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B.J. Widick

In the Trade Unions

(17 February 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 8, 17 February 1939, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Perhaps the most interesting single feature of the A.F. of L. Executive Council meeting currently taking place in Miami, Florida, has been the admission of the power of rank and file pressure on the top leadership. William Green’s new tone in speaking of the C.I.O. and the prospects of labor unity were the first indications of this pressure. Green openly admitted that the A.F. of L. ranks wanted peace with the C.I.O.

Ignore Rank and File Sentiments

But the muddling around with the Wagner Labor Act was even more pertinent. Authoritative reports said that in private sessions the Executive Council was divided in its attitude towards modification of the Wagner Act. In fact, we were told, it came almost to an open and public division on the question. Here again, the sentiments of the rank and file were an important consideration.

In typical A.F. of L. fashion a compromise – a bad one, to be sure – was worked out. The A.F. of L. Council demands an end to the present National Labor Relations Board set-up with its three-man membership and its replacement with a five-man board which would be composed of new people. Details of the A.F. of L. proposal are supposed to be worked out by attorneys, the idea having been approved in principle.

In playing around with vital legislation, the A.F. of L. Executive Council is guilty of injuring the interests of the entire labor movement. We believe that even part of the Council recognizes this fact. The specter of Oregon haunts them. In this state, a suicidal civil war between the C.I.O. and A.F. of L. has brought the introduction of suppressive legislation against labor which has frightened even the oldest labor skates.

Usual Blast Against Progressive Unionism

It is a commonplace that no Executive Council meeting has been normal unless some blast at progressive unionism issues therefrom. This time the Teachers Union was singled out as the “hot-bed of communism” and a drive against all political tendencies within the Teachers Union is in the offing.

This blast coincided with the publication of a resolution by the Council that it favored appropriation of adequate funds for the Dies committee. It was Green’s way of saying to Dies, “We’ll take care of the reds in the A.F. of L., you can devote your energies elsewhere.” By which he meant a further investigation of the C.I.O.

The overwhelming support the Dies committee obtained in Congress served as a clear warning of the coming “anti-red” drive in America. In this connection it is worth telling a story of the attitude of the top C.I.O. leaders on this problem.

When the Dies committee was engaged in its ludicrous but extremely dangerous performance, various Washington newspapermen urged the C.I.O. to take a tough stand against it and fight against its continuation. The C.I.O. leaders scoffed at the effect the Dies committee was having. Now the Gallup polls’ revelation of the widespread support of the Dies committee reflected in the Congressional action has brought the cold facts to the C.I.O. leaders. But more on that some other time.

Refugee Stand Is Contemptuous

The A.F. of L. Council got “international-minded,” too. It proposed to revitalize moribund Latin-American unions in a Pan-American labor conference to offset the John L. Lewis maneuvers in tying up with the Stalinist-controlled Mexican and South American unions in the form of the Latin-American Labor Federation.

No unionist will object to the A.F. of L.’s approval of a plan to permit entry of 10,000 refugee children to America. But this is such a meagre answer to the refugee problem that scorn and contempt for the attitude of the Council is well-founded. What about opening the doors to all refugees? What about supporting the trade-unionist refugees? What about blasting Roosevelt for his crocodile tears for the refugees while he refuses them entrance into America?

Yes, it’s the same old Executive Council, blind on industrial unionism, reactionary in politics, and shortsighted from even the most elementary trade-union point of view.

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