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David Coolidge

Post-War Plans of AFL Are a Farce

(24 April 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 17, 24 April 1944, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The American Federation of Labor has issued a long statement which can correctly be called its Political and Economic Testament for the Guidance of the Post-War World. The document lays down principles not only for the United States today and after the war but economic and political standards for the construction of international policy, now and following the war.

The document is essentially and basically a political pronouncement and must be judged as such by workers both within and outside the AFL. It will surely be judged and accepted in this manner of the capitalist ruling class and the government.

The statement is divided into four parts. Part One is Guiding International Principles. Part Two is Program for the establishment of “a lasting peace.” Part Three is Guiding Domestic Principles and Part Four is Immediate Domestic Program.

Echoes of the Past

The Federation begins its platform with the declaration that “war is the enemy.” The AFL recognizes that labor “has no future promise in a world living under the threat and burden of the war system ... the elimination of war as an instrument of national policy is a condition essential to the perpetuation ... of our democratic way of life.” There is nothing especially startling here, of course. All of this has been said before. The AFL statesmen have only dug into the pre-Hitler past for their language.

It is almost the identical language of the Pact of Paris (Briand-Kellogg Pact) signed August 27, 1928. In this pact war was forever “renounced as an instrument of national policy.” But this is not all; the AFL builders of international good will continue with the position that “lasting peace must rest on social justice and include all peoples.” They are in full accord with the international politics of Mr. Gompers, who “set forth this principle ... at the close of the First World War in the constitution of the International Labor Organization.”

Furthermore, the AFL is in full accord with the Atlantic Charter and “notes with satisfaction” the declaration of Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt to the effect that these great democrats will welcome into their blessed circle “all nations ... whose peoples in heart and mind are dedicated, as are our own peoples, to the elimination of tyranny and slavery, oppression and intolerance.”

There is no hint that the Atlantic Charter is now of a part with the Briand-Kellogg Pact, that Churchill is finding it difficult to square the so-called principles of the Atlantic Charter with his declaration that “I did not become His Majesty’s First Minister to sit in at the liquidation of the British Empire”; that Stalinist Russia is a prison house and a slave pen, and that no one of the imperialist governments has expressed any intention of welcoming the exploited colonial peoples into the “world family of democratic nations.” The AFL political scientists declare that “the only safety from war is the international organization of peace.” The United States must participate in this.

This country must “do its full part to help develop a general system of mutual security.” The United Nations must be “ready and equipped ... to prevent the outbreak of war. This will surely require programs for policing and the use of armed forces.” There is more about achieving prosperity by a “free people under a regime of social justice,” the safeguarding of freedom of thought “throughout the world,” and the dependence of freedom of thought “upon the growth of public conscience.”

The AFL statesmen go on and on with their .”guiding international principles” until one becomes nauseated. They give the impression of being old men, physically and mentally decrepit, who have rummaged in second-hand bookstores among the musty and discarded volumes and offerings of post-Versailles and pre-Hitler days. They dig up all the old language, the old plans that a decaying capitalism, an unrestrained imperialism, and the threat of world fascism, have rendered not only naive and impotent, but filled to overflowing with danger for the world working class.

In the light of actual history and the present world situation these “principles” and the international politics of the AFL leaders are as outmoded and rusty as their craft union and reactionary trade union practices in the United States.

What About World Labor?

There is no call for the reforming of the labor movement of the world, for the solidarity of world labor, for the organization of the world working class on class lines, to include the German, Italian and Japanese workers and the miserably exploited colonial slaves. These intellectually bankrupt and ignorant bureaucrats can only talk in vague terms about maintaining peace with “political and military programs” associated with “a far-reaching economic program which will be designed not to advantage certain nations at the expense of others ...”

What nations are not to receive advantage at the expense of which other nations? And how can this come to ,pass in the minds of Green, Woll & Co. when they say in their statement that the United Nations must remain prepared to police the world with armed force? Policing the world with armed force is nothing new. Every imperialist nation has done this, at one time or another, for over a hundred years.

In its statement the AFL takes a position against world poverty. They say that “poverty, unemployment and widespread insecurity are not endurable in the midst of potential plenty.” Not endurable to whom? The starving millions of Europe? The millions of colonial serfs writhing under the imperialist lash? The stricken workers of Hitler’s concentration camps? The exploited millions of Japan and China? The hundreds of thousands in Stalin’s “socialist” factories and prison camps? Not endurable to the hard-pressed working class in the United States?

True, their present condition is not endurable to these millions. But they are forced to endure these things and the AFL gives them no ray of hope. They are not told what to do, they are not given a program for world labor as a class, they are promised no aid in the struggle which they carry on today.

The AFL’s “Program”

The AFL, however, does have a “program” for international peace and economic and political security. What is it? The Atlantic Charter and the Four-Nation Declaration of Roosevelt, Stalin, Churchill and Chiang Kai-shek. They don’t want a world government, but the United Nations are to form a “General International Organization.” Presumably it is this international organization that will function as policemen of the world. What the AFL leaders really call for is the domination of the world, after the war, but the United Nations, but principally by the United State’s.

They are imperialistic minded, demand ins the continuation of the world as it is and defending the imperialists of the ruling classes of England and the United States. Furthermore, they are white imperialists, calling for the continued exploitation of the colonial peoples by their present masters. This is all their “program” means and all that it can mean.

The AFL “planners” remember that there is such a thing as “livelihood,” that is, the workers .must eat, wear clothing and have a house to live in. They are for feeding the starving peoples of the world after the war. They want labor on the staff of the UNRRA. They call this relief, “charity,” and do not believe that the people of other countries “or the United States would profit from continuing charity after the restoration of normal conditions.”

This is a very noble sentiment, coming from these well-fed and high-salaried bureaucrats. It is in the best tradition of the “Sixty Families,” who were always afraid that “charity” would demoralize the workers. This statement, too, will meet with the full approval of the NAM, whose members fear that the Hottentots will get too much U.S. milk and there will not be enough left for the babies of the steel workers and coal diggers.

The AFL world “program” calls for long-range economic planning and “a certain number of international functional agencies ... to insure the consistent development of sound economic policies in a world which will be increasingly responsive to the advances in technology ...” What does this mean? What are sound economic policies? Since the AFL is committed, as much as the NAM, to the continuation of capitalism as a sound economic policy for the U.S., a sound economic policy in world planning can mean only the same thing. In turn, this can only mean the continuation of national economic and political rivalries which lead to imperialist forays, plunder and imperialist wars. Thus do labor leaders put forth their “plans” for world peace, security and justice.

Other Proposals

There are other international proposals which we can only mention. The International Labor Office “has abundantly justified its existence.” The Permanent Court of International Justice should be adopted (where have these people been for the past twenty years?) And for the safeguarding of “human rights” there should be a permanent international institute. It is assumed that all of these institutes, courts, organizations and commissions will be functioning under the protection of the bayonets and navies of the victorious United Nations.

This is the AFL’s contribution to foreign and international politics. It is a stale and musty document out of the cellars of imperialist balance of power politics. It does not even approach the empty vaporings of Woodrow Wilson ... It seemingly is not aware of the history of the world since the Treaty of Versailles. It pays not the slightest heed to the rumblings from the underground movements of Hitlerized Europe, to the insistent demands of the Italian workers, or to the anti-imperialist struggles of the Chinese masses. It expresses no sympathy for the traduced workers of Germany and Japan or for the aspirations of the black millions of Africa.

These bureaucrats of the labor movement, fat from their millions in per capita tax, do not know that world labor has moved beyond their day and their time. Gompers is dead and Gompersism is no answer to the world problems of the working class: certainly not today. Those workers of occupied countries, including Italy, will read this rubbish with disgust and loathing.

Certainly they want democracy, freedom, security and peace. But they know that these can come only with the development of their might and their power organized in the trade unions and workers’ political parties. They are beginning to learn that the “public conscience” is a capitalist and imperialist conscience, that international cooperation is the practice of diplomatic trickery and fraud; that economic cooperation between nations is a brotherhood of death organized by armament manufacturers, and a pillaging of the plain people by cartel agreements.

Working Class Plans

We of the working class must have our plans for the post-war world. But for us the post-war world is part and parcel of the world today and the world of the past. Our first consideration is the fact that an impassable gulf exists between us and the capitalists of our own country, and that this same impassable gulf spreads itself between the workers of every other capitalist country and their ruling classes. The present war does not dry up that gulf, does not destroy this barrier between us as workers and our capitalist and imperialist oppressors.

Our real guarantee against post-war insecurity or fascism is the organization of the working class – as a class – in every capitalist country, Germany, Italy and Japan included – into an international brotherhood of the toilers, organized into strong world unions and a world political party of the working class. Then we can talk about the “public conscience” because we, the majority of the people, will be that conscience. We can talk about peace because we who have no interest in war will not plunge the world into war. We will have security because we, the people, will own and control the instruments of production which are the foundation of security.

(To be continued)

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