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B.J. Widick

Stalinist Issue Paramount at CIO Convention

(October 1938)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. II No. 44, 10 October 1938, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

WASHINGTON. D. C. – The struggle between the top leaderships of the C.I.O. and the A.F. of L. for the dominating position in possible unity negotiations for the labor movement were revealed this week in three developments.

John L. Lewis announced that the C.I.O. would hold a national convention in Pittsburgh on November 14 to set up a permanent organization on a nationwide scale.

A proposal was made by Heywood Broun, president of the C.I.O. American Newspaper Guild, to President Roosevelt that he create a fact-finding board which could study the C.I.O.-A.F. of L. dispute and then lay the basis for peace.

I.T.U. Admitted

The A.F. of L. convention at Houston, Texas, admitted the International Typographical Union on a six-months probationary period despite the refusal of the union to assess itself for a contribution to the A.F. of L. “war chest” against the C.I.O.

Setting up of a national C.I.O. organization does not necessarily mean a wider split in the labor movement. It is primarily a defensive measure of the C.I.O. which Lewis hopes will give him more power and prestige in any possible negotiations with the A.F. of L.

The Broun proposal, coming right on the heels of President Roosevelt’s message to the A.F. of L. convention urging peace, without question was Lewis-inspired and indicates that the C.I.O. is anxious to place further pressure on A.F. of L. leaders for resumption of negotiations.

The action of the A.F. of L. convention towards the typographical union shows that Green-Frey & Co. intend to pursue a “smarter” course in the future in dealing with C.I.O. sympathizers within the A.F. of L.

Roosevelt’s Role

A very grave danger exists in the role that Roosevelt has assumed in regard to the feud between the C.I.O. and the A.F. of L. and his intercession in the matter can have disastrous consequences for the independence of the American labor movement.

Roosevelt sent a commission abroad this summer to study English and Swedish labor conditions primarily because he wanted to orient American public opinion toward support of similar proposals in America. Even before his commission sailed abroad Roosevelt knew the facts of labor conditions abroad, but he wanted publicity for those ideas.

The second step in Roosevelt’s strategy is to appear as the friend, counselor and mediator in the dispute in the “family of labor.” Public opinion will be molded, and considerable union support obtained, for Roosevelt’s proposed actions whatever he may decide.

And what could be sweeter for Roosevelt’s war plans, and for his national prestige in middle-class circles, than to have him sponsor and obtain through Congress legislation forcing labor “unity” on a basis similar to provisions in the British Labor Disputes Act.

An Imposed Peace

Roosevelt can and will, unless the labor movement itself makes peace, force peace on a reactionary basis by the argument, “America has stood long enough for the quarrel in the family of labor. We can not allow two children to continually jeopardize the welfare of the nation through their squabbling. Public opinion says they should be spanked,” etc. etc. etc.

Under the guise of outlawing “jurisdictional” disputes (C.I.O.-A.F. of L.) as in England, Roosevelt can hog-tie the American labor movement through his own interpretations of the clause. Yet he could easily sell the idea of outlawing jurisdictional disputes by the fake arguments: “We merely want to protect labor from hurting itself through unnecessary and stupid feuds, and we want to prevent any injustice to the employer who is the innocent bystander.”

Roosevelt wants “national unity” in time of war. And the recent events in Europe revealed how quickly war can come. Roosevelt knows labor “unity” is indispensable to “national unity.”

Of equal importance to the new role of Roosevelt towards labor unity is the significance of the coming C.I.O. Convention.

The Main Issue

John L. Lewis and the entire C.I.O. now have to face squarely the following question. Will the American workers run the C.I.O. or is Lewis giving control of the C.I.O. to the Stalinists by making a bloc with them?

Who shall run the C.I.O.? That is the question which Lewis cannot avoid answering publicly at the national convention.

Reports from Washington say that Lewis is alarmed at the tremendous strides the Stalinists have made towards capturing the C.I.O. He had not bargained for that much when he made a deal to place Stalinists as organizers in return for unqualified support. Lewis does not want to become a captive of the Stalinists but the danger exists. Two years ago Lewis tried to take over the auto workers’ union by the device of an Auto Workers Organizing Committee which was rejected by the founding convention. Yet the Stalinists succeeded where he failed, and Lewis knows it.

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