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B.J. Widick

In the Labor Unions

(19 May 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 34, 19 May 1939, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The first constitutional convention of the Textile Workers Organizing Committee began last week end in Philadelphia with an interesting report by Sidney Hillman, chairman, and Emil Rieve, executive director.

Since the entire report is not yet available only the high points can be mentioned at the present time.

It was estimated that $1,200,000 weekly wages increases had been won by the C.I.O. union for textile workers in the last two years, or about $2.50 a week for those workers under C.I.O. contracts or in the T.W.O.C. In view of the increase in the cost of living and the unemployment raging in the textile industry, this hardly constitutes a remarkable gain.

The way that the Hillman-Rieve report states the membership figures likewise is a bit unusual.

“About 235,000 textile workers employed by 950 companies are now working under contracts signed by the T.W.O.C. In addition, 150,000 textile workers have signed membership cards, and agreements covering 39,000 are being negotiated by the T.W.O.C.”

Union’s Strength

What is the strength of the union? Is it 235,000 plus 150,000? We wish that were the case.

Few of the 950 companies have shops completely unionized, even though all the workers employed there obtain the full benefits of the contracts. The job of building the unions after the contracts have been signed by negotiations through the top is a main task of the T.W.O.C. and one in which it has done little.

150,000 textile workers, in addition, have signed cards. Good. Now to make them into first class union men. It takes plenty of time, patience and good organizers. A frank discussion about this problem at the convention would do a lot to give a real program to solve this problem. Unfortunately, we doubt if such a discussion will ensue.

When the wages-hours law was passed by Congress, it was viewed as a great let-down from the needs and desires of the workers. But wages are so low in many areas, specifically textile, that this mild reform legislation will boost textile wages $13,800,000 for 181,000 workers in one year. A good selling point for the T.W.O.C., because the C.I.O. pressed hard for the wages-hours law.

Finance Report

How unionism has achieved a big business status through the organizing campaigns of the C.I.O. is illustrated by the report of finances of the T.W.O.C. convention.

Nearly $2,400,000 has been spent in the textile organizing campaign of the last two years, according to the financial report. The C.I.O. textile union alone spent $1,780,797. Sister organizations spent $300,000 on its behalf, and affiliated Locals and Joint Boards spent another $350,000. Lacking the militant program that marked the development of the C.I.O. auto workers union, the T.W.O.C. has less to show for itself, despite the great financial expenditures.

How this campaign was financed is also shown in the report. Contributions from C.I.O. unions totalled $916,000. The Amalgamated Clothing Workers gave $523,000, the United Mine Workers $198,000, the International Ladies Garment Workers Union $110,000 and the C.I.O. $85,000. This solidarity among the C.I.O. unions is one of the splendid achievements of the new industrial unionism movement.

The positive side of the T.W.O.C. campaign, with all its faults and difficulties, is revealed by a comparison of the status of unionism in the textile industry in 1937 and today.

When the C.I.O. made its agreement with the United Textile Workers in 1937 setting up the Textile Workers Organizing Committee, the U.T.W. had 25 union contracts and a membership of around 73,000. Now the T.W.O.C. has contracts, as reported above, with 950 companies covering 235,000 workers.

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