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In the Trade Unions

(10 March 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 14, 10 March 1939, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

When Dan Tobin, president of the powerful teamsters union, resigned from the A.F. of L. negotiation committee for peace with the C.I.O., Louis Stark, labor reporter of the N.Y. Times wrote, “His action came as a surprise to Administration leaders who regarded it as akin to a calamity.

It was a definite set-back to hopes of early labor peace. Tobin, as leader of the largest and strongest A.F. of L. union, was a key person in unity negotiations. The A.F. of L. committee of Thomas Ricket, Matthew Woll, and Harry Bates, is composed of “front men.” None of them wield any real power in the A.F. of L. Why Tobin resigned is a matter of great importance to progressive trade unionists interested in a united labor movement. Certainly, he is hardly more busy than other union chieftains and this reason was only an excuse.

Believes Lewis Is Opposed to Unity

Actually, Tobin’s attitude on unity of the C.I.O. and A.F. of L. has changed considerably since his blast at the A.F. of L. council’s reactionary stand at the last convention of the Federation. Tobin’s strong plea for a more conciliatory attitude towards the C.I.O. gave impetus to the trend towards unity.

However, his private conversations with Roosevelt administration officials and with C.I.O. top leaders apparently have changed his mind on the position of the C.I.O. towards unity. At the recent quarterly meeting of the A.F. of L. executive council Tobin told reporters he had no intention of pulling out of the A.F. of L. At the convention, Tobin had hinted at some such action.

Not so long ago, Tobin made a very significant statement when interviewed by Cal Tinney of the N.Y. Post. Tobin blamed top C.I.O. leaders for the failure of peace negotiations!

Authoritative reports from Washington say that Tobin now has gone a step further. He evidently blames John L. Lewis personally for an incorrect and intransigent attitude towards the A.F. of L. which has made negotiations infinitely more difficult. That is why Tobin refused to be put on the spot as a “negotiator”! His resignation move evidently is intended to force Roosevelt to put more pressure on Lewis in the negotiations!

The Daily Worker Protests Too Much

If Tobin again joins the A.F. of L. committee, it would in our opinion signify his belief that some of the obstacles placed by Lewis on unity negotiations had been removed. It goes without saying that the difficulties with the “diehard” clique in the A.F. of L. are perhaps a greater problem.

There is another story circulating the rounds of A.F. of L, circles in Washington that is extremely interesting. It says that Lewis wants not only a guarantee for industrial unionism in mass production industries (which Tobin and others are ready to grant) but also protection of the C.I.O. craft unions (office workers, etc.) under pressure of the Stalinists who control that segment of the C.I.O.

Is this why the Daily Worker so vehemently denied last week the “charge that Communists are against labor unity”? Methinks you protest too much, Messrs. Browder and Hathaway. There is little doubt that the A.F. of L. will demand from the C.I.O. as one of the conditions of unity that Lewis dump the Stalinists. In view of this fact, one can expect open moves by the Stalinists to sabotage unity negotiations.

President Roosevelt’s open intervention in the union dispute arises from two convictions. (1) He believes European war with American participation is rapidly coming and he therefore wants national unity here which means above all peace and abject servility of the labor movement, and (2) He knows the rank and file in both the A.F. of L. and the C.I.O. wants peace and he thinks he can strengthen his hold over the working people by posing as the “champion of labor peace.”

However, the practical difficulties confronting the unity negotiations such as the wide differences on the Wagner Act and on Labor’s Non-Partisan League, to mention two main obstacles, will not easily be resolved.

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Last updated: 28 November 2015