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[David Coolidge]

David Coolidge Reports on CIO Convention

Discussion on Wages Reveals Basic Error
in the CIO’s Orientation

(30 November 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 48, 30 November 1942, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

(Continued from last week)

The presence of high government officials at the recent CIO convention helped to decide the tone of the convention, give it its real meaning, and make clear the real reason why the convention was being held. Last week we commented on the speeches of Bard and Pepper. It should be reported also that on the first day Under Secretary of War Patterson addressed the convention. All that was necessary to have the three branches of the government represented was to have some justice of the Supreme Court present and making a speech.

This Convention, probably to a greater degree than preceding ones, was devoted almost wholly to support of the imperialist war and devising suggestions as to how the government might more efficiently and effectively prosecute its war. All was not clear sailing for the leadership, however. Although the delegates were not from the rank and file, they were people in close contact with the rank and file, and people faced with serious questions arising in the shops.

Furthermore, the leadership itself knew that its policy of retreat and capitulation had not succeeded in accomplishing those things which had been claimed for such a policy. For instance, it was clear even to the most obtuse of the bureaucrats that their famous slogan of “Victory Through Equality of Sacrifice” had been made applicable only to the workers and had not touched in any appreciable way the profits and income of the bosses.

Wages and the War

The longest discussion in the convention revolved around the resolutions on manpower, total war mobilization, and stabilization of national economy. These were the chief resolutions relating to the conduct of the war with which the convention was concerned.

The resolution on stabilization pointed out that (a) wages had been stabilized; (b) cost has not been controlled; (c) overall and democratic rationing has not been accomplished; (d) the 1942 tax legislation actually takes away from the low income groups money which they need to pay the bare necessities of life. Then this resolution resolves that “labor does not seek any special privileges. we merely seek the adoption of policies which will assure the maximum utilization of all our manpower and all our resources in a manner that will guarantee an early victory in this war.” After which it calls for a “win-the-war tax program.”

The resolution closes with, the contention that “wages should continue to be stabilized but not frozen. The wage program should be measured in terms of what will best assure the most efficient, workers for production ... wage freezing must be condemned as a blow against the fullest prosecution of our war effort.”

A Feeble Distinction

It is very difficult for anybody to discover and understand what exactly is the distinction that the CIO leadership makes between what is called “wage stabilization” and “wage freezing.” The resolution and the leading speakers in the convention ignored completely the fact that the policy of the War Labor Board, which was laid down in the Little Steel decision, is a policy which ties the workers to their standard of living as of January 1, 1941.

Labor Action has already pointed out that this decision and procedure simply mean the stabilization and freezing of a low standard of living. It provides no opportunity for an improved standard of living and for increased real economic benefits. Furthermore, the vague language of the resolution about paying wages that will create the highest production is really nonsense. It is significant that nothing is said in this resolution about a demand for higher wages to limit the tremendous profits of the bosses. All these bureaucrats are concerned with is wages high enough to guarantee maximum production. This for the reason that they are concerned primarily with support of the imperialist war.

The resolution on total war mobilization says in part that

“total war mobilization cannot operate or be organized except through the direct and fullest participation of labor – not through any advisory committee, but with labor given the highest responsibility in the formulation and execution of all the policies and activities. This full and equal representation of labor has not been achieved ... the CIO therefore demands the participation of labor in all the administrative agencies which make and execute our war policies – and at every level.”

Source of Difficulty

This is really a demand not only for the placing of labor representatives in the administrative agencies, but also a demand for the placing of labor in responsible cabinet positions. This must be true because the formulation and execution of policies and activities is a political function. The tragic and naive incompetence of the CIO leadership to think clearly on this question is really the source of the difficulties that the CIO and its membership face today.

This was further illustrated in the discussion of the resolution on the recent elections. This resolution said that “with the forces of labor and other supporters of the leadership of our Commander-in-Chief not always united, and with the finger not accurately pointed to the conveyors of confusion and of internal opposition, the candidates qualified for membership in a true win-the-war Congress went down to defeat.”

In the discussion of the resolution, one delegate said that in Michigan from 25 to 35 per cent of “our people were not even registered to vote. They don’t even think that it is important to register, and then when election day comes around they do not get out and cast their ballots ... Although we haven’t got any form of socialism or technocracy or anything else, collective bargaining as we have come to know it has probably been taken over by the government.”

In the discussion of this resolution there were many things said about the necessity of labor being represented in the government. Comparison was made with the situation in England, but nobody seemed to! be aware of the fact that in England it is not the trade unions as such that are represented in the government, but the British Labor Party. They talked in this convention as though the problems of labor can be solved simply by placing a dozen or so trade union leaders, as trade union leaders, on the administrative board.

There was a great deal of shooting at the mark, but everybody missed. The real question that was posed before the convention was independent political action, a break from the Democratic and Republican Parties, and the establishment of an Independent Labor Party, national in extent. But the convention and its leadership steered clear of that logical conclusion.

The resolution on manpower called for the full utilization of all workers, Negro, alien and women, and a demand that every restriction on their use be broken down and eliminated. [line of text missing] drafting of labor. It was urged that a national mobilization plan be adopted “with full participation of all elements in our population” in order to “bring about the integration of our war machinery.”

Reuther Approaches Genuine Point

At the request of Murray, Reuther made a long speech during the discussion on the total war mobilization resolution. In the course of his speech he remarked that

“Mr. Nelson is not a New Dealer, and if you check the people who make up the War Production Board you will find for every New Dealer there are two hundred rock-ribbed reactionary Republicans. They are making the policy in Washington ... I came back from Washington about three weeks ago in a plane. There were two representatives of the War Production Board in front of me ... They were reading the news about Stalingrad. One fellow said: ‘All we have to do is just give the Russians enough so they can hang on, and they will destroy each other.’”

Reuther also told the convention about a document being circulated in Washington by one of Nelson’s closest advisers “which proves beyond doubt that Mr. Weinberg is using material put out by a notorious strike-breaker, labor-baiter and Jew-baiter in the city of Chicago, one Harry Jung, who has been carrying on a vicious campaign against labor. Mr. Weinberg is using material from this fellow’s agency in his fight inside the War Production Board against organized labor.”

It is interesting that in the course of this speech Reuther approached the heart of the difficulties that the workers in the shops face today; that is the problem of getting their grievances settled. He said: “We go to management and they say take it to Washington. We know that we can’t take shop grievances to Washington.” Reuther’s solution for this difficulty, however is not to make a demand for the restoration of genuine collective bargaining between the workers and the bosses. Instead he suggested that the regional offices of the War Labor Board appoint arbitrators to handle grievances.

The whole discussion revealed that the entire course of the CIO during the past year has been one which has and could only lead to defeat for the membership. Time and again leading speakers emphasized the point that the course pursued during past months has not produced the results that the leadership evidently expected.

What we want to emphasize is the fact, known to every militant member of the CIO, that defeat was guaranteed when the right to strike was surrendered. It is known in every shop and factory that when the threat of strike was removed the whole management, from plant owner down to the smallest foreman, began a planned policy of riding the workers and refusing to discuss grievances. It is also known by every worker that there is one way and only one way to correct this situation and that is to go back to the time-honored methods that have proved effective in forcing management to settle grievances. All the talk about supporting our Commander-in-Chief will have absolutely no influence on hard-headed corporation executives.

Next week we will resume this report, dealing with the Stalinists, the United Mine Workers, unity, and the resolution on discrimination.

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