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C. Thomas

How Stalinists Use Smith Case in NMU

(8 March 1948)

From The Militant, Vol. 12 No. 10, 8 March 1948, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

By a vote of 589 to 287, a regular membership meeting of the CIO National Maritime Union rejected a proposal of the Stalinist-controlled National Council to make available “the full resources” of the union to secure the release of Secretary Ferdinand Smith, held on Ellis Island for deportation as an “undesirable alien.” The proposal to support Smith was submitted by N.Y. Port Agent, Paul Pallazi, as part of a “package” which included a number of other propositions. This has been a customary Stalinist practice in the NMU. A number of proposals are lumped together in one package and presented on a take it or leave it basis. By this device, members who favor one proposal are compelled to vote for others with which they disagree. But this time the device backfired. The whole package was rejected by a vote of two to one.

The Stalinists have made the Smith case a factional issue in the fierce internal struggle. Included in the Palazzi “package” for example, were a number of proposals of an outright factional character. Under the circumstances even those who were in favor of voting support

to Smith, despite their opposition to the Stalinists, were unable to do so. If the Stalinists persist in their course Smith will become a pawn in the internal struggle for power in the union. In that case the broader issues will become submerged to the detriment of the fight against political persecution and government interference in the internal affairs of the unions.

Curran Statement

The issue of defending Smith against government persecution has been mixed up with the question of his status as an official of the union. A statement issued by NMU President Joseph Curran urging non-support lays primary stress on the charge that Smith holds office “illegally.” The Stalinists are charged with conspiring to keep him in office in violation of the union constitution which provides that officers must be citizens or have proof of having filed legal intention of becoming a citizen.

This dispute dates back to the year 1944. Ferdinand Smith was on an election tour of the country for Roosevelt when the N.Y. World Telegram published the fact that he was a non-citizen. The matter was taken up by the national officers of the union and Smith resigned his office of National Secretary. He made a trip by ship to Mexico to establish legal entry as part of the process of getting his citizenship papers.

Upon his return he claimed to have complied with the constitutional requirement of filing intention to become a citizen. He ran for office in a special election and was re-elected. Since that time Curran has repeatedly charged that Smith was in office illegally. Curran repeated the charge in his report to the NMU convention in the fall of 1947. The officers-reports committee contends that Smith refused to submit evidence of constitutional compliance when questioned at that time.

One of the charges on which Smith is being held for deportation is “illegal entry.” The Stalinists maintain that he has complied with the law and they have announced their intention of running him as a candidate for re-election this summer. The whole case is fouled up in a maze of technicalities around the phrase “legal entry,” and “legally filing intention to become a citizen.”

Two Questions

There are actually two separate questions involved. One is whether Smith holds office in violation of the union constitution. That is strictly an internal question that must be decided only by the membership on the basis of the laws of the union. The other is the question of government persecution of political opponents. To mix the two can only serve the purpose of confusion.

The Stalinists are now singled out for persecution by the government because they are the most vulnerable and discredited section of the labor movement. As long as they preached the Stalin line of national unity, labor-management co-operation and the permanent no-strike pledge the Stalinists were tolerated and even encouraged. Now that the Kremlin’s line has changed they bear the brunt of the attack by the strikebreaking Truman administration.

But it would be a fatal mistake for union militants to become blinded by their justifiable hatred of the Stalinist zig-zag artists. If the government is permitted to establish a precedent without serious challenge the entire labor movement will suffer.

The deportation delirium unleashed by U.S. Attorney Genera! Palmer after World War I led immediately and directly to the smashing of the maritime unions, by the government in 1921. The Palmer “red raids” ushered in the period of the open shop and the company union. The present deportation drive coupled with the union-busting Taft-Hartley Act aims to achieve the same purpose.

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