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David Coolidge

First Day of Shipyard Convention Given Over to Pro-War Speeches

(29 September 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 39, 29 September 1941, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

ATLANTIC CITY – The Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers (CIO) opened its seventh national convention here with 290 delegates in attendance representing approximately 86,000 paid-up members. The convention began its sessions with the address of John Green, international president, President Green set the tone and gave the line for what is to follow in the next few days. His opening speech revolved around the war and what, in his opinion, should be the attitude of the shipbuilding workers. “Yes, we support Roosevelt’s foreign policy,” said Green. “We agreed with his pronouncements, with the eight-point program he and Winston Churchill gave to the world, and we agree with his actions to implement these pronouncements, and we say there is no turning back. If the Neutrality Act stands in the way, and I believe is does stand in the way, let it be wiped off the statute books.”

This pronouncement of Green’s can only mean, of course, that it is his opinion that the decks should be cleared for the full active participation of the United States in a “shooting war,” with all that means, including an AEF. Since this came in the presidential address in the first hours of the convention and since no resolutions have been presented, it is too early to say what the reactions of the delegates will be.

Green said further that workers in American unions know “in their hearts that unless we slop this spread of Nazism, this cursed system will engulf us all, and the workers will be the first and last to suffer.” He is evidently attempting to clinch his argument for full support to Roosevelt when he asked:

“Is there any American worker today so blind, so deaf, so unknowing as not to realize that the fate which Hitler imposed upon labor in Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Holland, Belgium and France is the same fate which he holds in store for us if he has his way with the world?

“Is there any so blissfully unconscious as to think that we can pursue our leisurely course in this country and live happily afterward while the rest of the world is under the heel of the Nazi tyrant? If there are any such, I have never met them among the shipyard workers.”

Hillman Influence Strong

The position advanced by Green was carried forward by Charles Irvin of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, who spoke to the convention. Irvin was evidently present for Hillman, whose influence is very strong in this convention. Irvin spoke as a “radical” who was warning the shipyard workers against the present-day Republicans and Democrats. That is he warned the delegates against all Democrats except Roosevelt, who “is the only President since Lincoln who recognizes that there is a working class in the United States.” Irvin told the delegates that the workers must get “power” but they must do it without “violernce.” All this communist stuff, he continued, is only the wildest fantasy. If the workers learn to look out for themselves they can get “power” and all their rights by using the democratic means already provided. Irvin’s idea was that the workers must begin to make the Declaration of Independence work. Also labor should learn what Lincoln said about the priority of labor and take advantage of Lincoln’s position on this question.

The next speaker was Allan A.H. Findly, a member of the British trade union delegation now touring the United States in the interest of increased production of war supplies for England. Mr. Findly is a member of the United Pattern Makers Association, a past president of the Engineering and Shipbuilding Trades Federation and has been generally prominent in the British labor movement for many years.

Findly explained that his delegation, although appointed by the British General Council of Trade Unions and approved by the British government, did not officially represent the General Council of Trade Unions. The reason for this is that the official British movement is formally associated with the AFL in the United States. It is probably true that the CIO is looked upon as a sort of “outlaw” organization. Findly said that it was difficult for the British unionists to understand why there was a split in the American movement; thy can not understand the lack of unity. He suggested mildly that it would be a fine thing if the two organizations would get together so that production of war materials could be increased.

From Findly’s remarks it was clear to the delegates and others that he did not understand the nature of the differences between the AFL and CIO. Also, that he did not understand the history of the CIO industrial union movement and the intense feeling of rank and file CIO members against the AFL.

A Day of Pro-War, Political Speeches

I have emphasized what I have in connection with the first day of this convention because these speeches represented the important and significant part of the first day’s sessions. This is especially true when it is taken into consideration what it is that these speakers represent and what it is they are after.

The Hillman point of view prevails in the convention. This is clear. It is a Roosevelt to Hillman to the shipbuilders convention. The first day was a Roosevelt pro-war day, a day of pro-war POLITICAL speeches. This is interesting when I remember how often I have heard workers in unions and other workers’ organizations resent “politics” coming onto the floor of the union meeting. But today the convention opened with “politics” from the international president; more “politics” from Charles Irvin of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers and then pro-Churchill “politics” from a virtual representative of the British government. But no one took the floor with any anti-war, pro-working class politics.

No one should get the impression that this convention will do nothing but yell for Roosevelt and Churchill. That isn’t the situation at all. There are important matters to come before the union that are the business of the shipyard workers. They will certainly give attention to these matters as they have in the past. This will be reported on in the next Labor Action.

One thing must be commented on: this is another democratic convention. It is not so well organized as the UAW convention, nor as efficient, but operated by the officers just as democratically.

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