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B.J. Widick

In the Labor Unions

(23 June 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 44, 23 June 1939, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Surprisingly little attention was paid in the press to the semi-annual meeting of the C.I.O. executive council in Washington, D.C., last week. Surprising because it reflected a serious underestimation of the C.I.O.

The attitude of John L. Lewis on the question of unity with the A.F.L. flows from a resurgence of the C.I.O. movement. The victory of the United Mine Workers of America in the nation-wide strike solved satisfactorily the acutest crisis of the C.I.O. movement.

The Briggs auto strike victory gave further impetus to the growth of confidence in the industrial union movement.

Encouraged by these developments, top C.I.O. leaders are returning to their forgotten perspective of building a C.I.O. movement so powerful and large that it would simply engulf the A.F.L.

That is why Lewis declared there could not be peace with the A.F.L. at the present time and with its present leadership. Unless unity came on C.I.O. terms, Lewis feels that the basic need of organizing millions of unorganized workers into industrial unions would suffer. Certainly the entire record of the A.F.L. bureaucracy testifies to the charge that they would impede any such organization drive.

What Will Happen?

Often in the New International and the Socialist Appeal we have written that it was a great tragedy to the American labor movement that the C.I.O. did not continue to advance and become the dominant and decisive stream of the labor movement, forcing the A.F.L. to submerge itself into the new movement which had industrial workers as its basis.

A victory over the A.F.L. would even now have this effect, although at a much greater cost.

Whether the C.I.O. proposal to remain independent of the A.F.L. is progressive or not, depends primarily on the kind of program it follows as a separate organization.

A continued organization drive, concentrating especially on the South, is vitally needed in America. Hints of independent political action, if carried out, would be a major step forward for the C.I.O.

What will happen on these two questions remains to be seen. But there is one thing which we happen to know the C.I.O. leadership is contemplating that definitely would not be progressive in character.

The C.I.O. is weighing the possibility, very seriously, of entering the building trades field as a rival of the A.F.L. Certain trusted lieutenants of Lewis are surveying the field. In some places, cautious attempts to sign up building trades members were made, but action of local progressive unionists squelched this tendency.

A jurisdictional war, and it would be a plenty bloody and bitter war, between the C.I.O. and the A.F.L. could and would create the worst sort of havoc. It would open the flood gates for more repressive legislation against the labor movement.

We know of a dozen important labor centers where there is a good working agreement between the C.I.O. and the A.F.L. Both sides benefit immensely from the united front they can present against the employers.

If the C.I.O. invades the building trades field, these united fronts would be broken in a minute. Bitter warfare, goon squads, crashing of picket lines, slugfests would result among union men who now work together against their common enemy, the bosses.

This would not be a question of industrial versus craft unions. The C.I.O. would be forced to organize craft unions.

The proper tactic, in our opinion, is for the C.I.O. to help the progressives within the building trades by showing in action what a progressive program for labor can do.

It is as fatal for the C.I.O. leaders to think that the A.F.L. can be smashed as it has been for the A.F.L. leaders to hold that opinion of the C.I.O.

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