Ernest Rice McKinney Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

David Coolidge

CIO Convention Plans Wage Fight
and Southern Drive

(9 December 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 49, 9 December 1946, pp. 3 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

IN a previous article on the recent CIO convention, I discussed only the Statement of Policy adopted in connection with the Communist (Stalinist) Party. In that article a very critical attitude was taken by me in relation to the way this very important question was handled by the convention and I attributed the responsibility for it to Philip Murray’s presentation of the matter.

Despite the fact that the convention got off to a bad start on this matter, and despite the necessity to be sharply critical of Eisenhower’s presence on the rostrum, the convention accomplished some things of great importance.

Before discussing the genuine and worthwhile accomplishments of the convention it is necessary to deal with the Eisenhower episode. The Army Chief of Staff addressed this convention of labor at the very moment the government and the capitalist press proclaimed that the army was “alerted” for duty in connection with the coal strike. Whether or not the government would actually use the army is beside the point. The real point is that, if the army were so employed. Chief of Staff Eisenhower would direct its operations in the same way that the then Chief of Staff MacArthur directed the “bloody Thursday” massacre of unemployed veterans camped on the Anacostia flats in 1932. I do not now wish to go into the matter of the propriety of having army officers speaking at labor conventions; it is enough now to think of it in relation to the persent coal strike.

If Eisenhower and other high officials of the government were so “pleased” and “honored” to appear before a convention of labor it would not have been out of place to have some delegates ask a few pertinent questions. They might have asked what the Chief of Staff thinks about using the army to break strikes. Someone might have asked just what the General meant by his statements: “it is your army and no one’s else.” “The average man benefits from military training.” The army gives “full play for the best of man’s virtues.” We see no reason why a convention of workers should be subjected to verbal machine-gunning from government officials with only the right to sit quietly and applaud at the end of a barrage.

Only the day before Eisenhower’s appearance, the convention had passed a resolution condemning peace-time conscription, one of his pet projects. Would it have been out of place to have Eisenhower stand up and defend his position before the convention? Especially when he says that it is “our” army.

We mean just this: labor conventions should belong to labor and to the delegates in the convention who have been sent there by the membership to legislate for the union, to discuss the union problems and to find solutions for them. This CIO convention had only five days in which to do its work, but hours and hours of the time were consumed in listening to speeches and most of them made no contributions whatever to the problems confronting the delegates.

Convention Gets to Work

Despite the waste of time, the convention did accomplish several things. In the first place, the CIO is slowly moving steadily in the direction of becoming what it should be: the chief economic organization of labor in the U.S. This progress is far too slow but the direction is unmistakable. This is attested to in many ways and by many things. It has to be made clear that my critical comments are made for the purpose of pointing out what needs to be done in order to achieve more quickly the above goal.

The CIO has made real progress in integrating Negro workers into the organization, as well as in fighting for Negro equality in the plants and in the country in general. In relation to the AFL in this matter, the CIO stands out distinctly and to its credit. There were three separate resolutions dealing specifically with problems of Negroes: a resolution entitled Oust Bilbo, another on The Right to Vote, and the third, Protection of Democracy.

The very titles of the resolutions indicate their content. The progressive nature of the convention’s actions on this test question is revealed in the following demands:

Federal, state and Municipal fair employment practices legislation. The immediate enactment of a federal anti-lynching bill. Federal legislation in the District of Columbia against discrimination and segregation and the same legislation in the States. Federal and state legislation invalidating restrictive covenants based on “race, color, creed or national origin.” Safeguards against racial discrimination in federal appropriations for state aid. Federal, state and municipal laws guaranteeing right of suffrage, and against Congressional barriers’ which exclude Negro newspapermen from Senate and House press galleries.

The CIO has attempted to carry the letter and spirit of these resolutions. Negroes occupy a position in the CIO today never before known in the history of the labor movement in this country. I should like to emphasize this. We see in the CIO a most significantly progressive development of race relations and of intra-class solidarity. The Workers Party welcomes this development. It is entirely in accord with the position of the Workers Party which holds that the Negro in the U.S. can gain his freedom not only by the active support, but the initiative of the organized labor movement in the struggle for democratic rights for the Negro. With the establishment of union FEPC committees, the selection of Negroes as members and heads of important CIO committees, even of committees not concerned directly with “the Negro problem,” means that the CIO has placed itself in a position to handle this problem effectively.

This is not to say that the CIO has answered all the problems of discrimination, even in its own ranks. It has not. Many sore spots remain. But the program of the organization is being developed in a correct direction.

Organizing the Unorganized

The convention also dealt with highly important problems of Organizing the Unorganized. This part of the agenda was concerned largely with the campaign to organize the South. The resolution and reports, particularly by Van Bittner and Baldanzi, emphasized that the drive would be continued and stepped up. This was important because of rumors that have been making the rounds that the drive was falling off and that in the future each international would be expected to finance its own operations.

Baldanzi remarked in his speech that the drive should not be understood as an “Operation Dixie.” He explained this by saying that the Southern workers are not hostile and that they wanted to be organized. But here Baldanzi seemed to be missing the point. The expression “Operation Dixie” is an excellent designation for this campaign. The slogan is not directed against the Southern worker but against the same forces in the South encompassed by the first Operation Dixie, namely, against the rulers of the South and their Northern masters. It is an operation against the South’s “peculiar institution” of 1946; against the mill owners, the cotton planters, the poll tax, lynching, mob rule and all the dark and reactionary forces of the South. This operation can only be carried out by the working class of the North with the participation of the Southern toilers, white and black. This it seems to me is what the slogan “Operation Dixie” must mean.

There was a resolution pledging the organization to fight against anti-labor injunctions. Since the convention was sitting at the very moment that the injunction against the miners was issued, the resolution was amended as follows:

“We condemn the actions taken by the federal government in obtaining a sweeping injunction against the United Mine Workers of America. This is a clear violation of the Norris-LaGuardia Act. No anti-labor injunctions can dispose of the problems now confronting workers who see their earnings shrink before the fast-rising cost of living. American democracy cannot tolerate any attempt to impose economic slavery through vicious anti-labor injunctions.”

The question of Lewis and the miners’ strike really pervaded this convention. Not much was said but it was clear that the leadership was worried and disturbed over whether or not to support Lewis and on how to separate Lewis from the UMWA. But it is gratifying that a little common sense and a measure of labor solidarity prevailed.

The all-important question of wages was discussed and a program set forth in a resolution. No definite sum for a wage increase was specified. But the resolution is a good one and entirely correct. It is interesting that the resolution does not call on the government to do anything about the wages question. What it does say is that:

“Under present conditions it is therefore imperative that American industry in collective bargaining give substantial wage increases. Our people must have sustained purchasing power and a decent living wage to avert the swift economic tragedy which now confronts us. This is the important task for CIO unions in their approaching collective bargaining conferences.”

There was a resolution on The Jewish People, which urged that “our government immediately enact a code of laws dealing with the hateful evil of racial bigotry ... We must make anti-Semitism and anti-racial acts and incitements a crime.” The government is asked “to open its doors to the thousands of homeless and desperate Jews in Europe.” The government is urged to “bring pressure upon Great Britain to secure the immediate admission of 100,000 Jews to Palestine and the immediate provision for free and unlimited immigration to Palestine and free and unlimited land purchase in Palestine.” It adds “that our government take every possible step to bring about the establishment in Palestine of an independent commonwealth as a Jewish National Home with full guarantees of the legitimate interests of other national groups and equality of rights and opportunities to all its inhabitants.”

The resolution on Foreign Policy called for support to the United Nations Organization, “demilitarization,” and to sever all diplomatic and economic relations with “breeding places of world fascism. (Spain and Argentina.) The resolution calls for “progressive universal disarmament,” that the colonial peoples shall have self-determination and self-government – “free from interference or coercion from any source – benevolent or despotic.” An enduring peace demands “a free, united and independent China ... We call upon all foreign governments as well as our own to cease intervention in Chinese affairs and to end military aid to any faction ... We urge that under no circumstances should food or any other aid given by any country be used as a means of coercing or influencing free but needy people in the exercise of their rights of self-government.” The resolution demands the unity of the “Big Three” and opposes any bloc which would, destroy this unity.

Political Action – The Labor Party

Something which must be emphasized is the fact that the CIO in this convention took under consideration virtually all the important problems with which the masses in the U.S. are concerned. These resolutions place the CIO formally in the position of establishing itself as the spearhead of the working class in its bid for the leadership of the nation. The heads of the CIO understand this in a primitive and naive sort of way. What they do not understand is that the most important questions dealt with by the convention are political and cannot be handled by a trade union or other economic organization.

Inherent in the deliberations of this convention and the resolutions passed is the demand for political action by labor. Not the type of political action engaged in by the PAC, but independent class political action on the part of labor. Implicit in the actions of this CIO convention is the necessity for the organization of an independent labor party. This is really what PAC is faced with: transforming itself into a labor party. There is no way to accomplish the demands set forth in these resolutions except through independent action by the working class. No “third party” will do. The leadership of Morgenthau, Pepper, Ickes and Wallace will not produce the results demanded in these resolutions.

Ernest Rice McKinney Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 27 November 2020