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Ben Hall

Reuther Group Triumphs
at Mich. CIO Convention

(24 June 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 25, 24 June 1946, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Michigan State Convention of the CIO which met in Detroit on June 10–12 was dominated by the personality of Walter P. Reuther, president of the United Auto Workers Union. The strength of the convention lay in the strength of the program which is identified with Reuther, and its weakness lay in the weakness of that program. There was no other program. The delegates divided into two camps, those who supported Reuther’s program and those who opposed it. Reuther intervened personally in the convention, addressing the delegates and organizing a caucus of his followers to win control of the State CIO.

The pro-Reuther forces put forward as candidate for president August Scholle and for secretary-treasurer, Barney Hopkins. The anti-Reuther group ran Glen Sigman and W.G. Grant. In a fairly close election the Reuther forces triumphed by about 400 votes – 2,200 to 1,800.

As at the last UAW convention, the real convention issues were not clearly presented to the delegates. The written declarations of both sides appeared similar. It was necessary to read between the lines of the written material and above all to attend the caucuses of the two factions which are as much part of the convention as the formal sessions themselves, for it is here that the delegates and the leaders speak freely.

The Anti-Reuther Bloc

The convention line-up was: Reuther against the field. The anti-Reuther bloc was a coalition between the conservative right-wingers who follow Thomas and Philip Murray and the Communist Party led by Nat Ganley and John Anderson of Local 155. They combined to “get Reuther.” The Murray-Thomas supporters were motivated by a conservative distaste for Reuther’s new radical approach, the Communists by their desire for a pro-Stalin policy.

The aims of the CP stick out in the program of the Sigman-Grant slate. For example: “We repudiate all efforts calculated to weaken or destroy the friendship and close collaboration of Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States within the United Nations” and further “We favor independence for all colonies ...” These phrases are the key to all Stalinist policy in the present period. On the one hand, the first formula outlaws any criticism of the Russian occupation of Europe as an attempt to “weaken or destroy” the United Nations. But on the other hand, the formula for colonial independence legalizes all attacks on the imperialist rivals of Russia. How sensitive the CP is on this key question was demonstrated at the convention sessions.

The pro-Philip Murray character of the anti-Reuther bloc was equally clear. Sigman himself is a paid official on the staff of the Steel Workers Union. It is unlikely that he would move without at least tacit support from Murray. The slogans of this group were: “Support Murray supporters” and “For a unified strategy under the leadership of Philip Murray.”

The anti-Reuther bloc, was totally incapable of presenting any ideas or program to the convention. Any constructive ideas were already incorporated in the Reuther program and so they confined themselves to a miserable campaign of sniping. They killed one and one half days of the convention in a fight over technicalities involved in the seating of delegates.

They held their caucus meetings under the slogan of “efficiency” and “good government” in the State CIO. Arguing on the lowest level of slander they hinted, without even an attempt at proof, that somewhere and somehow there was misuse of funds in the state CIO office. That was the whole content of their program. One asked oneself if these misdeeds were true, why did you keep quiet about them for a whole year and speak out only at election time, when you found yourself without a program?

A totally different atmosphere prevailed in the Reuther camp. Here the delegates were bound together primarily by their attachment to the new militant program advanced by Reuther. In his opening address to the delegates, Reuther spoke as follows: We must fight for higher wages and lower prices to be gained by dipping into the profits of big business. If prices continue to rise we will not feel ourselves bound by contracts because Washington has broken its contract with the American people. We can pass all the resolutions we want but that is not enough. We must mobilize the membership behind our resolutions. He called for a national conference of the AFL, CIO, and Railway Brotherhoods to map out a united campaign against the flood of reactionary legislation pending in Congress.

At the caucus meeting he went further: Attacking Murray’s leadership of the Steel Union by implication he said: “The torch we lit during the GM strike was not picked up by the steel workers.” He threatened that if the CP-Thomas bloc continued its “obstructionist” policies he would carry the fight to the rank and file of the union and demand a special convention of the UAW.

This radical program is drawing to Reuther the best elements in the labor movement who look to him for leadership in a crusade not only to raise wages one or two notches higher but to grapple with the vast social problems confronting the people in all spheres of life. The “Reuther caucus” shows the possibility of becoming not merely another union faction but a serious movement within organized labor of profoundly progressive significance. Reuther is rising as the spokesman for this tendency, as the man who articulates and formulates its demands and policies.

He and his closest aides, however, show themselves unable to give farsighted and consistent leadership. The serious shortcomings of the Reutherite leadership was demonstrated in the field of international politics during the debate on Indian Independence and in the field of national politics in the discussions on political action.

Indian Independence

Following an address by M. Fazel Elahi Qurban, vice-president of the All-India Railwaymen’s Federation who appealed to the convention for moral support to the forthcoming railway strike in India and who requested the passing of a resolution favoring immediate, independence for India, a Stalinist delegate proposed a resolution denouncing the British Labor Party.

Roy Reuther, brother of the UAW president, darted to the microphone and in reply eulogized the British Labor Party for its noble “gesture” in offering independence to the Indians. He concluded with a vigorous

attack against the military occupation of Eastern Europe and its domination by Russia. The convention was thrown into an uproar as the Reuther supporters rocked the hall with applause and the Stalinists, touched in their most vulnerable spot, booed and hissed.

This little incident tells us a lot about the spokesmen for the two opposing factions. The CP attacks the colonial policy of England only in order to make the rotten policies of the Stalin regime seem more palatable. Roy Reuther turned this policy upside down. He denounced Russian imperialism only to cover up for the imperialist policies of the British Labor Party. Don’t rattle the skeletons in my closet and I won’t rattle yours. Had there been no attack on the British Labor Party, there would have been no counterattack on Stalin’s oppressive role in Europe.

Political Action

The convention heard talk from all sides about the crucial need for “vigorous political action.” The attacks on the “reactionaries” in Congress were duly applauded. The “reactionaries” were duly booed.

But that has been going on for years. The labor movement has been supporting so-called “friends-of-labor” against the “reactionaries” in one election after another. Each election is supposed to record a new victory for the forces of “progress.” Now we see more clearly than before that these gentlemen who so readily accept the support of labor on election day just as readily play the role of pro-capitalist strikebreakers when a real crisis arises. The old political path has led us up a blind alley. Where is the new road?

No answer either from Reuther, or the convention, or any of the caucuses. Ernest Mazey of Local 212 who called for an end to the policy of supporting Democrats and Republicans and for the immediate formation of a Labor Party was a lone voice; but he alone pointed to the correct policy.

Walter Reuther sawed the same old wood. He excoriated the “reactionary Republicans and the southern Democrats.” But what happened to all the great “progressives” whom labor “elected”? What happened to all our election “victories”? Reuther repeated all the old formulas as though nothing had happened in the past year.

The convention adopted an absurd resolution full of ambiguities. It was a pitiful attempt to compromise all existing points of view. It declared that the “long-run” program of the State CIO was for the “eventual formation” of a new “peoples’ party.” Meanwhile? We continue to “endorse and support liberal and progressive candidates of the existing parties.”

Mat Hammond, chairman of the resolutions committee who is one of the leaders of the new National Educational Committee for the Formation of a New Party, interpreted this resolution as a move in the direction of his new “peoples” party (not a labor party).

Emil Mazey endorsed the resolution as a welcome step toward the formation of a Labor Party. Meanwhile he has to swallow the continued endorsement of Democrats and Republicans.

Gus Scholle, on the other hand, understood the resolution to be a restatement of his own printed platform which reads: “Against a third party now or in the immediate future; but continue also to lay the groundwork for labor-liberal unity in a possible third party if and when conditions are ripe.” (Can any one invent a more weasel worded statement than that?)

In summary: All agreed to vote for the resolution on political action. Few agreed on what it meant. But it hardly matters for all differences are laid aside in a common pledge to continue the suicidal policy of supporting candidates from the old capitalist parties. That was the great defect of the Michigan State Convention of the CIO.

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