Gordon Haskell Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Gordon Haskell

Labor ’Scope

CIO Councils Deprived of Democracy
Through Specious ‘Majority Rule’

(13 June 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 24, 13 June 1949, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Recently Labor Action carried a brief note reporting that during April a special convention of the Los Angeles CIO Council resulted in a smashing two-to-one victory for the forces representing national CIO policy over the Stalinists in that body.

In the course of winning this victory, the anti-CP wing of the CIO passed a number of by-laws and amendments to the constitution of the Los Angeles CIO Council which have a grave bearing on the future of democracy in the CIO.

Though all of these deserve discussion, we will confine ourselves to the one which has the greatest bearing on democracy. On the face of it, this amendment looks quite harmless. It reads simply: “The autonomy of local unions affiliated to the council shall be preserved.”

In voting against this clause, delegates from the International Longshoremen & Warehousemen’s Union (ILWU) entered the following statement in the minutes:

“The proposed provisions of the constitution interpreted by the constitutional committee chairman and the convention chairman denies the CIO Council delegates the right to speak and vote according to their own convictions and the instructions of their local unions. For these reasons and these reasons only, the ILWU voted unanimously no, because we are for full and complete autonomy and not autonomy that is left up to any chairman’s discretion or interpretation.”

The ILWU asked for inclusion of an amendment giving delegates the right to discuss and vote upon any matter coming before the council. This was defeated.

Majority Rule?

In discussing this amendment, the West Coast edition of the CIO News (a Murray paper) states: “Supporters of the accepted amendment protecting local autonomy claimed that adoption of the ILWU-backed language would have given council delegates the power to smash CIO Council rules by voting against national CIO policy. Such an action would actually interfere with the autonomous right of the national CIO to establish rules for the councils, which are an organizational part of national CIO, and not of locals or internationals.”

This statement explains the real purpose of the amendment on “local autonomy” about as clearly as could be desired. Further, it falls in line with the whole strategy of the Murray leadership in smashing the Stalinist control of CIO councils all over the country by demanding that all councils must go down the line in advocacy of national CIO political policies (support of Truman and the Marshall Plan), regardless of the opinions of the delegates and the local unions which they are supposed to represent.

Those who, in the name of democracy, defend this idea of what CIO councils are supposed to do, reason something like this: Policies of the CIO are laid down in conventions and meetings of the National Executive Board. These are the highest bodies of the CIO and the majorities of these bodies represent the majority of the rank and file of the CIO. They have the right to insist that their subordinate bodies, the city CIO councils, carry out these policies. Surely it isn’t undemocratic to demand that the policies established democratically by the majority of the CIO membership as represented at national conventions and on the National Executive Board be carried out locally, even if a local body happens to have a majority which disagrees with these policies. Majority rule in the CIO will have no meaning if anyone who disagrees has the right to act contrary to the will of the national majority.

Loaded Against Minority

Looked at from this formal point of view, the policy seems to have merit. Yet it seems very likely that it will serve to take away from local CIO councils much of their reason for existence. Further, it will go a long way toward making it impossible for any point of view which starts as a minority from ever being able to win a majority in the CIO.

Let’s say that some local union, after full discussion, comes to the conclusion that national CIO policy on political action is wrong. The local passes a resolution to that effect, with copies sent to its international and to the national CIO. Yet the delegates of this local cannot present this resolution for adoption in their city council. There they are compelled to vote for resolutions which are exactly the opposite of the one adopted by their local. They are not even permitted to abstain on such resolutions, nor to move to table them.

Congressional elections are rolling around in 1950. One of the life-and- death questions of the labor movement is going to be the policy adopted on these elections. If a local has passed a resolution demanding the formation of an Independent Labor Party, or at least that locally the labor movement cease playing around with the Democratic Party, select labor candidates and run them as such – what are the delegates of this local going to do in the council? Will they vote to support some wardheeler whose record in the last Congress was 51 per cent “pro-labor” as against some candidate whose record was only 30 per cent “pro-labor”? Are they going back to their local and whoop it up for the membership to get out the vote for him?

Most likely they just won’t go to council meetings. Why should they? Why have a council which is bound, even against the will of possibly 95 per cent of the local unions which are represented there, to carry out “national CIO policies”? Isn’t it enough to have an office of the regional director of CIO who is paid to carry them out?

Packing a Convention

Some more questions: Local councils send delegates to national conventions of the CIO. If the councils and their officers haven’t the right to discuss or pass resolutions contrary to present national CIO policy, that will mean that all delegates from the councils to the national CIO conventions will be a solid bloc for the present administration. And that is no small matter. At the last convention of the CIO there were 150 delegates representing local councils. These delegates had the same number of votes as delegates representing the internationals in the following industries: auto, electric, steel, rubber, textile, clothing, longshore, seamen (NMU), packinghouse, transport and oil.

If local delegates to the councils can’t even put the views of their membership before the delegates from other unions (if these views happen to be contrary to national CIO policy), what chance will they ever have to get the support of other locals for their views? Democracy means majority rule, but there’s more to it than that. It also means the right of a minority to fight for its views and its right to become a majority if it can get enough support.

We are very well aware of the fact that the Stalinists, who are how howling for democracy in the CIO, were the chief ones to abuse it when they were in a majority in locals and in the councils. But in the process of ousting them in the name of “American trade-union principles,” isn’t the Murray majority setting up procedures which look much more like those of a bureaucratic political machine than those of political and trade-union democracy?

Gordon Haskell Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers’ Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 1 August 2019