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New Party

Ben Hall

Michigan Meeting Fumbles in Forming New Party

(March 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 12, 20 March 1944, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

DETROIT, Mar. 6 – A constitutional convention: for the organization of a new Labor Party, to be known as the Michigan Commonwealth Federation, will convene here within the next seven months. This was the decision of a “study conference” called by the Michigan Committee for the Promotion of a Farmer-Labor Party at its sessions on March 4 and 5 in Detroit.

The committee, headed by Matthew Hammond, president of Local 157, UAW, composed of some fifty-odd officials of CIO and AFL local unions, and disowned by the top leadership of the CIO and UAW, will convoke the convention as a regularly delegated body with full authority to set up the new party. Delegates will be invited from union, farm and neighborhood organizations.

The study conference, which met early in March, was a loosely organized body comprising some 250-300 delegates. Any individual or representative of any organization who signed a pledge declaring himself “in sympathy with the general purpose of this committee,” was entitled to one vote. The decisions of this conference are recommendations to the committee and to the forthcoming state convention.

Many large locals sent official delegates or observers – including Bomber Local 50, Ford Locals 400 and 600, Briggs Local 212, Local 157 and Local 351.

At the beginning, the conference sounded a clear call for independent political action by labor. The “call” for the conference denounced the Republican and Democratic Parties alike as tools of big business. A statement distributed by the Chevrolet Plant No. 3 policy committee and printed by the “Flint Committee for the promotion of a Farmer-Labor Party,” declared: “The two old parties, Democrats and Republicans, are merely PUPPETS OF BIG BUSINESS AND ENEMIES OF THE WORKING CLASS.” Speaking of Roosevelt’s concessions to labor under his first administration, it said: “Roosevelt took the only possible course consistent with his strong desire to have a second term.”

Matthew Hammond, in his opening address, declared: “We are not here to debate the question of a new party. We are here to discuss the best methods of bringing one into existence. Some people tell us that now is not the time. We must begin NOW to lay the foundations for a Labor Party ... in the country as a whole.”

Paul Silver, organizational director of the committee and president of Local 351, in an almost naively frank speech at the conference dinner, spoke of his experiences in following the CIO line of “support your friends and punish your enemies.”

He said that half of the time labor urges the election of old party candidates and the other half it is apologizing for them. The CIO, he pointed out, was thoroughly sick of Fitzgerald and his vacillating campaign for Mayor within a few days after it had announced its support of him.

David Lewis, national secretary of the Cooperative Commonwealth Party of Canada, was vigorously applauded when he declared that the common people, through their own democratic party of workers and farmers, must take over control of the government. And there was animated clapping in response when he said that if the CCF comes to power in Canada, the power of the bankers and industrialists and their privileges would be destroyed.

Main Problems Taken Up

These speeches reflected the general spirit of the conference. The delegates, most of them from unions, were there for one main purpose – to take steps toward an INDEPENDENT Labor Party and to renounce the two old parties. That is what they were there for and NOTHING else.

It is extremely significant in this respect that in the entire conference, in all the official speeches, and in all the discussion from the floor – with the exception of one or two passing and incidental references by David Lewis of the CCF – THERE WAS LITERALLY NO ALLUSION TO THE WAR. There was not a statement or remark – with the above exception – calling for support of the war. But together with this absence, there was also no posing of any of the questions directly tied up with the war, such as: the no-strike pledge, the War Labor Board, etc. These problems will inevitably come before the constitutional convention and demand a solution.

The chief problems that did come before the convention were the following:

  1. candidates and elections;
  2. the CIO Political Action Committees;
  3. the constitutional convention and the basis of representation;
  4. the name of the party;
  5. the program and platform.

The ambiguous and compromising formulas on the key question that came before the conference and that face the new party stand in glaring contrast to the opening tone of the conference. There is a big gulf between what the delegates came to do and what they actually accomplished.

Candidates and the Elections

The key problem that any mass labor political organization must face today is this: “What is your attitude toward the ‘friends of labor’ in the Democratic Party?” and “What is your attitude on the fourth term for Roosevelt?” There was no clear-cut discussion on these problems.

The policy on the elections was embodied in three main decisions:

  1. to initiate petitions to get on the ballot in 1944;
  2. “That this party shall not have a candidate for the office of President of the United States”;
  3. “That between candidates of other political parties, this party as such shall adopt an attitude of neutrality, though it may be critical of all and though its individual members may support candidates of other parties for posts which this party does not contest.”

These formulas were adopted for the purpose of uniting two different blocs at the conference. One group was openly in favor of supporting Roosevelt. The other was not willing to declare support to Roosevelt but was unwilling to place this question on the floor and present any position.

The second group was composed mainly of followers and sympathizers of the Socialist Party and its entourage, who were over-represented at the conference because of its loosely organized nature. A legal technicality facilitated the compromise. Michigan law, it was pointed out does not permit, one candidate to run for office on two different tickets.

These two groups never came to grips at the conference and did not appear openly as such, but the fact that these two tendencies do exist was made evident in a revealing exchange of cross remarks.

Brandon Sexton, reporting for the panel on elections, emphasized point (2) above. Silvers interrupted: “May we construe this as endorsement of Roosevelt?” Sexton replied: “No. It does not mean endorsement of any candidate for President.”

But Hammond, unable to restrain himself, took the floor on a point of special privilege and stated with some heat: “As far as I am concerned the best way of re-electing Roosevelt is the formation of this party. That is the only way he will carry this state. We will bring thousands of voters to the polls. Who do you think they will vote for if not for Roosevelt? Most of us will vote for Roosevelt, no matter who runs on the Republican ticket.”

Not a single leading member of the committee took the floor to challenge this point of view.

In view of this statement by Hammond of the fact that the only legal possibility for running a presidential candidate would be in opposition to Roosevelt and of the failure of the conference to issue any statement in this connection, the three daily papers in Detroit, including the Hearst press, announced that the conference gave tacit endorsement to Roosevelt.

The pro-Roosevelt forces won out and, thanks to the “clever” strategem of the socialistic-liberals, they won out without a struggle. One delegate did propose a motion that the conference go on record “opposing support to or endorsement of any candidate running on the tickets of the Republican or Democratic Parties for any office.”

But this proposal received no consideration from the delegates bith because of the absence of any significant grouping for consistent independent political action by labor, and because the ambiguous “pro-friends of labor” formulations presented by the socialistic-liberals made it difficult to bring the real question into the open.

One of the delegates from Fleetwood Local 1 stated at the panel that he had no intention of voting Democratic or Republican, but that he would be against any motion opposing Roosevelt.


This is the first of two special articles on the important development in labor politics reported above. The second article will deal with the position taken by the convention on the CIO Political Action Committee; on Communists, socialists and Trotskyists; and on other matters considered. This second article will appear in the next issue of Labor Action.

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