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CIO Convention Rubber Stamps Lewis Machine

Mine Leader Rides Roughshod to Full Control

(November 1938)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. II No. 51, 26 November 1938, pp. 1 & 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

PITTSBURGH, P a. – John L. Lewis took undisputed control over the entire Congress of Industrial Organizations (C.I.O.) following the first national convention held by the industrial unions affiliated to that organization.

His election as president, and the heavy predominance of his personal supporters on the newly-constituted executive board of the C.I.O. assures Lewis of greater personal power than ever achieved by a single trade union leader in this country.

After the shadow-boxing between Lewis and the Stalinists over one clause in the constitution for the C.I.O. (described in last week’s Socialist Appeal) the convention was smoother than a session of Stalin’s central committee meeting. There simply wasn’t any opposition on any question of importance.

Stalinists Roughly Handled

The C.I.O. constitution doesn’t guarantee the right of political affiliation for members. However, Lewis was able to cut off any discussion on this question.

Lewis called Harry Bridges and Joe Outran, the big-guns of the Stalinists, to the stage after they mildly protested against the constitution provisions.

“I don’t like you and your gang around here. You can go to hell, as far as I’m concerned, and if you want to get licked, start something at this convention,” Lewis privately told Bridges and Curran.

Whereupon, the Stalinists returned to their places and kept as silent as a couple of children just spanked by their father. In order that no one else get any ideas of trying to discuss the constitution seriously, Lewis took the floor before the committee on this subject made its report.

“This is a simple and democratic constitution,” he explained to the doubters. “It isn’t going to be amended. You are going to vote on the committee recommendations ...” Lewis gently explained.

Everybody got the hint. Outside of a mild discussion on per capita tax, the constitution was adopted without a murmur.

Weapon Against Autonomy

Under the provisions of the constitution, the executive board can investigate any international or local affiliate and make a report to the convention, anytime it thinks an international union is not carrying out C.I.O. policies.

Thus two legal weapons have been given Lewis for a possible purge of political minorities. The first is the lack of a guarantee on political affiliation rights, the second is this clause which allows

Lewis to investigate unions, in the manner he did in auto. These are dangerous precedents for the labor movement.

Of course, a broader and more flexible interpretation of these vital clauses depends entirely on how much pressure the rank and file places on the executive board. It becomes a question of relationship of forces.

Stalinists Get Posts

Because the constitution provides for the executive board of the C.I.O. to be composed of one member from each affiliated national and international union and organizing committee – and Lewis insisted that the nominees be the president of each of the affiliates – fifteen Stalinists are on the board!

Joe Curran, of the National Maritime Union, was elected despite opposition from his own delegates, because Lewis personally interceded.

Bridges, Mervin Rathborne, Michael Quill, Lewis Merrill, are among the leading Stalinists who are on the board which is composed of 42 members.

But Lewis Controls

However, voting on the Board is on the basis of per capita payments of the union which the board member represents. This provision gives Lewis absolute control of the Board. He and Philip Murray and Sidney Hillman, alone have a majority of votes from coal, steel and textile and clothing! Besides, they are the executive officers whose actions are subject to review only twice a year by the Board which they control!

John Brophy, C.I.O. director, was dumped from the post of secretary which he temporarily occupied since the death of Charles P. Howard. James Carey, of the electrical and radio workers, was elected, since he is considered “safer” than Brophy by the C.I.O. leaders. Carey is known as a “fellow traveller” of the Stalinist line. C.I.O. leaders expect to “win him over.”

“Love-Feast” with Martin

In an effort to impress the public, Lewis approached Homer Martin, auto workers president, and urged him to participate actively in the convention, to show that the C.I.O. was united.

So Martin spoke on the resolution for observing collective bargaining agreements. He blamed the employers for the sit-downs but was far too sharp in his own criticism of sit-downs. Later on, Martin talked on the resolution to organize Ford.

The final touch was a charming love feast arranged by the auto workers executive board which saw Martin presenting Murray, Hillman and Lewis with watches for their “great services to the auto workers,” while the Stalinists cheered. Actually, neither Martin, nor Lewis nor the Stalinists believed the talk of unity and peace and the struggle behind the scenes is more bitter than ever.

This remarkable performance was followed by another event which, to put it mildly, was unusual. On a point of special privilege, Joe Curran arose and read a little speech prepared for him by Thomas Ray and Roy Hudson, Stalinist behind-the-scenes-men at the convention.

Curran pledged “undying loyalty,” etc., etc., to Lewis and Lewis made a public endorsement of Harry Bridges. Tit-for-tat ... while the workers suffer from the rule-or-ruin policies of the Stalinists.

No Politics at Convention

Conspicuous by its absence throughout the convention was talk on Labor’s Non-Partisan League and its role in politics. The recent election defeats have demoralized the C.I.O. leaders and they didn’t want to discuss politics.

Only one resolution endorsing the League was introduced. Before it was introduced, Eli L. Oliver, executive vice-president of the League spoke on the resolution, and was followed by Michael Quill. No discussion was called for, although various delegates wanted to speak, and the resolution was endorsed.

Another example of the caution of the C.I.O. leaders was their refusal to allow a Stalinist delegate to introduce a special resolution calling upon Roosevelt to run for a third term. The C.I.O. leaders ruled it out of order, not because they necessarily disagree with the idea, but because they are afraid Roosevelt won’t run and they’ll be left high and dry.

Participation in another “war for democracy” was pledged in a resolution adopted by the convention.

A series of reports on organizing drives in the South, and elsewhere were approved and the C.I.O. executive board urged to plan a large campaign for new members.

Support of Roosevelt’s war program was given in a special resolution. In fact, all political resolutions gave a pledge to American capitalism.

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