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E.R. McKinney

Comment on the AFL and CIO Unity Meeting

A United Labor Movement
is an Urgent Need

(19 May 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 19, 19 May 1947, p. 8.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Right at the time the Senate, under the leadership of Robert Taft, was hacking away the rights of the American working class; committees of the CIO and AFL were meeting in Washington and trying to agree on a formula for merging the two organizations. The two committees did not reach agreement on unification, nor did they take any steps toward practical collaboration in fighting the “union control” bills of the House or the Senate.

William Green announced after the conference that it was the unanimous opinion of the AFL and CIO “that organic unity should be established within the American labor movement ... This decision is based upon the modern trend of economic, social and industrial life ... In the meantime we shall continue our efforts to prevent the enactment of highly objectionable anti-labor legislation now being considered in the Congress of the United States.”

The AFL proposed that the CIO unions affiliate with the AFL on the same basis as the miners had affiliated in 1946. This was a change from the former demand of the AFL that the CIO unions functioning in fields which had been originally chartered by the AFL, turn over their members to the AFL union having jurisdiction in that field. This proposal of the AFL that the CIO affiliate does not, of course, settle the question as to whether or not the CIO unions are to maintain their organizational integrity. What does affiliation to the AFL mean? This was no problem with the miners, since the AFL miners union was a small .and relatively insignificant union. At any rate, the Progressive Miners of America (AFL) left when the UMWA was admitted. Very serious “jurisdictional” disputes could arise, however, in connection with the affiliation of unions in maritime, metals, chemicals, office workers, electrical industry, etc.

CIO Position Is for Industrial Unionism

The CIO took the position that “any new organizational structure shall give full and complete recognition to the principle of industrial organization.” Also, that the new organization “shall provide for the creation of effective labor political action machinery for advancing the legislative objectives of organized labor, between elections and at election time. We regard the exercise of the rights of citizenship as a cornerstone of democratic trade unionism.” The CIO also proposed that AFL and CIO unions operating in the same field “should also meet to explore the possibility of joint action in the carrying out of the above program in their respective fields.”

The two committee! got nowhere on these concrete and significant proposals. And right here is revealed again the deep and fundamental differences at the root of the disagreement between the two organizations. While the division is not based primarily on differences in principle, the division is of such a nature as to lead, ultimately to basic economic and political principles. Inherent in the situation and the division is the question of how, and by what road shall the labor movement proceed to solve the main problem facing the working class today.

In the CIO program for unification the problems are at least hinted at, when the demand is made for safeguarding industrial unionism and for “labor political-action machinery.” Such proposals demonstrate that labor is, to say the least, becoming aware of the necessity for something more than mere economic action of the traditional trade union variety. Also, there is recognition of the superiority of industrial over craft unionism, not only in the sphere of economic demands, but also the greater effectiveness of industrial organization in the promotion of political organization and activity.

While the leadership of the CIO does not understand and grasp the full import of their program, the AFL leadership understands this far less. Green and the AFL international presidents do not understand the meaning and power of industrial organization, but they do know that what the CIO proposes is not conducive to the strengthening and perpetuation of their old-fashioned craft unionism. They know also that industrial unionism tends to promote a form of centralization which gives a more unified program to the labor movement than is desired by the big international presidents of the AFL. Above all, these AFL bureaucrats understand that industrial unionism opens the way for greater internal democracy, wider educational development for the rank and file and tends toward greater mass militancy. They know all this will lead to new modes of thinking, new demands and to a heightened militant and political consciousness in the ranks of labor.

AFL Fears Militancy of Mass Unions

The AFL bureaucrats are aware of these things. They are aware too that there outmoded craft union mentality, their 1886 trade union philosophy, cannot possibly stand up against the pressure of the mass production workers. Their bureaucratic interests are involved. They do not plan to abdicate their craft union thrones. They resist every effort of the lower orders in industry to disturb the dominance of the labor aristocracy. Hence, the impudent and reactionary proposal of 1939 that certain CIO unions turn over their memberships to AFL internationals. Now they only propose that the CIO unions affiliate with the AFL in the same way that the UMWA did.

When Green states that “organic unity should be established within the American labor movement” and that “this decision is based upon the modern trend of economic, social and industrial life,” while at the same time the AFL refuses to do this, or fails to understand the real content of that statement, no effective basis is established for unification and effective functioning after unification.

What is this “modern trend” that Green mentions? It Is the accomplishment of mass production based on scientific discovery, technological development and the tremendous growth of human needs and wants. It Is the victory of industrial capitalism over merchant capitalism. It is the tremendous expansion of capitalist production, which creates a place for the big industrial unit and for the assembling of thousands of workers in a single plant and in a single industry. It is the passage from the hand tool to the automatic machine. It is the change which created the mass industrial working class and which made this group of workers the decisive workers In industry. The craft worker has been forced into a subordinate place in the production process and in society.

Class Struggle Demands Up-to-Date Methods

On the social side the “trend” means a tendency toward the unification of the working class, for greater efficiency in the struggle for its economic and social demands. It means the widening of the horizon of labor to include political action as the capstone of the struggles of the working class.

Furthermore, it is not enough to speak vaguely, as does Green, about “the modern trend of economic, social and industrial life.” We must speak precisely of the modern trend of capitalist society, in its economic, social and political aspects. We must speak of the modern trend in the class struggle and how the labor movement should participate in that struggle. To attempt to understand the problems of labor today in any other way is only to court disaster and failure. It is to go on in the old way, to proceed as though the labor movement were back in the eighties, fighting for the eight-hour day and for the establishment of “wage consciousness.”

The CIO program contains all of this in inchoate and somewhat primitive form. It demands “complete recognition of the principle of industrial organization” and “the creation of effective labor political-action machinery ...” The CIO leaders do not know it, but hidden away in this program, implicit in such demands, is the inference that industrial unionism is, or should become, unionism based on the principle of class struggle and not class collaboration. It is not primarily structure, important as this is, but the functional aspects of industrial unionism which should distinguish this type of unionism from craft unionism. On the whole, and in a very elementary way, this has been demonstrated in the life of the CIO.

Here is trade unionism on a higher level than in the craft unions. The whole trend has been to move toward class struggle and away from class collaboration. This instinctive movement of the mass production workers has been consciously retarded by the CIO top bureaucracy, with its deliberate class collaborationist policies. On all the fundamental issues of relations between the working class and the capitalist ruling class, the CIO leaders see eye to eye with the AFL leadership.

Difference Between the AFL and CIO

The hardened and astute AFL bureaucrats, however, discern the difference between the AFL and CIO. That is why they reject the CIO unification program. They want a unification that will leave the principle of craft unionism intact. They do not want the CIO unions to maintain their identity in anyway which will promote the progress of genuine industrial unionism.

This may account for the fact that the AFL refuses to lay any stress on the need for practical collaboration today between the “two federations. Not only has it been impossible, up to now, for the organizations to agree on a unification formula, they have not yet been able to collaborate nationally against the present offensive of the capitalist ruling class! The CIO proposed that the two federations establish a joint legislative committee to oppose “vicious legislation.” The AFL is not for this; they want immediate unification. Obviously there is something wrong here. What is wrong is precisely what we have said above. The AFL is desirous of ridding itself of the competition of industrial unionism and all that flows from “the principle of industrial organization.” This is the principle of craft unionism in its most gluttonous and reactionary phase.

The labor movement should be united. The realities of the situation show that unification cannot or will not take place now. However, for either leadership to put their own bureaucratic interests ahead of the mass interests of the working class is a stupid and criminal procedure. Collaboration is urgent, imperative and can be organized immediately. The millions of workers in the AFL-CIO will respond and function together against the common enemy. Such collaboration will give a lift to the labor movement and spread disquiet in the ranks of the capitalist ruling class.

A United Labor Movement Is Cure

Organized labor today is not even putting up a very stiff defense against the assaults of the ruling class. The CIO leadership has emerged from wage negotiations in a cold sweat. They entered the negotiations in fear and trembling. They knew that their leadership had not given their membership any cause to believe that their wage demands could be won. They knew that they were in no position to call strikes. This leadership was in full retreat before the sluggings of the capitalist employers, their Congress, their President and their courts. They had no way out except to try to beg a few cents more from the capitalist bosses. This goes for all of them; Murray, Reuther and the Stalinist agents of the Kremlin.

The AFL leadership with their atomized craft federation believe they are in a better position. But they are fools, bloated, reactionary and ignorant fools, with Bill Green at their head and in their protective custody. They are the “sensible unionists,” the “responsible trade unions.” They sit on their treasuries and long for the return of the good old days of “sweetheart” agreements.

Like the Catholic Church hoping that the Protestants will see their “error” and return to “Mother Church,” the AFL hopes the CIO will see its error and return to the “House of Labor.”

In the meantime, Hartley and Taft pound away for the National Association of Manufacturers in Congress. The capitalist bosses barricade themselves behind their billions in profits and dividends. The big capitalist gougers maintain their hold-up prices and store production away in their warehouses, bins and refrigerators.

The cure for this, and the only cure, is a united labor movement, militant and fighting labor movement, labor movement which organizes Itself and plans to, take the offensive against its class enemy. A labor movement striving to place its own representatives in its own congress, in its own government, a workers’ government!

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