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Hugo Oehler

Chicago Meet Unifies Jobless Movement

National Federation Formed
Socialists Forced to Include All Communist Tendencies in Conference
Left Wing Carries Program After Hard Struggle

(May 1933)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 27, 20 May 1933, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Chicago, Ill. – The Chicago Unemployed Conference held at Lincoln Center on May 13, 14, 15, ended by forming the National Federation of Unemployed Workers Leagues of America, with the national office in Chicago, and the election of a National Committee of 15.

Huge Representation

Three national organizations, two others in the process of forming national, state, sectional and city organizations, represented 40 organizations with 826 branches, from 16 states and 25 cities with 96 delegates from all parts of the United States. The Workers’ Committees, Workers Leagues and Unemployed Councils were represented. The Ohio Independence meeting, to be called by the CPLA and the Industrial Workers Unions, both in the process of forming national unemployed organizations, were also represented. Fraternal delegates from political organizations were also present, Al. Glotzer representing the Left Opposition.

Political tendencies from the extreme right to the extreme left attended the conference which was the high mark up to the present in the united front of workers’ organizations. The following political tendencies were represented through different unemployed organizations: Republicans, Democrats, Agrarian reformers, progressives, Borders’ group, socialists, Right wing socialists, militant socialists, left wing socialists, anarchists, Industrial Workers of the World, Musteites, Stalinists, Lovestonites, Right-centre Communists, ultra-Left communists and the Left Opposition. The different political tendencies were, in the main, divided into two different positions at the conference as Right wingers and Left wingers, with the I.W.W. delegates jumping back and forth. Struggles within the two main tendencies marked the high points of the conference and made it possible, thru the ironing out of secondary differences on immediate demands, to conclude the conference with unanimous decisions. The amendments to the reports of the committees were either adopted or rejected and then the report as amended was adopted unanimously.

The greatest numerical weight of the conference was held by the socialist delegates, who were instrumental in calling it. But the hopeless split between their Right and Left wings and the political bankruptcy of the main current of the socialists made them a sorry figure in the conference, which swamped them in defeat and wrapped them up in their own contradictions by obtaining unanimous decisions on the amended reports.

The Left Opposition’s Objectives

The delegates from the unemployed organizations representing our political views (Left Opposition) went to the conference with the following objectives:

  1. To fight for the seating of all unemployed organizations, especially the Unemployed Councils, which the Borders Committee had specified in the call would not be seated.
  2. To have the conference adopt the correct position on the united front and establish it as a working basis for the unemployed organizations.
  3. That the perspective of the conference be the establishment of one national unemployed organization.
  4. To oppose any political, racial, color or creed or discrimination in the unemployed organizations.

These objectives became the established principles by conference decision because other delegates – on the one hand, independent of our and on the other hand, through discussion with us – fought for the same positions, thereby enabling the united Left wing to carry its program.

Our delegates, while concentrating on the above issues were unable to lead an adequate fight for the slogan of the six-hour day, five-day week, with increased pay, which in the main was lost in the resolutions committee.

Several draft programs from different organizations, including a statement of the Left Opposition were passed out to the delegates. Our statement will appear in a coming issue.

The Floor Struggles

The first difference of opinion in the conference came when the credential committee reported, leaving out the credentials of the Unemployed Councils. Delegate Oehler moved an amendment to the report of the credential committee asking for the seating of the Unemployment Council delegates and the fraternal delegates from political organizations that were also left out. Delegate Waters, of the Workers Leagues, amended this by specifying the number of votes they could have. This was agreed to by the representatives of the Unemployed Councils to enable the Left wing of the conference to concentrate on one instead of two amendments. The amendment to seat the delegates from the Unemployed Councils and fraternal delegates carried by a vote of twenty-nine and a half to twenty-five and a half, thereby establishing at the start the principle of no exclusions from the united front. Without the support of the Workers Leagues, the Lovestoneites and the Left Opposition, the Stalinists would not have been seated.

The second important struggle revolved around the question of what kind of an organization this conference would establish. Some delegates, led by the Worker’s Leagues, desired a national organization. Others wanted a continuation of the original Federation and the delegates from the Unemployed Councils merely wanted a continuation committee and united front local and sectional committees. The Musteites, who are calling the July 4th conference, supported the position of the Unemployed Councils.

The report of the constitution committee was rejected, the committee dismissed and a new one elected with Dennis Batt from the Detroit Citizen League as Chairman. They brought in a report favoring a National Federation with city, county and state federations. A Reverend delegate from the Workers Committee amended the report of the committee and advocated a national federation of organizations which give the local units the right to enter or stay out of the federation. The committee and many delegates pointed out that it is in the local units and not in the national committee that we have the struggle for immediate needs and that there the need for united action is the greatest. National or state unemployed organizations joining the federation should see that their locals take part in the city federations.

The Stalinists, who at first did not want a centralized federation, decided to support the amendment and one of their speakers, Lamson, had already supported the amendment. However, Stalinist delegates were open to reason and after some discussion with us changed their position and threw their support to the report of the committee which advocated an organization with the city, county, and state federations leading up to a national federation. The vote was 56 for the majority and 32 for the minority report. The final vote to adopt the disputed section received a vote of 73 for and 17 opposed, and then it was adopted as a whole unanimously.

The constitution lays down the following additional important decisions: There shall be no discrimination against race, color, creed or political opinions. The Federation is to establish the closest relationship with the EMPLOYED workers through the trade unions, industrial unions, and all other workers organizations. The Federation has the perspective of establishing one national unemployed organization.

The Committee on Program and Policies

The third struggle of importance in the conference revolved around the report of the committee on program and policy and tried to tear the committee to pieces and dismiss them. They especially took exception to the program’s position on the united front. They did not succeed in dismissing the committee. They did succeed in causing two of the committee, who supported the majority report of the committee, to resign. The rest of the committee agreed to stay and fight it out with them as well as Guss of the Unemployed Councils who was to bring in a minority report on the question of work relief, a social insurance Bill and the soldiers’ bonus.

The program and policy committee came in the second time with a unanimous report, cutting down the original program but actually only condensing its form, and stating so in their second report. Guss, of the Unemployed Council, in compromising on the minority report did so for the sake of unity, in order to be able to better fight the Right wing tendencies fighting the report as a whole which the Unemployed Councils, in the main, supported.

When the committee made its second report, the struggle revolved around the formula of the united front. The struggle revolved around the following formula, presented by delegate Oehler:

“In this united front each organization retains its organizational independence; refrains from slander and personal attacks against each other; but maintains the right of minority expression and freedom of criticism. Under no circumstances can the united front exclude an unemployed organization from participating. Should any organization attempt to prevent the entry of its organization into the united front, continued effort must be made to force them into the united front.”

The objection was to the right of minority and political criticism and the word “force.” The committee finally compromised on the word “force” and it then read “to obtain their participation in the united front.”

A Big Step Forward

The whole Left wing was united on this formula, including the Stalinists who had voted down the same proposition presented by the delegates “at the Mooney Congress just a few weeks before. When the vote was taken only 17 voted against the formula of the united front. Then the report was adopted unanimously.

The National committee elected consists of the following with representation reserved for other important organizations not sufficiently represented:

Chairman, Tom Dixon – Workers Leagues
Vice-Chairman, Guss, Unemployed Councils
Secretary, Leach – Workers Comm.
Treasurer, Statman – Industrial Workers Unemployed Unions
Conners – Allen County Indiana Unemployed Association
D. Harrington,: – United Producers of Washington
V. Didwell – Peoples Council of Bellingham
Lamson – Unemployed Councils
Hugo Oehler – Unemployed Union of Gillespie
Truax – East Ohio Unemployed Unions
Zimmerman – Workers Leagues
Lore – S.E. Mo. Unemployed Leagues
Mattock – Workers Leagues
Welsh – Association of Unemployed, N.Y.

The Conference marks a real advance!

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Last updated: 4 September 2015