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Susan Green

Transit Union Convention Marks
Two Years of Growth

(6 October 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 40, 6 October 1941, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Since its last convention two years ago, the Transport Workers Union of America has shown remarkable growth. This was brought out at its third biennial convention held in New York City, September 24–27, by the officers’ reports and by the enthusiastic speeches of delegates from the floor.

The 22 locals which existed two years ago have been greatly strengthened and 36 new locals have been organized through actual struggle since then. The union now claims a membership of 95,000.

Noteworthy accomplishments in this direction were the organization of locals in the bourbon South. In New Orleans, for instance, a local of 800 members has been firmly established, with a closed shop contract. After a successful 11-day strike, Fairfield, Ala., saw the birth of a local of the TWU. Even in the open-shop city of Los Angeles the TWU has gained a foothold and its organizing pressure has forced an increase in wages of from 10 to 13 cents an hour for some 4,000 transport workers.

The outstanding successes in New York City were the great bus strike and the victory on the Third Avenue railway, Another high spot was the mobilization of the subway workers, all unionists and union sympathizers of the city for the struggle against the union-busting LaGuardia administration. Although the TWU leadership did not characterize their action this way, it was definitely due to pressure from Washington and to the sudden turn of the Stalinists that they called off the well prepared strike and went into protracted negotiations with the Board of Transportation. The leadership admits that it did not get very brilliant gains for the subway workers. But the last chapter of this .struggle has not yet been written.

All along the line, however, the TWU has signed very beneficial contracts, has gained the closed shop, and after six years of organization has stepped out into full maturity.

One Hit – Two Misses

Judging its important actions at this third biennial convention from the point of view of developing class consciousness – which is also a necessary measuring rod to be applied to a growing union – it must be reported that one hit was scored and two misses.

A very progressive move was made on the last day of the convention when certain proposed amendments to the union’s constitution were accepted which will result in widening the field of TWU organization. The delegates voted that the TWU organize not only subway, street car and bus employees, but gather into its ranks workers in all transport, including taxi and truck drivers, along which lines the TWU has already had some success.

Furthermore, it was agreed that since power is part of transport and since in some areas the same boss interests operate the street car lines and the electric power plants, the workers’ interests require a single industrial union embracing all the workers involved both in transport and in power.

Thus the principle of industrial unionism upon which the CIO was founded is being carried out not only in the mass production industries, where it is an obvious necessity, but in fields where artificial union divisions have existed for many years.

In Contrast

In marked contrast to this under standing of working class interests was the decision taken after the second day of the convention to endorse the war policy of the representative of the capitalist class in the White House.

The matter of whether or not to endorse the imperialist war took up far more time than any other question. One delegate stated the convention could have been over in 24 hours if not for the war issue.

During the first part of the discussion there was a great deal of opposition to changing the union’s previous anti-war stand. Delegates condemned the flip-flop that the leaders had taken. They recalled the Rochester convention of the New York State CIO, when the TWU delegates had walked out in protest against the garment workers’ support of Roosevelt.

There are many Irishmen in the TWU and many delegates described their experiences as Irish slaves under the heel of British imperialism.

“In war, all is lost,” exclaimed one delegate. Another declared that no honest labor leader can say that labor will be better off after the war. One reminded Michael Quill of his speeches about the wives and children who are victims of war, about the white coffins of the last war, and wanted to know if the horrors of war are less than when Quill was on the other side of the flop.

All these sentiments, received considerable bona fide applause as distinguished from the whistling, stamping and shouting for the pro-war speakers coming in good measure from the visitors’ gallery.

Quill Fires Big Guns

When Quill, who was presiding, sensed the extent of his opposition, he brought out one of his big guns in the person of John Santo, secretary-treasurer of the union. It would be impossible to give space to exposing all Santo’s twisted arguments. But he emphasized two false and misleading points: (1) that the leadership expected the endorsement of the pro-war stand and (2) that it is TREASON to vote against the war since the country is already in a shooting war.

That the effect of this shameful lambasting might not be dissipated by an opposition speaker, the convention was adjourned for two hours. In the afternoon there was a marked difference in tone, though there were still opposition speakers. Santo’s slave-driving speech had made its mark. The refrain of a majority of the speakers was: “Support our leadership, no matter what.” One delegate shouted: “Roosevelt is not wrong. Murray is not wrong. Our leadership is not wrong.”

It was pitiful to hear working men repeat the treacherous arguments their exploiting rulers are using to put over the war. Instead of looking forward to a world controlled by the workers and not by the capitalist quest for markets, some of the delegates were worried about what would happen to the markets of the American boss class if Hitler won.

Some of the pro-war delegates appealed to the opposition to stop being Irishmen and become Americans – as if the test of an American worker consists in his desire to support the American ruling class.

When the vote was finally taken only 20 delegates had withstood the pro-war tornado out of a total of 250! Thus the third biennial Conference of the TWU yielded to the influence of those who put the wishes of the Kremlin and the White House above the interests of the working class, which are opposed to all imperialist wars.

The convention also raised the salaries of its officers. Michael Quill’s salary was increased from $50 to $100. The other officers received comparable increases. But that such increases are out of all proportion is illustrated by the following comparison. A delegate from Section 124 praised the achievements of the union because he himself had received a $12 a week raise in four years. He is one of the better paid workers. But Quill has risen from a ticket agent on the IRT at $27 for an 84-hour week to a $100 a week union official.

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