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David Coolidge

UAW Convention Demonstrates Power
of Industrial Unionism!

Caught Between Power Caucuses, Delegates Nevertheless Exert Independent Will
to Defend the Union’s Interest As They Understand It

(25 August 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 34, 25 August 1941, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The United Automobile, Aircraft and Agricultural Implement Workers Union finished its two weeks of deliberations last Saturday with the installation of the newly elected officers and international executive board members. The election of the two officers, particularly the election of the secretary-treasurer, caused quite a stir in the convention due to the fact that the incumbent, Addes, was opposed for re-election by Richard Leonard, regional director in Michigan. Leonard was the candidate of the Reuther brothers’ caucus. Addes was re-elected by a vote of 1,759 to 1,307.

The elections, of course, were to be a decisive test of strength ietween the Reuther brothers’ faction and the Stalinists. It must be said that this statement is not wholly accurate. While it is true that there were two main caucuses in the convention, the Reuther brothers’ and the Stalinists’, it is mere correct to say that each of the main questions over which there was factional division was a test of the strength of the Reuther brothers’ faction: This for the reason that the faction was attempting in a most outright manner to gain control of the international, they were irreconcilable and maintained a tight caucus on almost every important question.

The Stalinists, on the other hand, knew that they were on the spot and were forced into a bargaining position. In order to hold on at all costs in the face of their record, the attacks of the Reuther Brothers and general opposition to them, including that of Thomas, the Stalinists had to be a little cautious.

Murray Evidently Backed Addes

The support of Leonard by the Reuther caucus was a straight out-and-out faction move. Leonard was supported by the most reactionary delegates to the convention as well as by some delegates who were convinced that it was necessary to take the most extreme steps to wipe out the Stalinists The point that I wish to make is that virtually all the most blatant and hidebound reactionaries flocked to the Reuther banner. The majority of the delegates, however, were convinced that Addes was the best man for the post and they were motivated mainly by this consideration. This outweighed any ideas they may have had about his connection with the Stalinists. Also, they knew that Leonard was a 100 per cent Reuther faction candidate.

There is reason to believe that Addes had the support of Murray. President Thomas announced on Friday morning that he and Addes had been in consultation with Murray by telephone and requested that the elections which had been set for Friday morning be postponed until the afternoon so that he and Addes could confer further with Murray. Thomas also reported to the convention that Alan Haywood was in Buffalo as the personal representative of Murray. This is in contradiction to a statement in the Social Democratic New Leader that Haywood was there as the personal representative of John L. Lewis. It is interesting in this connection that Thomas voted for Addes. Frankensteen also voted for Addes.

Seat Allis-Chalmers Delegation

The Allis-Chalmeirs elections were finally held and the outcome was what many of the delegates and observers expected. All of the original delegation were re-elected. There were 1,488 ballots cast. The Christoffel delegates got from 1,121 for Christoffel to 1,086 for Schemling. The highest-vote for a Reuther-Nordstrom delegate was 337.

The new election was held under strict supervision of the committee of seven sent from the convention with a certified public accountant to certify the vote. The committee determined eligibility and selected the chairman for the nominating meeting. These were the two questions under dispute when the first committee returned after having done nothing.

When the delegates had been seated everyone thought that the Allis-Chalmers affair was ended but the Stalinists would not have it so. One of their wild men got the floor and made a motion that the convention send an apology to the “Allis-Chalmers workers” for having refused to seat the delegates. This almost threw the convention into turmoil again. Christoffel finally came to his senses and in a short speech declared that, the Allis-Chalmers incident should be closed. Hs asked that the motion be withdrawn. It was finally expunged from the record.

Settle North American Dispute

The North American affair was also finally concluded. This came up under a report of the grievance committee. This was quite a complicated affair. First the convention was called on to decide what to do about Michener and then to decide what to do about placing the region under an administrator. The majority report recommended that Michener be “severely censured ... and barred from holding either elective or appointive office in the International Union or any subordinate body ... for the period of one year.” One minority report recommended that Michener be expelled from the union, that all international representatives in the North American affair who defied the officers of the international and the CIO be prohibited from holding office for five years, to place an administrator over the region but to attempt to get the black-listed rank and file union members reinstated.

The second minority report, presented by Delegate Schuller, recommended that the position taken on the strike by Murray, Thomas and Frankensteen be upheld, that efforts be made to have the eight black-listed workers reinstated, that the cases of the international representatives who were fired bo taken up by the board on their individual merits, that no administrator be appointed, that Michener be barred only from the right to be elected to the international board.

The Schuller recommendations were carried by the convention. This was the resolution that was the soundest of the three and in which an attempt was made to settle the matter by keeping the interest of the union in mind. The signers of the majority resolution were out to get Michener and had no concern for the concrete situation that developed the North American affair. The other minority resolution was a vicious faction affair that was out for blood and was determined to have it even though the entire union was disrupted. In the course of the discussion, Mortimer took the floor and made a long speech. He severely attacked Frankensteen and defended his own course, but admitted that Michener had made some mistakes.

Discussion on “Red” Issue

One other highlight of the convention was the discussion and vote on resolutions dealing with the so-called “red” issue. These resolutions were proposals to amend the constitution to bar members and followers of “subversive” organizations from holding office in the UAW. There were three proposals: the majority coming from the Reuther brothers faction, the Stalinist minority proposal and the super-minority proposal submitted by Delegate Kitzman of Local 180.

The Reuther brothers faction amendment was as follows:

“No member or supporter of any organization whose loyalty to a foreign government or who supports organizations which approve of totalitarian forms of government, shall be eligible to hold elective or appointive office in the International Union or any subdivision thereof. The regular trial procedure provided for in this constitution shall be observed in this regard.”

The Stalinist minority amendment read:

“No member of any local union located in the United States of America shall be eligible to hold any elective or appointive position in the International Union or any local union of this International Union if he is proved to be a member of the following:

“(a) A member and subject to the discipline of any political organization such as the Communist, Fascist or Nazi organizations which owes allegiance to any foreign government.

“(b) A member or agent of any minority political party such as the Socialist Party which seeks to impose upon the UAW-CIO a trade union policy and principles separate and apart, or in opposition to, the policies and principles of the Congress of Industrial Organizations.”

The Stalinist amendment also provided that no member should be barred from holding office until charges have been preferred by a member of his local organization and found guilty in a trial conducted by his local organization.

Kitzman Resolution Passes

The super-minority report said:

“No member of any local union shall be eligible to hold any elective or appointive position in this International Union or any union in this International Union if he is a member or subservient to any political organization, such as the Communist, Fascist, or Nazi organization, which owes its allegiance to any foreign government, directly or indirectly.”

The amendment then set forth the trial procedure which is essentially the same as that provided for in the minority amendment. This is the amendment which was passed.

It is clear that the three proposals are essentially alike in excluding from office those who are members of organizations having allegiance to a foreign government. It should also be clear that the real intent of the amendment was to get at the Stalinists. Nobody was very conscious of the present of organized groups of Fascists and Nazis. The fact that these elements work in an entirely different manner from the Stalinists, and the further fact that such groups or individuals are difficult to spot, due to the manner in which they function, led the delegates to take this factor rather lightly. This was not really what they were hitting at despite the fact that they are opposed to these groups and individuals.

Also, they did not seem to realize that there are reactionaries in the union who for all practical purposes are similar to “Fascists and Nazis” in that they hold similar viewpoints in relation to union democracy and militancy. The inclusion of “Fascists and Nazis” was really a formality and had no real and concrete meaning. for instance, there are groups in the Association of Catholic Trade Unionists in the international which are as reactionary as Henry Ford himself. There are members of the Black Legion and the Ku Klux Klan. These members are virtually “Fascists and Nazis,” but the amendment does not reach them.

Typical Stalinist Trickery

The worst and most criminal role in this situation was played by the Stalinists. This was to be expected, of course. Their amendment was the traditional Stalinist trickery, skullduggery and treachery. They were the best “democrats,” the true and simple trade unionists. Their main attack, made by Lindahl, was not against barring members for their political beliefs: they amendments because the Socialist Party was not included and named. Lindahl made a long speech in which he read extracts from the Socialist Party program dealing with the manner in which socialists should function in the unions through their Socialist Leagues. The delegates could not take this seriously because they knew that the SP is perfectly harmless and that its revolutionary fervor is only a literary exercise and a topic for windjamming at party conventions. The delegates knew that the SP members in the unions function as they please and do not submit to party discipline.

Furthermore, any delegate with any intelligence and experience could see that the Reuther brothers faction was not an SP caucus, but only an odd collection of a few SP members, muddleheaded liberals and the most blatant and stinking reactionaries in the convention. The Reuther brothers faction was really a personal “power caucus” led by union politicians who only wanted to assume control of the international, some of them for personal aggrandizement and prestige. Functioning as a disciplined SP group was farthest from their thoughts.

The delegates voted for the super-minority amendment because they believed that it was this amendment which really aimed at protecting the international. They knew that the Reuther majority amendment was a factional amendment They knew that the Stalinist amendment was purely a maneuver. They wanted to tie the Stalinists and the only way they knew was to vote for the super-minority amendment. They voted for this amendment after they were told by Thomas that he favored the majority amendment.

The point that most be made is that there was no force, no group at the convention that could give correct political leadership and guidance to the delegates. There was no group or individual among the delegates who took the floor on this and other questions to discuss the many political issues that came before the convention. The progressive and militant delegates did the best they could alone. There was no one to educate them, present proposals and fight for their adoption. There was no difficulty about this because the convention was democratic and any delegate could take the floor and say what he wanted on the various questions that arose.

The convention was really in the control of the delegates. As I remarked last week, on every issue that they understood, they voted what they believed to be in the best interests of the international, no matter what position the leadership took. President Thomas remarked once that most of the proposals he had made had been voted down.

A majority of the delegates were in somewhat of a fog on the major political questions that came before the convention. This is not surprising, since workers do not and can not get correct political education from their trade union leaders, the Stalinists or from the careerist and opportunist stuff dished out by such people as the Reuthers and Frankensteens. This was clear in the resolution passed on the war. This resolution, which embodied the Thomas position, said that the international supported the “defense program” but was opposed to the participation of the United States in “foreign wars.” Any delegate with a correct political program and the necessary ability could have taken the floor on this resolution and explained the true character of imperialist war to the delegates.

How the Leaders Acted

The worst individual role in the convention was played by Frankensteen. He displayed himself as the worst type of trade union job seeker and opportunist. He was ready to make any deal that would give him place, publicity and prestige. On the whole he was a dud and no one seemed to have any respect for him despite the formal whitewashing which he received in connection with his strikebreaking role in the North American strike.

The Reuthers were a couple of Hillmanite hypocritical and pious red-baiting union politicians who were anxious to tie the convention to the imperialist war moves of Roosevelt. The Stalinists we have already discussed enough. they and their reactionary antics are well known.

It must be said that the convention, on the whole, was an excellent demonstration of the power of the industrial union movement. Here were serious, intelligent and militant workers who wanted to see a job done. They want and will insist on a democratic union. They want the aircraft factories organized. They want higher wages and without longer hours. They are not warmongers. They can be directed toward the liberation of the working class if some political movement arises that will honestly educate, inspire, lead and conduct them through the internal and external entanglements of capitalist society and imperialist warmongering.

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