Felix Morrow

The CIO Answer to the Anti-Labor Drive

(August 1943)

Source: Fourth International, Vol. 4 No. 8, August 1943, pp. 239–241.
Transcribed: Ted Crawford.
HTML Markup: David Walters.
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The CIO executive board met July 7–9, in what it termed “extraordinary session,” to take action against the rising cost of living, wage-freezing, unfair taxation of workers, and anti-labor legislation. In a formula which attributed these evils to Congress alone, the board adopted a program “to convert the present anti-labor Congress into a pro-labor win-the-war-Congress.” The program is to be popularized in the unions during the July 9–September 14 recess of Congress, so that when it reconvenes Congress will behave differently than in the session just closed.

This CIO program includes no new legislation or economic demands. In fact, as we shall see, all of it was insisted upon in the early days of the last session of Congress. In analyzing its effectiveness, therefore, the obvious question is posed: why did Congress ride roughshod over the desires of the CIO, and why should the mere repetition of the same desires get any further in the next session of the same Congress?

The answer to this question might conceivably be that the CIO leadership was caught unawares by the anti-labor drive in Congress and did not campaign for its program. But such an answer is refuted by the facts. The Boston convention of the CIO, held in November after the Congressional elections, resounded with warnings that an anti-labor drive would be launched in the new Congress. Then, early in the Congressional session, the CIO executive board’s meeting of February 4–6 launched a legislative campaign.

Nor was that merely a CIO campaign. At the end of the first day of that executive board meeting, President Philip Murray called in the press and announced an agreement on joint legislative activity by the CIO, AFL, Railroad Brotherhoods and the National Farmers Union. “This is the first time in the history of the labor movement that such a coalition has been formed,” Murray said, pointing out that it would bring the program “of 13 million organized people to Congress.” A headline in the February 8 CIO News called it a “Labor-Farmer People’s Lobby.” Presumably that lobby functioned throughout the session of Congress.

The February Program of the CIO

Among the demands launched by that February meeting of the CIO executive board were:

The CIO executive board also launched the slogan: “Keep your eye on Congress.” Each week under this slogan the CIO News listed pending bills, their effect on labor, and what the unions should do about it – usually “wire your Representative.”

That campaign was defeated on all three main issues. Instead of higher wages, came wage-freezing. Instead of real price control and rationing, came accelerated price rises and food shortages uncontrolled by rationing – the largest cattle herds in history but workers unable to get meat for their ration coupons. Instead of taxes on ability to pay, the 20 per cent tax on the masses and the Ruml 75 per cent tax grab for the rich.

For, while the CIO leadership urged the workers to “keep your eye on Congress,” the unwatched Roosevelt administration dealt the blows. Wages were frozen by the Roosevelt-controlled War Labor Board. Prices were permitted to rise and food shortages developed by the Roosevelt-controlled OPA and War Food Administration. And whatever differences there were between Congress and the Roosevelt administration concerning taxes, they saw eye to eye on the 20 per cent tax on all wages over $12 a week for single workers and $24, a week for married couples. There were sharp differences between Roosevelt and Congress, but they were united in their joint assault on the workers’ standard of living.

Roosevelt would have dealt these blows against the workers in any event, for a capitalist regime can conduct war only by throwing the burden of the cost upon the workers. But Roosevelt’s reactionary task was made quite easy by the servile support he received from the AFL and CIO top leaders. They gave him their no-strike pledge which, so far as the workers observed it, left them without their principal weapon of resistance; and whenever the workers did resort to strikes, the top union leaders joined in treating them as outlaws and hounding them back to work. Likewise the union officialdom surrendered double-time pay for Sundays and holidays. By accepting membership in the War Labor Board, the AFL and CIO leaders gave it an authority and prestige which no law could give it; and then, as accomplices within the board, they did all in their power to cover up the fact that the fundamental policy assigned to the board by Roosevelt was wage-freezing. They likewise pretended to find a non-existent distinction between Roosevelt’s policies for the OPA and the War Food Administration and the way in which those policies were carried out by Roosevelt’s appointees. In short, the principal reason for the complete failure of the program enunciated by the CIO executive board meeting of February 4-6 was that in actuality the CIO leadership supported the contrary program of Roosevelt.

The “New” CIO Legislative Program

In the light of these facts, let us now analyze the “new” program laid down by the CIO executive board at its July 7–9 Meeting. It consists of three main resolutions published in the CIO News. Let us examine them.

The first resolution deals with the Smith-Connally Act. It expresses “our deep gratitude” at Roosevelt’s veto and makes no attempt to explain how the bill was passed over the veto by a House vote of 211–108 and a Senate vote of 56–25, i.e., by majorities of Roosevelt’s own party. It says nothing about Roosevelt’s, “failure” to notify some thirty New Deal Congressmen who were absent from Washington (nine of them would have been enough to sustain the veto) that he was sending his message to the House. It says nothing about the fact that Roosevelt’s veto message specifically endorsed the first seven of the nine provisions of the Smith-Connally Act – the seven outlawing strikes, like that of the miners, in any plant or mine in government custodianship. Instead, the resolution condemns the miners’ strikes as the reason why Congress “enacted this vicious anti-labor measure to wreak vengeance for the acts of one individual [Lewis] who flouted the needs of the nation for continuous production of vital war materials, ignored the machinery established for the adjustment of all labor disputes, and recklessly caused a national strike in the coal fields.” Thus, to cover up Roosevelt and the Democratic party, the CIO leadership deliberately falsifies the facts and blames John L. Lewis for the anti-labor law.

The resolution then goes on to reiterate the “no strike pledge” to Roosevelt and to call for a campaign to repeal the Smith-Connally Act.

To fight against that law requires a fight against all its supporters – including Roosevelt who supports its first seven provisions. But by covering up Roosevelt’s complicity the CIO leadership dooms in advance any action by it against the law.

The resolution on prices and wages does not even go as far as the February resolution. At that time the executive board came out for higher wages beyond the Little Steel formula, for it called for wage raises to cover price rises since May 1912, the period to which the Little Steel formula is limited. Now it merely says that it will ask Roosevelt to revise the Little Steel formula “in the event Congress prevents the use of subsidies and thereby prevents the rolling back of prices.” This resolution was adopted before Congress adjourned. Since then the CIO national office has announced that it “understands” that President Roosevelt has sufficient authority to use subsidies and roll back prices, hence it will not now call upon him to revise the Little Steel formula.

Why did the CIO executive board formally demand wages beyond the Little Steel formula in February, while now, after five more months of price rises, it drops this demand? The fact is that the February demand did not explicitly demand revision of the Little Steel formula, but such revision would have been required in order to grant the demand for wage raises to cover price rises since May 1942. In February the CIO leadership permitted itself the demagogic gesture of formally making this demand because the average worker then did not understand that realization of this demand meant a finish fight against the Little Steel formula. In the intervening months, however, thanks to the miners’ fight, millions of workers have come to understand the wage-freezing role of the Little Steel formula which Roosevelt insists on maintaining. In the face of this widespread understanding, repetition of the February demand would be taken by the CIO workers as a signal to fight against the Little Steel formula. So the CIO leadership drops the demand!

Instead of wage raises, it offers the workers the illusion that Roosevelt may still roll back prices. He is to do so by two methods:

(1) Stricter enforcement of price controls by the OPA. But the Roosevelt-controlled OPA has had all the necessary powers at least since the price control law of October 2, 1942, and yet – price rises have accelerated since then.

It has become clear that capitalist bureaucrats neither can nor will curb capitalist profiteering price rises. This fact is implicitly admitted by the CIO resolution when it calls upon the OPA to utilize “the assistance of labor organizations and ... other local groups of consumers and housewives” to help impose “severe penalties upon price violators and operators of black markets.” There is the core of an important truth here: only mass control of prices by a broad network of committees of labor organizations and housewives could hold back price rises. But this correct idea is completely perverted by the resolution when it leaves to the OPA the initiative of summoning such mass control into existence. We will wait until Doomsday before President Roosevelt and his OPA appointees will summon the masses to organize such a broad network of price-policing. Such a network would give a tremendous impetus to the class struggle, arousing the masses against the whole system of capitalist profits. Roosevelt would no more do that than he would call for the overthrow of capitalism.

(2) Prices are to be rolled back by subsidies. This idea is false for many reasons, first of all because the capitalists who are flouting price-controls anyway would scarcely be bought off by subsidies; they would pocket the subsidies and prices would rise anyway, if not at the point of manufacture, then at that of the wholesaler or jobber, the chain store, etc. Moreover, the method of subsidies cannot work now, if we take the figures cited in the CIO resolution which declares: “At least two billion dollars is necessary for this program to be effective. Any smaller appropriation is but a token gesture.” Afterward, the CIO national office announced it “understands” Roosevelt has the authority and funds. But OPA Administrator Prentiss M. Brown, at a press conference July 15, gave the figure of $455,000,000 – less than one-fourth the figure cited as necessary by the CIO resolution – as the amount he has “authority to spend” on subsidies. As to the effectiveness of this method, there is a “rollback program” of subsidies now operating on meats and butter – every housewife who now pays fantastic prices for these items, when she does not come home empty-handed altogether, can testify what a fraud this program is.

(3) Finally, there is the resolution for “joint action” with the AFL and the Railroad Brotherhoods:

“on all issues directed toward an intensified prosecution of the war, the protection of organized labor against its enemies, a fuller participation of labor in the war effort, and for a complete mobilization of the people in support of the war program of our Commander-in-Chief, Franklin D. Roosevelt ...”

This support of Roosevelt will take the concrete form, concludes the resolution, of:

“local mobilization of the people in order that they may on an organized basis create the means for communicating to that Congressmen, as they return home during the coming recess and thereafter when they return to Congress, the determination of all true Americans to preserve our democratic institutions such as labor unions and to support our Commander-in-Chie in his challenge to the Nation for a more vigorous and affirmative prosecution of the war.”

Since the CIO board meeting, this proposition has been the main point of CIO publicity, which incessantly repeats the formula “convert the present anti-labor Congress into a pro-labor win-the-war Congress.” This is to be done by inviting Congressmen to address local union meetings, sending delegations to see Congressmen, etc. in order to get them to ... support Roosevelt.

Compare the July program of the CIO leadership with its February program, and one sees that nothing has been added, while the demand for immediate wage raises beyond the Little Steel formula has been dropped. Both programs absolve Roosevelt of any responsibility for the attack on the workers’ living standards and attribute them entirely to Congress. One can only characterize them as programs deliberately designed to deceive the workers about Roosevelt’s role.

Above all, both programs conceal the fact that Roosevelt’s “win-the-war” program is the classical capitalist method of waging war: profiteering for the big corporations, while wage-freezing, price-rises and taxation places the burden of the war on the workers. If the February “demands” of the CIO brought labor to its present plight, the July program will lead to an even more terrible fiasco.

The Real Aim of Hillman’s Conferences

To line up Congress for Roosevelt, the CIO executive board set up a Political Action Committee, headed by Sidney Hillman.

This committee got to work with a speed unusual for top trade union bodies. Already the first of a series of regional conferences has been held, in Philadelphia July 17, with delegates announced as present from CIO unions in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and the New England states. A similar meeting is announced for July 22 at Chicago.

Hillman’s keynote speech in Philadelphia called for supporting candidates in the 1941 election, “regardless of their political affiliation,” who “have demonstrated their consistent and unequivocal support of President Roosevelt on all major issues, domestic and foreign.”

“Regardless of their political affiliation” in reality means candidates of the capitalist parties and opposition to the formation of an independent labor party on a national scale or even the nomination of their own candidates by the already-existing American Labor Party of New York, the American Labor League of New Jersey and the Progressive Labor League of Michigan. The statement adopted by the regional conference in Philadelphia opposed “a third party in 1944” because “such a party would today only serve to divide and divert the labor and progressive forces from our main task – unity – for the election of progressive win-the-war candidates who fully support our Commander-in-Chief, regardless of party affiliations.”

These regional conferences, so-called, are in reality gatherings of hand-picked officials, who come without prior consultation of their members on the questions at issue. Philadelphia was picked for the first conference because the Pennsylvania CIO leadership is close to Murray and Hillman’s views, and these were buttressed by delegations from the politically-backward CIO unions in the New England states, Delaware and Maryland, making it possible to smother the pro-labor party elements from New York and New Jersey. Likewise the second regional conference was scheduled for Chicago, so that the Murray-Hillman elements in Illinois and neighboring states, together with Stalinist-controlled unions can smother the pro-labor party elements from Michigan.

Thus these artificially-constructed conferences are designed to create a counter-atmosphere to that of the May convention of the American Labor League, representing about 300,000 CIO and AFL workers, which voted to take steps toward a labor party; and the even more important action of the June 30–July 2 Michigan state convention of the CIO, representing 700,000 workers, which called for formation of an independent labor party in that state. With the ALP in New York and these actions in New Jersey and Michigan, a considerable section of the labor movement is already moving toward a labor party. Hillman is leading a desperate drive to head this off and turn the CIO back into the channels of the Democratic party.

Everything that the Hillman conferences are now saying was said by the AFL and CIO leadership in the November 1942 election campaign. With what result? As the Gallup poll recorded, “Labor unions turned out fewer [voters] in proportion to their numbers than any of the other major groups.” As the June labor party resolution of Michigan’s Labor’s Non-Partisan League (now the Progressive League) pointed out, “Union members are becoming more and more reluctant to participate in election campaigns for the support of old-line politicians or the candidates of the two major political parties.”

The Coming Program of the CIO

Already, then, one can say that the answer to labor’s plight given by the July meeting of the CIO executive board does not correspond to the desires of the CIO membership. The board is constituted by one from each International union and his vote, in many cases, violated the plain wishes of his union or of a large part of its membership. R.J. Thomas of the UAW and John Green of the shipyard workers voted for the retention of the Little Steel formula. Yet the UAW has been officially on record, since the Cleveland meeting of its executive board in April, for scrapping the Little Steel formula; while the ship-yard workers are now in the midst of negotiations in which they are officially demanding wage raises beyond the Little Steel formula. The same is true of many other CIO unions. By what authority did the UAW officials support the clause in the resolution condemning the miners strike, when the overwhelming majority of the membership – in the Michigan UAW conference of May 1–2 and the Eastern conference of 1,000 delegates on May 6 in New York – specifically endorsed the miners’ fight? The unconditional reiteration of the no-strike pledge was made in flagrant opposition to the will of the Michigan CIO convention which recommended “to all of the affiliated unions and to the CIO that unless assurances that were made to labor are immediately and effectively put into operation, we consider our no-strike pledge no longer binding.” By what moral right did United Rubber Workers President Dalrymple, vote for the no-strike pledge reiteration, when the majority of his union, the Akron workers, had just shown their hostility to it on the picket line?

By the device of recognizing as “official” labor opinion only the line of the CIO executive board and its AFL counterpart, the government can pretend to have labor’s support for its policies. This governmental insistence that only these top boards speak for the workers in turn serves to discourage the workers in the local unions from expressing their real sentiments. But this process has its limits, as is indicated by the examples we have just cited in which CIO executive board members had to openly violate the will of their members. The sporadic indications of the will of the membership tend to become more systematic. On various levels – in progressive groups within local unions, in the official position of local unions, in minorities and majorities in state bodies etc. – there is crystallizing a very different answer to labor’s plight than that just given by the CIO executive board.


Last updated on: 21 August 2015