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Susan Green

Textile Union Leaders Hitch Convention
to War Chariot

But Rank and File Delegates Prove in Their Speeches
That Not All the Membership See Eye to Eye with the Leadership

(5 May 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 18, 5 May 1941, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A new low in lickspittle labor leadership was reached by Sidney Hillman at the convention of the Textile Workers Union held in New York City the week of April 21. After a typical war-propaganda speech, he returned to the microphone and in a voice hushed with reverence conveyed to the delegates the personal greetings of “the President.” The nauseating picture was made complete when Emil Rieve, the union president now serving two masters on the National Defense Mediation Board, requested Hillman “from all of us” to thank “the President” and assure him of support in every effort, etc., etc.

But Some Disagree

However, during the discussion on the resolution to support Roosevelt in his war policies, there was evidence that all the delegates have not been caught in the net of imperialist warmongering. One spoke exposing the fable of “war for democracy,” called upon Roosevelt to transport the seven billions of war materials on his own back and ended by reminding the delegates that after the war the international imperialists will again shake hands, but the workers will have paid with their blood for the war.

These remarks received considerable applause from the floor. Another delegate declared that the interests of the working class cannot be served by fighting in this war. He urged the convention to vote down the war-resolution and instead pass one calling upon the working people of the world to stop fighting each other.

But these sound working class sentiments were in a decided minority. The war resolution was passed by an overwhelming vote, amid clapping, whistling and other demonstrations of hearty approval. The speeches of Rieve, president of the union, of Baldanzi, vice-president, of Hillman, of Perkins, all followed the line that the imperialists of Britain and America are fighting for labor’s rights.

Still the resolution bowed to the anti-war feeling of the workers by opposing sending an expeditionary force to fight on foreign soil “at the present time.” There was some op position to the phrase “at the present time.” Someone shouted, “What are foreign lands!” Another delegate called out, “What about convoys?” But the chairman quickly squelched the disgruntled ones.

Back Wagner Bill

Another resolution that took much speech-making from above, and received wholehearted support from below, was the one calling for backing Senator Wagner’s bill, now in Congress, providing against post-war unemployment by public works and and so on – the usual drop that capitalist politicians are willing to put into labor’s bucket. With great rhetorical flourish, Vice-President Baldanzi described the miserable aftermath of the last war, the third of the nation without proper food and housing, the doctors without patients and the sick people without doctors. He talked about the democracy the workers want – jobs, security, liberty. He was roundly applauded, and rightly so. But nothing was said about the ridiculous farce of relying on a poor little inadequate bill in a capitalist Congress to provide all that for the workers – to protect them from the stupendous war machine as it collapses and crashes upon their heads when the war is over!

The committee on law submitted a resolution prohibiting nazis, communists and fascists from holding any office in the union and any of its locals, and from being nominated for any office. In the discussion that followed, the nazis and fascists were completely lost in the shuffle and the big guns were turned on the Stalinists. Delegates from the East, Middle West and West recited instances of Stalinist union-busting tactics and accused the CP of carrying out Stalin’s foreign policy against the interests of the workers and their unions.

The passage of the resolution was a foregone conclusion. There was also much talk about putting teeth into it and being wary of the new crop of unknown Stalinists who would be sent into the unions now. It evidently did not occur to the delegates that this same resolution might be used by the bureaucrats against militant anti-war workers.

Hit Anti-Labor Bills

The convention let loose against the anti-labor Vinson bill and also passed a resolution calling upon all unions to fight the anti-sabotage bills now being railroaded through the state legislatures throughout the country.

The false position of labor leaders like Rieve, Baldanzi and the others who call for working class support of the “war for democracy” was fully revealed by the facts brought out in the discussion on this resolution. While in Washington plenty of venom is poured on labor’s bead, although no anti-strike bill has as yet been passed, the states are slipping the noose around labor’s neck more quietly. Throughout the South and in Pennsylvania, Maryland and other states, bills, ostensibly to protect the “national defense” industries and to replace the National Guards, are thinly disguised thrusts at labor.

Even on a matter as important as this one is to the whole labor movement, the union leaders were so anxious not to be accused of lack of patriotism that the resolution calls for opposition to these vicious laws only if they do not contain a futile provision “protecting the workers’ right to strike” – which can be very conveniently shoved aside by the other provisions of the law. A delegate from Baltimore, where the Textile Workers Union along with others had fought the anti-sabotage bill which is now before the governor for signature, saw through this farce and wanted the resolution returned to committee for strengthening. However, this was not done.

Too “Cooperative”

The resolutions committee also displayed a very “cooperative” attitude in its recommendations on wages and hours. The decision was to do nothing about hours until “after the emergency,” which is yielding a point to the bosses, who want to extend hours “during the emergency.” And, as the cost of living rises and promises to go much further, the resolution on wages was to the effect that since wages have been increased under the wages and hours law until now some textile workers get 37½ cents an hour, the 40 cent minimum should not now be asked for.

On the resolution to organize the unorganized textile workers, a southern delegate disagreed with the statement that the union had made great progress. He said the stretch-out was being ignored by the union, although it has kept hundreds and hundreds of workers from jobs. He expressed his dissatisfaction with the progress made and demanded help on organization, on the stretch-out and speed-up.

At the Wednesday session, Labor Secretary Perkins delivered a long speech on how wonderful everything is and claimed her share of the credit for making it so. She praised President Rieve for using the Labor Department “to keep out of trouble.” She had the nerve to state before a body of union men and women that the Textile Union owes its strength to “law” and not to “the use of force.” The day before, one of the delegates had been applauded when he asserted that the workers had to have the right to strike to make the bosses obey the laws, pointing to Ford and Bethlehem as shining examples. There was no applause when Perkins spoke about her ambition to see labor disputes settled without any strikes.

Tightly Controlled

Sidney Hillman’s ascent to power has made of him a most fawning lieutenant of the capitalist class. His constant reverent references to “our great Chief Executive” are disgusting to hear. “Knowing him as I do,” says Hillman about Roosevelt, as if they had been chums on the East Side together. He constantly boasts of his conferences and of his office and of his staff. Hillman has become one of “them” to such an extent that the words “capital,” “capitalist,” and “capitalism” have completely disappeared from his vocabulary.

This second biennial convention of this important CIO union bore all the earmarks of being tightly controlled from the top with the object of putting the Textile Workers Union on record as supporting the Roosevelt war program. This was accomplished. But there was, plenty of evidence of rank and file militancy.

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