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Susan Green

Green Machine Whips CPers

Conservatives Win in Ship Convention

(21 January 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. X No. 3, 21 January 1946, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The eleventh annual convention of the Industrial Union of Marine & Shipbuilding Workers of America, CIO, held in Atlantic City from January 7 to 12, re-elected John Green president of the union and with him John Grogan as vice-president. But Philip Van Gelder was not re-elected secretary-treasurer. He was replaced by Ross Blood, temporary secretary-treasurer, while Van Gelder was in the Army. The defeat of Van Gelder symbolizes the entire defeat of the Stalinists in the leadership in this convention, which was used as a battlefield by the Communist Party forces and the administration machine for their knock-down and drag-out fight for control of the union.

The set-up at this convention was entirely different from that at the last. Then the CPers and Green were bedfellows, though not very affectionate ones. Green, the class-collaborator, forcing the no-strike pledge, the treacherous WLB and support of Roosevelt down the throats of the rank and file, needed the very able assistance of the Kremlin agents to break strikes and suppress all militant and progressive action.

At this year’s convention the CPers came dressed in other raiment. By order of the Kremlin, whose honeymoon with Washington is over, the Stalinists are once more waging a struggle on Stalin’s behalf. They now behave like the most militant of the militants and the most progressive of the progressives – casting bait to catch the really progressive elements in the union. However, the administration steamroller was well prepared, and not even sympathy for the returned GI could get camp-follower, Van Gelder, re-elected.

Local 16 Dispute

Until the third day of the convention most of the business took place in the corridors and caucus rooms. Then the Credentials Committee reported, including the hotly disputed question of which delegation from Local 16 was to be seated. A roll-call vote on the recommendation of the committee, which was the administration point of view, resulted 650½ in favor and 288½ opposed. The next day the Appeals Committee came out with its recommendation that neither delegation be seated, on the ground that both were illegally chosen. From the floor came protests at disfranchising the second largest local in the union and demands for seating both the administration and opposition delegation. Finally it was agreed to hear both sides.

The CPers charged that the administration delegation was hand-picked, whereas theirs was duly elected at the meeting of December 17. The spokesman for the other side contended that the December 17 meeting was more of a caucus than a meeting and that the opposition had used rule-or-ruin tactics to prevent proper elections.

This fight over the seating of a delegation from Local 16 highlighted the dishonesty on both sides. At this convention the CPers were shining white champions of democracy in the union, against hand-picked delegations, administration goons, packed conventions, etc. At the last convention, however, when their own delegation from Local 16 was handpicked, that was a different story. Then they did not threaten Green with physical violence so that he had to leave the convention hall flanked by guards. Their ardor for democracy in the union was not so apparent when the administration machine supported them.

On the other hand, correct as it is to label Stalinist tactics in the union “rule or ruin,” how about the administration’s tactics? Have not the autocratic tactics of crushing union morale by lifting autonomy of locals and suppressing the militancy of the rank and file seriously weakened the IUMSWA?

At a later session, when an amendment to the constitution came on the floor to take local autonomy out of the bureaucratic control of the officers and to provide for a bill of particulars, for open hearings and for a two-thirds vote of the GEB, did not the chair railroad through a motion to refer?

It was not until the fifth day of the convention that the question of wages finally reached the floor. Even then the factional heat might have scotched the discussion with points of order and similar ruses. However, Delegate Lenihan of Local 13 brought the convention to its senses by a plea to get down to the business that rank and file delegates came to transact. The report then given by Pettis for the Wage Reviewing Committee, which had met at Colorado Springs and Washington, did not even make clear what the wage demands of the union now are. It DID make clear that nothing had been accomplished except an adjournment to meet again in Washington on January 14.

On Strike Action

Delegates sought to pin down the committee to a definite line of action. Rose of Local 2 called for a referendum on a strike within thirty days if by January 18 no settlement was had. Reeder of Local I offered a motion to establish a Wage Policy Committee, to put February 1 as the deadline for a wage settlement. Delegates called for the rescinding of the no-strike pledge in connection with their wage case. They were assured from the platform that the no-strike pledge ended with V-J Day. Whereupon Lenihan of Local 13 pointed out that when his local was ready for most militant action against the company’s union-busting tactics. Finn, Versch, Kaplan and other officials prevented their strike by pressuring the members on account of the no-strike pledge and the stabilization agreement!

On the stabilization set-up, Delegate Phillips of Local 16 cut to the root of the matter. He pointed out that as long as IUMSWA was bound by stabilization agreements there would be a modified no-strike pledge, that there are no impartial boards, since Wall Street lawyers and professors also “think company,” that the only way to stabilize the industry is by a standard contract, and that there is no reason why IUMSWA should not take the same action as the auto workers. However, every progressive idea coming from the floor was defeated, and the whole wage question was left where it was before the convention.

Throughout this discussion on wages, the Stalinists were most vociferous in calling for strike action. They were following the new line all the way down the line. Van Gelder from the platform asked for “a decision in view of what is happening.” “We must go along with the CIO fight,” he said. How true! How true! But coming from the mouth of camp-follower Van Gelder and the Stalinists, what a mocking ring it has! For at the last convention, when Van Gelder was still in uniform and the divorce between Washington and the Kremlin had not been consummated, Van Gelder spoke against “the good, old-fashioned militant strike.” Along with Harry Bridges, he was quite ready to give up the right to strike – forever and a day.

At the Friday night session many important resolutions were run through the administration mill and came out pulp. There was the resolution against the WLB and in favor of direct negotiations with the companies. There was one against the stabilization set-up or any labor-management-public agreements. A resolution to rescind the no-strike pledge was ruled out of order. The resolution to endorse an independent Labor Party never got to the floor despite the fact that delegates from various locals came committed to vote for it.

In spite of the fact that in his opening speech Green threw a sop to the progressive sentiment for a Labor Party by threatening “labor would create its own political party” if it could not get its aims within the framework of existing political parties, he did not allow the resolution to see the light at Atlantic City. Green disregarded the fact that there are ever-increasing numbers of shipyard workers who have ALREADY learned that their aims cannot be accomplished within the framework of existing political parties.

Administration Wins

The last order of business, the election of officers, entrenched the administration machine for another year. The opposition slate for officers was Duffy of Local 39 for president, Seese of Local 4 for vice-president and Van Gelder for secretary-treasurer, against the administration slate of Green, Grogan and Blood. The administration slate for General Executive Board was Moses, Miatico, Hansen, Pettis, Bailey, Meyers, Carter, Oakes, Flynn and Dempsey. The opposition slate was for Miatico, Ramsey, Watson, Goodwin, Rose, Woods, Seese, Connelly, Hughes, McCann. Except for Miatico, who was supported by both sides, the vote was approximately three to one in favor of the administration.

What is the score at the end of this eleventh annual convention of the IUMSWA? It is undoubtedly a fact that the union is in the hands of a well-oiled machine. It is also a fact that John Green is no longer at the controls of the machine, but is at the mercy of Organizational Director Gallegher and Vice-President Grogan, whose supporters in the union are far from being enlightened and progressive elements. Green admitted his own helplessness in his final speech when he stated that he would have preferred to have the “old team” – meaning Van Gelder and himself – but had to go along with the “majority,” as he put it.

What of the defeat of the Stalinists? They are definitely out of the top leadership. When Green promised in his concluding speech to take the fight against the disrupters to the membership, that was a promise to eliminate CPers from local leadership also. Consequently, there will be floating around a lot of Stalinists – well trained as rank-and-file leaders and organizers – fishing in troubled waters. In the corridors at Atlantic City were rumors of making deals with Lewis’ District 50 – rumors of splitting the IUMSWA wide open. The rank and file interested in strengthening the union along progressive lines and in establishing union democracy will have to be ready to combat the “rule or ruin” policies of the Stalinists. ‘

In the final analysis, the future of the IUMSWA is in the lap of the truly independent and progressive elements. In this convention, they formed a bloc with the Stalinists and submitted to CP leadership, though they themselves rated the number of CPers as far from a majority in the bloc. The tail of the kite can only go where the kite goes. The IUMSWA needs a rank-and-file progressive bloc standing on its own feet. It must bring out and develop its own leadership. It must, above all and fundamentally, have its own progressive and militant union program and educate the membership along those lines. These tasks cannot be accomplished by waiting until a week before the next convention.

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