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Susan Green

The Job Is Well Begun

Report on Operation Dixie

(13 December 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 50, 13 December 1948, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

When, twenty-nine months ago, the CIO announced its “Operation Dixie” the event was hailed by all labor elements as one of the most important in labor’s history. And it was.

At this year’s CIO convention in Portland, Ore., provision was made to build up an operating fund to continue this organization work in the South and elsewhere. The idea was to raise the per capita tax by three cents a month, two cents of which (expected to total two million dollars a year) is to be earmarked for this essential task. Judging by the accomplishments of “Operation Dixie” thus far and by the herculean job still to be done in the South, two million dollars a year – and more – could not be turned to better use. Here is the story to date.

When “Operation Dixie” got on its way in the summer of 1946, the CIO staff of organizers, under Van A. Bittner, literally started from scratch. Using improvised offices and sometimes packing boxes for desks, the CIO workers, consisting largely of men and women inexperienced in the arduous tasks ahead of them, dug eleven Southern states from Virginia to Texas. It was months before they could obtain offices, and more months before they gained know-how and the support of hundreds of local volunteers as organizers assisting the regular staff.

Fierce Opposition

The anti-union opposition the CIO battles in the South is versatile and brutal. William Weiss, an organizer in “Operation Dixie,” in the November 15 CIO News tells with eloquence and feeling about the obstacles encountered in organizing the South.

There are the attacks by the bosses in the form of wholesale firings and blacklists against workers showing union interest. Operating against the CIO are the segregation laws and police brutality against Negroes, with threats: “Stay off the streets after dark, N......, or else!” Citizens’ Committees, seeing red, organize themselves, and “loyal employee associations” mushroom overnight.

Some preachers, working for the bosses, use the name of God in the ungodly pursuit of planing unreasoning hate against “those outsiders.” William Weiss talks about the “maddening complacency” of textile workers trained from childhood to believe that mill-owners are all-wise and know that “outsiders” can bring only harm. And there is the deep hesitancy of those interested in unionism, drawling “I think I’ll wait a while before joining up.” The most frustrating of all is when a favorable situation is turned upside-down as when an employer closes his mill the day before the NLRB election and has that “heart to heart” talk with his employees.

Nor does the foregoing exhaust the versatility of the anti-union tribe. It is a fairly simple matter to plant dynamite in the vital parts of an organizer's car to blow it to smithereens. It is easy for an employer to use his influence locally to prevent the NLRB from hiring a place for a union election so that the election has to be held out of doors in makeshift booths. Neither is it too inhuman for boss-minded doctors to refuse medical service to the wife of a striker, which happened in Rockingham, N.C., and a doctor had to be rushed from miles away to be present at a birth.

All these nuances are in addition to the many local and state ordinances against free speech, free assembly and the distribution of literature. And, of course, there is the union-crippling Taft-Hartley law.

900 Locals Built

The organizational work that the CIO has carried on, against these obstacles, has been signally successful. In the 29 months, 900 locals the CIO have been established. New members joining CIO unions number 450,000, more than doubling the total membership in these states. The NLRB has on file 158 CIO petitions for certification, and in 127 mills and plants active organization drives are afoot.

To concretize these accomplishments, let us present the facts about “Operation Dixie” in the backward state of Mississippi. According to Robert W. Starnes, the state CIO director, before the drive only two small units of the CIO existed in the whole of Mississippi, namely, at Natchez and at Hattiesburg. Now there are CIO locals in a dozen cities. Out of 71 NLRB elections the CIO won 56, and the other 15 are by no means final losses. Union membership in the state increased more than ten times. In the industrial community of Laurel, with a population of 35,000, the biggest gains have been made. There are now 6,000 CIOers. Through CIO contracts wages have been increased by more than $5,000,000 a year. The standard of living has gone up, as has the popularity of the CIO.

In his report to the 1948 convention on “Operation Dixie” Philip Murray said:

“CIO has exerted an influence in the South far out of proportion to the number of new unions that have been granted recognition as bargaining agencies ... One of the important by-products of the campaign has been in the field of civil liberties ... The CIO Organization Committee has gone into court on many occasions to battle against local ordinances which abrogated freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. In not a single case has it lost a court decision.”

Wide Influence

A case in point was the situation in ill-famed Gastonia, N.C. There organizer William Weiss was arrested seven times for distributing union leaflets. The CIO went to court to have the ordinance declared unconstitutional. The legal victory went to the CIO.

In the field of wage rates, too, the influence of union organization, both CIO and AFL, has gone beyond the unions themselves. CIO organizers claim that the North-South pay rate differential has been eliminated in some industries and narrowed in greater or less degree in others. Such an accomplishment has a profound effect, on all workers in the South and exerts pressure on all employers to raise wage rates.

Philip Murray, in his report, further points out that “The campaign also has done much to foster improved race relations and to eliminate abusive treatment of South Negro workers.” And William Weiss writes that the CIO has made more progress in the field of race relations than “any other group that has operated in the South.”

Many elements outside of the CIO agree that it has done much in the field of race relations and can do a great deal more. Indeed, the approach of the CIO on the race question and its militancy on other regional problems have won sympathy and support among many Southerners who are worried about their situation and look for constructive leadership. There is no doubt that in some parts of the South the CIO is becoming a liberalizing political force. Southern reaction would, if it were honest, undoubtedly agree with this. Boss Crump, for example, found out something about the effect of CIO on politics in the primaries before the election and in the election itself. The fact of CIO political influence is generally admitted.

All this adds up to a very good report for “Operation Dixie” for the 29 months of its existence. However, as Van Bittner himself said, “the greater part of the job remains to be done.” There are in the eleven Southern states in which the CIO Organizing Committee has dug in, 6,000,000 industrial workers, just industrial workers. With the further industrialization of the South, the number grows. Only 950,000 in all belong to the CIO. Taking into account also the union members in the AFL, the organizing task ahead is tremendous.

The job of racial education is also only begun. Furthermore, the potency of the political influence of the CIO will increase in the South as elsewhere when it begins to follow the same class principles in politics as it does in its organization drive.

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