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C. Thomas

Maritime Union Expels
3 Stalinist Leaders

(31 August 1948)

From The Militant, Vol. 12 No. 36, 6 September 1948, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

NEW YORK. Aug. 31 – Three prominent Stalinist leaders were expelled last night by a general membership meeting of the CIO National Maritime Union on charges of mishandling union funds and misconduct while in office.

The charges, preferred by President Joseph Curran and Treasurer Hedley Stone against ex-Secretary Ferdinand Smith, ex-Vice-President Howard McKenzie and ex-Port Agent Paul Palazzi, were upheld by a trial committee which brought in a recommendation for expulsion. The recommendation was ratified at the membership meeting by a vote of 1,462 to 523.

The charges were based on violations of the NMU Constitution committed by the three top Stalinist officials, particularly in the period preceding the recent general election in which the Communist Party machine was swept from office.

It was in the pre-election period that the internal struggle for control of the union assumed its most violent form. The Stalinists, then in control of the union apparatus, utilized their position to smear the Curran group and advance their own factional interests. In their reckless and unrestrained bid to retain control they committed flagrant excesses which formed the basis of the charges, trial and expulsion.

Mishandling Funds

For example, the charge of mishandling funds arose out of a conflict over the use of union funds to finance Stalinist factional activity. On several occasions, when Curran and Stone refused to authorize the disbursement of union funds for what they considered factional purposes, the Stalinist officials diverted dues money collected by the Port Agent and authorized the expenditures. This was a violation of the constitutional provision governing the handling of union funds.

Similarly, the charge of “misconduct” arose out of the factional use made by the Stalinists of the official union paper, NMU Pilot. The most flagrant example was the publication of an unauthorized four page supplement calling for a strike against a court injunction after the membership had approved the recommendation of the National Officers to abide by the temporary restraining order.

The defendants contended the charges were purely “technical” and intended to cloak a campaign of political persecution of members of the Communist Party as a prelude to the intimidation and suppression of all opponents of the present Curran administration. Curran denied, in his rebuttal, any intention of conducting a purge of CP members. He charged the Stalinist cry of “political persecution” was always used to exact special privileges and considerations not granted other members of the union.

Public Denial

Curran has made frequent public denial of any intention to “purge” any member of the union for his political beliefs or affiliations. This constant reiteration is itself an indication of strong opposition in the ranks to any such campaign.

Because of their experience with Stalinist repression, because of the red-baiting pressure upon the union movement today, as well as the red-baiting attitude of sections of the national CIO bureaucracy, the most conscious members are apprehensive of any move, even though directed against the hated CP hacks, that smacks of minority persecution. They want an atmosphere conducive to full and free discussion of all union problems without fear of-retaliation because of dissenting opinion.

They are therefore alert and watchful of future developments which will tell, more than words, whether the trial and expulsion of the three was an. isolated case based on specific violations of the constitution or whether it actually constituted a pattern for a purge in the making.

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