clamped into jail on a trumped-up charge. The FBI began persecuting the Communists in various ways. However, after June 1941, when Russia was invaded, the Russian and American governments began to see eye to eye on world politics. After Pearl Harbor they became active military allies and after the Teheran conference they became active political allies.

As a result, the Communists have supported their boss’s (i.e., Stalin’s) ally 100 per cent. Today they stand 100 per cent for support to the Administration and its policies. Roosevelt’s man, John Green, and Stalin’s man, Irving Velson, have no quarrel over policy nor could they have under the circumstances. As a result their fight is a dirty, unprincipled, undercover fight for posts and power with no policies involved.

Green thought he had scored a victory when he licked Velson in the 1943 convention. But he had done nothing of the kind. In any case, it was meaningless. For their policies remained the same. In fact, the Communist elements did a better, a more energetic, a more efficient job in carrying out the line of the Roosevelt Administration (no-strike pledge, WLB, PAC, etc.) than Green himself. More than that. Both Green and the Communists saw their real enemy in the progressive rank and file groups that were conducting a fight against the policy of appeasement to the government boards and Corporations.

(Part II next week)

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