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Jack Wilson

Rubber Workers Convene in Akron

Conservatives in Control, But Democratic Constitution Voted

(October 1937)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. 1 No. 9, 9 October 1937, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

AKRON, Ohio. – The second annual convention of the United Rubber Workers of America recently held here reflected the general development of the CIO movement in the past year.

Tremendous organizational gains furnished the background for the convention. Membership had trebled in the past twelve months. Many important contracts and concessions had been won. Over 250 delegates with 400 votes Were present compared to slightly over 100 at the 1936 convention.

Yet at the very moment the convention was celebrating the victories of the 1937 organizing drive, Goodyear Local voted to allow 1,700 lay-offs, and 2,500 Goodrich unionists were walking the streets, victims of production reductions.

Contrasted to the previous convention with its spirit of militancy, progressiveness, and its tone of class struggle, this convention was a somewhat routine affair.

Conservatives Dominant

Caucus meetings held before the convention indicated that the majority of delegates would be in complete agreement with whatever program the present leadership offered and that those who disagreed would be unwilling to struggle unless floor leadership could be offered. The defeat of the left wing candidates for delegates preluded that possibility.

It was no surprise, therefore, when not a voice was raised against a resolution outlawing all forms of sit-downs, although over 50 delegates with a voting strength of nearly 150 were firmly convinced that it is a powerful and necessary weapon. “I didn’t want to stick my neck out,” was the alibi of one progressive who had fought brilliantly at the previous convention for endorsement of the sit-down strike.

Direct pressure of the CIO and officers of the URWA kept Akron delegates from bringing up the case of B.J. Widick, former research director of the union. He had been removed by the executive board without any charges being placed against him and without any hearing.

Early in the convention Widick rejected a CIO suggestion that he make a deal for reinstatement which would, in effect, vindicate the executive board. He refused because that would again place him at the mercy of the board.

Delegates frankly declared they were afraid to buck the CIO or the leadership on that issue, although they recognized its political significance. When a caucus finally agreed to fight for the issue, the convention was about over and the matter couldn’t be brought up.

Confusion on War-Fascism

Confusion on political matters was evident throughout the convention and was illustrated in particular by the action taken on the questions of war and fascism.

As one rubber worker said, “This convention adopted a Trotskyist resolution against fascism during one session and then turned around to pass a Stalinist resolution for war.”

After the excellent resolution against fascism was adopted, it seemed that one calling for opposition to all imperialist wars, etc., which presented a revolutionary position would be passed. Instead a muddled resolution calling on Roosevelt to invoke the Kellogg pact against Japan was adopted.

Labor’s Non-Partisan League received unanimous endorsement, as resolutions calling for independent working class political action were tossed aside by the resolutions committee.

However, in one extremely important phase of its work did the convention carry on the progressive tradition of the 1936 convention. A very democratic constitution (compared to all other CIO unions) was adopted. Ample provision for protection of the rank and file and the left wing against attacks by the leadership was made.

Constitution Democratic

In the past year, reactionaries have used their position on local executive boards to bring progressives up on charges before them and thus have handicapped them tremendously. Now that power has been taken away from the executive boards and placed in the hands of the rank and file. Severe penalties for unsubstantiated charges are provided. One leading Goodyear progressive was ruined for two months by the false charges brought against him. The convention, incidentally, upheld him.

In terms of trade union perspectives, the convention adopted the correct slogan for the next period of its organizational campaign. “Organize Gadsden and the South!” “Eliminate the Sweatshops.”

Per capita tax to the International was raised to forty cents so that this work could be carried out effectively. Previous tax was thirty-seven cents. Dues remain $1 a month, however.

Since Gadsden, Alabama, has been the scene of terrorism, beatings, flagrant discrimination against union men, and of every other form of oppression, it symbolizes the open-shop reactionary South at its worst. More than one delegate at the convention had been driven out of Gadsden.

Goodyear has a key plant there. Other rubber companies are following it to the South in an effort to escape union labor. A victory there would be a real gain for the entire labor movement. The rubber workers, after two years of failure, will try again to organize it.

Election of officers and executive board members provided the only high light of the convention.

Some Progressives Win

The three-year campaign of the left wing and progressive forces against John House, reactionary president of Goodyear Local, finally bore fruit and he was defeated in his three attempts to be re-elected to the executive board. The margins were very decisive.

In the ballot between N.H. Eagle, Ohio district organizer, and considered one of the leading progressives, and L.S. Buckmaster, Firestone Local president and admitted strongest conservative candidate for the board, Eagle won by 230 to 190. Buckmaster later defeated House to return to the executive board.

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