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David Coolidge

A Summary of the Fourth National Convention of the CIO

CIO Stand on War Weakens
Its Fight for Labor’s Needs

(1 December 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 48, 1 December 1941, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

After a week of deliberations, during which all the main controversial questions were either muffled or smoothed over, the fourth national convention of the CIO came to an end with the tumultuous and “unanimous” re-election of Phillip Murray to the presidency.

It had been a week in which some delegates, spectators and the capitalist press were waiting for something to-happen. But whatever it was they were waiting for, it never came to pass, that is on the convention floor. There were tilts in committees, disagreements and hot words – but not a single minority, resolution or report came before the convention. All dissenters were either persuaded to go along or at least to abstain in the convention sessions. The best that they could do was to take a few wild and harmless punches at each other in the Statler Hotel.

The Task Murray Set Himself

THE CIO leadership headed by Murray seemed to have had one big idea in mind, one paramount task to perform. That task was to prove to Roosevelt first, then to Congress, business and the “public” that the CIO is in full support of what; is known as “the President’s foreign policy” and the “defense” program. The big idea in the mind of the delegates was the reflection of Murray. This is not to say that these actions were the sole contributions of the convention; the gathering did other things – things that were extremely important – but all other questions, no matter what their importance, took second place to the resolution on the war and the re-election of Murray.

These two actions called forth most of the “debate” at the convention. The speeches as a whole were of the routine and hollow kind that didn’t carry much conviction. This doesn’t apply of course to the case of Murray’s re-election, because Murray should have been re-elected. There was no contest and there could have been none.

Murray’s Strength in the Organization

All the talk in the capitalist press about Murray now being the strong man of the CIO and that he will now lead the organization in his own name and not merely as the deputy of John L. Lewis, is just so much tripe and nonsense. Ever since his election at Atlantic City last year; Murray has been in command of the CIO and has not been a deputy of Lewis. He was the only candidate for the office and in the nature of things could have been the only candidate. His re-election by unanimous vote of the convention was in the bag and all the parading, shouting and seconding speeches by all the CIO vice-presidents was just so much ballyhoo and a sheer waste of time.

What was the convention trying to prove by the 35 minute ovation after Murray’s nomination by Kennedy? These were the same people that had given Lewis a 45 minute ovation the year before at Atlantic City. Should anything happen that would make it impossible for Murray to be a candidate next year and Lewis came forward, these CIO leaders would be just as vociferous and voluble for Lewis as they were this year for Murray. I hope that Phil Murray understands this sort of thing. I think that Lewis does. There were the Stalinists, who last year inflated the ovation for Lewis (and against Murray) to 45 minutes; this year, they, were bellowing, all over the place about Murray’s great leadership and what a calamity the CIO would face without the leadership of Murray. The performances of these scoundrels in the convention must have turned Murray’s stomach.

Of course, for many delegates, that is those under the influence of Hillman, the demonstration for Murray, was a demonstration against Lewis. Hillman had slipped into Detroit a few days before the opening of the convention to organize his faction and to prepare for the convention sessions. This is the, only method that Hillman; can use in fighting Lewis since he and of course none of his lieutenants is any match for Lewis in the open, There must have been a lot of scared Hillmanites present who were fearful that Lewis would show up some day.

I say that the unanimous re-election of Murray was indicated not only for the reason that there was no one else but also because, within the framework of his outlook and understanding, Murray had made an excellent CIO president. This despite his bungling of the North American situation, his “for and against” attitude in connection with “mediation” boards, his support of the war while he at the same time protests that he is no war-monger, his naive belief in the “Murray Plan,” his all-out support of the “defense”’ program and his simultaneous claim that the CIO will never surrender its gains but will, continue to fight for greater gains while the war is on.

The most important reason for which the delegates: gave Murray full support was that they had earlier adopted significant resolutions giving; the stand of the CIO on the questions of war and national “defense.” The positions taken in these resolutions were Murray’s. To adopt Murray’s program and then repudiate Murray, or even to waver on the re-election of Murray just would not make sense. This also goes for all those like A.D. Lewis and the delegates from the miners, who, although they did not vote for the war resolution, did not oppose it or offer any substitute. There was no leadership in the convention except the Murray leadership. Not a single delegate took the floor to oppose the resolution on giving full support to Roosevelt’s “foreign policy” and the “defense” program.

Opposition to War Resolution Silent

Despite the fact that national CIO conventions are pretty well oiled and with the top leaders at the controls, they did not perhaps expect such easy sailing with the resolution in support of the war. Even with opposition the resolution would have passed. What opposition there was had no leadership present. Furthermore, no program had been or was put forth by any opposition, actual or potential.

The tactical procedure followed by the convention leaders must have caused them some sleepless nights. They had the job of supporting Lewis and his miners in an actual strike, justifying their withdrawal from the National Defense Mediation Board and at the same time proving their loyalty to Roosevelt and “our country.” This was a big order and I got the impression that Murray wasn’t very happy in the role of captain attempting to steer the CIO ship away from the rocks. And then too there were the millions of workers organized in the CIO, including some of the lowest paid and most exploited workers in the United States. There are the Negro workers who are not benefiting much from the President’s “foreign policy” and the “defense” program. The rank and file membership had to be kept in mind.

The capitalist press wasn’t much impressed with the “for and against” attitude of the convention. The bosses wanted complete capitulation, open repudiation of the mine strike and, a harmonious rejection of any and all militant actions by the CIO unions. The Hillmanites were in complete agreement with the bosses on these matters. Krzyski, Potofsky and Rosenbloom were there as delegates and Irwin and Hardman were on the sidelines. To these can be added the smaller Hillman fry like Reuther and others.

Initiate Organizing Drive in the South

The outstanding decision of the convention, so far as benefits to labor are concerned, was the decision to initiate an organizing campaign in the South. This is to be the next great organizing effort of the national CIO. At another kind of convention this decision would have called forth the kind of discussion such an important project deserves. Everybody was for it, of course, but nothing much was said about it in the convention. Such a proposal could have and should have been made a big thing. Carrying the CIO into the South means penetrating the most reactionary section of the country with the most militant trade union in the country today. It means bringing industrial unionism to the most oppressed workers in the country.

The convention reaffirmed its former position on the question of the poll tax and passed a strong resolution against lynching and in support of federal anti-lynching legislation, Ferdinand Smith, Negro secretary of the National Maritime Union, took the floor on the anti-lynching resolution. It was significant, however, that Smith did not speak on the resolution supporting Roosevelt’s “foreign policy.” He could have tied up the war resolution with the status and plight of the Negro in the United States and opposed the passage of the resolution as the representative of the most oppressed of the workers who had nothing to gain by support of the imperialist war. But being a Stalinist, it was not in the cards for Smith to oppose the resolution supporting the war.

There was a resolution calling for raising the minimum pay of soldiers in the army to $60 a month. The convention also went on record opposing the practice of the War Department in training draftees for strikebreaking.

Prove They Want to “Get into Line”

The leadership not only demonstrated in the resolution on foreign policy that it was anxious to get into line but it wanted to make it clear that the CIO is not opposed to “mediation.” This despite the recent experiences with the “Mediation” Board. A resolution passed, with the usual uncritical attitude, putting the organization on record as favoring the exhausting of all “mediation” and “conciliation” services before resortting to a strike. The intention of the leadership in this resolution was clearly to say that although the CIO had had difficulties with a certain “mediation” board that this did not mean that the CIO will take any future boards of the same stripe lightly.

The Currier case was the event that was expected to let off the fireworks against Hillman. But there were to be no fireworks. Murray saw to that. A resolution was presented and adopted condemning the OPM for its handling of the Currier matter, but Hillman was not mentioned by name. In attempting to go further, the convention on the last day adopted a resolution calling on the OPM and other government department and agencies to “take immediate positive action to set aside the AFL’s collusive contracts” in certain plants on the Pacific Coast. The leadership of the convention stood firm against the naming of Hillman, despite the fact that Hillman is known to all of them as the one person responsible for the establishment of these “collusive contracts” and for refusing the contract to the Currier Company in favor of a collusive contract with the AFL.*

This failure to let a resolution condemning Hillman come before the convention for discussion and vote made it impossible to determine the relative strength of Lewis and Hillman in the convention. It is my opinion that a resolution condemning Hillman would not have been carried in the convention. Not because Hillman had anything that could be called a Hillman majority, but for the reason that the majority of the convention delegates were against the attitude of Lewis in connection with the “national emergency” and support of the President.

Not only this, but it is important to note that it really would not have made sense to pass a resolution condemning Hillman in the Currier case after voting for the resolution to support the Roosevelt “foreign policy” and full support to the “defense” program. On the all-important question of the war, the convention, including Murray, was in full agreement with Hillman. Furthermore, Hillman’s idea of applying the resolutions passed by the convention is to do precisely just such things as he did in the Currier case and what he did in connection with the AFL “collusive contracts” on the Pacific Coast. The CIO voted full support to the “defense” program. Hillman’s idea of carrying this out is to keep down “jurisdictional” quarrels between the AFL and the CIO.

It remains to be seen how Murray will face the many serious problems that will confront the CIO in the coming year. He didn’t make a very good start in the convention. He will learn as he goes along with the campaign to organize the South, to fight the poll tax, to oppose lynching, to collaborate with “mediation” boards and the other things that he has in mind, that the ruling class has not been fooled by any of the conciliatory resolutions and speeches made in the convention. They will still demand the complete capitulation of Murray and the whole CIO.

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