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B.J. Widick

In the Trade Unions

(14 April 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 24, 14 April 1939, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

One of the powerful men behind the scenes in the deadlocked negotiations between the C.I.O. and the A.F. of L. is Bill Hutcheson, czar of the Carpenters union. He is one of the main obstacles to labor unity as leader of the die-hard clique of reactionary craft unionists controlling the A.F. of L.

When Bill Hutcheson took a sock at John L. Lewis in the 1935 A.F. of L. convention during the discussion on industrial unionism, he was simply living up to his best traditions, that of a slugger. For Hutcheson’s career is one of the blackest in the American labor movement.

Expelled 75,000

His hatred of industrial unionism was revealed most clearly in the minutes of the 1936 Carpenters convention. Here it was that Hutcheson threw, out 75,000 timber workers because they wanted to become full-fledged members of the Carpenters union and because they endorsed the principles of the C.I.O.

Hutcheson gave them the privilege of paying dues in the Carpenters union but when they wanted to be represented at the convention, that was asking too much. And when the representatives of the timber, workers objected, Hutcheson’s right-hand men told them an economic boycott against timber firms employing the recalcitrant unionists would result.

Is it a wonder that in 1937 the timberworkers joined the C.I.O.? The bloody battle in the lumber camps last year between the C.I.O. and the A.F. of L. had its origin in the ruthless, dictatorial methods of Hutcheson in the 1936 convention.

Hutcheson is a Republican. His open alliance with the notorious Dupont-sponsored Liberty league was one of the scandals of the 1936 presidential election. He had an inside track on the post of Secretary of Labor if Al Landon had won.

Republican strategists in Washington are counting heavily on Hutcheson to swing a labor vote for them in the 1940 presidential elections, and a unified labor movement would make this more difficult. It is not at all excluded that Hutcheson would pull out of the A.F. of L. if it makes peace with the C.I.O.

Like all other labor bureaucrats and politicians in Washington he is playing for much higher stakes than only a dominant position in the union movement. Hutcheson visualizes himself as the fair-haired boy of a Republican regime in 1940, somewhat in the position that John L. Lewis once occupied with the Roosevelt regime.

And in Washington where only two subjects are on everyone’s mind – war and the 1940 elections – many authoritative observers feel that Hutcheson has a fair chance of achieving his aims.

Speaking of war, Hutcheson’s attitude was defined back in 1918 when he arbitrarily called off a strike of carpenters in the East Coast shipyards at President Wilson’s request. A membership demand for a vote on the question was tossed into the wastebasket.

A Fine Start

It was in New York in 1915 that Hutcheson, just elected president of the Brotherhood, gave his first major demonstration as a “business unionist.” Some 17,000 carpenters voted to fight for a fifty-cent daily wage increase. Negotiations succeeded in bringing this increase to 14,000 of them. A strike was called a few months later to extend the agreement to the other 3,000 men.

Just before the strike, Hutcheson demanded that it be called off. His order was disregarded. So he came to the city and signed an agreement with the employers that invalidated the fifty-cent increase for the 14,000 who had already won it!

Naturally the rank and file rejected the contract by a vote of over 11,000 to 100. Hutcheson retaliated by expelling 65 Locals with 17,000 members, and aided the employers to hire scabs on the jobs. Incidentally, in subsequent court action the employers testified that this service cost them $85,000!

However, the court action forced Hutcheson to reinstate the locals which had won the strike despite his scabbing!

He is a dangerous foe of labor unity. Let there be no mistake about it.

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