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Susan Green

Ship Convention Politics

(23 October 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 43, 23 October 1944, pp. 3 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

This article will deal with the political coloration of the convention of the Industrial Union, of Marine & Shipbuilding Workers, CIO. The tenth annual convention of the IUMSWA certainly had plenty of political coloration. Estimating the division of convention time, it is fair to say that at least as much time was spent on campaign speeches for the re-election of President Roosevelt as in attending to union business.

Furthermore, the political decisions of the delegates had great bearing on the decisions on union policy. For once the convention went on record to support President Roosevelt, it became consistent and logical for delegates – especially the wily Stalinists – to argue that supporting Roosevelt means to support his labor policies, i.e., the crippling no-strike pledge and the tricky War Labor Board.

But to estimate truly the political temper of the convention, one must go further. There was a realization among the delegates that the problems facing the working people – and indeed the whole of society – are political problems whose solution can only come about if labor controls government. This is the basis of rank-and-file enthusiasm for the PAC as the first attempt at organized political action by labor.

Political Huckstering

But here is the rub. The PAC takes the aroused energy of labor and turns it into the channels of capitalist politics. This was the line brazenly and shamelessly followed in all the speeches made before the shipyard workers. By the out-and-out politicians like Vice-President Wallace and Senator Pepper, and by the union leaders including Green and Van Gelder of the IUMSWA, Phil Murray, Thomas of the UAW and Hillman of the ACW and PAC, the absolutely false and fantastic promise was made that full employment, complete social security, permanent world peace and a brave new world would be ushered in by re-electing Roosevelt on November 7.

From none of these capitalist-minded labor leaders came so much as a peep that labor does not have to limit its choice between the capitalist candidate Dewey and the capitalist candidate Roosevelt, but has the numbers, the influence and the means to form an independent Labor Party, running labor candidates, with the final goal of a workers’ government.

No, none of the accredited labor leaders present spoke a syllable on the subject of a Labor Party. But Vice-President Wallace’s keen political nose smelled the possibilities for labor’s independent political action, and he took occasion to sow seeds of discouragement by stating – not once but several times – that “labor can’t swing this country by itself.”

Wallace thereby not only tried to sow seeds of discouragement but also a false conception. For independent labor politics, does not mean that labor will swing this country “by itself.” It means that by coming out as political contestants on their own, with a program climaxed in production for use instead of for profit, organized labor can rally behind itself the great mass of professional and white collar workers, farm laborers and small farmers, small business. people and other sections of the middle class, all of whom would be beneficiaries of labor’s political leadership.

But instead of a bold advance of labor along the road of political action independent of the capitalist parties, Wallace wants labor to use its overwhelming strength “needling business into an abundance policy instead of a scarcity policy.” Was it for this that the delegates, representing 400,000 shipyard workers, shouted themselves hoarse, clamoring “We want Wallace!”?

Senator Claude Pepper, Florida Democrat, who recently did some fancy side-stepping on the question of Negro equality in order to get his nomination in the primaries, showed his training in Congress as a wordslinger when he addressed the convention! Sprinkling his speech amply with such phrases as “Wall Street against Main Street,” “the country club against the country”; wisecracking that Dewey if elected would put in Westbrook Pegler as Secretary of Labor; condemning the Republican Party for “their imperialistic style,” Pepper’s spellbinding methods succeeded in making most of the delegates forget that both the Republican and Democratic Parties are cut from the same cloth.

As for the speeches of the labor leaders, this reporter has never before heard such loose and irresponsible talk. Philip Murray, for instance, made the mouth of every delegate water with his outline of a post-war plan he had laid before President Roosevelt. It envisaged the building of extensive airports and highways; the expansion of industry, schools, hospitals; comprehensive planning to give full employment, social security, good health, adequate education, industrial safety and all the rest. Then he made it appear that all this and heaven too would come to labor if it elects a “friendly” Congress and re-elects Roosevelt in November.

Does Murray forget that the capitalists of this country, back in 1940, could not be made to convert from peace to war production to fight their own war, until “adequate” profits were assured them by the President and Congress? Will a President and a Congress that believe in capitalist profits – as every Republican and Democratic candidate does – get by with, or want to get by with, a plan to serve the needs of the people as against capitalist profits? Only a workers’ government could do that!

Communist Line Again

A most dangerous note was struck by Phil Van Gelder, secretary-treasurer of the IUMSWA and Communist Party-liner. He not only implied, but plainly stated, that now that labor has branched out into political action through the PAC it has no further use for the strike. Van Gelder is through with what he called the “good old-fashioned militant strike.” Since he has joined the Army, it seems he has become not only a military strategist but the formulator of a new union strategy. “You move up scattered and cautious,” said Van Gelder. The might of organized action is passé, according to him. Van Gelder would permanently give up the right to strike – along with those in the camp of Harry Bridges – and leave the destiny of labor in the hands of the “friends” that PAC wants elected.

However, it is more likely that organized labor will throw out their misleaders rather than give up their right to strike. As for political action, which was so much talked about at the tenth annual convention of the IUMSWA, the basic error of PAC policies will force labor to strike out into independent labor politics.

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