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Irving Howe

Split Crisis Grows Sharper in the CIO

(June 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol.6 No. 24, 15 June 1942, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

With the removal of Philip Murray as vice-president of the United Mine Workers, the unleashing of an open attack on John L. Lewis in the CIO News and the counter-demand by Lewis that Murray “remove all Communists from CIO posts,” the internecine warfare in the CIO broke out into an open slugfest with Murray and Lewis trading verbal punches – and the Stalinist vultures waiting on the sidelines ready to capitalize on labor’s crisis.

The vitriolic and bitter charges and counter-charges flew thick and fast during this last week. The CIO executive board called Lewis a “disrupter” and Lewis in turn said that Murray should prove his sincerity by firing all CIO organizers who are communists. The Daily Worker fanned the winds of the inner-CIO struggle , by launching wild charges that Lewis was a fascist – this despite the fact that the Stalinists were playing, ball with Lewis until last year.

But all these verbal fireworks were mainly camouflage for the real issues at stake. And those real issues deserve serious consideration by every CIO unionist.

There are at present three main groups in the CIO – the Murray group, the Lewis group and the Stalinists.

The Murray group, which finds its main support in the newly organized United Steel Workers Union and in sections of the United Automobile Workers, has pursued the policy of consistent retreat before the attacks of the Washington Administration. It has capitulated on most labor issues: “no strike” agreement, Sunday double time. It has failed to put up an adequate fight for the demands of the steel workers (union shop and $1.00 a day wage increase) and has not conducted any major organizing campaigns. This all flows from a policy of labor appeasement – appeasement of those in Washington who are knifing labor’s rights in the name of “national unity.” The Stalinists, for their part, have played an open union-busting role. They have agreed to all of Murray’s retreats, only demanding that labor retreat even more. They have criticized Murray for putting “too much stress” on wage increases. The Stalinists, in pursuance of their policy of subordinating everything to the interests of the Russian war effort, have played the role of stool pigeons and strike breakers inside the unions. It is they who have helped inflame the inner CIO struggle to its present proportions; their obvious game is to get Lewis out of the CIO and then, through their union forces, they hope to make Murray their captive.

The Lewis forces have allowed the impression to be created among many workers that they are lukewarm toward the imperialist war, and that they oppose the surrender of labor’s rights in the name of “national unity” and the “war effort.” This they have done not by explicit statements but rather by silence. The United Mine Workers is one of the few CIO unions that has retreated on no important union issues. It has failed to endorse the surrender of double time for Sunday, though it has not attacked that surrender, either. In addition the UMW is the only force that has conducted a large-scale organization campaign through its District 50.

These, in brief, are the forces inside the CIO leadership. That there are important and serious disagreements between the Murray and Lewis forces is apparent. These differences must be settled by that internal union democratic procedure which marked the CIO at its founding and which is the only way to settle any differences of opinion.

One thing is clear, however: it would be a major tragedy for the union movement in America if the CIO were split.

Are the issues of difference serious enough at present to warrant a split? An examination of these issues must lead to a categorical answer of NO.

The demand of the UMW that unity negotiations between the CIO and AFL be reopened is not a demand which should lead to a split. If it were possible at present to effect one united labor organization, based on industrial organization of the mass production industries, it would be a great boon to the workers and result in a tremendous new wave of organization. American labor would then have the most powerful organization in the history of world labor!

If, on the other hand, negotiations with the AFL leadership were to reveal that unity based on industrial organization of the mass production industries is at present impossible, due to the backward and reactionary attitude of the AFL officialdom, then again there is little lost. But let these negotiations be held before the public view of the American workers, and not behind closed doors; and then we shall see. Surely, the demand that the two great houses of labor reunite should not be the cause of splitting one of them!

Nor is the second UMW demand, on the question of per capita payments, a reason for a split. Is it possible that the CIO will be split over the question of $60,000 a month per capita from the UMW to the CIO? Is it possible that the CIO should be split over the question of the debt that the CIO owes the UMW, according to the, latter? Surely, the ranks couldn’t tolerate such a situation!

And as for the third UMW demand – the cessation of personal attacks on the UMW leaders – it would be a good idea if both sides calmed down (and if the Stalinists’ filthy mouths were publicly washed with some strong soap!). Certainly, the prestige considerations, the personal grudges, the personal attacks, cannot be considered as a serious reason by the CIO ranks for splitting their organization.

What is imperative now is that the ranks themselves decide the issues before the CIO. In this respect, Murray, Lewis and the Stalinists are all past masters at developing bureaucratic machines which throttle the voice of their rank and file members.

Nonetheless, it is necessary that the CIO ranks be allowed to express themselves, in regular or special convention assembled, on the issues facing their organization. If that be done, we are certain that the ranks will express themselves in favor of a fighting industrial union organization; a ceaseless struggle in defense of and for the improvement of labor’s conditions; a new vast organizing campaign; and an attempt to build a united labor movement in America which can become a powerful force in defense of the common people.

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