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Susan Green

On the Labor Front —

CIO White Collar Workers Program

(29 January 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 5, 29 January 1945, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

That the Congress of Industrial Organizations has its ear to the ground – in certain respects – and can take the lead in national affairs when it wants to, is underscored by its active interest in the fate of the millions of white collar workers of this country. What the CIO did was to call and sponsor the National White Collar Conference, which just met in the city of Washington.

There were represented at this conference thirty-five organizations of one kind and another, speaking for the forgotten office and professional workers. Of course, the CIO affiliates were represented. They are the United Retail, Wholesale & Department Store Employees of America; United Office and Professional Workers; State, County and Municipal Workers; United Federal Workers of America; American Newspaper Guild; International Federation of Architects, Engineers, Chemists and Technicians; Barbers & Beauty Culturists Union of America. These CIO unions of white collar workers claim a joint membership of somewhere around 300,000.

Something New Added

However, more significant on this occasion was that more non-union groups were represented than unions. Groups of employees and professional people who in former years would rather turn the other cheek to exploitation than acknowledge themselves on the same economic and social level as factory workers sent their delegations to this conference called by the CIO, whose foundation is the mass production workers of the country.

Sitting with the union representatives were those sent by groups like the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Association of Scientific Workers, the National Education Association, the American Association of Schools of Social Work, the American Association of Social Workers and, yes, the American Medical Association. This gives an idea of the scope of the conference.

While the delegates had no power to bind their organizations, they came to find out what the CIO, has to offer to solve the problems confronting them. They did set up machinery for future functioning. Each of the thirty-five organizations will appoint one member to an advisory committee, under which a smaller committee, headed by James B. Carey, secretary-treasurer of the CIO, will carry on. It is to explore fully all programs which could benefit white collar workers, call conferences when desirable and exercise “maximum influence on business and government.”

Among the non-union speakers was Dr. Donald Dushane of the National Education Association. He highlighted the plight of teachers throughout the nation who have not received even the benefit of the inadequate Little Steel formula. He said the average teacher’s pay in Southern schools is less than $700.a year. The situation of social workers is similar. A spokesman for the Association of Scientific Workers emphasized the need for first-class training plus job security for the scientific workers in the nation’s laboratories.

Philip Murray, CIO president, properly designated last year’s congressional bleating about the “twenty million static incomes” of the white collar workers as only political maneuvering. He also blasted the traditional “bellyaching” of the white collar and professional workers themselves. He said the time is overripe for action.

CIO’s director of organization, Allan S. Haywood, promised that the CIO “is definitely going to map out a program to organize all the white collar workers who want to be organize.” James B. Carey, CIO secretary-treasurer, figured that there are 15,400,000 white collar and professional workers, of whom, according to government statistics, only 1,400,000 are organized in the CIO, in the AFL or in independent unions.

Mr. Carey stressed the social and political importance of organizing and raising the level of living of the white collar and professional workers. He pointed to the fact that in Germany the plight and hopelessness of the white collar worker made him meat for Hitler and a prey to the propaganda of Nazism. Speakers labored this point about the rise of Nazism in Germany on the backs of the despairing white collar workers.

The above about summarizes the recent National White Collar Conference fathered by the CIO. Its importance cannot be overemphasized.

The representation at this conference of so varied a list of white collar workers and professional people indicates that this group is serious about the question of protecting its interests against the intensified onslaughts of capitalism. These so-called “middle-class” workers, whose faces were once supposed to be turned toward the upper rungs of the social ladder, have stopped daydreaming. This conference shows that the so-called “middle-class” worker is willing to follow the leadership of the CIO – if what the CIO offers is good.

First of all, then, the CIO must plow away in this immense field of organization, and really get results for the millions of white collar and professional workers by way of increased incomes and increased social security. This will raise its prestige beyond measure.

In the second place, the political objectives of the CIO, for which it asked support at the conference, must be correct or it will succeed only in disillusioning the white collar and professional worker and making him susceptible to the fascist elements in this country.

On this score, it is all right to “influence business and government” for immediate gains. But it is all wrong, to base the political program of those whom capitalism exploits on the continuance of capitalist business and capitalist government.

An Independent Labor Party with the objective of a Workers’ government of, by and for all workers by hand and brain – this is the political objective that would enable the CIO to assume responsibility and leadership for a future free of the threat of fascism.

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