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Ben Hall

Why Has Phil Murray Not Given
All-Out Support to UE Opposition?

(12 September 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 37, 12 September 1949, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Combine a desperate Stalinist machine with a powerful opposition and you have all the elements of an explosion. Such is the UE convention. Surely the third largest union in the CIO faces a crisis. The Stalinist madmen who control it will give their critics only the choice of cringing submission or life and death battle. Everyone asks: where does Philip Murray stand? Silence, then uncertainty and hesitation drift down from the lofty heights of the CIO upon the embattled anti-Stalinists.

Why no encouragement, no clear advice, no sign of full support? It seems almost unbelievable when we realize that the top leaders of the CIO even now push a war of nerves against the CP. Two concepts of combatting Stalinism twist together to make up this strange puzzle: the bureaucratic method from above and the democratic method from below. Murray represents the first. The UE opposition, the second.

The top leadership of the CIO has invented a principle of trade unionism very novel in recent American labor history. It abandons the traditional organization form of full in ternational autonomy and demands that all international unions abide by the official POLITICAL policy of the CIO or risk expulsion. Conform or get out, says Allan Haywood to the Stalinists at the New York State CIO convention. And if you do not conform, he threatens, we will pick your union to pieces. This handy formula seems easily convenient for dealing with the Communist Party which cannot surrender its right to sell the Kremlin political line under a union label.

In striking a blow at the Stalinists, the CIO leadership sets a precedent which undermines the democratic rights of all internationals and at the same time makes exceedingly difficult the reunification of the labor movement. The UAW, for example, has frequently gone beyond official CIO policy. Under the new rules, it could not take the initiative for the formation of a new Labor Party. The United Mine Workers, which, opposes Truman, could find no road back to the CIO.

Break for Stalinists

A lucky opportunity now falls to the Stalinists to posture as great fighters for autonomy and democracy and they will play this game at its best at the UE convention. But while opposing the new principles of supercentralization, no one can forget that the Stalinists remain Stalinists. Vicious enemies of democracy in every social institution, especially in the unions, Stalinists maintain their hold by slandering, hounding and expelling critics. But the CIO leadership does not say to the Stalinists: “We will expel you if you continue to persecute opponents and deny them their democratic union rights.”

The new principle of centralization is not aimed against Stalinist bureaucratism but against its political line. Practice our politics, they are told, and you may have "autonomy” in running your internal life as you sec fit; you may have a free license to hunt down opponents as you will. Does this interpretation seem unfair? We need only recall that during the war, when the CP line and CIO policy happened to coincide, the Stalinists used typically authoritarian and totalitarian methods to freeze its control. Murray and the top CIO leadership saw nothing wrong, and did nothing to restrain the Stalinists.

“Ah, then,” protest some who find fault with Labor Action, "if the Stalinists are bureaucrats who support Russian imperialism, Murray is nothing but a bureaucrat who supports American imperialism.” From this simple thesis they conclude that the fight between these two camps in the UE is a matter of indifference to socialists and militant unionists. And further, since the opposition in the UE inclines toward the same gener al political program as Murray, they will hot support it.

But ... the political and economic policies of Murray and the CIO leadership are the program accepted willingly and sometimes even enthusiastically by virtually the entire CIO membership. We may regret this fact, but a fact it remains. Even the UAW, which is unquestionably the most democratic union in America, votes freely at its convention for the official policies. Is there a single substantial reason to believe that the membership of the CP-controlled unions is peculiarly attracted to Kremlin politics? In these unions the Stalinist machine prevails only because the members cannot express themselves without fear; the Stalinist line is imposed upon them by dictatorial methods.

Opinions of Members

In this respect, Murray truly represents the opinions of the CIO membership while the Stalinists do not, not even of the members of the very unions which they hold in a tight grip. Even if the UE opposition was nothing more than a pro-Murray tendency, its victory would mean that the will of the majority prevails over a bureaucratic, minority Stalinist machine.

It is true that Murray acts bureaucratically. But the UE opposition is not simply a hand-picked Murray machine; it is an organized faction of the active anti-Stalinist unionists. The top leaders of the CIO, including Murray, have never appealed to the membership of those unions dominated by the CP to organize into factions to drive out the CP. When the Reuther caucus organized in the UAW to throw out the ally of the Stalinists, R.J. Thomas, it met the expressed opposition of Murray. The leaders of the CIO prefer to work from above, to use the simple power of their office, to decree, to work out new “principles” which can be applied without stirring from their chairs.

A union membership trained in the techniques of removing its own leadership? A very distasteful lack of etiquette which might become habitual. The begrudging half-interest, half-lack-of-interest of the high ranking CIO leadership in the UE faction fight reflects its gingerly distrust of the union rank and file.

The UE anti-Stalinist opposition is a democratic movement to throw out the Stalinists from below; it needs no new principles of super-central ized unionism; at the same time, it can ignore the clouds of dust thrown up by the dictator-Stalinists around the question of democracy. Without awaiting a benevolent decree from the reluctant Murray it can organize the ranks of the UE to wipe out Stalinism in the industry.

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