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B.J. Widick

In the Trade Unions

(17 March 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 16, 17 March 1939, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Conspicuous by their absence from the C.I.O.’s proposals to the A.F. of L. were two important considerations.

In the first place, the C.I.O. proposals threatened to create a new “forgotten man” in the labor movement. None other than David Dubinsky, president of the International Ladies Garment Workers’ Union. John L. Lewis probably took great personal satisfaction in snubbing Dubinsky in the proposals for peace in the union movement. Dubinsky’s feelings when he read about the proposed convention of the A.F. of L., the C.I.O. and the railroad unions without mention of his powerful independent union can easily be imagined.

However, Dubinsky and the I.L.G.W.U. cannot be counted out as easily as Lewis would like. Any peace between the C.I.O. and the A.F. of L. in regard to the clothing industry that doesn’t include the I.L.G.W.U. simply won’t matter.

No Guarantees for Industrial Unionism

In the second place, the C.I.O. committee did not ask for any guarantees for industrial unionism in the mass production industries. Since this was the original bone of contention in the labor movement, the omission is very revealing on how the nature of the struggle and the split in the union movement has changed character.

Lewis did not leave that out because he is going to give up industrial unionism. Not at all. Industrial unionism is an accepted fact. Not even the most reactionary A.F. of L. negotiator would seriously propose craft unionism for the mass production unions. The A.F. of L. committee already has stated its willingness to recognize industrial unionism in major industries. The addition of Dan Tobin, as we pointed out in the previous column, helps industrial unionism in this respect.

The C.I.O. wants equality with the A.F. of L. in the new union movement. Or to be more specific, Lewis wants to dominate the new American Congress of Labor (if his proposals are carried) through the friendship of the railroad brotherhoods who would hold the balance of power.

Of course, the A.F. of L. leaders also want to control the united labor movement. That is why they rejected the C.LO. proposals. The question of which bureaucracy shall dominate is playing a very large role in tne present negotiations.

Keeps Faith with Stalinists

It is tragic that the C.I.O. was not able to sweep forward to greater victories after the auto strikes and the signing of the steel contracts. Replacement ol the A.F. of L. by a new and larger union movement based on the mass workers would have been a great advance for the American workers. Unfortunately, this did not happen. Between Lewis and his Stalinist allies enough mistakes were made to slow down and finally stop the growth of the C.I.O.

Lewis proposes the inclusion of certain C.I.O. craft unions in the new set-up. This indicates he is keeping faith with his Stalinist allies who control those unions and want to enter the new union movement on the ground floor.

Only Labor Can Achieve Its Own Unity

Perhaps the most popular and most dangerous part of the C.I.O. proposals was that President Roosevelt be chairman of the unification convention. In its own way it is a confession of bankrupt union leadership to ask for outside intervention. It would give Roosevelt an unparalleled opportunity to swing the entire labor movement behind his war program. Although we haven’t seen the Daily Worker because it is not obtainable in the backwoods, we are confident that this proposal was hailed with great hozzanas!

The C.I.O. proposal to have the U.S. Department of Labor act as mediator “on all controversial questions affecting overlapping jurisdiction or other matters between the constituent unions of the Congress,” is a dangerous attempt to hog-tie the entire union movement to the government. It would place a chain around the free and independent action of the unions, and should be rejected.

Lasting labor unity with benefit to the workers can come only through the unions ironing out their own differences.

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