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J.B. Widick

C.I.O. Faces Crucial Issues of Democracy
in the Unions

Convention Next Week Must Take Decisive Steps

Unity and Fight on Stalinism on the Agenda

(November 1938)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. II No. 48, 5 November 1938, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

PITTSBURGH, Pa – The C.I.O. convention here will mark an important milestone in the history of the American labor movement.

It will be the first time that the mass production workers are overwhelmingly represented at a national labor convention. The C.I.O. is based primarily on the industrial workers. The future course of the industrial workers will largely be determined by the policies adopted at this convention.

The burning issue of labor unity looms in the forefront of the questions this convention must answer. The danger of war, the growth of incipient American fascism, the need for independent political action, the unemployment question; these are the major problems demanding a solution if the workers are to go forward.

Stalinist Issue Decisive

Will the C.I.O. convention consider its most serious internal weakness: the treacherous influence of the Stalinist “rule or ruin” clique? Allied closely with this question is the problem of democracy within the C.I.O. itself. It must if the C.I.O. workers are to be free to determine their own destiny.

How the C.I.O. convention will deal with these problems is reflected in the pre-convention moves of John L. Lewis and the top leadership.

An imposing facade of strength is being carefully built by Lewis to impress the A.F. of L. and the general public. Startling figures of membership will be revealed. The S.W.O.C., for example, will report over 500,000 members, although this is a higher figure than claimed at the peak of the C.I.O.

New Unity Bid

The C.I.O. will make another bid for unity with the A.F. of L. on less intransigent terms than one year ago. The actions of international unions like the rubber workers, auto workers, etc., the actions of state C.I.O. councils urging unity, will set the tone for the convention.

Considerable speculation has arisen here over reports that Lewis will resign as C.I.O. chairman as a maneuver to win more support in unity negotiations with the A.F. of L.

Absence of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union is expected although its executive board does not meet until Nov. 10 to consider the question. Its presence here would have a tremendous influence for labor unity.

Bureaucratic Preparations

The convention is being prepared in the usual John L. Lewis fashion. Its bureaucratic structure will be similar to that of the A.F. of L. convention. The S.W.O.C. union will be represented by Murray, and five other miners’ union top leaders, along with four steel workers who are close associates of the Murray ruling faction. The voting strength of the convention will be concentrated in the hands of international union executive boards, C.I.O. regional directors, etc.

A caucus meeting of top C.I.O. officials has been called for Nov. 11 to plan the strategy of the convention.

The full nature of the deal between John L. Lewis and the Stalinists will be revealed at this convention. Is the war referendum amendment, approved by the S.W.O.C. convention and the U.A.W.A., going to be made a C.I.O. stand, or will the Stalinists with Lewis’ assistance tie the workers to the Roosevelt war-machine?

All indications are that Lewis and the top leadership will continue the fatal policy of relying on Roosevelt, and trying to keep the workers bound to the Democratic party.

Disrupters Want Recognition

The Stalinist controlled Workers Alliance wants a national C.I.O. charter to save itself from the consequences of its own ruinous policies. Progressive unionists want the C.I.O. to charter its own unemployed union, excluding these misleaders.

If the pressure of the rank and file throughout the country is sufficiently strong, the progressive proposal will carry. Otherwise another Stalinist noose will be placed around the neck of the C.I.O. workers.

The autonomy of international unions within the C.I.O. is also placed in jeopardy by the Lewis plan of centralization of control within the C.I.O. Already he controls the miners and the steel workers union. The Stalinists aided him in taking over the auto workers union.

The Main Issue

A dominant Lewis-Stalinist bloc based on their common determination to prop up the cracking edifice of capitalism, and to keep the workers from taking the road of class action on the economic and political field will spell the doom of the C.I.O.

Against this possibility, the progressives within the C.I.O. are fighting with the program of the Los Angeles Trade Union conference. Unity with the A.F. of L., no jurisdictional raids, for defense of workers’ rights by class action, for independent political action, and for the repudiation of the Stalinist ruinous policies.

Insofar as the C.I.O. convention adopts this program will its future course be progressive and benefit the interests of the industrial workers.

The next week here will reveal which policy the C.I.O. will adopt.

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