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A Summary of the Auto Convention

Sees Personal Triumph for Lewis Over Hillman in Attitude of Delegates

(August 1940)

From Labor Action, Vol. 4 No. 18, 12 August 1940, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

ST. LOUIS, Mo. – The CIO auto union completed its convention week, having endorsed Roosevelt for a third term, stated its opposition to military conscription, and elected into office supporters of the Lewis bloc within the union.

Highlights of the convention were the speech of John L. Lewis and the bitter debate on the resolution, passed by a huge majority, denouncing “dictatorships” and “aggressors” including the Soviet Union, Germany, Italy and Japan.

Lewis came before the auto workers to obtain support for his stand against compulsory military training and to summon this union to maintain its rights in face of the anti-labor drive.

“What is this country coming to when they propose to put you in jail for five years and fine you $10,000 for speaking against compulsory training?”

”The CIO is against it,” he thundered, while the delegates responded with a tremendous cheer and prolonged ovation. It was the clearest cut anti-war feeling shown during the whole week.

Warning the auto workers that a “man on horseback with dreams of imperialist conquest” would be the inevitable outcome of conscription. Lewis strongly emphasized that “war is always the answer to the prayer of defeated politicians.”

“Don’t be guided into a war hysteria merely because politicians are incapable of solving the problems.”

The Trouble with America

“There are 19.000,000 families in America living on less than $69 a month. That’s what’s the matter with America.

“What are the major political party platforms on this? The platforms are silent. Some day the people are going to lose confidence in the major parties to a degree that they will form their own party,” Lewis declared, again to an enthusiastic ovation. He left the question of building a labor party to the future, however.

For the first time in years, Lewis spoke with a rounded out conception of the problems facing Organized Labor. On unemployment, for example, he analyzed the “war boom” and pointed out how few people would be re-employed, while corporations got richer on “patriotic profits.”

“When the European war is ended, the Japanese-Chinese war is ended and any kind of peace established, there will be a sharp reduction in business, terrible unemployment and the whole internal economy thrown into reverse.”

Speaking of the Democratic Party platform on unemployment, Lewis pointed out that “it took three years to get a major political party to place into their platform that they will call a national conference to discuss unemployment.”

“If it takes place in the next three years,” he added sarcastically, “labor may be told that unemployment is not so pressing, for it is making guns.”

Hits Roosevelt

Lewis took several indirect cracks at Roosevelt notably with reference to the latter’s role in the General Motors strike where Roosevelt privately proposed to Lewis that he get the men back to work and negotiate. He also mentioned Roosevelt’s failure to enforce the Walsh-Healy Act, and the threats of former Governor Frank Murphy of Michigan against the sit-down strikers, made with Roosevelt’s express approval, during the GM shutdown.

Failure of Lewis to mention Roosevelt’s third term drive, which he was reported ready to support, was taken to mean that Lewis apparently expects to stand aloof this fall, although letting the CIO unions endorse Roosevelt.

His speech was more “radical” than any of his previous utterances against the Republican or Democratic parties, and was much more militant than many of the delegates. However, his stand against conscription, while progressive in itself, was largely negated by his bow to the needs of “national defense”. Taking a position for real and increased voluntary recruitment, Lewis made himself party to the lie that the workers have anything to gain from joining the bosses’ army, and consequently from the bosses’ war.

The convention was a personal triumph for Lewis over Sidney Hillman, Roosevelt’s hatchetman within the CIO, because the enthusiastic 40 minute ovation Lewis received when entering the convention was in marked contrast to the routine greeting extended to Hillman, a day later. Adoption of the Lewis point of view on conscription was a bitter pill for Hillman to swallow. Also, the insistence by the delegates on union rights and no chiseling was opposite to Hillman’s real policy of hogtying the unions for war purposes.

Fight Over Russia

Fireworks exploded over the anti-Soviet Union resolution which was introduced by the Hillman-Walter Reuther forces in a clever move to isolate the Stalinists and also slap at Lewis for his support of the Stalinists.

The resolutions committee was split on the question five to four. A Minority report was given by C.G. Edelen, president of the Plymouth Local who accused the majority report of factionalism.

When Stalinists denounced the resolution they were heckled with cries of “How about Finland!” Boos galore greeted minority speakers as a frenzy of patriotic spirit was whipped up by Hillman boys.

Part of the bitterness against the Soviet Union, however, was not merely patriotic twaddle. One delegate for example, protested the persecution of minority working-class groups. But this kind of feeling against Stalin’s regime, although shared by some delegates, was obscured in the discussion by the patriotic wave. Also, a good deal of the anti-Soviet Union feeling was directed against the Stalinists for their “rule or ruin” policy in the auto union.

John Anderson, president of Tool and Die Local 155, Detroit, and one-time Communist Party candidate for governor of Michigan, was chief spokesman for the minority report which asked that the USSR be excluded from denunciation as an aggressor. When he declared that the record of the Soviet Union in the past 20 years was something to be proud of, a loud roar of boos interrupted him.

One reactionary shouted, “If anyone doesn’t like this country and thinks Russia is better, there are boats leaving for Russia,” while other delegates put on demonstrations for and against that attitude.

Frankensteen Plays Safe

Richard Frankensteen, Lewis henchman, in whose bloc the Stalinists are functioning, declared, “I have been blasted as a Communist in the past and I want to support the resolution (majority report) to make my position clear.

“The rank and file consider Russia an aggressor nation, and while I have not made a study of it, I believe it is an aggressor,” he added, warning that this did not mean he was for a purge in the union. “I’ll oppose it even if I’m called a Communist again.”

George Addes, secretary-treasurer of the union, said, “I would not tolerate a resolution for a purge because it might develop into a faction fight, but if this is an attack on Russia as a dictator nation I too support the committee.” R.J. Thomas, union president, took a similar stand. When the question of purging the CPers from the union came before the convention, a reactionary motion to oust the CPers was withdrawn, and a slightly modified one accepted.

Out of the heated dispute certain things stood out clearly:

  1. while the Stalinists are on the run, they still have a strong basis in the union, and much of the sentiment against them was of a patriotic rather than progressive nature,
  2. many delegates leaned towards a Third Camp idea but had neither the knowledge nor the spokesman to speak for them,
  3. the Roosevelt-Hillman-Reuther machine has a clever program to take over the union via the road of patriotism,
  4. Lewis will pay a heavy penalty in his future struggles against Roosevelt because of his deal with the Stalinists in the past,
  5. the political coincidence of the Lewis and the CP line today does not mean that Lewis is giving them a free hand as before in auto.

Rather, Thomas and Addes are his main hope in the UAW leadership.

The splendid idea of fighting for a 30 hour week with 40 hours’ pay was emasculated by the convention which adopted a resolution making that an “ultimate goal” and squashing a delegate who urged a general strike in auto to obtain that demand immediately.

Riding on the anti-Stalinist wave, the Reuther clique went into action to elect its henchmen as international executive board members.

Aim of the Reuther clique was to replace Arthur Case, Flint; Reuben Peters, Bay City; William Cody, Milwaukee, and Leroy Roberts of Indianapolis. Ind. with Carl Swanson of Flint; Linwood Smith, Saginaw; Lawrence Carlstrom, Racine; and Charles Shrock of Fort Wayne, Ind. Among supporters of this slate was the Catholic Trade Unionists Association.

Emil Mazey, Briggs Local president, whose record has been fairly progressive but who is now close to the Reuther forces, is opposing Leo Lamotte of Plymouth Local, an incumbent.

The New York regional post was open, Allen Haywood, CIO national director, having held it. The Toledo post was a contest, between Robert Travis, CP fellow traveler, and Joe Ditzel, a Reuther man.

In the voting, Frankensteen, L.H. Michener of Los Angeles, Richard T. Leonard of Detroit and George Burt of Windsor were re-elected.

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