From Labor Action, Vol.6 No. 23, 8 June 1942, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
The deeply-rooted crisis in the CIO reached an acute stage this week with the presentation to the CIO executive board of the demands of the policy committee of the United Mine Workers of America.
Since the UMWA has long been considered the backbone of the CIO – witness its record of assistance to the building of the industrial union movement – and its 600,000 members constitute a powerful organized labor body, the issues involved can hardly be treated lightly by any serious CIO unionist.
For months the CIO unionists have watched with growing concern the impending struggle between the various tendencies in the leadership of the CIO unions, fearing another costly internal fight such as marked the Auto Workers Union in 1938 and 1939.
This concern has not been lessened by the provocative attitude and policies pursued by the Stalinist party clique in the CIO which has sought at each turn of events to force a split of the coal miners from the CIO under the guise of “isolating John L. Lewis,” as their May Day manifesto declared.
Acting as a spur to Philip Murray, CIO president, the Stalinists have inflamed the entire CIO with a bitterness which is designed to have one effect: Get Murray and other non-Stalinist CIO leaders to split irrevocably from the miners, so that only they and the Stalinists will be left in the leadership of the CIO.
The plan of the Stalinists is to try to take over the CIO by making a captive of Murray after the miners have been forced out or have departed from the CIO.
The reason for this strategy of the Stalinists is obvious: they want to hogtie the CIO completely to the war machine, giving up all elementary union rights, and they want to be in a position to put more pressure on Roosevelt on various international policies which will aid the Stalin regime in Russia.
While the differences between Murray and John L. Lewis are of vital importance, they are overshadowed in the long run by this fundamental difference which exists between all CIO unionists and the Stalinist clique in the CIO.
It would be a major tragedy for the CIO union movement if it permitted a split on the present issues of dispute between the present leadership and the John L. Lewis forces. The CIO was founded on the principle of a democratic union organization, united on basic economic issues despite difference of race, creed, color or political views.
Of the present demands of the United Mine Workers – and it must be remembered that the policy committee has the legal authority to outline these policies – all can be discussed and decided democratically within the CIO if the rank and file intervenes against a split attitude.
The miners’ union demands that unity negotiations with the AFL be; renewed under the leadership of the committee chosen by the CIO convention in 1938. The members of, that committee are John L. Lewis, Philip Murray and Sidney Hillman, What can possibly be lost by the CIO in having an “exploratory” talk on labor unity? Surely the CIO: ranks are for unity with the AFL, unity based on industrial unionism in the mass production industries.
The prestige considerations of Lewis, Murray or anyone else must be secondary to this basic approach. Yet here the ranks of the CIO have seen, month in and month out, the top leaders playing prestige politics; with too little concern for the basic issues involved.
The bureaucratic regimes in the coal miners, and the steel workers, and many other CIO unions have made it possible for the top leaders of the CIO to get away with this kind of irresponsible leadership. This lesson must not be forgotten by the ranks!
Everyone in the labor movement knows that the Stalinists are bitterly opposed to labor unity because they fear that in a combined union movement they will be reduced to secondary power or purged! But what CIO unionist is concerned with preserving the power and prestige of the Stalinist clique, which turns and shifts on every issue, depending on what orders Stalin’s commissars give out?
All the flag-waving of the Stalinists against any opponents of its union-strangling policies is merely smokescreen to hide the nefarious aims of this gang of Kremlin stooges in the union movement!
The second demand of the coal miners is for recognition of a debt of $1,680,000 by CIO unions to the UMWA!
The proposal of the UMWA that this money be returned by deducting it monthly as a per capita tax payment to the CIO treasury puts the CIO board on the spot. How can the Murray-Hillman-Stalinist forces get around it without taking the blame for a split in the CIO?
All the shrieking of the Daily Worker and its new-found ally, the New York newspaper PM, against John L. Lewis and the United Mine Workers was based on the hope that if they hurled enough slander and violent charges, the United Mine Workers would depart from the CIO without these two major demands receiving any consideration. At this moment the strategy has not yet worked.
The third demand of the UMWA, which was not carried in detail by the press, was that the “attacks against the UMWA and its leadership desist!”
If this means that in practice no one has the right to disagree or dispute with the UMWA policy committee proposals, it is a bureaucratic demand worthy only of the Stalinists, who always seek to establish a totalitarian atmosphere in the labor movement!
But if it is a demand to Murray and Hillman that the present CIO leadership call a halt to the utterly inflammatory “rule or ruin” attacks of the Stalinists which go beyond the border of serious trade unionists in disagreement over policy, then the entire CIO would welcome a “calming down” of the Stalinist hatchet-men and their allies.
Behind the dispute on the union issues involved in the present struggle in the CIO and part and parcel of the whole situation are the differences between the various tendencies in the top leadership of the CIO on how to support the war.
The Stalinists are for all-out surrender of labor gains and rights, no matter what happens to the working class.
The Murray forces are wavering on this issue, tending one week to unite fully with the Stalinists in this policy and next week seeking, however feebly, to obtain some concession for labor like the union shop in steel and auto, and the dollar a day wage increase.
The Lewis forces have appeared to remain more intransigent on giving up labor’s gains and rights, with Lewis carefully exploiting the growing resentment on a national scale among the industrial workers against the inequality of sacrifice program prevailing today.
Incidentally, not the least of the reasons why Murray is so hot and bothered against Lewis is that he fears Lewis will recapture control of the CIO by this present policy. Of course this prospect is a nightmare to the Stalinists even more so!
Only the intervention of the CIO ranks to preserve the industrial union movement can halt any disastrous developments which might occur in this period!
Last updated: 24.6.2013