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B.J. Widick

In the Labor Unions

(25 July 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 53, 25 July 1939, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Major concentration point of the C.I.O. organization work in the next period is the packing house industry.

This was emphasized last week by John L. Lewis, speaking in Chicago, home of the “Big Four” packers, Armour, Swift, Wilson and Cudahy.

There is a twofold aim in the C.I.O. concentration on this industry. One is organizational; the C.I.O. wants a real base in Chicago and this industry. The other is political; the C.I.O. wants a powerful weapon to assist it in winning the farmers’ support to the aims of the C.I.O.

Terrible Conditions

Few industries in America have the notorious reputation for terrible working conditions as the packing houses, especially in the Chicago area. Many years ago Upton Sinclair achieved international fame with his devastating expose of these conditions in his novel, The Jungle. They haven’t changed much.

A basis for unionism was always present because of the rotten conditions. The A.F.L. didn’t succeed in the past, and the C.I.O. muffed its big opportunity two years ago because the Stalinists were in complete charge of the packing house campaign,

One must add, however, that in certain sections of the country, where the A.F.L. has progressive leaders, they do have good and strong unions in packing houses. In Ohio, for example.

Recently, the C.I.O. had a resurgence in the packing industry. Top C.I.O. leaders have been directing the work. A national convention of the Packinghouse Workers Organizing Committee was held in Chicago.

Delegates from 94 local unions attended, and the P.W.O.C. claimed 78,000 out of the 129,000 directly employed in this industry.

In 14 Armour plants, the P.W.O.C. has been certified by the National Labor Relations Board as sole collective bargaining agent. In most of the Chicago plants, there is a dispute between the C.I.O. and the A.F.L, on the question of representation. National Labor Relations Board elections probably will be used to settle this question.

Principal Demands

The principal C.I.O. demands in the proposal for a signed contract include full recognition of the union, reduction in the speedup, establishment of a proper seniority system, and the elimination of health hazards, as well as wage adjustments.

In his speech, Lewis indicated a realization of the need of working with the farmers in connection with the packing house drive. Just as milk companies try to play off the truck drivers and the dairy producers, the meat packers seek to divide those who work on the farm and those who toil in the packing houses.

It will be a real job to offset this device of the “Big Four” packers.

Calling on Roosevelt to force the big companies to sign agreements indicates that Lewis, urged on by the Stalinists, still has many illusions.

It seems almost incredible that in Chicago, where the steel workers were massacred because of Roosevelt’s double-cross, the C.I.O. is prepared to bank on this same man for assistance.

Unless the C.I.O. adopts more realistic plans, there is a possibility that another “Little Steel” tragedy can occur. Depending on local or state officials is just as fatal. The same old gang that sent the Chicago killer cops against the steel workers remains in power.

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Last updated: 6 March 2016