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David Coolidge

Common Union Strategy is Necessary Start

Will There Be Labor Unity?

(17 February 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 7, 17 February 1947, pp. 1 & 8.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Up to the time that this edition of Labor Action went to press the CIO had not yet replied to the communication of the AFL calling for organic unity between the two great trade union federations. There can be no doubt that the leadership of the CIO is giving very careful consideration to this proposal of the AFL leadership. They SHOULD give this proposal the most careful consideration, for it is the most important and significant development in the field of inter-union relations since the formation of the CIO eleven years ago.

It is the opinion of the Workers Party, and has been now for several years, that the AFL and the CIO should unite. The Workers Party has expressed this view in Labor Action again and again. We have given all the reasons why the two federations should merge into one. During the war we said that merger was necessary in the interest of the whole working class and for the purpose of defeating the efforts of the employers and the government to regiment the labor movement, to beat down wages and depress labor’s standard of living.

Industrial Unionism

What the Workers Party has been saying is substantially what the AFL says in its letter to the CIO. There is one aspect of the position of the AFL, however, which renders the proposal suspect. It seems to be the position of the AFL that the only alternative to organic unity at the present time is the internecine strife which now embroils the two organizations. The AFL communication rejects the proposal of the CIO for concrete and practical immediate collaboration between the two unions. On this point the AFL letter says: “The holding of periodical meetings such as you suggest in your letter ... for the purpose of dealing with attacks upon organized labor means that cooperation may be followed for a day while division and discord continue. We cannot present a united front by pretending to be united today, and being divided tomorrow.”

In the concrete situation such a position is the sheerest nonsense and can only contribute to the continuation of “division and discord.”

The AFL position seems to be “all or nothing.” This is the real way to get nothing. How can the AFL ignore the fact that even if committees from the two organizations come together for negotiating a merger, in the end the committees might find it expedient to recommend a period of practical collaboration? The negotiators will be compelled to face certain brute facts. One fact they will be compelled to face is that there IS “discord and division.” They have to face the fact that the two organizations, nationally and locally, from international to international, from local to local, have been at each others’ throats. They will have to face the all-important consideration that the AFL is a dyed-in-the-wool craft organization and that the CIO is based on and firmly committed to the principle of industrial unionism. It is this fact which above all is at the bottom of the main strike between the two organizations.

While this difference in organization conception is of the utmost importance, we do not believe that this is a valid reason for the organizations to remain separated. But, on the other hand, we do not believe that the CIO should abandon, even in the slightest degree, its industrial union set-up. There should be no compromise with the AFL on this question. There is no valid reason for a compromise. In the present stage of technology, industrial structure and capitalist production, it is the CIO and not the AFL which is the basic organization and the organization with its base in the decisive section of the working class. Any compromise with this, any step away from industrial unionism, would be a reactionary step and should not be countenanced.

While all the above considerations may indicate the necessity for the period of collaboration, there is yet another consideration. It is imperative right now that labor present a united front against the capitalist employers and their government at Washington. The Republicans are preparing to hack away at organized labor, to attempt to stifle the unions and harass the working class. Any and all steps are necessary to defeat these efforts of the most reactionary section of the ruling class. If this can be accomplished, even in the slightest degree (and it can!) through joint action, short of merger, or preparatory to merger, such joint action should be arranged and carried through.

The workers in the AFL should not permit themselves to be deluded by any forthcoming bombast from Green, Lewis, Tobin, Hutcheson or Woll. Their records are not good in the matter of proper working class relations between the two organizations. These craft union workers too should begin to understand what the real situation is in connection with craft unionism. It is not on the upgrade. This is not the 80’s of the last century. Industrial unionism has arrived and it has arrived because there is a need for this type of trade union organization.

Not only is the industrial union structure indicated for the mass production workers, but should the industrial unions function in consonance with their structure, they can play the leading role in the trade union field in the struggle against the capitalist ruling class and its government. This factor will become increasingly clearer to craft union members with further developments of technology, mass production techniques and the further demands of monopoly capitalism for lowered production costs and the stabilization of profits. Members of the carpenters’ union, for instance, will understand this., better when they are actually faced with pre-fabricated houses manufactured in mass production plants by semi-skilled and unskilled labor.

The workers in the CIO should not allow any bureaucratic interests of their leadership to stand in the way of their decision for the unification of the two organizations. There is a tendency for labor bureaucrats to maintain and perpetuate themselves. Labor leaders learn these things from the capitalist ruling class and from the political organizations of the ruling class. The record of Murray and of the other CIO leaders is not so good either. While they have stood steadfastly for industrial unionism, they have not supplied the consistent militant leadership which was demanded of them. Neither have they conducted certain indicated organization drives, on time and with the necessary vigor.

When all of this is said, and it is important, the Workers Party resumes its advocacy of the merger of the AFL arid CIO. The gains which the working class has made through industrial unionism should not be sacrificed. Further gains which can be made through industrial unionism should not be ignored. The Southern organizing drive should be prosecuted to the utmost and completed.

In our opinion, the CIO should reply to the AFL expressing its desire for the merger of the two organizations. Joint meetings should take place between committees representing the two unions. Pending the complete joining of forces, however, it is imperative that the two federations collaborate with each other in the most friendly and practical way, in a united front against the common enemy.

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