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Albert Gates

Five Labor Conventions:

What Happened at the U.E. Meeting

(October 1944)

From The New International, Vol. X No. 10, October 1944, pp. 316–318.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

There is hardly another union in the CIO quite like the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America. First, there is not another big international so thoroughly dominated and controlled, lock, stock and barrel, by the Communists, like the UE. Its chief officers, those who really count and determine the policies of the union, are well known Communist Party (now politely referred to as the Communist Political Association) members. This control has extended over many years and is the one important reason why the UE represents such a sharp contrast to other CIO unions, even those bureaucratically controlled, in militancy of ideas, program and practice. Developing under Communist domination, the UE has been a laboratory for the changing Stalinist policies on the domestic front. Its political line has varied with the changing line of the CP. Its trade union strategy and tactics has patterned this changing line.

Since this review of its recent convention is limited, let us confine ourselves to the recent policies of the union. It is, without doubt, the most rabidly pro-Roosevelt, pro-war union in the CIO. In sharp contrast to the unbridled hatred of the President by the Stalinists during the period of the Hitler-Stalin pact, when Roosevelt was characterized as the outstanding war-monger of the world, Roosevelt is today, next to Stalin, the world’s greatest benefactor. Stalin’s international interests are paramount to the UE leadership. Thus the union is closely tied to the Administration, and if the Administration has better “fair-haired unions” in the CIO, it does not lack the devotion of the UE leadership.

Does Stalin’s alliance with the United States dictate a new police for the CP in this country? Then the UE immediately reflects it in this way: it carries out Roosevelt’s domestic program to a degree unmatched by other internationals. It signs wage agreements and agrees to union conditions that are a scandal. It manipulates the union with the single purpose of preventing genuine rank and file democracy. The Sperry local in New York is a case in point. By its constitution, membership meetings are held only twice a year! And by the same constitution, nominations for officers may take place only by the steward body!

Issues in the United Electrical Workers Union

Recount the important issues which confront the labor movement and then examine the position of the UE on these issues. There is the question of the no-strike pledge, the wage freeze, post-war planning, the bosses’ anti-union offensive, the WLB, and independent labor politics, and you will find that the UE, while in many respects adopting a position which is formally like many positions adopted by other CIO unions, in each case, goes a good deal further more often in a direction which is unquestionably anti-union.

  1. On the no-strike pledge, it is not merely in favor of retaining this infamous, one-sided agreement which has aided big business in profiteering from the war, but it is surreptitiously fostering the new Communist policy of extending the no-strike pledge for the post-war period. Why Communist? It is the new Communist line that the struggle for socialism is out; now is the time to cooperate with capitalism (read: big business) to help it prosper and profit, and to help it in its imperialist aims. To pursue that policy in the labor movement means to keep the workers in check, to prevent “labor struggles,” to maintain peaceful relations with the boss, who is apparently having a devil of a time trying to make ends meet.
  2. Its policy on the no-strike pledge is immediately reflected in its attitude toward the bosses’ offensive against unionism. Whereas the ordinary labor bureaucrat recognizes the dangers inherent in the no-strike pledge when carried over into the post-war period, i.e., knows that the unions face a struggle for life against the industrial giants, the UE is now preaching “cooperation” with industry, “unity” and “partnership” with the anti-union employers. All that this does is to develop a policy of glorified company unionism.
  3. While formally adhering to the CIO position which demands a revision of the Little Steel formula the UE has really little interest in the matter. It has no wish to interfere with or make difficult the President’s attempts to maintain inviolate the wage stabilization law and his seven-point program, none of which has been carried out except the wage freeze. Judging by the wage agreements signed, no one can possibly doubt this.
  4. While the crying need of labor is the development of an independent labor reconversion program seeking to aid the workers, the UE has already endorsed Baruch’s big business reconversion program.
  5. It has rejected independent labor politics and a Labor Party in favor of capitalist politics and adherence to the Democratic Party machine. Grievances of the workers are replied to in typical Stalinist style: elect Roosevelt!
  6. The just grievances of labor against the WLB, which is an employers’ body shrouded in the fiction that its balance of power is held by the “public,” is countered by the UE’s unstinted support to that body. For example, in the numerous consent cases of the UE, that is, cases where the company and union reached an agreement, which the WLB rejects, the UE is practically silent. If it is not silent, its protests are practically unheard and no fight is made by it against this infamous anti-labor body.

Is There No Opposition?

Is it then that the UE has no opposition within its ranks? No, there is opposition to the policies of the union administration. The opposition is widespread but effectively bottled up by the bureaucratic control of the administration, by the disorganization and disunity of the opposition. The strangulating control of the Communists could easily be broken, but only on the condition that the opposition was nationally organized and had all the accouterments of a unified opposition with a program. The last convention demonstrated that the possibilities of mobilizing the progressives and militants in the union are present. These progressives and militants need leadership. This leadership will undoubtedly arise, but it is not yet present.

There is no doubt that such a fight could have been made before if the former president, James B. Carey, whom the Communists removed from office, had waged a struggle. It seems inexplicable that one of the founders of the union, its first president and now national secretary of the CIO, could be so divorced from his union. But so effective was his removal that, for all practical purposes, he might never have been a member of the UE or present at any of its conventions. Yet he is known nationally in the UE, is respected by the rank and file, has good standing and a good record in the CIO. The story is that after Carey’s removal as president, his retention as CIO secretary was part of a deal. Naturally we cannot vouch for this story, but the facts of life speak for themselves. It is bruited about that Carey’s retention as CIO secretary was the result of a deal between Murray and the Stalinists: they guaranteed not to fight him as secretary, to vote for him, if, in turn, Carey would refrain from any interference in the affairs of the UE. Perhaps there is no basis to this story. But if there isn’t, Carey conducts himself in the UE as though it were true. Everyone knows he is against the present leadership, is opposed to its administrative methods and its anti-union policies. Yet he regularly attends conventions but hardly makes a peep at them. Often it is at a time when the bureaucrats are in deathly fear of his intervention, knowing that he could, if he so desired, upset their well-laid plans.

The latest convention of the UE showed the rising tide of rank and file opposition to the bureaucratically entrenched leadership. The convention, like all previous Stalinist-dominated meetings, was carefully rigged and so run as to prevent the opposition from presenting its views effectively or following through its opposition to the administration. An examination of the issues in dispute reveals that the UE, despite the bureaucratic control, could not avoid a clash over those problems which are acutely affecting the lives of the mass of workers in this country, especially the militant and class conscious elements which make up the labor movement. In this sense the UE convention was like all other conventions which the CIO has recently held. Like the other conventions, this one had to take up the question of rescinding the no-strike pledge, the question of the wage freeze and the WLB, incentive pay, the thirty-five-hour week, etc. In each instance, the officialdom was characterized by the reactionary positions it took against the various groupings which opposed it.

The fight against the no-strike pledge in no way resembled the mass uprising at the UAW, or the large minorities in other internationals. But that a fight could be made at all against the no-strike pledge at a UE convention shows definite progress. The proposal to rescind received only five votes, but there is no question that the sentiment in favor of this proposal was many times larger. Only a wild, hysterical, flag-waving campaign of the Stalinists succeeded in damning the wide opposition to the pledge.

It Is Possible to Defeat the Stalinists

In anticipation of an even sharper struggle over the WLB, the resolutions committee was compelled to bring in a fairly strong-worded resolution on the WLB – this, for the first time since the issue became an important one in the labor movement. But the practical day-to-day conduct of the officialdom precludes any effective actions that the union might take to enforce the views of its resolution.

A fight over incentive pay and the thirty-five-hour week also developed. Here the bureaucratic manipulation of the chair by the union’s president, the Stalinist stooge, Fitzgerald, prevented the opposition from even speaking up effectively. A similar thing happened on the proposal to increase the salaries of international organizers from seventy to eighty dollars a week. The reaction of the rank and file delegates was unmistakable. And when the vote revealed little support for the administration, Fitzgerald adjourned the session to prevent a rollcall vote. Thus, the measure was passed.

The administration got a real scare when Fitzgerald was opposed for the presidency by Martin J. Hogan, one of the opposition leaders. Running without a program, with practically no organization and no previous plans, Hogan mustered about one-fourth of the convention vote against the incumbent president. On this isue alone it was possible to see what an effective struggle, program and organization might have accomplished in the UE.

The opposition at this convention was not confined to progressive Local 425 of New York, as in the past. It was joined by other forces from District 4 and from New England. Had these forces been prepared prior to the convention, had they been organized around a progressive program with national ramifications, the fight at the convention would have been ten times as effective, with excellent results. More important, however, it would have laid the necessary basis for the organization to oust the Stalinist union-wreckers at the next convention. In any case, the convention revealed that a struggle for progressive and militant unionism in the UE is not a hopeless proposition. The Stalinists’ control of the union is tenuous. It was obtained essentially because the UE was one of their concentrations and they conducted themselves in the union as a unified, disciplined caucus against an open field. The course pursued by the union under their leadership is so blatantly against the best interests of the labor movement and the rank and file membership that any well-organized opposition based upon a program of progressive unionism could number the days of Stalinist control over the UE. This is indeed the important lesson to be learned from the last convention. The scattered progressives have a big task ahead of themselves: to gather their forces, formulate their program, unify their fight and develop their own leadership in the course of this struggle to oust the Stalinist union wreckers.

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