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B.J. Widick

In the Trade Unions

(28 February 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 11, 28 February 1939, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Some 18,000 dressmakers of the I.L.G.W.U. demonstrated last Tuesday for one hour on Eighth Avenue at 35th St. against the Dress Trucking Association for refusing to sign a union contract.

It was an impressive sight. It should bring results to the workers involved.

Suppose a similar demonstration had been called by the officials of the I.L.G.W.U. one day sooner as a protest against the Nazi meeting at Madison Square Garden? Suppose other unions officially had participated in our fight against the fascists?

Picture 250,000 workers surrounding Madison Square Garden hours before the Nazi meeting was called. Obviously there would have been no fascist rally.

Powerful as the anti-Nazi rally was, it could have been invincible with cooperation of the union officials.

Labor Officials Abjectly Silent

Instead, the labor officials were conspicuous only by their abject silence. Is this all they have learned from the experiences in Italy, Germany, Austria, Spain and elsewhere?

A young reporter went around to various prominent union headquarters to ask them what they thought or were going to do about the Nazi meeting.

The Amalgamated Clothing Workers officials gave him a run-around. “Can’t make any statement. Joint Board members out of town. Can’t issue it myself,” declared one official who was interviewed.

“I couldn’t get within a mile of Dubinsky,” the reporter said. Other officials privately said the counter-demonstration was a mistake. “Playing into the hands of the fascists by giving them publicity,” one said. It was the old story of an ostrich sticking his head into the sand when he saw danger coming ... but that didn’t eliminate the danger. Look at the trade unionists in Nazi concentration camps. They learned too late how to keep Hitler from power.

Stalinist-controlled unions followed the C.P. policy of complete silence. So did Local 22, of the I.L.G.W.U. Last week, the Lovestoneite Workers Age said exactly nothing about the coming Nazi meeting.

Rank and File Labor Took Action

Organized labor acted only through the splendid initiative of rank and file unionists who joined us in the anti-Nazi rally.

It was no accident that the very cops who broke picket lines protected the Nazi assemblage. Cops and Fascists both are anti-union to the core. Only powerful, well-organized and militant picket lines can preserve the workers rights against them.

The rank and file in large numbers have learned this lesson from their own experience and the tragic fate of the trade union movement in Europe. That is why they joined our demonstration.

This lesson must be understood by every union man if a victorious fight against fascism is to take place.

And a real campaign to break the lethargy and inertia of the trade union bureaucracy before the menace of fascism is a major task for every progressive worker.

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Last updated: 28 November 2015