From The Militant, Vol. V No. 8 (Whole No. 104), 20 February 1932, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
The other day one hundred A.F. of L. “leaders” submitted a petition for Federal unemployment relief to President Hoover and to Congress. The one hundred marched one whole mile to the White House. It was not exactly a hunger march, this dandy crew of well-groomed portly per-capita absorbers. It must have been a rather grotesque looking affair, in the present unemployment situation.
But this is not the point. There is something else worth nothing in this whole affair. For the A.F. of L. high officials it represents a considerable change of front, since the convention held at Vancouver last fall. Above all, it is important to know the reason for this change of front.
First of all, it signifies further evidence of the slowly growing pressure within the unions, of discontent caused by the ravages of unemployment. The petitioners, so humble in this role, but insolenty haughty before their union membership, fear the signs of the coming discontent. They fear its becoming directed against the rulers Off a system which is causing unemployment and misery. They fear its becoming expressed in genuine class consciousness. Hence they hurry to head it off if possible.
We recall the traditionally reactionary A.F. of L. policy of servile cringing before the desires of the politically distinguished to Washington. It is this which has particularly distinguished its leadership as agents of capitalism. At the Vancouver convention the assembled high salaried business agents despite the changes in the phraseology of the orators, reinforced this policy in full. They frothed at the mouth against the “dole”. They went on record against unemployment insurance and any form of federal unemployment relief.
Would it now seem, in view of this petition, that the traditional A.F. of L. policy is undergoing a change. We fear it would be entirely too optimistic to have such expectations; but these gentlemen are quite alarmed at the prospects of seriously rising discontent. And that much their petition reflects very distinctly.
The petitioners ask for appropriations for direct federal relief; for cessation of wage cuts; for the five day week, for the enactment of the Norris anti-injunction bill and, of course, they also asked for the inevitable 2.75 percent beer. How disdainfully Congress ignored the plea of the humble petitioners, was shown by its adoption at this moment of a number of measures of relief to capitalism. There are the examples of the establishment of the two billion dollar reconstructing finance corporation, of the Glass banking bill, etc. On the very same day of the filing of the petition the Senate leaders girded their loins to defeat even the moderate La Follette-Costigan bill providing an appropriation of 375 million dollars for federal unemployment relief. Undoubtedly more attention would have had to be paid to the A.F. of L. heads if they had undertaken to lead a substantial section of the millions of unemployed in a march upon the White House. But that, of course, they had no intention of doing. It is precisely to prevent demonstrations, which can easily fan a flame of real protest and seriously advance demands, that the petition came forward, and came forward in the manner it did. The government need not at all take serious heed of such requests. It well knows the intentions and designs of its obedient servants.
There may be workers, however, who take this change of front at face value, thinking that it indicates a more progressive attitude and hoping that real leadership for unemployment relief can, be expected from the A.F. of L. high salaried officials. Such hopes, of course, are doomed to disappointment. It is true that even these reactionaries are subject to a change of front under compulsion and pressure. They may even under such conditions take steps forward and in a progressive direction. But by their position as defenders of capitalism and hopelessly reactionary make-up any such steps would always remain far behind the actual needs of the workers. Essentially they remain a brake upon the movement and looking for the first opportunity to betray. Nevertheless, the pressure upon them, by the deepening of the crisis and by extension of the wage cut drive, will increase. This pressure would be deliberately and consciously aided, organized and directed by Left wing militants. It should be made articulate and effective, not based upon expectation of results from the official flunkeys but, on the contrary, as a means of further drawing the distinction between these capitalist agents and the rank and file workers, as well as a means of moving the masses ahead to build the movement.
This petition for Federal unemployment relief and what it implies should offer an added opportunity to penetrate the ranks of the A.F. of L., in building the movement for a struggle for unemployment relief. As yet however, no serious efforts have been made to extend the movement to embrace the A.F. of L. unions.
The Daily Worker, in its issue of February 11th, says editorially in commenting upon this petition: “The workers’ answer should be a wider campaign for unemployment insurance, building up the fighting ranks of both employed and unemployed, fighting hunger and the rotten capitalist system which produces it. In the ranks of the A.F. of L., the movement for unemployment insurance should be made to sweep the fakers off their feet”.
This is absolutely correct. But it can be made a reality in only provided the party leadership pursues a policy of the united front in every sense of the word. The opportunity for it has been available; it is becoming daily more pronounced, moreover, its acceptance and practice has become an imperative need.
The efforts of the party in the struggle for unemployment relief, while having something on the credit side of the balance sheet (for example by way of dramatization of the issue) still carry a mounting record on the deficit side. The very demonstrations organized by the party, regardless of the militancy displayed, have constantly decreased in working class participation. The February 4th demonstration was smaller yet than the proceeding ones. That down ward tendency is also the status of the movement as a whole. This has become an ineradicable record of the working class attitude toward the party leadership and its policies. And this in a situation of growing pressure from mass discontent.
Is it not be clear that here a complete change of policy is necessary. Not merely a change on paper but a change in reality?
Last updated: 25.4.2013