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David Coolidge

CIO Plans Organization Drive in War Industries

(2 December 1940)

From Labor Action, Vol. 4 No. 34, 2 December 1940, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The third annual convention of the CIO which closed in Atlantic City last Friday was a notable example of the virility of the labor movement in the United States. The outstanding and most persistent features of the convention was its allegiance to the principle of industrial unionism and its repeated expression of determination to press the organization of the unorganised in the mass production industries. Industrial unionism and organizing the unorganized were the main slogans of the convention, and the pivot of the convention resolutions and speeches.

This is true despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of the delegates and officers of the CIO were, at least, passive supporters of the war preparedness plans of the Roosevelt government. Many of the delegates of course, expressed open and positive support of the “defense program” and material aid to Great Britain. But war-mongering support of the “defense program” was by no means the keynote at the convention. Only two or three delegates made what could be called flag-waving speeches. Most of the delegates seem to understand that good patriotic Americans as they consider themselves to be, something more than abstract patriotism would be necessary to improve their standard of living and force union organization and collective bargaining agreements on such corporations as Ford Motor Company and Bethlehem Steel Corporation. Consequently, the response of the delegates to proposals calling for the acceleration of organizing campaigns was far more enthusiastic, for instance, than their response to that part of Sidney Hillman’s speech which advocated full support of the “defense program.”

This attitude of the delegates was brought out again in the discussion of unity between the CIO and AFL. The capitalist press has given a completely distorted view on this question of unity. They have made it appear that the only thing in the way of unity between the two organizations was John L. Lewis. This is certainly not the case. If the attitude of the delegates to the convention is representative of the attitude of the rank and file on this question – and there is reason to believe that this is so – then it is clear that the ranks of the CIO are not ready to compromise with the AFL. Anyone who attended the convention and observed the attitude of the delegates objectively would readily understand this. In the first place, the CIO In general is composed of workers who were neglected by the AFL for decades. Take the steel workers for instance: the attitude of high AFL officials toward these workers was that the steel workers did not want to be organized. Consider the packing house workers, radio, agricultural, woodworkers and others. In fact the workers in the mass production industries as a whole were either completely neglected by the AFL, put into the so-called federal unions (where the only right they had was to pay a per capita tax to the AFL executive council with no vote) or told, as in the case of the radio workers, to go into one of the craft unions.

Now there is an organization among these workers. Their living conditions have been improved and they believe that they are on the right track to greater freedom and security: Furthermore, the rank and file and the newer leaders in the CIO firmly believe that the CIO is a more democratic organization than the AFL; for example, there is wider opportunity for rising to positions of leadership. There is greater opportunity for the young men and women of the organization, they are not pushed bark by a large and solidly entrenched group of leaders such as the AFL executive council.

These delegates are also convinced that the program of the CIO is more dynamic, more up-to-date, more in line with the needs of the workers in modern society. The program is built around the needs of the workers lowest down, just such workers as comprise the membership of the CIO. Their experience tells them that the AFL is not and cannot be concerned with such a program since its base is in a different type of work.

Negro Attitude

Most important of all in one’s attitude toward unity must be a consideration of the Negro worker. The attitude of the Negro delegates in the convention toward this question was most illuminating. There was a Negro woman delegate from Virginia, a tobacco stemmer. In many sections of the tobacco workers are Negroes. This is a southern industry, and Negro workers are subjected not only to the usually very low southern wage scale, but to all the indignities that go with being a Negro. The AFL has totally ignored this type of worker. A white delegate from Alabama related that AFL leaders al an NLRB hearing in Birmingham had made the remark: “No we don’t want any niggers in the AFL union. We don’t want these conditions. We want to go on and build like we ought to in the south.”

The Negro woman mentioned above spoke at the convention, and her remarks were recorded in the convention printed proceedings for that day. Nothing of this kind had ever happened in her life. There was the case of the Negro machinists reported to me by a while delegate.

These Negro machinists were ignored by the AFL because the machinists union bars Negroes. But the AFL became alarmed lest these men go to the CJO so the AFL formed the Negroes into a jim-crow local. Later these Negroes left the AFL and joined the CIO. A Negro delegate from the packing-house workers spoke on unity and listed the experience of the Negro packing house workers with the AFL.

The position of all of these workers, while and black, was not favorable to uniting with the AFL. The repeated altitude of the convention was for getting ahead with what they conceived to be the all-important task; the building of the CIO by organization of the unorganized workers in the mass production industries.

Hillman Fails

The chief proponents of unity in the convention were the Amalgamated Clothing Workers under the leadership of Hillman. The Amalgamated submitted a resolution which called on the incoming officers

“immediately to resume negotiations with the AFL and devote their best and most sincere efforts to unite the two organizations upon a basis which will not sacrifice any of the great gains made by the CIO or compromise the principles for which it stands but which will end division in the house of labor and equip it with that unity which is essential to the realization of its maximum strength and effectiveness.”

The resolution passed by the convention said:

“Unity in the labor movement can be accomplished only if the unions in the CIO continue to organize the unorganized workers in the mass production and basic industries along industrial lines. And it must be all-inclusive. It must protect and include all the organisations in the CIO ... not one must be abandoned to the cavillings of jurisdictional claims of craft unions and the prevalent racketeering within the AFL. In short, every affiliated organization of the CIO must be chartered and included in any new united labor body that may develop ... any program for unity should involve a joint convention of all labor organizations, including those of the AFL, the railroad brotherhoods and CIO with existing jurisdictional differences lo be adjusted in such a convention.”

It should be noted that the Hillman resolution was somewhat vague and did not lay down specific conditions for unity. This vagueness con be understood in the light of Hillman’s speech to the convention. It was clear that Hillman has either voluntarily or by urging from Roosevelt. assumed the task of getting unity on any terms. Hillman said that he considered it his

“first responsibility is to see that the country is prepared to defend itself against its enemies ... I find no difficulty in reconciling the objectives of labor and the objectives of national defense, they are intertwined, they are inseparable ... I have the complete support of the President of the United States ... I do not need to tell of the need for national defense. You are not kidding yourselves regardless of your opinions ... let us use the time still available to make the defense of this country so strong and so powerful that even the maniacs of Europe will recognize that this is no hunting ground for them.”

Hillman closed his speech by a veiled attack on the Stalinists in support of the Amalgamated resolution for barring Stalinists from holding office in the CIO. He also stated several times during the speech that the Amalgamated would remain in the CIO.

Numerous speakers took the position that the important job ahead was not unity with the AFL but unity of the CIO for its organizing task. Lewis said that “there is no peace because you are not strong enough to command peace upon honorable terms. And there will be no peace with a mighty adversary until you possess that strength of bone and sinew that will make it possible for you to bargain for peace terms on equal terms.” Then Lewis told the convention that he had explored Bill Green’s mind “and I give you my word there is nothing there ... explore Matthew Woll’s mind? ... it is the mind of an insurance agent ... who used his position as an officer of the AFL ... to promote his insurance business ... explore Tom Rickert’s mind? ... I said to him that he was getting $20.000 a year graft out of the advertising monopoly in the AFL.” Lewis then said that he had explored Hutchinson’s mind, also of the AFL negotiating committee and “there wasn’t anything there that would do you any good.”

Stalinists Swallow Pill

The Stalinists, of course, were opposed to unity not for the reasons given by other delegates but because their difficulties would be greater in the more conservative and reactionary AFL. Furthermore they were ready, all through the convention, to submerge themselves completely to any and all positions taken by Lewis. One of the highlights of the convention, as mentioned last week, was their frantic efforts to stampede the convention into drafting Lewis for re-election. When they saw that Lewis was determined not to run, they began preparing themselves to climb on the Murray bandwagon. And, despite the fact that they were violently opposed to Murray, the Stalinists were vociferous and demonstrative in their applause after he was elected. They got quite a bit of practice in belly crawling during the convention.

The most noticeable case of the Stalinists being forced to chew a bitter pill came when the resolution on what may be called “Americanism” was presented. Unlike most of the resolutions this had no title and was simply “Resolution R-25.” This resolution read in part:

“we neither accept nor desire – and we firmly reject consideration of any policies emanating from totalitarianism, dictatorships and foreign ideologies such as Nazism, Communism and Fascism. They have no place in this great labor movement. The CIO condemns the dictatorships and totalitarianism of Nazism, Communism and Fascism as inimical to the welfare of labor and destructive of our form of government.”

As soon as the resolution was read and its adoption moved, Tom Kennedy was recognized. He said that the resolution “is not conceived in red-baiting hysteria or witch hunting ...” Kennedy then moved the previous question. Murray called for a standing vote on closing debate. (That is, for a vote to close debate since no one had spoken except Kennedy for the previous question.) The delegates stood, Stalinists and all. Then Murray called for a standing vote on the resolution, with the same response. This was the only important resolution presented to the convention on which there was no debate and the only resolution on which the previous question was called immediately after the motion to adopt.

Establish Talks

The general actings of the convention revolved around resolutions which were based on the 75 page report of Lewis and the previous actions of the executive board. Most of these resolutions were important and significant. They demonstrated the direction in which the CIO is oriented and what are the chief interests of the members of the organization. There was a resolution on WPA calling for greater employment and higher wages: for the elimination of the 18 months clause, and rules relating to minority political groups, and for the right of collective bargaining. The resolution on unemployment called for a program of public works. The resolution on wages and working conditions said that “labor must be ever vigilant to guard against any action which, under the pretense of furthering national defense, will seek to deprive the workers of their fair share of these increased earnings or to deny them their fundamental right to organize into unions of their own choice or to strike.”

A resolution on housing called for 300,000 new units a year and 30 million dollars additional annually from the federal government. The resolution on unity of Negro and white workers said that

“the CIO hails the advance of industrial unions which have broken down the traditional barriers of outworn union policies to the unity of Negro and white workers, and hereby pledges itself to uncompromising opposition to any form of discrimination whether political or economic, based upon race, color, creed or nationality.”

There was a resolution against the southern poll tax. This resolution was supported in speeches by Negro and white delegates from the poll tax states.

On the Draft

The resolution on protecting labor in the administration of conscription demanded that labor have a voice in the administration of the draft law. Furthermore

“the law must be administered in a manner so as not to discriminate against individuals because of their union activity nor to break down and destroy union standards ... the democratic spirit and practices of the American people must be preserved for conscripted men. Harsh and repressive discipline ... should give way to the encouragement of initiative and self-reliance, with ample opportunity for men in the ranks to advance. The civil rights of the conscripted men, such as the right to vote, must be protected and their right to be in touch and communicate with their families and unions must be observed.”

Vice-president Reid Robinson (Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers) who presented the report, said in his discussion:

“I do not believe that the government of the U.S. should say to any conscript that he cannot write home to his mother and say that conditions are not what they should be in this camp; I don’t think his mail should be censored; I think that if conditions are bad there that he should have the right to bargain collectively to see whether or not those conditions can be righted, and that is the intent and purpose of this resolution.”

There was a resolution on the preservation of peace and democratic institutions which read in part:

“the convention reaffirms its determination that this nation must not enter into any foreign entanglements which may in any way drag us down the path of entering or becoming involved in foreign wars ... the CIO and its members ... are determined to protect and defend this nation not only against our foreign enemies ... but also against those forces within our nation who place the profits of their financial and industrial enterprises above the well-being of the millions of common people ... national defense means the continued growth and expansion of powerful industrial unions which will protect and defend the interests and status of their members to achieve economic security ... national defense means ... protection ... of the exercise of all of our cherished civil rights of speech, press, assembly and worship.”

There were resolutions on youth, wage hour laws, home guards, war and profiteering, collective bargaining in government contracts, NLRB, aliens, lynching and a resolution demanding that labor be represented on Red Cross executive committees. Also on trade union refugees and organizing Ford’s.

The resolution on political action read

“that the CIO hereby dedicates itself to a full participation in the political life of this country, uniting its strength and resources with all other liberal and progressive forces; and that the executive officers and the executive board of the CIO are hereby authorized and directed to give serious consideration to this problem looking toward the formulation of a program which would guarantee and assure an independent political role for organized labor.”

In the Organization

Any discussion of the convention must give a place to consideration of some of the important general aspects of the organization as revealed at the convention. Most important of all of course was the retirement of Lewis and the election of Murray. What does this mean for the CIO? In our opinion there will be no drastic change in the policy and tactics of the organization except possibly a gradual and persistent squeezing out of the Stalinists. It is known that Murray was reluctant to take the post unless he could get a mandate from the convention empowering him to eliminate the Stalinists from official posts in the CIO. He didn’t get this, but the resolution that was passed gives Murray enough room to proceed as he did in the SWOC.

He gave an intimation of how he will operate in his acceptance speech.

“A practical demonstration of your ability to deliver the goods must be given to me during the ensuing year. I am not going to be content with a pledge of loyalty and support. I am not going to be content with the passage of a mere resolution. Deeds count! Hard work is needed! Petty bickering must stop! The tongue of the slander monger must be stilled!”

It is a safe guess that Murray will insist on this; that he will push the organizing campaigns, that he will demand a full day’s work from every organizer, that he will be rather ruthless in the enforcement of what he conceives to be correct discipline.

Murray is an outspoken patriot and a loyal member of a religious faith that has no tolerance for “radicalism.” Murray is not just opposed to Stalinists and Stalinism; he is equally against any and all forms of opposition to what he would call “our democratic institutions.” He would be just as strongly opposed to Lenin as he is to Stalin; he would make no distinction between them. Therefore Hillman will probably find it easier to work with Murray than with Lewis. Not because Lewis is any more tolerant of the ideas of communism or “radicalism” than is Murray, but because, for one reason or another, Lewis was working with the Stalinists and was far more tolerant toward them than Murray. Murray begins his administration not only free from any commitments to the Stalinists but intends to remain that way. The Stalinists understood this perfectly. That was the the reason they were so frantic in their efforts to force the re-election of Lewis.

Future of CIO

The future of the CIO and the place that it will assume in the labor movement can not however be judged by confining oneself to the role of Murray or the past and future role of Lewis. This is the method of the capitalist press and the AFL. Bill Green takes the position that not only should Lewis resign from the CIO presidency but also as the head of the miners. That is, Lewis should remove himself completely. The capitalist press was thoroughly disheartened by the stand that Murray took on unity. Since Murray expressed himself in accord with the sentiments of Lewis and the convention. the daily papers tearfully lamented the “tragic” situation that the workers are in because unity will not be accomplished immediately.

The CIO must be judged by its program, by the direction in which it is going and by its fundamental industrial union orientation. Anyone who ignores these factors will make a most serious mistake and miss the main point. Many adverse criticisms can be made of the organization, its program and its leadership. Labor Action has made such criticisms and will make many more. These adverse criticisms may be factual and important but to leave it at the would not be telling all of the relevant truth about the CIO. The main positive point that needs to be made again and again is the commitment or the organization to organization of the workers in the mass production industries into industrial and not craft unions.

The CIO membership is the decisive section of the working class today. It is composed of the youngest and most militant workers. The organization is fluid and not hard set like the AFL. Hundreds of thousands of CIO workers, such as Negroes, women and youth have never been in unions before. The nature of modern industry throwing masses of them together, the pressure of events and the degeneration of capitalism will inevitably make these workers responsive to progressive economic and political ideas. Militant action will be forced on them as the only answer to the situation they find themselves in.

Reflects Labor’s Needs

The very existence of the CIO and the program adopted at the Atlantic City Convention spring from the needs and experience of the workers in the new mass production industries. The CIO and its program did not originate as an “abstract idea” in the mind of Lewis, nor does its future revolve primarily around the private opinions of Murray whatever they happen to be.

This is a partial answer to many questions that arise in connection with the convention and the CIO. Was it a rank and file convention and did the delegates represent the membership of the organization? The answer to this question depends upon one’s assumptions and what one is looking for. It also depends on whether one looks on the CIO as a dynamic movement or a static organization like the AFL. (Of course, not even the AFL is really static). For despite the fact that the majority of the delegates to the convention were either officers of the national organization and of the various units, international and local, there were many real non-officeholding rank and file delegates present and participating in the convention.

The main fact to grasp is that these delegates regardless of their rank, or where they came from and how they got there, adopted a program thai represents the interests of the working class in a degree never before achieved by the trade union movement since the formation of the AFL over fifty years ago.

War the Danger

It is true that to achieve this program will require something more than the present CIO leadership is capable of. It will require increasing democratic participation of the ranks in the affairs of the organization. It will require increasing class consciousness of the membership and greater militancy. The leadership will move very slowly in this direction if at all. It will do so under the pressure of a rank and file that has acquired experience in the fire of the class struggle and that has acquired working class political education. This is the function of politically educated trade unionists. They will have to learn to do this job inside the trade union movement. It cannot be done from the outside, no matter bow correct and necessary criticism may be from time to time.

The greatest danger that the CIO faces today is the war and the regimentation of the labor movement in support of the war: the submersion of the movement in the “defense program” despite the excellent resolutions of the convention in favor of pushing the organizing campaigns. It is not that the leadership does not sense the situation, but that it will not be capable of carrying on in an uncompromising manner when the heat is turned on and the flag waving begins. Here again is a job for the class conscious and politically educated workers. They must know how to shoulder this burden and this responsibility correctly.

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