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David Coolidge

Carey Beaten in UERMW Convention Dispute

Fitzgerald Victory a Surprise – Organization Problems Overlooked

(15 September 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 37, 15 September 1941, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The convention of the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers (CIO) which met in Camden, N.J., last week gave most of its attention to three items on the convention agenda. They were: adoption of a resolution backing in full the war policy of the Roosevelt government; defeating James B. Carey in his attempts to get a constitutional resolution passed which would give locals of the international the right to bar Stalinists from office; and, finally, the surprise action of the convention, defeating Carey for re-election.

The resolution supporting the war policy of the government was adopted without debate by a vote of 382 to 5. The resolution called for full aid to England, Russia and China and all other nations fighting against Hitler, “to the end that this menace to our country may be defeated for all time.”

One interesting fact in connection with this resolution and the overwhelming vote in its favor was the solid support given the resolution by the Stalinists. The former position of the international had been against aid to Great Britain, and for the United States to remain out of the war. With the change in line of the Stalinists, however, it was understood that they would be for the support of the war and Roosevelt’s foreign policy. It is not surprising that there was no discussion on the resolution, since virtually all of the leaders, including Carey, had long before taken an all-out position in favor of the war. The Stalinist rank and file delegates, being under the control of the party leadership, would, of course, raise no objection. They have been taught to change silently and passively whenever their leadership dictates.

The rest of the rank and file delegates, except those who followed Carey, were leaderless. There was no militant force of any consequence in the convention to rally them against the resolution on a working class anti-war platform. Hence the passing of such a resolution was merely routine, like a motion for a recess.

The Big Upset

Having got this resolution out of the way the first day of the convention, the Stalinists were ready to do a little fighting on the other issues before the convention. There was the matter of giving locals “autonomy” to exclude Stalinists from office if they so desired. This was Carey’s position and he tried hard to get it included in the union’s constitution. But he didn’t have the votes; the Stalinists were too strong. And, too, Albert J. Fitzgerald, who took the union presidency from Carey, was opposed to the inclusion of such a section in the union constitution.

Fitzgerald was a leading figure in the convention and his leadership manifested itself even before the question of the elections arose. Fitzgerald told the convention that he did not want this question to become a national union issue because it would destroy the union’s effectiveness. His formula was that the union should expel people not for political beliefs, but for being “anti-country and anti-union.”

The big upset came when Fitzgerald defeated Carey for re-election. There have been various interpretations put on this action by the convention. It seems likely that it was caused in part by Carey’s refusal to make a compromise with the Stalinists on the matter of Stalinist exclusion. There was a great deal of caucusing, and no doubt an attempt was made at a deal with Carey.

Added to this was the feeling of many delegates that, because Carey was taking time out for his duties as secretary of the CIO, he was not giving sufficient time to the affairs of the UERMW. The Stalinists, of course, exploited this attitude to the limit, with the result that Carey was defeated.

Not Like UAW

The UERMW convention was a different affair from the automobile workers meeting. One gets the impression that it is in many respects a different kind of organization. It is loose, not so well organized, and lacking in the militancy of the automobile workers. One gets the impression, for instance, that its membership report was padded. What is the membership of the UERMW and how does the international count its membership? It has collective agreements covering 316,000 workers, but this does not tell the paid-in membership.

Furthermore, one got the impression that this union has no distinctly union problems to deal with. Most of the five days were consumed with political problems of the nature that have been mentioned, with the greatest emphasis on the question of Stalinist exclusion. Organizing campaigns, trade union education, improving working conditions and wages did not receive the attention they deserve, especially in such a Union as the UERMW.

Improvement will perhaps come in time. It must be remembered, of course, that the UERWM has had a sort of mushroom growth and the leadership has not had the time, inclination or ability to gather up all the loose ends. The Stalinists, of course, have their own plans and ideas and are never much concerned with the real problems that confront the unions and the mass of their membership.

Fitzgerald, the new president, comes direct from the shop. He may take hold, weld the organization together and pay attention to all the pressing problems the international faces. There are reasons to believe that this would be welcomed by the membership.

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