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A.J. Muste

Green-Woll Forces Suffer Heavy Setback
at AFL Convention

Rift Among Fakers Gives Industrial Unionism an Opportunity;
Red Resolution May Fail to Pass

(19 October 1935)

From New Militant, Vol. 1 No. 43, 19 October 1935, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The fortunes of battle ebb and flow at Atlantic City in the most exciting convention of the American Federation of Labor since the war.

While the convention is still in progress as we go to press and a definitive evaluation must wait until its close, certain assertions can safely be made as a result of the events of the last couple of days. The rift in the leadership between the Green-Woll and Lewis-Hillman-Dubinsky, etc. forces is out in the open. There will be a more open and intense struggle between various tendencies in the Federation during the coming year than at any time since the early 1920’s. Thereby genuine progressive and militant elements are given a magnificent opportunity, if they know how to take advantage of it.

The old guard received a stunning blow when John L. Lewis arose in the dramatic fashion he knows so well how to use and asked (alter the regular time for presenting resolutions had expired) tor unanimous consent to introduce two resolutions. Amid electric tension two die-hard old guard leaders, Wharton of the Machinists and Covelski of the Hotel and Restaurant Workers, objected unless the resolutions were first read.

The Slam at Woll

Thus the drama was heightened, which undoubtedly was just what Lewis wanted. His first and most important resolution, which after his reading of it was referred to the Resolutions Committee, would forbid any officer of the A.F. of L. from holding membership or office in the National Civic Federation, the peace-between-capital-and-labor organization founded by Mark Hanna, which in recent years, with Matthew Woll as acting president and the notorious Ralph Easley as secretary, has specialized in red-baiting and other forms of extreme Toryism. The Lewis resolution was, of course, aimed primarily at Woll himself, leading spokesman and strategist of the old line craft unionists in the convention. To smear Woll as one primarily identified with an organization outside the labor movement and against which a deep resentment existed at least in many of the unions, and thereby to deprive the craft unionists of their right to claim that they are the only simon-pure pillars of trade unionism, was Lewis’ aim.

That his shot took effect in a vital spot was indicated when only a few hours later Woll announced that he had resigned from the National Civic Federation! Never, at least in the past 30 years has a leader of Woll’s prominence in the A.F. of L. “lost face” so swiftly and thoroughly.

Not only was this a blow at the craft unionists’ position but Lewis’ stroke also served to discredit the “red baiting” proposals of Woll and Company and the indications now are that the two-thirds vote necessary to pass the amendment to the A.F. of L. constitution barring all “Communists” from membership will not be obtained, and that at best the old guard will be able to put over some comparatively mild resolution against the “reds.”

Industrial Unionism Edged Out

On the other hand, as the New Militant predicted last week, the advocates of a clear-cut resolution for industrial unionism in the mass production industries proved too optimistic in their expectation that they could get a majority in this convention. The Woll-Frey-Wharton forces rallied by 18,025 to 10,826, the majority report of the Resolutions Committee which reaffirms the San Francisco decision of last year. This decision permits the Executive Council to issue international charters to workers in such industries as rubber and automobiles but specifies that the craft unions of the Federation retain jurisdiction over the skilled craftsmen in these industries. The effect is instead of setting up a genuine industrial union to put the unskilled and semi-skilled into a “restricted industrial union’’ and to separate the skilled workers from them and from each other in a dozen or more craft groups.

Analysis of the role of Lewis and Company in developing government-sponsored unionism on which, incidentally, reactionaries such as Woll and Frey made acute observations in the convention, must wait for our next issue. Suffice it here to make one important point. Lewis is nothing if not a shrewd politician. He seeks power. He does not cast himself in the role of a martyr making a splendid but futile fight for lost causes. When, therefore, Lewis now delivers a bitter and devastating attack on one of the pillars of the Federation, Matthew Woll himself, when he deliberately and publicly widens the breach between the old guard and other elements, when he shouts from the housetop what hitherto has been whispered only behind closed doors by any prominent Federation leader, namely, that the A.F. of L is “a total failure” under its present leadership, when he who was an unswerving supporter of Tory Republicanism under Coolidge and Hoover, flirts with the idea of a labor party, when he who in the past has hounded progressives, not to speak of radicals in his own union more bitterly than any other international president, now protests against one of Matthew Woll’s proposals to protect the Federation from “reds” as simply part of a general movement throughout the country against all “progressive and liberal thought,” it can mean only one thing:

Lewis knows that the sentiment of the rank and file in his own union and among the workers generally is such that anyone who now seeks power and influence among the workers must cast himself in the role of a progressive and fighter, even a “radical”!

The vote on the craft union resolution already referred to indicates that the old guard is far from licked. It would be dangerous for genuine progressives to cherish any illusions about a smooth road ahead. It would be downright suicidal to get a false conception. of the role Lewis himself will play – for them to regard him as basically a friend rather than as a much more subtle and powerful enemy than the mere has-beens, Woll and Green. But the indications which this convention has given of how astute and hard-boiled labor politicians gauge the spirit of insurgency among the workers, plus the fact of a rift in the A.F. of L. leadership such as have never before occurred in all the 55 years of its history, opens wide the door for a mighty advance in building the left wing in the various unions and in the A.F. of L. as a whole.

Take the offensive! Press the fight. Be bold, be bold, be thrice bold. That is what the Atlantic City convention says to the militants.

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