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Ben Hall

Labor ’Scope

CIO Utility Workers Complain of
“Socialism” – to Wrong Address

(15 May 1950)

From Labor Action, Vol. 14 No. 20, 15 May 1950, pp. 5–6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“Socialism” was deplored in harsh and bitter terms at the convention of the CIO Utility Workers Union, which concluded its three-day sessions in New York City on April 30. It would hardly be news if the speakers merely excoriated totalitarianism, denounced the Communist Party and heaped abuse on “subversives,” while praising the glories of our free-enterprise capitalism. They did all that, just as expected, and just as the Steel Workers’ convention will do this week at Atlantic City. But that wasn’t enough; they felt compelled to take a strong stand against an entirely different type of “socialism.”

Let no one imagine that we are interested in this question because our own private socialist sensibilities have been touched on the raw. Not at all; for it was not ours but someone else’s brand of “socialism” that was under fire.

The delegates who passed the resolutions and the speakers who voiced the harsh criticisms forgot to mention whose “socialism” made them bristle. We can very easily correct this oversight: it was the “socialism” of none other than that well-known red, that underminer of Americanism, that rabid demagogue, that fierce enemy of capitalism, Harry S. Truman. Republicans please note.

The convention attacked proposals for nationalization of public utilities and bemoaned the “creeping paralysis of nationalization of the industry” which was nothing less than “the first step down the socialistic highway” which would finally “put an end to our American way of life.” Government-in-business was “viewed with alarm” as was government competition with “light and power companies with whom we hold contracts.”

But who is responsible for this specter of socialism? Certainly not the Republicans, who view it with just as much alarm. Certainly not the Communist Party, which missed out in the last few elections and is having enough trouble being filtered out of every nook and cranny of public life. A glance at the latest Republican-platform and reference to recent history leaves us no alternative: it must be Truman and the Democratic Party. But that only makes it even more mysterious. For this same convention heard the boast that the Utility Workers, as part of the CIO, helped to elect Truman. And Truman makes no bones about it; if he is against anything, besides Russia, he is against socialism.

Wrong Address

Then where does the “socialism” come from? We rush to Truman’s defense lest his party be put: on the subversive list and he be denied. the right to hold a government job. There isn’t an ounce: of socialism in a carload of Truman-in-business.

What are the objections of ithe union to what it calls “socialism”? In the first place, government-owned industries are run by “authorities, not elected but appointed, who will constitute a supergovernment with control of practically all the electric power in the nation.” (We might add: this is true of private capitalist ownership as well as Truman-government ownership and we’re against such bureaucracy in both cases.)

In the second place, job security, promotional opportunity, and working conditions are at the mercy of political bureaucrats; and working conditions and wages are fixed by political management. So that, in the third place, union members employed by the federal agencies work “under conditions inferior to those enjoyed by our members employed in private industry.” And lastly, public power employees, such as those of the TVA, are not covered by contract or by civil service laws. Besides, some speakers pointed out, government employees are denied the right to strike.

This is an impressive list of legitimate complaints. But they are marked for the wrong address. Why blame socialism? Truman is president; the Fair Deal enjoys a certain influence; labor leaders can walk in and out of the White House. The Utility Workers should mail these protests where they belong.

Socialism is not “government ownership” of industry by a capitalist or bureaucratic government; it means the common ownership of the means of production and democratic control by the producers themselves; and that will be possible only under a workers’ government.

Socialism isn’t too popular in this country. That’s bad enough. But please, brothers of the Utility Workers, if you’re not satisfied with what you get from Harry, don’t blame socialism. You put him up there, not we.

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Last updated: 26 August 2021