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Arne Swabeck

Green and Co. at Vancouver

A.F. of L. Officialdom Continues to Serve Its Master

(October 1931)

From The Militant, Vol. IV No. 28 (Whole No. 87), 24 October 1931, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Delegates to the fifty-first annual A.F. of L. convention had to travel all the way to Vancouver, B.C., to re-affirm its “time honored” reactionary policy of completely indorsing all the views of the aristocracy of finance as at present expressed by the Hoover administration.

The only serious proposal, which could really be considered in the interest of labor, to come before this body, namely, the proposal for unemployment insurance, was rejected. No wonder the New York Times could take great comfort in this decision and say editorially:

“The action at Vancouver might well serve as an example of steadfastness and intelligent self-interest to nervous business men who have been behaving and talking as if the end of this familiar American world of opportunity, courage, energy and enterprise were here. They ought to be willing to wait a little while longer before throwing up their hands and calling for revolutions and miracles”

The A.F. of L. convention called neither for miracles nor for revolution. It was obsessed by only one idea – to strengthen the foundation pillars of hard pressed bourgeois society. It had to be done this time in a language interspersed with remarks somewhat foreign to this coterie of high salaried officials. But that was only an effort to deceive the workers into helping ram these pillars more securely with their own heads.

With all the old slogans of bourgeois prosperity, of the full dinner pail, vanished into oblivion, a new language had to be adopted. This fact gives a different connotation to the apparently radical passages in Mr. Green’s opening address, such as:

“Because of this dislocation of our economic structure, because there is suffering in a land where plenty exists in abundance, men and women who are the victims possess inquiring minds ... They are asking questions that are difficult to answer. They are wondering whether the system itself set up by society in every nation has failed ... We may well ask the question, has capitalism failed?”

We could well answer: “Surely Mr. Green, it has failed miserably!” But he did not stop for an answer and did not seek one. He proceeded to show that he also had learned the art of calling the wolf to gain his own ends. He continued:

“But I warn these people who, through force and domination and dictatorship and brutality, exploit the masses of the people, forcing them down and down to the lowest depths of despair, that they can only drive them so far, and then they will turn eventually and rend those who do it.”

This was not at all spoken to the working class. Nor did it intend the working class to carry out the conclusion therefrom. It was the gang boss’ plea to the master not to exact too much for fear that those he was to hold in subjection may turn upon him. The convention actions furnish conclusive proof of this contention.

Held in a period of the most serious crisis of capitalism, with millions walking the streets in vain search for work, and the masters without the slightest regard or scruples utilizing this opportunity to hammer down the standard of living, cutting wages right and left, the convention exuded eloquence but took not one single measure toward working class resistance. This convention kept the record of the A.F. of L. officialdom being more reactionary than so-called capitalist liberals. Although a rather strong section favored unemployment insurance the convention declared it “unsuited to our political and economic requirements”. Instead it asked for more and better charity from capitalism and solemnly resolved to ask each employer to take on additional workers. Could the most hard boiled exploiter ask for anything better? The convention supported the Wall Street imperialists in their demand that before they be asked to forego any “just claims”, meaning war debts, Europe be compelled to reduce armaments – not the United States. It went on record for extension of the ban on immigration. The convention rejected a proposal to defy anti-labor injunctions. And to cap the climax of this burlesque labor gathering the demand for 2.75 per cent beer went over with a whoop.

The executive council did not fail this time either to submit the traditional absurd review of favorable legislation gained by labor. 15 labor laws passed by Congress was the record claimed among which we notice such two as – modernization of three battleships at a cost of $30,000,000 to be performed in the government navy yards, and requiring work on 11 new destroyers at a cost of $51,700,000 to be performed in the same yards. From this splendid record the convention concluded to reaffirm its old policy of “rewarding our friends and punishing our enemies”. As it has been applied, and there is no intention whatever of deviating from that – it has always meant the friends of capitalism.

In this whole setting any proposal or declaration which may on the face of it appear entirely valid, loses all significance. Thus, for example, to return again to the question of the A.F. of L. official view of working class redress in the present crisis, the principles of the five day week, of the shorter workday and of maintenance of the wage standard were eloquently propounded in resolutions and otherwise. That becomes entirely meaningless without preparations for enforcement. The A.F. of L. can still, despite all serious deterioration, count almost three million workers in its ranks. Truly a formidable force if actually brought into action, particularly with present growing prospects of countless others getting ready to follow, once a serious lead is given. But this is precisely what is not wanted.

To conclude from this, however, that revolutionists can brush the A.F. of L. aside as hopeless, as company unions, as “social Fascist” unions, etc., is worse than repeating the farce of this recent annual gathering of its high priests. The mere fact that they were compelled to make some revision of language employed, reflects the advance signs of the pressure coming upon them from below. This pressure is bound to grow with the continuation of the crisis and more so with the slashing into the standard of wages and working conditions. How far the officials will respond to this growing pressure is of no serious interest. No expectation whatever is to be placed upon that. Essentially they remain imperialist agents under all conditions. But a rank and file membership chafing under rising exploitation and finally getting into motion to resist, that is a different matter. And this is an actual prospect.

That this A.F. of L. convention perhaps was less vituperative against Communists and radicals only reflects the extent to which the present official party policies and practises have succeeded in actually separating the Left wing from the trade union bodies. It has succeeded, at least for the time being, in wiping out a once promising Left wing movement within these unions. Some very recent feeble efforts made by the party though as yet only on an isolated scale, to draw local A.F. of L. unions into some united front activities, should be welcomed as one step in the right direction. But it should also serve as a most serious reminder that now more than ever must the work of aiding and stimulating the pressure from the A.F. of L. union membership and gradually directing it into the channels of a Left wing movement, be taken up in earnest.

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