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B.J. Widick

In the Trade Unions

(3 March 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 12, 3 March 1939, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A typical C.I.O. state convention was held recently in Massachusetts. It had, however, some extremely important nuances of differences that make it worth analysis.

For example, a resolution condemning Coughlin for his Nazi and anti-labor activities passed only by a narrow margin! No one to be sure, took the floor and openly defended Coughlin. But the vote was eloquent testimony of the danger of Coughlin’s influence. It permeates the organized labor movement.

The Stalinists were put neatly on the spot by the introduction of the anti-Coughlin resolution. They had tried to slander certain progressive union leaders as “Coughlinite agents,” and had to eat their own words when these union leaders introduced the anti-Couglin resolution!

Symbolic of the changes within the C.I.O. during the past year was the fact that the total number of delegates to this convention was 263. Last year there were 484.

Theme Song Is “Save Wagner Act!”

The problem of maintaining and organizing unions received insufficient attention at the convention. Little mention was made of the decline in delegates, a reflection of the status of the unions.

The theme song of the convention was “Save the Wagner Act!’ John Brophy, director of the C.I.O., James B. Carey, secretary of C.I.O., William J. Hynes, John L. Lewis’ personal representative, and Joseph Schlossberg of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers spoke on the subject. It hardly needs belaboring that all of them said the same thing. The fight for the Wagner Act is an extremely important one. It must be won. But to occupy half the convention with speeches on the subject means to neglect other burning issues. This happened.

All the speech-making becomes a form of filibuster. It takes too much time of a two day convention. This is typical of state C.I.O. conventions.

Eli P. Oliver, head of Labor’s Non-Partisan League, was enthusiastically received by the delegates. His blast against Senator Walsh of Massachusetts who is sponsoring reactionary amendments to the Wagner Act was cheered heartily. Nothing was said about independent labor politics, and no resolutions on the subject reached the floor. In this, the convention was a miniature of the national C.I.O. Convention.

C.I.O. Democracy Disputed

We find it very significant that the only serious dispute at the convention was over the question of more democracy within the C.I..O set-up.

A group of delegates from Worcester introduced a resolution on the selection of vice-presidents who make up the executive board The resolution called for six members of the executive board to be “rank and filers!” That is, delegates who were not on the payroll of any national or international union, though it did not exclude business agents or those directly answerable to local unions.

The discussion got hot. Michael Widman, chairman of the C.I.O. and a U.M.W.A. official, spoke emphatically on this point. The Stalinists swung behind him, and the resolution lost by a large majority.

Other C.I.O. state conventions have had similar controversies. It is a manifestation of the rank and file suspicion and concern over the C.I.O. set-up.

Blast at A.F.L.

Unlike most C.I.O. meetings, this one began with a bitter blast against A.F. of L. officials in Massachusetts by Thomas F. Burns, U.R.WA. vice-president. Burns didn’t pull any punches in talking about the record of John F. Gatelee, former president of the Massachusetts Federation of Labor. He branded Gatelee a racketeer and an organizer of violence. Usually, a conciliatory speech towards the A.F. of L. features a C.I.O. convention. In many localities in Massachusetts, there is a working agreement between the two organizations, however.

Significant too, there was no resolution passed calling for a third term for Roosevelt.

(Continued next issue)

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