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E.R. McKinney

United Fronting in Pittsburgh

Pennsylvania Leagues Try Again
But Councils and S.P. Group Forget to Tell
The Rank and File What It’s All About

(5 January 1935)

From The New Militant, Vol. I No. 4, 5 January 1935, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

PITTSBURGH.Once again the Communist Party and its Unemployed Councils have demonstrated themselves to be ineffectual instruments for promoting the united front with other unemployed organizations. For different reasons the same criticism can be directed against the Socialist Party and the Unemployed Citizens League in Pittsburgh.

The story begins about two months ago when the Allegheny County Emergency Relief Board decided to set up a central complaint bureau to be called the “Public Relations Office” (P.R.O.). The A.C.E.R.B. ruled that relations of the unemployed organizations should be with the P.R.O. only and that in the future no unemployed committees would be admitted to the relief stations.

Before the Public Relations Office had been publicly announced, the Relief Board called for a meeting of the unemployed organizations. The Pennsylvania Unemployed League (P.U.L.) in Pittsburgh, had information that this meeting was called for the purpose of telling the unemployed leagues of the board’s intention to establish the P.R.O. The P.U.L. immediately sent a letter to the Unemployed Citizens League (U.C.L.) which is led by the Socialist Party, suggesting that the U.C.L. and the P.U.L. get together before the meeting with the board and lay plans for meeting with the P.R.O. The U.C.L. did not reply to this letter and each unemployed organization went individually into the meeting with the A.C.E.R.B. At a subsequent meeting the P.U.L. presented a counter-plan to the P.R.O. and was the only organization to make definite and concrete counter-proposals.

About one week after the first meeting with the board Robert Lieberman, S.P. leader of the U.C.L., sent out a letter to all unemployed organizations suggesting a meeting at U.C.L. headquarters to organize a united front against the P.R.O. When Lieberman was asked why he had not replied to the P.U.L. letter his reply was to ask, “How did you know what was going to be discussed at the Board meeting?”

On the Line

The P.U.L. decided to go into the united front called by Lieberman and the U.C.L., along with the Unemployed Councils, and the Rank and File Veterans. We insisted that our united action must not be directed against the P.R.O. as such but must be a demand for the admission of unemployed league committees to the relief units.

The P.U.L. began to picket relief stations in support of this demand. At the East. Liberty relief station the pickets were arrested. The police contended that there could be no strike of the unemployed and that therefore they had no right to picket. Furthermore, the police took the position that the picket line of about fifteen, was a “parade” for which a permit was necessary.

Not a Parade

Despite the arrests the picketing was kept up. At the time the hearing for those arrested was in progress the picket line was still on duty. At the hearing, despite urging from the police, the magistrate decided that a picket line was not a “parade” and that the unemployed could not be stopped from using this form of protest and demonstration. Thus the P.U.L. established the right of its members to be on the sidewalk in front of a relief station.

While the P.U.L. was leading this militant action the Unemployed Councils in the united front committee were advocating a county-wide demonstration to be conducted both inside and outside the relief stations. Some of the unemployed were to demonstrate outside while others were to lay siege to the inside. Out of its experience the P.U.L. knew that such methods would prove futile and defeatist on a county-wide scale. We had tried them and knew that other tactics were more effective. The U.C., the U.C.L. and the Rank and File Veterans voted to ignore this experience. The P.U.L. decided not to participate in the demonstration.

And It Failed

The demonstration was called and was a failure. At only two stations was there any action worth while. There are 10 stations inside the city. At the South Side station about 200 workers turned out but no leader or speaker either from the U.C. or the U.C.L. showed up.

At the time these South Side workers – most of whom belonged to the Unemployed Councils – were loafing around the relief station waiting for the “speakers” to come, the two Unemployed Council leaders who had advocated laying siege to the relief stations, were busy resting in the headquarters of the U.C.L. over one mile away.

Forgot Rank and File

At a meeting of the Unemployed Council the next day, one leader made the statement that the demonstration was a failure because the P.U.L. had refused to participate.

After a five week’s effort the P.U.L. discovered that the rank and file of the U.C.L. and the U.C. had never been informed what the united front was all about.

What Councils Wanted

There was plenty of evidence for the conclusion that the U.C. was only interested to put Lieberman “on the spot” and to push their everlasting schemes for forcing merger on the other organizations.

The P.U.L. decided to discontinue participation in such tomfoolery and sent a committee to so notify the next united front meeting. In this meeting the P.U.L. delegates were surprised to discover that rank and file members of the U.C.L. and U.C. also had come to the conclusion that it was not a genuine united front. Speaker after speaker from the U.C. charged that the rank and file did not know what was going on, that their leaders had given no information or directions to the membership and that they were finding it very difficult to get the members to demonstrate. Collins, the best militant in the U.C.L., charged that the U.C. leaders only showed up on Sunday at the committee meeting.

After these speeches E.R. McKinney delivered the decision, of the P.U.L. When he had finished a U.C. member made a motion that a leaflet be distributed exposing him before the workers.

U.C. Hatchet Men

Then one of the U.C. hatchet-men, took the floor and made a provocative speech in which McKinney was called a “scab” and likened to a “strike-breaker”. This speaker contended that the P.U.L. was composed of “honest workers” and that they must be taken away from the P.U.L. leaders.

After this speech the Unemployed Council speakers who had severely criticized their leaders and called the united front a “fake” decided that not only were their leaders OK but that the failure of the united front could be laid solely at the door of the P.U.L. Not the “honest workers” in the P.U.L., of course, but their leaders.

The P.U.L. is going ahead with the work of organizing and fighting for relief. They are catching up on ground lost while the united front was being attempted. Three concentration points in the city have been established in which large and strong locals are being built.

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Last updated: 14 November 2014