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B.J. Widick

Auto Workers Oppose Draft

Failure of Organization Drive Will Cause Convention Fireworks

(August 1940)

From Labor Action, Vol. 4 No. 17, 5 August 1940, pp.1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

ST. LOUIS, Mo., July 29 – Considerable sentiment against compulsory the delegates here to the CIO auto workers’ convention and a resolution denouncing conscription was given a fair chance of passing later this week. Since John L. Lewis, CIO chieftain came out Sunday against peace-time conscription, and the Michigan state CIO board took a similar stand last week, there will be a strong coalition of forces for the anti-conscription resolution.

Outside of this, there is little indication that the 600 delegates will take any serious steps against the war plans of Roosevelt.

The ovation greeting Roosevelt’s name and the boos for Willkie during a speech by R.J. Thomas, president, indicated the sentiment of the delegates on the Third Term. Although various locals have introduced resolutions calling for a Third Party or a Labor Party, overwhelming endorsement of Roosevelt is expected.

A survey among the best informed labor correspondents in the country at this convention revealed that all expect Lewis to crawl back on the Roosevelt band-wagon in his speech Tuesday before the convention.

Fire-Works Expected

Although the convention is impressive in its enthusiasm and the absence of the overt factionalism that marked previous gatherings, there will be considerable fire-works before the week is over.

Rank and file resentment against the fizzle in the Ford organizing and other membership drives is strong enough to get special mention in the convention report of George Addes, secretary-treasurer, who speaks of the “justifiable demand for increasing organizing activity in the Ford Motor Company, among competitive shops and in the aircraft and farm implement industries.” After all the ballyhoo for two years, the union leadership can record no important progress in these key fields. Of course, they will once again promise to do something. The attitude of the whole leadership is one of caution and conservatism. Pointing to some important gains:

  1. rebuilding of the union to 294,428 dues paying members
  2. victory of the CIO over the Martin-AFL clique
  3. stabilization of the union

– the officers’ reports fail to mention that the previous failures were due to their own mistakes and weak-kneed attitude. Outside of some small and feeble voices wanting a clearer and more progressive stand on organization drives, the delegates, by and large, will go along with the present administration and its conservative program.

Neglected Hours Demand

One embarrassing problem which can not be escaped, however, will be the policy of the 30 hour week with a 40 hour pay which was adopted at the last convention but not carried out in the General Motors.negotiations, to mention the outstanding failure.

Behind the scenes of this convention are two powerful tendencies struggling to obtain control and the adoption of their policies, despite efforts to hide the fight.

In one camp stands Sidney Hillman, member of Roosevelt’s War Industries Board, and advisor to the auto workers union, with Walter Reuther, executive board member, as his main spokesman within the auto union. In one sentence their policies can be summed up as “a blank check for Roosevelt.” Complete hogtying of the once militant union to the war machine is their objective. Their supporters are taking jobs on various advisory committees of the federal government.


In the second camp stands John L. Lewis, coming here personally to keep the auto workers under his domination as against Hillman, etc. Richard Frankensteen, international board member, is top dog in this faction within the union, and the Stalinists complete the triumvirate.

John L. Lewis in a thunderously
applauded speech at the auto
workers convention warned the
delegates that conscription would
“rob us of our liberties.”

This tendency too is for “national defense” but at a bigger price. It’s called the “tough” tendency by some delegates. They want more concessions, observation of the Walsh-Healy Act. higher pay, etc. They aren’t so hot for a Roosevelt Third term, but for various reasons are stringing along.

There are other delegates, unafflliated to either tendency, who feel that a more outspoken and direct attack on capitalism and war are necessary to save the union movement and to make real gains, but most of them will be swung into the Lewis-Frankensteen-CP camp.

With 269 resolutions before the convention, the Conflict between the various currents is bound to show itself time and again. Hillman is coming here Wednesday to do his bit for FDR and the war machine.

Lewis Gets Ovation

The tremendous ovation given to a eulogy of John L. Lewis by Thomas, the union president, during his report, indicates that the Lewis group are favored to win. The Lewis ovation was much greater than that accorded Roosevelt, and is significant as an interpretation of the strength of the contending camps. Thomas, incidentally, continues to play a middle of the road role in this conflict. His re-election without opposition and also that of Addes, the secretary-treasurer, is considered assured.

One of the explosive resolutions calls for denouncing all forms of “isms” especially Communism. Unless a compromise is reached in the this issue will allow an orgy of red-baiting and flag-waving. While part of the opposition to “isms” would be directed against the Stalinists and their black record in the auto union, the fact remains that in essence this type of resolution is 1000% reactionary.

The convention began with the singing of American patriotic songs, and also God Save the King. Repeated cheers marked the pleas for a defense of democracy and no involvement in European wars. While this scene showed the amount of nationalism among the auto workers, the concern revealed for democratic rights could hardly be mistaken for the hypocritical ravings of the politicians and war-mongers. The auto workers are deeply concerned with preserving whatever rights they possess, and preventing the growth of fascism.

Muddling Through

Unfortunately, as in all CIO conventions, the delegates, and the union leadership even more so, counterpose mild, cautious and timid progressive steps in a world of powerful opposition, in a world where only an audacious struggle for power offers hope for labor and humanity. The perfect expression of this muddling through attitude was the report of Thomas to the convention.

“We stand for the defense of our country. We hold that the military and naval defense and the well being of our working people go hand in hand, if our country is to be a unified force, able to withstand and defeat any threats to our existence as a democratic and sovereign nation.”

Unless the workers see through this illusion, and realize that the welfare of the labor movement rests in a program opposite to that of Roosevelt, six months from now if not sooner they’ll wonder what hit them. National defense as proposed now means the enslavement, not the liberation of labor. The compulsory military training law, which the auto workers don’t like, should serve as sufficient proof.

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