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David Coolidge

David Coolidge Reports on CIO Convention

Political Questions Dominate Floor
at Boston CIO Convention

(23 November 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 47, 23 November 1942, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The fifth constitutional convention of the CIO held in Boston last week was a political convention. Not, however, a working class political convention, despite the fact that all of the delegates were working people and all represented working class organizations.

It was a political convention in that the overwhelming majority of questions which came before the convention and on which discussion was held and position taken were political questions. They were, most of them, questions involving decisions by the government because they were matters that have to do primarily with the prosecution of the war.

Labor is obviously involved, but the way that this convention proceeded, was just about the same way the Democratic Party or any group of employers would have approached the questions under consideration. This isn’t completely true, of course, because a group of employers would have put their private business interests first, war or no war. This was brought out again and again in the convention when the various resolutions were under discussion.

One delegate emphasized the fact that the convention was really a political convention when he pointed out, in the discussion of the resolution on “Recent Elections,” that the majority of the resolutions to come before the convention dealt with “politics.” They dealt with questions in which the government was involved and which the government by act of Congress or by decree has taken under its control. They were matters, therefore, that throw the trade union movement not so much into relationship with the employers but with the federal government. Furthermore, it was clear from the discussion that many of the delegates had come to the convention with the feeling that the government had not done so well. The employers were doing pretty much as they pleased, and it was only labor that was being controlled by the government.

This was the situation that faced this fifth annual convention. The leadership of the CIO had given up the right to strike. They had yielded to the employers and Roosevelt on the “premium pay.” They had tried to set up Nelson’s labor-management committees as a substitute for Murray’s industrial councils. They had subordinated the entire struggle of the mass production workers for greater security to the demand of Roosevelt and the bosses that labor sacrifice for the war. That is, the leadership had said that labor must wait until the war is won and over before the CIO can make any further advances or even hold its own.

We have said that it was a political convention. Here are the main resolutions of a distinctly political nature that were acted on favorably: a resolution commending Murray for his support of Roosevelt and the war, total war mobilization, manpower, labor unity, United Mine Workers of America, labor-management production committees, recent elections, stabilization of national economy, the second front, Atlantic Charter and India, poll-tax, Hitler’s puppet state, agriculture and the war, farm workers and the war, war program for federal workers.

Not only was the convention given its political nature by the content of these resolutions but also by the presence of government representatives, notably Assistant Secretary Bard of the Navy Department and Senator Pepper. To these one must add Sidney Hillman, who was present to make a come-back and to whoop it up for unconditional unity with the AFL in the interest of the “war effort.”

Hillman consumed the time of the convention with a long speech trying to vindicate his record in the OPM. The only impression that one could possibly draw from Hillman’s remarks was that here was a labor leader who had been discarded and kicked out by Roosevelt and the bosses when they had no further use for him.

The speech made by Bard was a very crude and dull affair. The only things that made it possible to listen to it without falling asleep were his demand that the workers produce more per man and his remarks about the second front.

“We can increase the output per man in our war industries,” said Bard, “and labor can carry the ball and furnish the leadership in doing so ... There is a limit to the manpower even in this great country, and the time has come to talk about more production from the manpower available ... Our big chance to increase production is to increase it with the same force that we now have. We must, therefore, direct our efforts to the increasing of our per capita production, which I know can be done.”

And then Bard got off a real gem: “It’s largely your war. There are more workers than there are lawyers or bankers or corporation executives.” We don’t know whom Bard was representing at the convention. It was clear, however, that he was saying just the things that the private shipbuilders and other large employers of labor like to hear: more per capita production, more work, more production from each man. No more hours of work for which more wages would have to be paid, but more production for the time yon ALREADY work and for the wage yon are ALREADY being paid.

On the second front Bard said that he understood

“many of you have been demanding the immediate opening of a second front. Well, you’ve got it. And I am sure that you now realize your increasing obligation in producing the necessary war equipment to maintain this second front. This adds another area ... which requires tanks, guns, planes and ammunition. This is your responsibility You asked for it. You’ve got it.”

When Bard had finished Murray felicitated him on such a wonderful and cooperative address by saying: “So again, Mr. Bard, let us express to your our appreciation for your words of inspiration and encouragement.”

Pepper Speaks

Senator Pepper also made a speech to the convention. His speech was important mainly for what he revealed about the manner in which the bosses are running the war. Pepper, for example, read a letter which he had received from a prominent lawyer in Florida, protesting against the quartering of WAACS in the hotel where he is living because he was “thus inconvenienced” and threatening to beat Pepper in the next election if he and the other tenants were disturbed.

Pepper also reported to the convention some of the anti-group-medicine practices of the American Medical Association, which has charge of the procurement and assignment of doctors for the armed services. In the state of Washington, the head of the Medical Association is head of the procurement of doctors for that state. In the Kaiser Shipyards, hospital facilities had been set up.

“The head of the procurement and assignment services of the state of Washington,” said Pepper, “told these doctors in Kaiser’s hospital that if those doctors treat the wives and children of these workers that is ‘offensive group medicine to us,’ and we will see to it that they, are, through Selective Service, inducted into the armed services of the country.”

It was also in this speech that Pepper referred to the remarks of Churchill to the effect that he did not become Prime Minister in order to sit in at the burial of the British Empire. Pepper said that

“the leader of a great nation said something that indicated that considerations of empire had not been eliminated from the objectives of war ... If we haven’t learned that humility and humbleness of spirit which transcends all material considerations, if we are not sincere when we say we fight for democracy, we prepare to betray another generation.”

As we listened to Pepper we wondered just what OTHER generation “we” had betrayed. Possibly the generation that had fought the First Imperialist World War. And does Pepper himself have some vague doubt that this war is being fought for democracy? If he does – and we know that Pepper knows that this is not a war for democracy in the sense that the ranks of labor mean it – then he is far in front of Murray. Murray probably honestly believes that the United States and England and fighting for democracy and that when the war is over all the promises that have been made by Roosevelt and the bosses will be kept. Of course, Pepper knows better than this; he is not so infantile and stupid as Murray.

In future articles in Labor Action we will discuss the most important resolutions passed at the convention and the effect of the convention on the labor movement.

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