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[David Coolidge]

David Coolidge Reports on CIO Convention

Resolution on Jim Crow Good, But Lacks Teeth

(7 December 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 49, 7 December 1942, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

(Continued from the last issue)

Next to Roosevelt and the various government speakers, it was really the Stalinists who occupied the center of the stage at the recent CIO convention in Boston. This was not due to any definite plan of the Stalinists themselves, but to the fortunes of war and Attorney General Biddle. The spotlight was on Curran and Bridges, and to a lesser extent on the Stalinists from “white collar” unions.

Curran came into the limelight because he is the head of the National Maritime Union. Two thousand members of this union have been lost at sea since the United States entered the war. Three hundred of them were Negro seamen. It was of course altogether fitting and proper that the CIO, and all the labor movement for that matter, commemorate the sacrifice that these workers have made. None of the things that we have to say about Stalinism is directed at these men or at their comrades among the living on land and sea who have been caught up in the net of the Second Imperialist World War.

NMU Gets Plaque

A memorial plaque was presented to the NMU by Murray from the CIO. There was also a “Memorial to the CIO Members in the Merchant Marine Who Have Died in the Service of Our Nation.” In presenting the plaque to Curran, Murray made the presentation address, in which he praised the heroism of the men who man the ships carrying war supplies all over the earth. “They are the boys,” said Murray, “who give of their lives, of their blood and of their limb to help America and its allies win this war.”

While it is true that these “boys” have given their lives, there was nothing said in the resolution or in Murray’s speech to indicate that there is doubt in anybody’s mind that this war may not be exactly the kind of war it is claimed to be. While plenty was said on the convention, even by such a war supporter as Senator Pepper, to create some doubt even in the mind of the most obtuse or enthusiastic, the, resolution and Murray’s speech were completely silent on the question of whether or not this is really a war for democracy.

Pepper seemed to be a little disturbed. In commenting on the statement of Churchill that he had not become Prime Minister to sit in at the funeral of the British Empire, he said: “... If we are not sincere when we say that we fight for democracy, we prepare to betray another generation.” Was the generation that fought and died in the First World War betrayed? If so, what guarantee have the men who fight in this one that their generation is not being betrayed? The workers of the world must answer this question for THEMSELVES.

In the course of Murray’s presentation speech, giving the plaque to Curran, he made the statement “This is what I personally think of you, this is what the CIO thinks of you and your union.” This was of sort of queer remark and of course does not mean that Murray has changed his mind about “communism.” It is, rather, that in their journey around the circle, the Stalinists have met Murray in all-out support of the imperialist war and have found themselves in his embrace. Perhaps it was not accidental, however, that the above quoted statement by Murray to Curran did not find its way into the printed proceedings of the convention.

Bridges Gets Spotlight

Harry Bridges also found himself in the spotlight at the convention. He was the subject of glowing praise and sanctimonious approval by Murray and the other big shots, including David MacDonald. Was this praise being bestowed on Bridges because he was AT ONE TIME a militant labor leader who led a couple of militant mass strikes? Nothing of the sort. The CIO leadership was demanding that the deportation warrant against Bridges be lifted, and he be made a citizen because, AND ONLY BECAUSE, he supports the war. His labor record was not mentioned, nor was it even hinted that his deportation may have been decreed because of his PAST militant activity.

Murray said that

“it has not been demonstrated to the satisfaction of labor and many citizens that Harry Bridges has ever been affiliated with or a member of any subversive organization or groups that have for their purpose the overthrow of the government of the United States. Harry Bridges has given loyal support to the government of the United States in support of this war. Australia would welcome Harry Bridges back. They believe that he would be an aid to them in winning the war.”

What did Murray think of Bridges two years ago? What would be his attitude on Bridges if he had supported a resolution in his international against the Roosevelt-Murray “no-strike” agreement that was forced on the CIO? What does Murray think would be the attitude of Australia toward Bridges if he should once again become a militant labor leader during or after the war?

MacDonald said that the way he looked at it is that “Mr. Bridges is even now a good, decent American citizen.” Bittner felt that “the Bridges case is an indictment against the government of the United States.” Of course Bittner did not tell the convention just what the indictment was. This was true of all of them. They are for Bridges now because AND ONLY BECAUSE, he is a supporter of the imperialist war.

They have a hunch, of course, that all is not exactly straight with the Bridges deportation proceedings. They know that the case arose in the days when the Stalinists were not supporting the United Nations in the war. They know also that the bosses feared that Bridges might call another strike, and for this reason wanted to get him out of the country. But they don’t mention this. It might interfere with the “war effort.” They are not concerned now with whether or not Bridges is a Stalinist. They will hold this in reserve until after the war is over.

Discussion on Race Discrimination

One of the most interesting discussions in the convention was on the question of the Negro and the CIO. There was a resolution on “discrimination” which said in part that “we of the democracies are fighting fascism at home and abroad by welding all races, all religions and all peoples into a united body of warriors for democracy. Any discriminatory practices within our ranks, against Negroes or other groups, directly aids the enemy by creating division, dissension and confusion.” The resolution resolves that “the CIO now reiterates its firm opposition to any form of racial or religious discrimination and renews its pledge to carry on the fight for protection in law and in fact of the rights of every racial and religious group to participate fully in our social, political and industrial life.”

There was objection to this resolution. The claim was made, notably by some of the Negro delegates, that it was not strong enough. Yancy, of the Transport Service Employees, said that

“we agree that reiteration is necessary, but at the same time we think we ought to get away from platitudes and take out of the framework of words this reiteration of our policies and put it into real and practical action ... We believe this resolution should be recommitted and that it should be strengthened by additional facts, such as are brought forth in the Executive Board’s resolution as submitted and accepted.”

The resolution was discussed by Murray, Brophy, Bittner and many delegates from the floor. Townsend, president of the Transport Service Employees and member of the CIO Executive Council, told the convention that

“it is incumbent upon each and every one of you to recognize how serious this problem is ... We are going to neglect the use of this manpower (Negro) and if you yourselves think more of your prejudices than you do of your freedom you will lose that freedom ... I warn you that unless those of you who make up the Congress of Industrial Organizations don’t do more than give lip service to this burning question then something will happen that will cause all of us to regret.”

Walter Reuther spoke on the resolution to the effect that the resolution and the facts given in Murray’s remarks should get down to the people in the factories, for

“unless they understand the things we talk about in these resolution, they will remain high-sounding, pious resolutions ... I think it is the duty of every delegate here today to go back to their respective organizations and see that they take up the fight against racial discrimination, not as a secondary consideration ... but this fight against racial discrimination must be put on top of the list with union security and other union demands.”

It was clear that this problem of discrimination against the Negro in the unions and in the factories was beginning to worry the leadership along with their worries over Congress, the WLB and other government agencies. Discrimination against the Negro was beginning to interfere with the prosecution of the war. Their attitude is that if Negro support is to be won for the war, then discrimination must be eliminated or at least lessened.

This is the chief motivation today behind their concern over race discrimination: the solidarity of labor, black and white, is necessary to win the war. On the more important matter of the necessity for the solidarity of labor to win greater security, concessions from the bosses and a better life for the American workers as a whole, these leaders were strangely silent.

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