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Ship Workers’ Convention

Ernest Lund

Balance Sheet on Ship Workers Convention —

Future Prospects for Progressive Group

(October 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 43, 23 October 1944, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Part II

While Green and the Communists carried on underhanded maneuvers against each other, their real open fight was against the rank and file of Local 16, for instance. Green relied upon the Communists in No. 16 because they proved to be the only force capable of carrying out Green’s policies of appeasement. Green even went so far as to endorse the raw action by the Local 16 administration when they appointed a delegation to the convention instead of facing the rank and file in a regular election as provided for by the constitution. Both Green and the Communist bloc jammed this through the convention and seated this illegal delegation. Green kept Pollard in power as administrator of Local 9 despite Pollard’s support of Velson at the 1943 convention. Green had to rely on Pollard and the Communist elements in Local 9 to keep the progressive group out of power. Green never failed to to get the applause and wholehearted support of the Communist elements whenever Green set out to denounce a local that went out on strike. Green may like it or not, but his policies put him in the same bed with the Communists and as he is learning, to his dismay, that is not a good place to be when the Communists begin edging one out of power.

For one year, President Green of the Shipyard Workers ran around the country calling off strikes and denouncing locals that acted in self-defense in the only way workers have to defend themselves. For one year Green fought the specter of “Trotskyism” in the union. He did a good job – for the Communists. They rubbed their hands in glee and pitched right in to help him. Above all, the field organizers who supported the Communist bloc were active in carrying out Green’s policy. And they came to the recent convention with the biggest delegations in their pocket. John Green stood up on the platform and wielded the gavel but Velson and Kaplan ran the convention. And behind them, pulling the strings, was Roy Hudson, trade union director of the Communist Political Association, as Stalin’s outfit in this country is now called.

Green began to realize the extent of the Communist domination of the convention with each passing day. Once Green had safely gotten over the hurdle of the no-strike pledge debate with the big Communist-dominated majority carrying the ball for him, he began to worry about their influence in the union. This caused him to unleash a fierce speech toward the end of the convention in which he denounced those who showed such “intolerance” and specifically referred to the “majority group” of the convention.

Whatever one may say about Green and his policies, he, like most of the products of a free trade union movement, finds it difficult to accept lightly the perverted and degenerate morals of the Stalinists. However bureaucratic Green may be in the conduct of his office, the Stalinist spirit of ruthlessness toward opponents, of viciousness and character assassination, of “rule or ruin,” of “purge the opposition,” and their constant drive toward totalitarian and monolithic control, do not sit well with him. In part Green’s speech was, of course, a desperate outcry against the forces he saw crowding in on him. But, without a doubt, it was also largely an honest protest against the lynch spirit which the Communists were whipping up against those who had opposed them in the union.

Issues Before Convention

In contrast to the 1943 convention, the recent convention had several interesting and instructive debates upon policy. The bloc of progressive delegates consisted in the main of the fifty-five man delegation from Local 42 (Cramp Shipyard, Philadelphia) with a scattering of . support from minorities of other delegations. The progressives waged sharp fights for the repeal of the no-strike pledge and the withdrawal of labor members from the WLB.

In the elections of national officers and the GEB, the progressives found themselves lined up with many elements who have no particular claim to being called progressives. Among them were many reactionaries and red-baiters who opposed the Communists because they consider them to be “subversive” and oppose Green because they feel he appeases the Communists. They really compose the conservative or right wing of the union. Many are purely opportunists and union politicians at present on the outs with the Green administration and willing to bloc up with anyone fighting Green.

The two candidates of the opposition, Tom Saul, of Local 1, running for president, and Herbert Mover, of Local 42, running for secretary-treasurer, proved to be disappointments on the floor of the convention. Neither of them took the floor on the vital issues facing the convention. Their fear of taking a stand on controversial issues for fear it would antagonize votes is unworthy, to say the least, of men who would lead a progressive opposition. Had they gone, down fighting for principles, they would at least have emerged with the respect of the convention.

The coming year will see a race between the rising strength of the progressives in the ranks of the union and the efforts of the Communist-dominated GEB to take steps to clamp down on opponents and choke off the rising tide of rank and file opposition to appeasement policies.

Tasks for Progressives

The chances of the progressive forces winning the race and appearing at the next convention with a decisive majority are very good. This estimate is based upon the following considerations:

  1. While the Communist bloc was in complete control at the convention, their convention strength was far beyond the proportion of strength they command in the ranks.
  2. While the Communist bloc elected a GEB composed in the majority of people they can manipulate, the non-Communists in the administration, most of them personally loyal to John Green, will resist Communist infiltration into the important posts and committees. In other words, the union is not “in the bag” for the Communist inner group as is, let us say, the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers or the National .Maritime Union.
  3. The progressive forces will be favored during the coming year by the trend of economic and political events. These events will prove the policy of the opposition to be correct. The prospect for the coming period is one of layoffs, less hours, and increasing strikes. Many a delegate who voted to reaffirm the no-strike pledge will remember what he heard at the convention from the speakers who favored repeal of the pledge. Likewise, many a delegate who listened to the pep talks by Sidney Hillman, Senator Pepper and Vice-President Wallace about re-electing Roosevelt will think back after the election, when the Roosevelt Administration continues its policy of appeasing big business at the expense of labor and provides no practical plan for reconversion that will avoid mass unemployment. Such a delegate will think back to what the progressives said at the convention about pulling the labor members off the War Labor Board and about the need of labor creating its own Labor Party, independent of the old parties.
  4. The coming period will see the union officers and the GEB having more and more difficulty in trying to get the rank and file of the union to follow an appeasement line to the corporations and the government boards. The more the officers and the GEB are forced to club the ranks into line, the more will the rank and file understand the fight that was waged at the convention by the progressive opposition.

Break Communist Control

  1. The progressive forces, are still rather new and inexperienced in the politics of the national union. The maneuvers before the convention and, the fight at the convention should have taught them much and seasoned them for the coming fight.

These considerations all indicate that the IUMSWA is far from being written off as “another Commie outfit.” The Communist bloc will, of course, try to lift charters of opposition locals and try to frame up individuals who fight them. But it is unlikely that they can put the union into a “totalitarian” straight-jacket without a real fight on their hands. If the progressives fight every inch of the way, if they block the attempts to lift charters and frame up individuals, the Communist plans for turning the union into another UE or NMC can be tripped up.

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