Art Preis Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Art Preis

Political Action Record of
CIO and AFL Leaders

(30 August 1948)

From The Militant, Vol. 12 No. 35, 30 August 1948, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by
Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Murray, Green, Reuther, Whitney, Kroll and the other national trade union leaders are continuing to scold the workers for not registering to vote and blaming the rank and file for labor’s weak political position. The question that the top union leaders have to answer is why, after more than a dozen years of the most intense labor political activity this country, has ever known, large sections of the American workers have become so disgusted with the kind of politics and candidates offered them that they won’t even bother to go to the polls.

We can dismiss as mere slander the usual explanation of the union bureaucrats that the workers are “just too dumb” to know what’s good for them or “just too lazy to get down to the polls.” That’s a cover-up for the real reason: The deceptive and misleading political policies of the union leaders from the New Deal period to the present day.

From the very inception of the CIO, in the very midst of Roosevelt’s first term, strong sentiment for independent labor political action existed in the newly organised Union ranks. Workers who understood the need for labor’s independent organization and action in the economic field began to feel the equal need for labor’s independence in the political field. Big grievances were being built up against the Roosevelt administration, because the workers were forced to fight pitched battles for the promised rights of collective bargaining.

Lewis and Stalinists

Taking cognizance of this sentiment, John L. Lewis, then leader of the CIO, and the Stalinists with whom he at that time collaborated, established Labor’s Non-Partisan League. The LNPL was represented as the answer to the workers’ demands; Unfortunately, the workers did not have the practical experience in the political field that they had in the economic field and were unprepared to cope with the trickery of the LNPL policy.

In actuality, the LNPL was designed to channelize the political action of the workers back into the old muddy stream of capitalist politics and support of the Democratic machine and Roosevelt.

The LNPL provided the formula and technique that the union leaders have used to this day to give the workers the impression that they are engaging in independent labor politics, while in reality they are still tied to the eld capitalist political machines. The unions maintain their own electioneering organizations; but these are subverted to the support of the Democrats and Republicans.

In New York state, Lewis, Dubinsky, Hillman and the Stalinists had to carry the deception a step further. They actually had to set up a new party, the American Labor Party, in 1936. A large and influential, section of the New York workers were Socialists and Communists, brought up in the tradition of opposition to the boss parties. Some of the largest unions, like the Amalgamated Clothing Workers and the International Ladies Garment Workers, were traditionally on record for a Labor Party.

If the New York workers would not vote for the Democratic or Republican tickets, they were told to vote for the Democratic or Republican candidates on the ALP ticket!

The Pay-Off

By 1937 came the pay-off for this policy of corailing labor’s votes for Roosevelt through the LNPL and ALP. Roosevelt stabbed the CIO in the back during the Little Steel Strike with his “plague on both your houses” declaration. Democratic governors in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan sent troops out to break the steel strike. Mayor Kelly of Chicago, a loyal henchman of Roosevelt, perpetrated the Memorial Day massacre. Boss Hague of Jersey City, another ardent Rooseveltian, hounded and banned CIO meetings.

At the 1938 convention of the Mine Workers, Lewis had to state that the Roosevelt administration; elected with labor’s money and votes, had not given the workers a thing in the past two years. By 1940, Lewis’s break with Roosevelt. was irrevocable. But tied to capitalist politics, he could only turn back to the Republicans whom labor had repudiated decisively eight years before.

From 1936 to 1942, there was a continuous decline in workers’ votes and a continuous shift of lower-middle class votes to the Republicans. Offered no way out of the capitalist two-party blind alley, the voters stayed away from the polls or followed the futile course of voting for the “outs” just to get rid of the “ins.”

By the time the 1942 Congressional elections were approaching, it became clear that the pro-Democratic labor lieutenants could not deliver the labor vote directly through the discredited Democratic Party. Then the CIO leaders, with Sidney Hillman in the lead, projected the CIO Political Action Committee, which was nothing but a dressed-up version of the old LNPL.

The immediate reward of the workers for their support of the Democrats through CIO-PAC was such legislation as the Smith-Connelly anti-strike law.

79th Congress

The Democratic-controlled 79th Congress, elected by PAC votes, proceeded under the Truman postwar administration to enact one reactionary law after another. It cut the heart out of rent and price control, 'repealed excess profits taxes. Only the action of the Republicans in the Senate prevented final passage of Truman’s “draft strikers” law, passed by. the House with but 13 votes opposed.

By the time the November 1946 elections rolled around, Murray was complaining bitterly that; Congress – the Democratic Congress – had not passed a single piece of progressive legislation "in nine years.” But still the CIO-PAC tried to mislead the workers once more into voting tor Democratic “friends of labor.”

the workers would not respond. Many “sat on their hands” – because they could not in good conscience vote for either the Democrats or the Republicans, the Republicans, for the first time in 14 years, secured a majority in Congress. In alliance with a large section of Democrats, they proceeded to complete the job of anti-labor legislation and hand-outs to Big Business already well started by their Democratic predecessors.

Today, the sentiment in labor’s ranks for genuine independent labor political action, through the formation of labor’s own party and a complete break with capitalist politics, is again running strong. This is reflected indirectly by the large support that Wallace’s Progressive Party is mustering.

In this crucial hour and with the golden opportunity afforded by the decomposition of the Democratic Party, the CIO and AFL top leaders offer no way out to the workers. They are trying to work the old skin game of using CIO-PAC, and possibly the AFL’s new Labor’s Educational and Political League, to rehabilitate the Democratic Party and line up the votes for Truman – Truman who has broken more strikes than any president in U.S. History.

New Leaders Needed

In 1934 and 1935, the workers learned that they could not achieve their dream of industrial organization through leaders like Coleman Claherty and Frances Dillon, imposed on the rubber and auto workers by the AFL craft moguls. They had to kick out these leaders and finally break from the stranglehold of the AFL bureaucracy in order to make their great historic leap forward and build a modern industrial union movement.

Today, they are learning that their present conservative leaders, tied to the capitalist government and the old boss parties, are a brake upon the further progress of labor in its next great move forward, the building of labor’s own party. These leaders will have to be repudiated and replaced by a new, more courageous and far-seeing leadership in order to clear the way for labor’s political advancement.

Preis Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 16 October 2022