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B.J. Widick

In the Labor Unions

(20 September 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 72, 20 September 1939, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Another indication of the depth of the break between John L. Lewis, CIO chairman, and President Roosevelt over both domestic and foreign policy was furnished last week at the United Rubber Workers of America convention.

It was revealed in the speech of Eli P. Oliver, executive vice-president of Labor’s Non-Partisan League, and Lewis henchman, on the 1940 elections.

Oliver spoke of the need for a “progressive” president but very pointedly did not mention Roosevelt’s name, although just before he talked the convention had endorsed Roosevelt for a third term!

This incident exposed completely the utter stupidity of Lewis’ “realistic” politics. Lewis spent so much time placing the CIO behind Roosevelt in the last six years that Lewis is now unable to shift the position of the CIO easily. (Even Phillip Murray and Sidney Hillman didn’t like his labor day speech.)

Besides, the U.R.W.A. convention endorsed Roosevelt mainly because of a rabble-rousing speech by Michael Quill, Stalinist president of the Transport Workers Union, a guest speaker at the sessions.

The chief opponent within the CIO of a break with the Roosevelt administration will be the Stalinists. Lewis’ allies of yesterday become his opponents of today. And Lewis is really going to pay for the way he allowed the Stalinists to run wild within the CIO, disrupting union after union, capturing control of key unions, etc.

The expected removal of Elmer Andrews as Wages and Hours Administrator to be replaced by an army officer is another blow at the CIO by Roosevelt. It means no enforcement of the wages and hours provisions.

John L. Lewis understands too well that the New Deal has become the War Deal. That is one reason why he is paving the way for a public break with Roosevelt at the coming CIO national convention.

The famous Labor Day address of Lewis showed that he understood the strategy of Roosevelt’s war deal. Yet Lewis is caught in a terrible dilemma for a labor bureaucrat from which there is no escape, except turning sharply to the left, and this is most improbable.

After spending 30 years as a labor bureaucrat, after supporting the first world war to make the world safe for democracy, after living the luxurious life of a Washington gentleman, and after preaching the glories of American “democracy” to his followers, Lewis can hardly be expected suddenly to become a Eugene V. Debs.

The powerful pressure of the CIO rank and file which wants no part of a “foreign war,” and the dangers to Lewis’ own position in war time caused the Labor Day speech against “meddling in Europe.”

But what does Lewis propose? A break With Roosevelt? Fine. But where will the CIO go?

Already Lewis has sent out a “feeler” to the effect that he was going to support Senator Wheeler for president in 1940. A deal with the Republicans?

What will that solve? How will war be stopped by that maneuver? Utterly futile!

It is up to the ranks of the CIO to force Lewis to quit playing Hamlet. The coming convention can do a tremendous job towards slowing down the march to war by demanding a popular referendum on war, and by announcing its determination to run a labor candidate for president in 1940.

Lewis is incapable of solving even his own dilemmas.

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