Paul Mattick

A.F. of L. and Administration Break


Published: in International Council Correspondence Vol. 1, no.6, March 1935, pp 18-19.
Source: Antonie Pannekoek Archives
Transcribed: by Graham Dyer

The pressure of class interests upon government is aptly illustrated by Roosevelt’s recent turn to the right in New Deal policies. The president came into office with a reputation for opportunism and vacillation. An astute political engineer, he lacked all knowledge of fundamental social and economic science. As a consequence, his cabinet is the most heterogeneous hodge-podge, running wild in contradictory and conflicting policies.

The liberals, captivated by his radiant smile and the well-meaning platitudes he uttered, as usual placed great hopes in him and were, as usual, disappointed in the end. The president never had a clear policy. He gropes around hoping for “something to turn up”, and just because of this lack of decision becomes a most adept executive for the master class of the country. The influences of capital are free to work upon him, and find no resistance such as would characterize a man of firm convictions. Thus, without being fully conscious of it, in spite of humanitarian sentiments, he pursues a course outlined for him by American capitalism with all the accuracy of a man fully conscious of the course.

It was not personal astuteness that caused him, at the outset of NRA, to curry favor with the A.F. of L. Finance and Manufacturing capital were terrorized by the fear of incipient revolution. They needed peace, industrial peace, in order to find their bearings, and NRA could not promise that without the help of the A.F. of L. Thus special inducements were held out to Green and his cohorts; and the A.F. of L. joyously accepted. It felt itself a partner in the Fascist reorganization of America, and would have continued as a partner if it had proved able to deliver.

It was intended that the A.F. of L. was to curb strikes, maintain industrial peace and develop unflinching loyalty to NRA on the part of the workers; but the A.F. of L. was unable to deliver. An unprecedented strike wave swept the country: Toledo, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and the textile strike were the high points of an upheaval that was continuous to the close of 1934. Rank and file rebellions in coal, steel and automobile unions threatened at all times to add to the confusion, and communist elements seemed to be gaining strength in unexpected places. Not that harried and blundering William Green didn’t do his best to head off militant action. He and John L. Lewis hastened to quell the miners of Pennsylvania when they resorted to strikes. He pleaded with tears in his eyes to prevent the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Tin and Steel Workers from striking. His membership was kept in line in the auto plants while independent and wild-cat strikes threatened to upset the auto industry. The San Francisco strike was repudiated by him, and the socialistic leaders of the Textile Workers’ Union called off its strike before attaining its objective.

One does not receive pay for good intentions. One must deliver; and Green, though his intentions were the best, couldn’t deliver. Painfully he limped from place to place trying to remedy conditions when the damage had already been done.

The organization work of the A.F. of L. was hampered by craft divisions. The NRA setup required vertical unions so that the workers, regimented in industrial units, could be effectively handled by their leaders and delivered to their masters. One prominent NRA executive resigned from his post because it was inconceivable to him to use a “craft” A.F. of L., and Gerald Swope of the General Electric voiced determined opposition to organizing his workers on a craft basis.

At its 1934 convention, the A.F. of L. decided to adopt “vertical” unions in some industries. That this was purely an opportunist maneuver was plain, as Charles P. Howard, president of the International Typographical Union, who fathered the compromise proposition on vertical unions, is a bitter enemy of all progressive tendencies in the typographical union, which latter is one of many crafts subdividing the printing industry.

But all of these efforts were belated. It had become obvious to NRA chieftains that the A.F. of L., though reactionary enough, lacked the force to become the Fascist labor adjunct of our dying capitalism. So the administration turned from it in the automobile controversy. The administration decided to continue the automobile code which admits company unions and independent unions into the collective bargaining arrangements until June 16th. This turn of events shows no deviation by the national administration from its previous policy of regimenting workers in units that will serve the general fascization of American labor. It merely represents a shift from the A.F. of L. as the instrument of fascism, to the pure company union. It does not signify that the A.F. of L. becomes progressive. It merely means that the latter will act as a minor fascist agent in the labor movement instead of being the main factor,

Green and his cohorts will call no general strikes. They may bluster as they have done in the past, but there will be no action. The A.F. of L. has lost so much ground in the auto industry, as a result of its temporizing policy, that it couldn't call a strike if it would. There is no danger that the A.F. of L. leaders will initiate in any industry a strike movement that very likely would result in rank and file strength which would eventually overthrow the leadership.


Last updated on: 6.15.2018