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Jack Wilson

Milk Monopolists Fear UMW’s Dairy Union Drive

(April 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 16, 19 April 1942, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

NEW YORK CITY – Fearing the beneficial effects of a nation-wide farmers organization tied up directly with and working as part of the labor movement, the big monopolists through their newspapers and stooge organizations have begun a vicious attack on the organization efforts of the Dairy Farmers Union, an affiliate of the United Mine Workers of America.

The New York Times indicated with virtual horror that when the union organized and put a label on milk being delivered, “the label would signify that the milk had been produced by a union farmer, handled exclusively by union labor at the receiving and pasteurizing plants, and delivered by a union driver!”

And, to add to this terrible – for the bosses – picture, the Dairy Farmers Union would seek a closed shop! In fact, in Flint, Mich., “it is doing so!

Is it any wonder that the old-line, decrepit farmers’ associations, got together and formed, with the blessings of the big milk companies, like Borden’s, a “Free Farmers” group to combat the CIO union in this field.

“This country cannot exist as a democracy under a universal closed shop,” declared James A. McConnell, general manager of the Grange League Federation, and a director of Free Farmers, in a blast against the Dairy Farmers Union.

To which Holland R. Foster, director of the Dairy Farmers Union, properly pointed out that the closed shop principle had been brought into the milkshed many years ago by organizations like the Dairymen’s League Association, one of the groups affiliated with the Free Farmers!

Foster added:

“If you don’t sign their contract you don’t belong. If you don’t belong you can’t sell them your milk. These people, who have had a closed shop for years, are crying to high heaven tonight against a possible closed union shop. That’s hypocrisy.”

For years the powerful milk companies like Sheffield’s and Borden’s have played off the farmers’ associations against the union movement over the question of prices, seeking always to keep the workers and the farmers divided – and fighting each other.

Labor-Farmer Unity

In a few notable exceptions like in Minnesota and Ohio during recent years, either AFL or CIO unions have been able to make a united front with farmers’ organizations to fight against their common enemy, the milk trust, which is almost as large and powerful as the major industrial combines.

The skepticism that greeted the announcement by John L. Lewis that the United Mine Workers of America was going to undertake to help the farmers form a genuine organization affiliated directly to the labor movement has changed to alarm on the part of the old line association leaders and the milk companies since over 30,000 farmers already have joined the CIO union!

The fact that a section of the farmers have learned by their own experiences the need for rallying together under the leadership of the labor movement is of tremendous historical significance, because it shows what the future can hold and it tears away the myth that the farmers are “anti-labor and always will be.”

In outlining the aims of the Dairy Farmers Union, which received its charter from District 50 of the UMWA, Foster pointed out:

“The United Dairy Farmers organization is to be operated by farmers; its policies mapped by farmers; its organizers will be farmers for the most part and its members will not be of the terroristic variety. It’s ridiculous of the Free Farmers to bring up the question of riots and so-called malicious damage. Such attacks only show the weakness of the opposition and certainly point to the desperate measures which the Free Farmers and other kindred groups are taking.”

Fair Price for Milk

“John L. Lewis is helping the farmer to form a new national organization that will have as its main purpose obtaining a fair price for milk for the farmer, which means cost of production plus a fair return on his labor.”

The concern within CIO unions over this move of John L. Lewis arises not from a basic consideration of what is good for organized labor – and having the farmers rallied behind labor is good for both – but rather fear that Lewis will become a great power again.

The CIO leaders could easily, if they desired, carry out some organizing campaigns which would eliminate or diminish this concern over Lewis. The Agricultural Workers Union of the CIO, for example, could do something for a change among the sharecroppers and day laborers. The CIO executive board could begin to take seriously the last convention slogan: “Organize and organize.” Instead, the CIO leaders, bent solely on selling the war to the workers, view the Lewis drive among the farmers only from a narrow factional viewpoint. Instead of hailing the tendency toward some unity between the worker and the farmer, they are spending their time cursing Lewis’ drive.

It is obvious why Lewis began this campaign. If his efforts to organize 3,000,000 dairy farmers meet with considerable success, he is in a position to be a powerful influence in the 1944 presidential elections, and also to regain his role in the labor movement. No doubt the same considerations caused him originally to become leader of the CIO movement. In each case, the basic advantages of the gains to the labor movement far outweighed the bureaucratic manipulations and purposes of Lewis.

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