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David Coolidge

CIO Convention Fights for Higher Wages;
Refrains from Endorsement of FDR 4th Term

(15 November 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 46, 15 November 1943, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In some respects; the recent deliberations of the CIO at its sixth constitutional convention in Philadelphia, marked a step forward for that organization and to the degree that this is true is to be welcomed by the entire labor movement.

The convention did not pass a resolution calling for a fourth term for Roosevelt. There was no such resolution in the book of resolutions and none was presented to the convention from the floor.

President Thomas was there from the UAW, which did pass such a resolution at its Buffalo convention in October.

The Stalinists were there, even on the International Board, but they did not present such a resolution nor did they make the demand in their speeches from the floor. This may seem strange in the light of the fact that the Communist Party is the main agitator for continuing Roosevelt in office indefinitely, or at least until the word comes from Moscow to turn a flip-flop and give the votes to Willkie or some other capitalist candidate.

Who Told Them Off?

It is hard to believe that the Browder men did not have such a resolution ready to spring either in the international board before the convening of the convention, or at the convention itself. It is also difficult to believe that no Stalinist delegate took the floor to speak for a Roosevelt fourth term just because it did not occur to him or her.

We have a hunch that this matter was discussed in the international board meeting and that the Stalinist fourth term fervor was squelched by Philip Murray. It is clear that the word went out to the faithful instructing them to lay off any fourth term agitation and demonstration.

While there was no fourth term resolution, this should not be interpreted to mean that the leadership is not committed to the support of Roosevelt for re-election. Nor does the refusal to say now that they will support Roosevelt mean that the leadership of the CIO is ready to demonstrate any friendliness to the idea of a Labor Party.

On this point, the Statement on Political Action said:

“It will not be the policy of the CIO in connection with the 1944 elections to build labor’s political organization in the form of a third party, but to abstain from and discourage any move in that direction.

“Our primary task in the political field today is to weld the unity of all workers, farmers and other progressives behind candidates, regardless of party affiliation, who are committed to our policy of total victory and who fully support the measures necessary to achieve it ...”

This, of course, is only a variant of the age-old position of the AFL. That organization will support candidates who are friendly to its program and who seemingly agree with the AFL on how to achieve “total victory.”

The CIO has its program and a CIO conception on how to achieve “total victory.”

Hillman’s Role and Murray

Hillman made a long speech explaining the function of his Committee on Political Action. He emphasized that “ours is an educational movement. Our purpose is to place the issues before the people ... While traveling around I have been asked by all the newspapermen, ‘Is this a fourth term movement you are launching?’ And I said: ‘No, this is not a fourth term movement only.’”

Then Hillman, with his eye on a diplomatic post (Moscow, perhaps) went on to say that “if I would have to make a commitment in the next two or three months ... I would raise my voice and urge, for the sake of humanity, the nation and labor, the nomination and re-election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.”

Evidently Hillman went out too far on the limb because when Murray spoke, following Hillman, although he felt that the convention might endorse a candidate if the elections were to be held in a few months, he did not stop there.

Murray said that he did not like Washington today: “I am not in a state of mind this morning where under existing circumstances, I am prepared to say to the Democratic Party, or to any other party, ‘Here we are, meek and humble of spirit, prepared to give our body and souls in a state of abject surrender.’” Despite the fact that this was only a mild protest against the present situation, it was a step forward, a step forward taken under the pressure of the ranks of labor, who “also don’t like Washington as it is today.” Furthermore, the CIO convention may have been influenced by the fact that the AFL convention refrained from any endorsement of Roosevelt for re-election.

A Turn on Wages

Another significant action that must be welcomed by all of labor was the resolution on national wage policy. This resolution was adopted in a special meeting of the International Executive Board held the day that the resolution was presented to the convention. The resolution calls for the elimination of “the so-called Little Steel formula, which ... is no longer in accord with reality. The working men and women of America must be permitted, through the sound and stable processes of collective bargaining, to secure wage adjustments to levels necessary to maintain their morale, health and efficiency and to meet the special needs imposed on them in this war period:

“The sound and tested processes of collective bargaining must be freed to secure the elimination of inequalities and inequities in wage structures and to bring about, where feasible, industry-wide stabilization of wage structures on the basic principle of equal pay for the same work.”

What were the reasons that brought the CIO leadership to the position of about-face on this question? First, of course, the unrest and dissatisfaction of the masses of the workers. This unrest was showing itself in strikes and stoppages. There were rumblings and outbursts in every CIO convention, except those wholly and totally dominated by a Stalinist majority. Furthermore, the AFL convention had taken a somewhat firm position on these questions of wages, manpower, collective bargaining and labor conscription bills.

And last, the miners’ strike hung over the CIO convention like a solemn warning; serving notice on the CIO leadership that the millions of members in the CIO would be more influenced by what the miners were doing in practice than by any demagogic sobbing about the miseries of the boys in Italy or the Stalinist organized hysteria about strikes being “treason” or aid to Hitler.

All of these events together, but especially the strike of the miners, were present at the CIO convention and’ made themselves felt. Delegate Beddow of the United Steel Workers, from Alabama, speaking in favor of the resolution, said that the miners were on strike, that the steel mills in Alabama were shut down, that mine workers were underpaid, that they worked in “gopher holes” and that he hoped they would get every cent they were demanding.

The strangest sight in connection with this resolution to scrap the Little Steel formula was the behavior of the Communist Party delegates. They forgot all about incentive pay, piecework, more money for more production, and longer hours. They bumped into each other climbing on the bandwagon.

Delegate Merrill of the Office & Professional Workers was jubilant and concurred with Delegate Walter Reuther! This resolution was’”badly needed,” according to Merrill.

Delegate Reid Robinson, president of the Mine, Mill & Smelter Workers, was also enthusiastically in support of the resolution, “it is a very timely resolution,” said Robinson, and one would think that the Stalinists had been agitating against the Little Steel formula for months and months, while everyone else in the labor movement had been trying to saddle labor with the stretch-out and piecework wages.

Here, again, it was clear that the Stalinist delegates had been rounded up and told to pipe down. It is reported that their members on the International Executive Board had some “questions” in the special meeting of the board but that all their doubts had been firmly cleared away. And, as on the matter of the fourth term, they gathered themselves together and went down the line with “our great president, Philip Murray.”

There was a resolution on “organizing.” According to the resolution, the CIO must continue its organizing activities, “since only through union organization can labor demonstrate its leadership in war production, in mobilizing all resources for total war, and furnishing united support to the war program behind our Commander-in-Chief, the CIO now, more than ever, has the responsibility to the entire nation to increase its organizing activities among the workers to bring to them union organization.”

The resolution goes on to speak of expansion of organization in order to mobilize “the nation’s workers into full war production,” the CIO must direct its attention to the problems arising from the entrance of women and Negro workers into industry; “we must demonstrate to our membership” that the new problems of the war situation can be solved only through the strength of organized labor and the benefits of collective bargaining shall be brought to labor through expanded organization.

This resolution brought the first real discussion of the convention. It was not the first resolution presented, but the third. The very first resolution was entitled Philip Murray and set forth appreciation of Murray’s leadership. It also prepared the way for the unanimous re-election of Murray. Not only this, but the resolution was evidently to allay any doubts in Murray’s or anybody else’s mind that there was even the slight est appreciation of Lewis’s presence at the convention.

The second resolution presented was Our No-Strike Pledge. This came on Monday afternoon, the day the convention opened. The resolution commits the CIO to reaffirm “its solemn pledge without any qualifications or conditions that for the duration of the war there must not be any strike or stoppage of work .... any leader of organized labor who deliberately flouts this obligation and any employer who seeks to provoke or exploit labor are playing into the hands of the enemies of our nation.”

The resolution was passed without any discussion at all. Not a single delegate, from the floor or the platform, said one word.

It was after this resolution was passed without discussion that the other resolutions which we have mentioned, were presented and discussed.

It was clear that the leadership, knowing that the convention faced some tough problems, wanted to get the no-strike pledge formally reaffirmed as the first order of business in the convention.

Roosevelt had, sent a telegram to the convention, telling the delegates that he invited and expected their “continued active support and cooperation in the fulfillment of the no-strike pledge of American labor, in the increasing effort in production, in stabilizing wages to balance our economy.’’

Murray and the CIO leaders knew that they would have to have a position on wages for the convention. They knew that they were not going to be able to agree with Roosevelt about wage stabilization. But to keep things in check they also knew that they would have to push in the no-strike pledge resolution before they entered into any discussions of working conditions, wages, prices or expansion of organization efforts.

The leaders of the organization also knew that they must differentiate themselves from Lewis. They must carry on the old fiction, the same old stupidity, that the miners are entitled to more money but Lewis’ methods were not the proper way to get the wage increase. Of course, these leaders know better but they were committed to Roosevelt and the no-strike pledge and they don’t want the CIO membership to get any fancy notions in its head that the way to get more wages, the way to bring the bosses and the WLB to their knees is by use of the strike weapon, the method that was being used right at that moment by the miners.

Lewis was present at the CIO convention, just as he was present at the AFL convention in Boston. Not in the flesh, of course, nor did he have any representative there. But the miners were on strike and it is extremely difficult to say to the workers of the country: “Stay on your bellies, depend on the President, the WLB and friendly congressmen to keep the bosses from walking over you.”

This type of labor leadership does not make much impression when the workers see the miners marching at least to partial victory on the picket line at the end of six months of hard and disciplined struggles.

The low point in the convention in relation to Lewis was reached in a speech by the Stalinist Blackie Meyers, vice-president of the National Maritime Union. Meyers said that “John L. Lewis is a fascist; yes, that is what he is.” The Daily Worker, in reporting Meyers’s speech, made Meyers say that Lewis had “fascistic policies.” Meyers also referred to the strike of the miners as “treason.”

The CIO convention and the leaders of the CIO were under the constant and increasing pressure of the membership. Despite all their wavering and wanderings around in the morass of no-strike pledges, their efforts to keep the workers tied to the imperialist war machine and their concern with their own, bureaucratic interests, the fact is that this leadership did respond in some measure to the demands of the ranks. This reaction will undoubtedly result in some improvement in the wage situation and in the living conditions for labor.

By the decisions of the convention an opening has been made. We are of the opinion that in the months to come organized labor, in the AFL and the CIO, will file solidly into this crack in the walls of wage and job stabilization. They will learn from the miners and from their own experience what to do about Little Steel formulas, WLB decisions and Smith-Connally acts.

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