Felix Morrow

CIO Opens Road to
Militant Struggle

Convention Upholds Industrial Unionism

(23 November 1940)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. 4 No. 48, 30 November 1940, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J., Nov. 23 – The CIO has successfully rallied its major forces to continue the fight for industrial unionism. That is the great achievement of the five-day convention which closed last night.

It was in the three and a half hours of debate over this fundamental question that this convention came fully alive. That was Tuesday afternoon. Almost everything that took place after that was not in the nature of an anti-climax. Not that vital issues were lacking in the ensuing three days. Indeed, life-and-death questions facing the trade union movement and the workers came up. But those other questions were evaded or falsely answered.

The answer given to Sidney Hillman and his master, Roosevelt, in that Tuesday afternoon session, was not only a true one, but felt to be true by almost all the delegates, and they burned accordingly with a zeal that, unfortunately, did not again appear in the convention after that afternoon. But, for that afternoon the convention delegates became as a single mighty voice declaring the will of the CIO to live on and fulfill its historic mission of organizing the industrial proletariat of this country into the only kind of unions that can organize them – industrial unions.

Hillman’s Game

Sidney Hillman’s spokesmen could say what they pleased, the delegates clearly understood the real meaning of Hillman’s proposal: to push the CIO into immediate unity negotiations with the AFL under conditions favoring the craft union moguls; to surround the negotiations with an overwhelming hue and cry in the boss press, radio, movies, and all other methods of communication and pressure, pushing for unity on the AFL’s terms; and to “unite” over the broken bones of the new industrial unions which have been built since 1935 – the Steel Workers Organizing Committee, the United Electrical and Radio Workers, the United Automobile Workers, the Rubber Workers, etc.

Hillman’s career as a “statesman” in the service of Roosevelt requires that he remove from himself in the eyes of the bosses any stigma of responsibility for the continued division of the labor movement. Roosevelt and the employers want a “united” labor movement – i.e., united under a hidebound, conservative, impotent leadership like that of Messrs. Green, Woll, Frey, with the workers in war industries divided up, if they are organized at all, into scores of craft unions which the bosses can play one against the other. Obediently therefore. Hillman sought to achieve this objective.

That if he were successful, it might in the end mean disaster not only for all industrial unions but the weakening of his “own” clothing workers, troubles Hillman not at all. His eyes are henceforth fixed on government posts.

Hillman Arrives Afterward

Hillman himself was not present during the debate on this basic question. He arrived the next day and explained his absence: he had beep consulting with Bethlehem Steel officials – it was plain he had been hoping to bring back a bone from them to justify himself, but he didn’t get a bone.

In his absence three of his dependents defended his position – Frank Rosenblum and Franz Daniel of the clothing workers, and George Baldanzi of the textile workers. I have just consulted the stenographic record to verify my first impression and it confirms that feeling – Hillman’s boys did a very poor job. Not the least reason for that, perhaps, is that none of them believed what they were saying! They, unlike Hillman, may plan to continue living in the trade union movement after the consequences of Hillman’s proposal would become fully apparent!

Poor Case for Unity

Their argument for unity negotiations came down to: (1) The CIO had received very bad publicity in the previous negotiations – through no fault of the CIO, they hastened to add – and was therefore held responsible by the “public” for labor disunity, so now it should show it wasn’t to blame; (2) to be for immediate unity negotiations didn’t mean that they were for surrender to craft unionism; (3) “this time of national and world crisis” makes unity imperative so that labor can “make its rightful contribution to the cause of national defense.”

No other Hillman supporter asked for the floor and, as a result, the pro-CIO forces had the floor during most of the afternoon and they made the most of it.

A delegate from Wisconsin read into the record a letter from the AFL central body in Milwaukee which revealed that it was attempting to smash the United Auto Workers local at the Allis-Chalmers plant and replace it with a score of craft units. The letter explicitly repudiated the idea of uniting all the workers in the plant in one local and boasted that its “organizing campaign” had the direct help of the AFL national office.

AFL’s Jim Crow Policy

A Negro delegate. Neil Weaver, passionately brought to the fere the AFL crafts’ “lily white” policy: the only jobs open to his people under that policy, he said, are hod carriers and porters. Where is there any sign that the craft moguls will cease their Jim Crow policy? And what had the AFL ever done for the packinghouse workers, except keep them unorganized? Weaver’s was scarcely a polished speech, but that only made it all the more genuine a reflection of the bitterness of the Negroes and the packinghouse workers against the aristocrats of labor.

There had been many rumors in the corridors about division within the leadership of the United Mine Workers; that was punctured by the participation in the debate of the union’s chief figures: Van Bittner, Secretary-Treasurer Thomas Kennedy, John Owens. They went over the history of the last five years and pilloried the AFL leadership’s attempts to smash the new industrial unions.

James B. Carey and James Matles spoke of the growth of their union, the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers. They claimed an additional 50,000 organized during the last year. What they had to say was particularly impressive for it is an open secret that, whatever conceivable concessions the craft unions may come to make to other new unions, the U.E, now the fourth largest union in the CIO, will be dismembered if there is “unity” in the immediate future.

John L. Lewis was the final speaker against the Hillman proposal, and it was unquestionably one of the most effective speeches ever made by that powerful orator. Not the least of the reasons for his effectiveness was that on this question Lewis found himself in a position where he could speak with absolute honesty and truthfulness.

Lewis Challenges Hillman

The AFL has not recognized the principle of industrial unionism in the mass industries, said Lewis. Can we make them recognize it? No, not now:

“There is no peace because you are not yet strong enough to command peace upon honorable terms. And there will be no peace with a mighty adversary until you possess that strength of bone and sinew that will make it possible for you to bargain for peace on equal terms.”

Lewis publicly threw down the gage of battle to Hillman. He recalled the defection of Dubinsky and Zaritsky, “And now above all the clamor comes the piercing wail and the laments of the Amalgamated Clothing workers. And they say, ‘Peace it is wonderful.’ And there is no peace.” “Dubinsky took the easy way. Zaritsky took the easy way. If there is anybody else in the CIO that wants to take the easy way, then in God’s name, take it!”

Ridicules AFL Tops

The convention delegates roared and hugged themselves with delight as Lewis interspersed logical argument with some screamingly funny Shakespearean comedy, ridiculing the Amalgated Clothing Workers resolution’s proposal to “explore the possibilities’ of peace.

“We have explored every proposition” said Lewis. “What have we all been doing? I have been an explorer in the American Federation of Labor. Explore the mind of Bill Green? Why Bill and I had offices next door to each other in the same corridor for ten years. I have done a lot of exploring in Bill’s mind, and I give you my word, there is nothing there.

“Explore Mathew Woll’s mind? I did. It is the mind ot an insurance agent, who used his position as an officer of the AFL to promote his insurance business. It is so because I told him so and he agreed with me.

“Explore Tom Rickert’s mind, of the United Garment Workers? I did, and here is what was in his mind. He said he did not propose to let the Amalgamated Clothing Workers into, the AFL if he could help it. I said to him that he was getting $20,000 a year graft out of the advertising monopoly in the AFL, and I had a paper in my pocket to prove it. He knew it and agreed to that as true. And I thought then I had explored his mind enough.

“Explore the mind of Bill Hutcheson? I did. There wasn’t anything there that would do you any good. So what? Waste more time on unprofitable explorations?”

Last updated on 14 November 2020