Felix Morrow

The Stalinist Policy in the Trade Unions

The Whitewashing of John L. Lewis Is the Keystone of Present Stalinist Line

(May 1941)

Source: The Militant, Vol. V No. 20, 17 May 1941, p. 4.
Transcription/Editing/HTML Markup: 2015 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Copyleft: Felix Morrow Internet Archive (www.marx.org) 2015. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.

For the first time in a long, long time, the leadership of the Communist Party has published a general document on its trade union policy. Labor Has Moved Forward is its title, and it takes a full page in the Friday, May 9, Daily Worker. It expresses a trade union policy which is opportunist to the core, a policy which can only lead the workers to defeat.

The recent strike wave has proved once again that the CIO, based on the heavy industries, comprises the most militant and the most strategically-important strata of the American working class. Ninety per cent of the recent strikes, and consequently of the gains in wages and working conditions, were the achievement of the CIO unions. In these strikes the workers demonstrated that, though they are. for the “defense” and aid-Britain program – their anti-fascist sentiments are being manipulated by Roosevelt for imperialist purposes – they are also more than ever determined to wrest better wages and working conditions from the war-profiteering capitalists.

All this was shown by the CIO strikes. But those strikes also revealed a profound difference between the CIO top leadership and the rank and file. While the strikers showed invincible determination on the picket lines, the top leaders were weakening in the negotiations. Much that was won on the picket line was Surrendered at the conference table.

Flagrant examples were the settlements in the Bethlehem and Ford strikes, where the workers were sent back to work without a union contract. Why did the 1937 strikes against General Motors and Chrysler win settlement by union contract, and the 1941 strikes against Ford and Bethlehem did not? There is only one answer: the top CIO leadership buckled under government pressure and sent the men back to work for a fraction of what they had already won on the picket line.

It should be clear, then, that unless the workers learn from the shortcomings of the recent strike settlements, these shortcomings are likely to be repeated – and in worse form – during the next strike wave.

The Stalinist Conspiracy of Silence

The workers cannot learn this from the Communist Party’s document on trade union policy. On the contrary, the Stalinist document COVERS UP the false policy of the top leadership of the CIO.

And from this treacherous silence it follows that the Stalinist document does not raise the various demands which the Socialist Workers Party has raised, to remedy the defects in the course of the CIO. The Stalinist document does not demand that trade union officials resign from all posts in the government, including the OPM and the National Mediation Board. Nor does it call for organizing Union Defense Guards to protect the, picket lines and union halls against “law and order committees” and all other anti-labor bands. Nor does it call for an immediate halt to all acts of hostility between the AFL and CIO which serve the bosses’ strikebreaking. And it is silent about the immediate need to build an Independent Labor Party.

It is silent on these and other burning questions because the Stalinist trade union policy is based at present on a whitewash of John L. Lewis. The Daily Worker document is one long song of praise to Lewis. It takes lots of whitewash to present John L. Lewis as an unblemished lamb. But that is all in the day’s work to those who tried to whitewash even the Moscow trials! It takes lies and concealment? These are the daily tools of the Daily Worker.

Let us cite a few examples:

1. The document warns against “the different ‘defense plans,’ whether put forward by Hillman or Murray.” Correct. BUT JOHN L. LEWIS HAS ENDORSED MURRAY’S PLAN. In the May 5th CIO News there appears the text of a speech by John L. Lewis. In it Lewis says:

“Philip Murray has offered government a plan ... The concentration of war orders is the bottleneck which restricts American production for defense ... Philip Murray’s plan would have avoided that, and would have curbed the rapacity of industrial leaders.”

In these unambiguous terms, Lewis endorsed Murray’s plan for “industry councils” composed of government, employer and labor representatives – a typical example of the government boards used to subordinate the workers to their class enemies. That Lewis proposed this is, however, not even hinted at in the Stalinist document!

Lewis Follows in Bevin’s Footsteps

2. Nor did John L. Lewis stop with endorsing Murray’s reactionary plan. Nor did he stop with saying that “Mr. Murray will be proud to supply some real representatives” to sit in the OPM, NDAC and other of the present governmental boards. Lewis went on to praise the British Labor Party’s policy of partnership with the bosses in government and to propose the same thing for this country:

“The difference between labor in the United States and Britain is that in England today labor is part of the government; it sits in policy-making positions and has a voice in formulating policies. In the United States, labor is not represented. It has no place in the government or in the cabinet. It has no adequate representation in the OPM or the NDAC or the War Department.” (John L. Lewis speech, CIO News, May 5, 1941)

In short, John L. Lewis’ policy is that of Bevin and the other British Labor Party leaders, a policy which the Daily Worker has correctly termed a betrayal of labor. But the Daily Worker conceals from its readers and the Communist Party members, that Bevin’s policy is also that of John L. Lewis.

3. By a skilful half-truth, the Stalinist document pictures John L. Lewis as an irreconcilable opponent of the National Mediation Board. It writes of “the Mediation Board which, as John L. Lewis so well pointed out, had its own formula for breaking strikes.” The kernel of truth in this statement is that Lewis did correctly denounce” one of the Board’s formulas: that calling on strikers to go back to work before mediation.

But Lewis did not characterize the Board as a strikebreaking institution. Lewis did not oppose the entry of CIO representatives in to the Board. On the contrary, Murray and Kennedy, Lewis’ lieutenants, went into the Board with the silent consent of Lewis. These facts about Lewis the Daily Worker seeks to cover up by its half-truth about his one specific criticism of the Mediation Board. And because Lewis backs Murray and Kennedy’s entry into the board, the Stalinist leaders, while making a perfunctory criticism of that entry, do not demand that CIO leaders resign from the board. Thereby the Stalinists aid in perpetuating union fig-leaves on government strikebreaking weapons.

The Bethlehem and Ford Strikes

4. The Daily Worker says nothing about the notorious, fact that the picket lines at the Bethlehem plants in Buffalo and Bethlehem, Pa., were left to shift for themselves, while the top leaders hurried off to settle as quickly as possible and without getting a union contract. Why weren’t those picket lines better organized? Why no union contracts? The Daily Worker is silent because those responsible were John L. Lewis’ lieutenants and associates.

5. Even more flagrant was the behavior of the top leaders in the Ford strike. Only after the strike, precipitated by the workers in the plant, had developed into a sit-down and the frightened top leaders wanted to get the workers out of the plants, did the leaders finally make the strike official. Nor could the leaders claim credit for the brilliant strategy which ensured the success of the strike – the mass auto barricades that outwitted Ford’s “service department.” The only role the top leaders played was in getting- the workers back to work without a union contract. Not a word about this in the Daily Worker either at the time or in its present document: because the leaders responsible for that were John L. Lewis’ men.

6. “One of the main weapons of the employers in stemming the wage increase drive is the no-strike agreement of the kind which the Hillmans and Freys are attempting to impose upon the shipyard workers and which actually worsens existing conditions,” says the Stalinist document. True – as far as it goes. But on the East Coast the CIO Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers is a party to just such an agreement now in process of completion, the CIO News has reported the developments without a word of criticism, and the Daily Worker knows as well as we do’ that the shipbuilding union leadership is close to John L. Lewis.

(Incidentally, the Stalinists’ own boy, National Maritime Union President Joseph Curran, has proposed for maritime just such a permanent board of governmental, employer and labor representatives as is set up under the shipbuilding agreement – of course without a word being said in the Daily Worker.)

7. The Daily Worker document correctly denounces the AFL top leadership for its strikebreaking role in the Ford, International Harvester and Allis-Chalmers strikes, where AFL charters issued to company stooges gave anti-labor elements the pretext to condemn “jurisdictional strikes.” The Daily Worker is, however, silent about the fact that the same kind of scabby role has been played by the CIO’s “Construction Workers Organizing Committee” headed by A.D. Lewis, John L.’s brother and lieutenant.

At Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, A.D. Lewis covered with a CIO charter electricians working for a contractor who had refused to sign a regular contract with the regular union in the trade – the AFL’s International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. An AFL strike against this contractor was broken by government pressure which, thanks to the CIO charter, was able to label the strikers merely “jurisdictional.” This shameful incident was used by the AFL leaders as a pretext to justify their scabbery at International Harvester and elsewhere. Silent about John L. Lewis’ role in this and a number of similar incidents in the construction industry, the Daily Worker is unable to support the correct slogan: An end to all acts of hostility between CIO and AFL – whether committed by AFL or CIO leaders – which serve the bosses’ strikebreaking.

What Lewis’ Program Includes

8. The Daily Worker document says: “The movement for wage increases must be developed everywhere. The issue is the Lewis program of winning increases versus the Hillman program of sacrifices.” This half-truth, more vicious than an outright lie, sums up the whole Stalinist trade union policy. It confronts the workers with but two alternatives: Lewis or Hillman. As if the class struggle consists merely of a choice between two men who, despite considerable differences in their policies, nevertheless are both irrevocably tied to a class-collaborationist outlook!

“The Lewis program” is also the program which includes Lewis-Murray’s “defense” plan and the “demand” for “adequate” labor posts in the government; entry into the National Mediation Board and the other governmental boards; the poor settlements of the Ford and Bethlehem strikes, etc.

9. The Lewis program also includes plenty of red-baiting. Although Lewis and Murray have taken the progressive step of defending Harry Bridges against the attempt to deport him, they have also instigated red-baiting attacks in the unions. Let the Daily Worker dare to claim that the removal as “Communists” of local union officials by the International Executive Board of the CIO shipyard union was not done with the agreement of Lewis and Murray! We dare the Daily Worker to assert that the puny James B. Carey, president of the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers, a fifth-rate figure whom Lewis and Murray made national secretary of the CIO, is conducting his red-baiting in the UE without prior agreement with Lewis and Murray! In the Northwest, three of John L. Lewis’ own machine men – Dalrymple and Francis, CIO state directors of Oregon and Washington, and Adolph Germer, Lewis’ appointee as director of organization of the International Woodworkers – are going to any lengths, including calling in the FBI against the “reds” – let the Daily Worker tell us why Lewis and Murray haven’t stopped them. But the Daily Worker covers all this with silence; it will not tell the truth about Lewis and his henchmen.

One could adduce dozens of other examples of the lies, half-truths and concealment resorted to by the Daily Worker to whitewash John L. Lewis. What has been already said, however, suffices to show the CONSEQUENCES of this Stalinist fraud – whitewashing John L. Lewis means, on the union floor and the picket line, policies which rob the workers of the fruits of their victories.

Why the Stalinists Support Lewis

Why do the Stalinists persist in supporting Lewis through thick and thin? They even found progressive aspects in his support of Willkie’s election campaign. During 1935–1938, Stalinist reasons for a bloc with Lewis were obvious enough. The Stalinists were then for “defense of the democracies by collective security,” were for “defeat of Landon at all costs,” etc., and so was Lewis. But now the Lewis and Stalinist lines diverge sharply. Lewis is for “defense,” “adequate” posts in the government, gives silent consent to Murray’s aid-Britain policy, etc., all of which the Stalinists oppose.

He who looks in Lewis’ policies for an explanation of Stalinist support of him is looking in the wrong place. The Stalinists support him for the same reason that they support Batista, Roosevelt’s agent in Cuba, and Mexico President Camacho, who has become completely subservient to Wall Street’s program. It is merely the method whereby the Stalinist apparatus seeks to hang on in each of these countries during this period. Then, if and when Stalin seeks to re-orient toward the “democracies,” his hirelings will at that time have ready at hand a bass from which to woo the “democracies” on behalf of Stalin. Not Lewis’ policies, but the needs of Stalin’s foreign policy explain the Stalinist policy in the trade unions. That this policy causes untold harm to the workers – that scarcely troubles the monster in the Kremlin or his agents here. Deeply tragic, however, is the plight of the many genuine militants who, deluded by the Stalinist bureaucracy, serve as the unwitting vessels who transfer its deadly poison into the veins of the American working class.


Last updated on: 2 November 2015