Martin Harvey

Michigan CIO Retreats
from Its 1943 Militancy

(24 July 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 30, 24 July 1944, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

GRAND RAPIDS – Over 1,600 delegates from Michigan CIO unions met here from July 12 through July 15 in a convention which dealt the CIO and the labor movement generally a severe blow. The seventh annual convention of the Michigan CIO Council, dominated, as usual, by the Auto Workers, considered the problems facing organized labor and on two major issues – the no-strike pledge and political action – reversed the progressive stand taken by the 1943 convention.

Last year the convention had opposed the no-strike pledge and supported the principle of a Labor Party. Both decisions were ignored by the state CIO leadership to the extent of violating the mandate of the convention which had demanded a referendum of CIO members on the Labor Party question. This year the Addes and Reuther caucuses, which dominate the Michigan CIO, united to pressure through a reversal on both questions.

Fight Over No-Strike Pledge

The major issue at the convention was the no-strike pledge. The resolutions committee reported out a resolution which reaffirmed the pledge but attacked Harry Bridges and the Communists by condemning those “inside or outside the labor movement who propose to continue the no-strike pledge in time of peace.” A minority resolution was reported out by John Zupan of Willow Run Local 50, UAW-CIO. It resolved:

“1. That this convention of the Michigan State CIO Council go on record for the rescinding of the nostrike pledge.

“2. That the Michigan CIO convention calls upon the national CIO either to rescind the no-strike pledge, or to conduct a national referendum among its membership to decide whether to reaffirm or rescind this pledge.

“3. That the Michigan CIO convention instructs the incoming State Executive Board to give full and favorable publicity to the workers’ side of the story in any strike situation that may be provoked within the state during the coming year.”

All the big guns of the CIO leadership were turned on the minority resolution. All the major speeches by CIO brass-hats were devoted to fighting the growing sentiment against the no-strike pledge. James Carey of the national CIO, George Addes of the Auto Workers, Adolph Germer of the CIO and others who took up half of the convention’s time, saved their main arguments to support the no-strike pledge.

Ganging Up on Militants

In an obviously staged scene, Chairman John Gibson ignored the rules of order and called on a delegate who asked a sailor who had just finished speaking to the convention what the servicemen in the South Pacific would think if the no-strike pledge were revoked. The sailor, who had no “official” standing in the convention or in its deliberations, answered: “I am not a union man, but I think about eighty per cent of the men in the South Pacific are. I know they would feel terribly let down.”

Despite the speeches and flag-waving, sentiment for the revocation of the pledge was obviously increasing and consideration of the pledge was moved up from Friday to Thursday to prevent its increasing further.

Speakers for the majority resolution were given the best possible break on the floor of the convention. Still they could do nothing but repeat the old, worn arguments. Grant, president of Ford Local 600, charged that nothing had been gained by Strikes. He ignored, of course, the strike in Windsor, Ont., where Ford workers had achieved a smashing victory. And he ignored, too, the gains made by the United Mine Workers in their strikes. He didn’t bother to consider the question of whether more strikes would be won if the CIO leaders backed the workers instead of tried to break their strikes.

Paul Webber of the Newspaper Guild argued that revocation of the pledge would defeat Roosevelt and CIO political action. This point will be considered later.

What most of the speakers for the majority resolution had to resort to was irrelevant remarks about the boys at the front and vigorous flag waving. The flag waving got so bad at one point that the delegates from the Flint Chevrolet Local 659 had to go out to buy some American flags to wave back.

The phony appeals to patriotism were effectively answered by Delegate Sarber (Detroit Diesel Local 163), who noted that “As long as management holds that club [the no-strike pledge] over our heads, they’re holding it over the heads of the boys in the foxholes.”

Jamming Through a Vote

Paul Silver, president of Local 351, charged that the leadership opposed a referendum on the no-strike pledge because they feared the decision the rank and file would make.

Jess Ferrazza, president of Local 212, rose to say: “When the leadership can tell us what to do about strikes, we are getting just like the American Federation of Labor.”

Chairman Gibson, refusing to recognize several known supporters of the minority resolution, bureaucratically ended the discussion. He ignored repeated demands for a roll call vote on the question. Yet, despite these tactics, one third of the delegates, what the reactionary Detroit News described in an editorial as an “uncomfortably strong minority,” voted against reaffirming the no-strike pledge.

The News was justifiably worried about the minority. Local after local announced that it would carry the fight to the UAW convention which will be held in September. And against their defeat in the vote, the opponents of the no-strike pledge have for the first time an organized caucus outside of both the Reuther and Addes caucuses. The minority rank and file caucus is discussed elsewhere in this issue.

The only other major controversial issue before the convention was political action, which was presented to the delegates as the alternative to strike action. The position of the CIO chiefs was embodied in the resolution in support of the CIO Political Action Committee.

Unfortunately, there was no serious opposition to this resolution. In what little discussion there was, Matt Hammond, state chairman of the Michigan Commonwealth Federation and president of Local 157, who should have been the spokesman for genuine independent political action – a Labor Party – merely proposed changing one word in the resolution. He asked that “independent” political action be substituted for “effective” political action.

That Hammond wasn’t interested in bucking the CIO leadership is demonstrated by his remark that: “I want to see Michigan in the Democratic column in 1944.” A truly remarkable statement from tire head of an independent political party!

The decision of the MCF leaders to refrain from pressing for endorsement of their party at the convention seriously weakened the position of the MCF. Even if they had. gone down to defeat, they would have had the opportunity of opening an educational discussion inside the CIO and would have forced the PAC leaders to face the issue of a Labor Party squarely. As it turned out, not only was the MCF ignored, but the position of the minority against the nostrike pledge was weakened because they failed to attack PAC as a supporter of capitalist politicians.

There was no excuse for this failure, for the PAC policy was a house of cards that was easy to tear down. It was made up of fraud and deliberate lies, all to win labor support for Roosevelt.

In the resolution attacking the Smith-Connally Act, the CIO referred to “the courageous and farsighted veto of President Roosevelt.” It would have been a simple matter to point out that Roosevelt vetoed the Smith-Connally Act, in his own words, not because it outlawed strikes and hurt labor, but because it did not do these things effectively enough.

Two Steps Backward

Other resolutions supported by the CIO leadership, if they had been worded honestly, would have demonstrated the folly of support to Roosevelt and the Democratic Party.

Regarding the OPA, the convention resolved “that the Michigan CIO Council ... go on record to vigorously condemn those who helped to sabotage the Price Control Act ...” Yet when CIO leaders demanded a veto of the Price Control Act, Roosevelt not only signed the act but praised Congress highly for its “statesmanship.” Whom does the resolution “vigorously condemn” if not Roosevelt?

The convention resolved to support the case of the steel workers and demanded revision of the Little Steel formula. It would be difficult to detect from the resolution that it was President Roosevelt’s Little Steel formula that was being condemned.

These examples – from resolutions and speeches – could be continued indefinitely. Yet no one took the floor to point out that the PAC policy of support to Roosevelt was suicide. That neither Roosevelt nor his Democratic Party had anything to offer to labor. That PAC meant only further retreat, more defeats. That only an independent Labor Party could offer any hope to the labor movement. The MCF missed the boat.

The only fight at the convention between the Reuther and Addes factions was over jobs – and it was a Reuther show all the way. C. Pat Quinn, Addes-backed candidate for state president against incumbent John Gibson, was withdrawn before the convention opened. Barney Hopkins, Reuther candidate for secretary-treasurer, defeated Ben Probe, who had held the post for three terms. The vote was rather close, probably due mainly to the refusal of many delegates who had opposed the no-strike pledge to support either candidate.

The election of seventeen vice-presidents is not yet determined at this writing. The only thing of interest in this contest is the slate of five or six rank and file candidates pledged to opposition to the no-strike pledge. Their chances were considerably decreased by the distribution of a so-called independent delegate slate with candidates from both the Hopkins and Probe tickets.

Last updated on 29 June 2020