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Jack Wilson

All Out for Labor Unity as the Road
to Organizing America 100%

(January 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 4, 26 January 1942, p. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The hopes and aspirations of the ranks of organized labor for unity between the CIO and the AFL, which received a sudden and somewhat unexpected impetus this week, soared at the magnificent prospects which lay before a unified labor movement.

Above all, the vision of having 10,000,000 organized workers in one central organization which would be the largest and most powerful body in America was a cheerful one to labor’s ranks, and a nightmare to the editorial writers of the capitalist press.

The end of an epoch of a house divided against itself, the end of major jurisdictional disputes between the CIO and the AFL, the diminishing of the bitterness fomented in the years of internecine strife, the feeling of class solidarity in one united organization – all these loomed as benefits of labor unity.

For labor everywhere would feel its own might and power, if united. The handwriting on the wall can be seen already by the labor-baiting Congressmen, whose chief stock in trade was to play off one section of the labor movement against the other.

A united labor movement could stand as a powerful bloc against reactionary moves in Congress, as the temporary bloc of the CIO with powerful sections of the AFL against the Smith Slave Labor Act recently revealed.

The favorite scheme of the big industrialists, “divide; and rule,” by which they hoped to crush the CIO and AFL unions in wartime is receiving a shattering blow from the trend toward unity.

Unite on Closed Shop

The first big jolt the industrialists and their allies received on this score was at the recent industry-labor conference held in Washington, where the CIO and the AFL united on the closed shop issue, and refused to freeze existing union gains for the duration of the war. Government officials and the industrialists had hoped to win the AFL over against the CIO on this issue, but were sadly mistaken.

The basic issue which divided the CIO and the AFL has long been settled in favor of the CIO. The triumph of industrial unionism over craft unionism as the correct way to build effective unions in mass production industries is testified to not only by the existence of the great auto, steel, rubber, coal and other CIO unions, but also by the fact that even AFL leaders who opposed the CIO have been forced by living events to organize workers into industrial unions. The AFL machinists union, which is organizing aircraft workers, is a good example. They have over 70,000 aircraft workers organized on an industrial basis.

What Unity Means

And the possibility of organizing America 100 per cent union grows much stronger as the trend toward unity reaches a culmination. For labor unity means that one of the biggest headaches in organization, the division and dispute between the CIO and the AFL, would largely be removed. It would be much more difficult to play off unions against each other.

The conversion of American economy into war production, with the hiring of millions of more workers in the mass production industries in the next boom period, assures that the hegemony of industrial unionism will be the decisive factor in the labor movement. For the industrial unions in auto, steel and elsewhere have already been tried and tested by events. They are capable of organizing the fresh stream of workers; who will flood into the huge factories.

Likewise the squeezing out of consumption goods industries and other “non-essentials” will tend to relegate some AF.L unions into a role of lesser influence in a the coming period.

So the reunification of the labor movement upon the basis of joining the millions of CIO militants, with the additional workers organized into the AFL in the last few years, as well as the old craft unions, would give the American working class an economic drive and power, and a political consciousness of its importance, such as was never before experienced in the history of labor in America.

Organize the Unorganized

The crucial question of uniting the American working class, the organized and the unorganized, will receive great impetus by a unification of the present divided organizations, because the attracting power of a great single body of organized labor will be magnetic. Organizing the unorganized will not be stopped. Quite the contrary, organization campaigns will receive spurts and achieve, far greater successes when the labor movement is united.

Labor unity brings these prospects, possibilities and advances, irrespective of the dirty, behind-the-scenes politics of the various bureaucratic cliques in the top leaderships of the AFL and the CIO.

The contempt and hatred which the ranks of labor have for the machinations of the whole breed of union bureaucrats in their mad scramble to take advantage of the trend toward unity should not blind workers to the tremendous advantages of labor unity. The condemnation of the bureaucratic methods by which labor unity is being handled should not be turned into opposition to labor unity.

As long as the labor bureaucracy exists, all its actions, whether around the unity question, control of unions, or any other issues, will be bureaucratic in nature, and the problem of the ranks is always to utilize every situation to fight for democracy inside the labor movement, without thereby opposing necessary actions, even if they are carried out in bureaucratic fashion. Lewis’ Reckless Action

The reckless actions of John L. Lewis, a bold, capable and unscrupulous union bureaucrat, are a case in point. Whether he calls a good mine strike, like the captive coal mine strike, by bureaucratic action, or whether he calls for labor unity, again by individualistic bureaucratic action, the problem of the militants is to judge the basic issue first. And in both cases (the strike and the call for unity) support should be given to this great mass movement, without thereby renouncing one bit the sharpest criticism of Lewis’ dictatorial methods.

The sudden proposals of the president of the United Mine Workers for unity with the AFL, in which he showed a lack of ordinary trade union loyalty to his associates in the CIO, reveal his bureaucratic approach to union’problems and, it must be said in passing, the fact that he is much more skillful and has more foresight in getting on the bandwagon than most other union leaders

But his case is no different than that of William Hutcheson, William Green, Sidney Hillman, Phillip Murray or other top leaders involved in this problem. All of them are of the same stripe, fundamentally.

Green a Scapegoat

The fulminations of William Green, AFL president, against Lewis do not flow from any interest in the ranks of labor, but rather from the fact that Green knows he has been picked as one of the scapegoats among the bureaucrats to take the blame for disunity. His retirement is foredoomed.

Nor do Phillip Murray’s protestations against Lewis’ maneuvers merit any special consideration for him and his role as CIO president. Murray for 20 years was right-hand man of John L. Lewis in precisely these kinds of maneuvers and deals. Murray’s “benevolent” dictatorship over the 500,000 steel workers in the Steel Workers Organizing Committee, who have never been able to elect their own international officers or hold their own convention, hardly qualifies him to complain about lack of democracy on the part of Lewis. What motivates him, rather, and those who support him, is their own role and future in a united labor movement, just as Lewis and others view the questions primarily from that angle.

Everyone in the labor movement knows that the Stalinists, since their line changed, have shifted from licking Lewis’ boots to Murray’s shoes and that today they are licking faster than ever in the hope that this will offer them some protection in the deals around the question of labor unity.

Stalinists to Be Purged

Their lip service to labor unity will be exposed exactly for what it is, a cynical ritual to deceive workers.and their own followers. For the Stalinists know that they also are going to be placed on the altar and be purged ruthlessly by Lewis and others in a unified labor movement.

All their top posts are a cinch to be lost, and only in so far as they retain ranks behind them will they be able to keep within the labor movement.

But while workers should have no sympathy for this “rule or ruin” clique, when its own methods are applied against it by its own “leader,” be it Lewis or even Murray, labor does have a stake in trade union democracy, and must oppose the bureaucratic methods of any purge.

In the ruthless and cruel game of power politics, against which labor ranks should continually blast and fight, but which at present will dominate the negotiations between the various CIO and AFL cliques, the key figures will be Lewis, dictator of the 600,000 coal miners; Dan Tobin, czar of the 600,000 AFL teamsters; Bill Hutcheson, head of the rich and powerful carpenters union; George Meany of the building trades, and the Sidney Hillman machine in the clothing workers’ union. These .men control the vast purse strings, the huge roll of jobs, and have the power. Lewis’ open knifing of Murray, his long-time associate, was significant not because it afforded Lewis some personal satisfaction in punishing an ex-colleague but because it showed that Murray, not having control of a large union, or his own machine, outside of Stalinist support at present, is doomed to second place in the game of power politics.

Lewis’ Threat

Even if Lewis does not appear this week before the CIO executive board, the ill-concealed threat he has of pulling the miners, and other unions he influences, out of the CIO into a unified labor movement is sufficient to speak more eloquently at the CIO executive board than all the windbag speeches, of two-by-four bureaucrats representing small or paper unions in the CIO, especially those controlled by the Stalinists. It is entirely possible that the Hillman machine, under Roosevelt’s thumb, will join in exerting what amounts to threats against the hesitant Murray, who was caught short in the maneuvers and spoke of them bitterly as another “Pearl Harbor.”

In the dynamics of the development of the trend toward unity, and the negotiations which will reflect the developments, there will be many ebbs and flows. Some more surprises – and more deals.

Labor’s ranks can learn tremendous lessons from a close study of these events. They can utilize the cracks and splits among the clique politicians on top to fight for the crying need in the labor movement, genuine trade union democracy.

And they must never forget that the most contemptible part of the union bureaucracy’s role comes from the fact that the whole gang of them is seeking to unite labor behind the imperialist war, rather than fighting for labor’s rights.

On this point, too, it is necessary to add another warning. Whether the union bureaucrats are united in one organization or control two divided organizations, they are all out to tie American labor to the imperialist war machine. However, under labor unity, the working class achieves certain advantages which make impossible, despite the bureaucrats, to fight against and resist more effectively the proposals that it pay the burden of Wall Street’s war.

The terrible inadequacy of the present trade union leadership in America, its incapacity of serving properly the interests of the rank and file of the union movement, are illustrated ; once again by the fact that the bureaucrats are going for unity, not because they saw the vital needs from the point of view of the ranks, but rather because of their own bureaucratic vested interests and their succumbing to a man to the pressure of the imperialist war. Viewing the present events broadly and taking into account both the vital needs and advantages of labor unity as well as a blistering analysis of the union bureaucrats who will consummate it, labor militants should adopt a simple, direct and clear program:


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