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Ben Hall

CIO Convention Has to Face Problem Raised by Steel Strike —

It’s Tough Going for Strikes Today:
What’s CIO’s Answer?

(24 October 1949


From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 44, 31 October 1949, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).


The CIO national convention, scheduled to open this coming week, faces deep-going problems more important, in the long run, than the problem of Stalinist influence in its ranks which we dealt with extensively in last week’s Labor Action and which will undoubtedly be the most attention-compelling issue in Cleveland.

The basis of the problem can be given in a few words:

The Fair Deal won a “great victory” in ’48 – but strikes have become long, and hard, and exhausting.

Two local stoppages ended after five months on the picket line. At Singer, in Elizabeth, N.J., unionists resumed work without winning their main demands, accepting minor concessions from the company. Not a single demand was won by the Bell Aircraft workers (Buffalo), who have called off their strike with an agreement to arbitrate all disputed questions. But the company, still out for blood, locked out more than twenty militants and presses hard for criminal action against strikers who carried the ball on the picket lines. The discharges, too, will be arbitrated.

Strikes in coal and steel cast the most disturbing shadow, for here we meet two most powerful unions. The coal diggers are still striking for their pensions. And after paring its demands to the barest minimum, the Steel Workers Union cannot get a settlement as Its strike enters the fourth week. The two strikes are linked up; both come up against U.S. Steel, the stubborn and unyielding representative of the monopoly with tremendous captive mine holdings, financially and commercially intertwined with companies producing the bulk of America’s coal. No end of the struggle is in sight.
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They Don’t Explain Why

Ford workers are voting on an agreement which squeezes out a pension plan but gives little else. By previous UAW standards, the proposed contract is poor indeed. Although an active and articulate opposition would reject it. Ford workers will probably vote yes reluctantly – not because they havedost their militancy but because they hesitate to strike now under disadvantageous conditions.

A sober and realistic estimate doubtless leads them to conclude: (1) that such a strike would be drawn out and bitter; and (2) that any foreseeable contractual improvements would not outweigh the sacrifices necessary to win them. Without a strike, the new contract gives them as much as the steel workers will get with a Strike; the prospect of winning substantially more now, in the auto industry alone, seems dim.

Such are the facts. Spectacular gains cannot now be made by mere strike threats nor by swift and easy stoppages. But why? The CIO officialdom shut their eyes at just this point. The failing of labor leaders today is not simply that they accept small strike gains but that they misrepresent the poor settlements as good’ ones. And as a result, they do not and cannot explain to unionists why the fruits of their struggles are so meager.

What are the aims of the big industrialists? James H.W. McGraw Jr., publisher of more than 40 industry magazines, explains that:

“An influential group of employers have raised their sights beyond their immediate economic interests and have taken on a battle for a principle important to every business in the land. They have decided that the time has come to stop appeasing labor leaders.”
 

Big Business Calculates

How does the battle for this “principle” look in practice? When U.S. Steel, most “influential” of all employers, rejected the fact-finding report» one conclusion emerged from the welter of argument and counterargument. It was forcing strikes in steel and coal for political purposes. And this was possible because it knows that the Truman administration is basically a pro-capitalist regime..

Certainly Truman flirts with labor, and the big capitalists prefer a less unpredictable representative. But the Fair Deal Democrats know where their first loyalty lies. The police of “liberal” Mayor O’Dwyer protected scabs in the American Machine and Foundry strike while Republican Dewey watched the not-so-liberal police escort strikebreakers into the Bell factory. From all these men, U.S. Steel has nothing to fear.

U.S. Steel bluntly shows where real power lies. The official labor leadership relies upon the Fair Deal Democrats to help fight their battles. If the steel magnates can demonstrate the impotence of the Fair Deal to solve any of the problems of the class struggle, above all if it can force through the invoking of the Taft-Hartley Law, they will upset the political equilibrium, strike a blow at the political perspectives of the labor movement, leave it politically demoralized and disoriented and incapable-of rallying its followers to the polls. At least, such is their calculations.
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They Can Be Stopped

On the other hand, if by some accident Truman should make a mild and ineffectual move against the steel companies, above all if he should dare to seize their plants, U.S. Steel will yell bloody murder about the “rights of private property,” hoping to split the Democratic Party from stem to stern. Regardless of the outcome of the steel strike, Big Steel’s political gambit wins.

But this strategy can work only because labor docs rely upon the Fair Deal, because the failures of the Fair Deal do throw the labor leaders into political hopelessness. U.S. Steel banks upon political confusion; its policy can be stopped dead as soon as labor begins to display political resoluteness and clarity.

If the union movement raised the slogan of a new Labor Party, and if it pointed to the weaknesses of the Democrats and the Republicans as evidence of the need for a class party, the representatives of the capitalist class and the big monopolists would be compelled to take a new tack. To compete with the labor movement for the support of the American people, they would have to offer new concessions, new compromises.

It is the present political policy of the labor movement, which relies upon capitalist politics, that makes possible the offensive of big business in the 1949 strikes.

Until the CIO (and the AFL) take a step toward solving the political impasse of labor policy, it will not see light in the economic blind alley where it is fighting now.

Such a step can be nothing else than a step toward an independent party of labor, breaking loose once and for all from the two old-line machines.

Such a step would be the formation of an independent labor party.


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