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Ben Hall

Detroit PAC Hog-Ties Labor to FDR

(May 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 19, 8 May 1944, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

DETROIT – The organizational convention of the Wayne County Political Action Committee, attended by 519 delegates from 112 local unions, held in Detroit on April 23 and 24, elected a governing executive board, called for a guaranteed annual wage for workers and for other labor legislation, endorsed Roosevelt for a fourth term and called upon CIO members to unite with “liberal” Democrats to demand progressive candidates on the Democratic ticket. In the elections for executive board, the Stalinist slate was defeated, three to one, by an anti-Stalinist ticket which included the supporters of the Michigan Commonwealth Federation. A motion to endorse only those candidates for public office who publicly support a guaranteed annual wage was defeated, 156 to 223.

Labor Wing of the Democratic Party

Despite Walter Reuther’s opening remarks at the convention that “the policy of the CIO is to build an independent political action group of labor, and not to become the tail to the kite of any political group,” the convention turned the Wayne County PAC into the liberal-labor wing of the Democratic Party. This course was a foregone conclusion, for only one week previously Richard T. Frankensteen, vice-president of the UAW, was the keynote speaker at the Democratic Party’s state convention (an account of which appears elsewhere in this issue), and took over the job of digging up a Democratic candidate for Governor. At the same time, R.J. Thomas, who is national secretary of the PAC as well as a vice-president of the CIO and president of the UAW, was elected a delegate to the Democratic national convention, together with Frankensteen and a whole group of CIO leaders. The Wayne County PAC convention gave tacit endorsement in its resolutions to this line of action.

The CIO, said Thomas at the PAC convention, must unite with liberal Democrats to try to “convince the Democratic Party” to run “candidates who have the interests of the people at heart” and who “we hope will be for labor.”

Endorsement of Roosevelt

The PAC convention voted almost unanimously to support Roosevelt for a fourth term. The resolution passed was so unambiguously pro-Roosevelt that the Stalinists refrained from introducting their usual “draft-Roosevelt” resolution. Another resolution state: “In our county we must work with progressives in the Democratic Party to get liberal candidates.” One delegate who proposed that this resolution provide for unity with all progressives, not only those in the Democratic Party, was waved aside by the chairman of the resolutions committee.

The Wayne County PAC, following the policy of the CIO nationally, makes no plans for getting on the ballot in its own name and obviously intends to support regular Democratic Party nominees.

Only one delegate, Ernest Mazey of Local 140, spoke against the pro-Democratic Party, pro-Roosevelt policies of the convention. He pointed out that the Democratic Administration of Pres. Roosevelt, as well as the Republican Party and the right wing of the Democratic Party, are responsible for attacks upon the labor movement. It was Roosevelt who devised the Little Steel formula. It is Roosevelt who is responsible for the policies of the War Labor Board. In answer to Reuther, who stated that labor must unite in politics today as it united in 1937 against the big corporations, Mazey recalled that in 1937 the CIO had to unite against the bosses AND the company unions. Support to Democrats and Republicans is company unionism in politics, he said, and we must fight that kind of company unionism by labor political action independent of the Democratic and Republican Parties. Scattered applause followed his speech.

Tucker Smith Amendment

As the convention reached a conclusion, Tucker P. Smith, a vice-president of the Michigan CIO and a member of the state committee of the Michigan Commonwealth Federation, proposed an amendment to the resolution on the guaranteed annual Wage as follows: “The convention makes publicly pledged support to the guaranteed annual wage a condition of its endorsement of any candidate running for public office and urges this policy upon all Political Action Committees of the CIO.”

The main speaker against Smith’s amendment was Nat Ganley, delegate from UAW Local 155 and a leading Stalinist spokesman. Ganley argued that the amendment was in conflict with the decision previously adopted to endorse Roosevelt for a fourth term: It meant that if Roosevelt “for tactical reasons” failed to support the guaranteed wage, the CIO would be compelled to withhold its support.

Smith’s amendment was defeated, 223 to 156. The delegates who voted against chanted, “We want Roosevelt.” Those who voted for shouted, “We want a guaranteed wage.”

The defeat of Smith’s amendment underscored the impotence of the whole CIO political policy. The CIO favors a guaranteed wage but -endorses Democratic candidates regardless of their stand. The CIO has entered politics to support Roosevelt but NOT to support its own program!

MCF at the Convention

Members and supporters of the Michigan Commonwealth Federation who had expected that their party leaders would take an independent position were disappointed when the latter submitted in silence to the political policies of the PAC convention.

R.J. Thomas threw a bombshell into the MCF when he reported that at. a meeting with Sidney Hillman in New York, held at the request of “leading members of the MCF,” the latter pledged to support the candidates endorsed by the PAC and that this was the policy of the MCF. NOT ONE SPOKESMAN OF THE MCF CHALLENGED THIS REPORT ON THE FLOOR OF THE CONVENTION. On the contrary, their role at the conference sessions confirmed Thomas.

Matthew Hammond, state chairman of the MCF, was prominent at the convention as chairman of the credentials committee, but was silent on every political question. Paul Silver, organizational director of the MCF, failed to take the floor on a single important issue. He and other MCF supporters accepted posts on the PAC executive board, aware that the PAC intends to endorse Democrats and that the constitution adopted by the convention provides for the removal of any executive board members who campaigns against any candidate endorsed by the PAC. Silver’s only course of action now must be to oppose the running of MCF candidates in opposition to PAC endorsed Democrats. He will be compelled to oppose only “bad” Democrats and not to oppose “good” Democrats.

Ben Garrison, former president of Ford Local 400 and one of the sponsors of the MCF, played the most ignominious role of all. He was chairman of the resolutions committee and reported out resolutions endorsing Roosevelt, favoring an alliance with “good” Democrats, and pledging to Roosevelt uninterrupted production by the workers.

The MCF leaders vigorously condemn the “friends of labor” policy of the CIO – but only at their own private MCF meetings. At the PAC convention they give their tacit endorsement to this same policy.

The above reported amendment by Tucker P. Smith came as a last-minute face-saving device, for he had previously permitted the pro-Roosevelt, pro-Democratic Party resolutions to pass unchallenged.

For Labor Political Action

The official policy of the MCF is as follows: “The party shall never endorse a candidate of a rival party.” On the basis of this policy the MCF can become a powerful factor in Michigan. It deserves the support of every working man in the state. Hammond and Silver weaken MCF by rejecting its policy in PAC.

The strong vote for the Smith amendment proves that a large potential support exists for the MCF within the CIO. If the MCF leaders, instead of capitulating to the Thomas-Democratic Party policy, had reached these elements by putting up a clear-cut fight for the above policy of the MCF, the convention could have been the scene for a big advance in labor politics.

A denunciation of the Thomas-Democratic Party deal, an exposure of the fake liberals of the Democratic Party, an opposition to endorsement of Democrats or Republicans, a demand for support only to independent labor candidates – these are real issues before the CIO and should have come before the PAC convention. But instead of fighting for their own policies the MCF leaders permitted their followers to become dissolved in the movement for unity with the Democratic Party.

Thomas emphasizes over and over again his desire for unity with the leaders of the MCF and THEREBY . ADMITS ITS STRENGTH. In the first place he needs their support to ensure against the capture of the PAC by the Stalinists, and in the second place he fears that a consistent fight for independent political action will win over the best elements within the PAC and expose it as a wing of the Democratic Party.

Thomas wants to trap the MCF leaders into the pro-Democratic Party movement, swallow up their supporters and render the MCF impotent. The MCF leaders are falling into the Thomas trap.

To follow one policy inside the MCF and a contrary policy in the PAC is not only impermissible but suicidal for the MCF. MCF leaders must carry out MCF policy.

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