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B.J. Widick

In the Labor Unions

(11 August 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 58, 11 August 1939, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Recently the New York Post carried a long story on the Hotel, Restaurant, Bartenders and Soda Dispensers Unions welding into one centralized group to organize the culinary and hotel services.

The step was hailed as a giant step forward towards industrial unionism of the A.F.L. unions involved. Announcement of the plans came from a reorganization meeting of the New York local joint executive board of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees International union and the Bartenders International union, AFL affiliates.

The story spoke of the thirteen unions pooling their resources, establishing a $50,000 organizing fund, etc.

Too Good to Be True

Since it all sounded too good to be true, we asked a progressive food worker to write us his opinions on the matter. Excerpts from his letter follow:

“The information contained in the Post story is somewhat garbled and there is some misstatement of fact. Firstly, the Locals are not ‘pooling’ their resources. Instead, the Stalinist controlled Local Joint Board (similar to the district council of the Painters union but lacking to a great extent its authority at present) has assessed all Local Unions two cents per capita for the purpose of instituting a full-time appointed secretary of the L.J.B. and several departments.

“The depression has hit the C.P. despite Roosevelt and they need some sinecures for their ‘ex-leaders.’

“However, the main reason for this ‘new centralization of authority’ is the desire of the C.P. to wrest autonomy from the progressively inclined Locals, namely Locals 16 and 677 – although according to the constitution they can only affect the former, which is a waiters union and shares jurisdiction with another Local in shops signed by them.

“Significantly enough the Stalinists in proposing the setup, use the argument that the Brass Rail strike would never have occurred if the L.J.B. had had the power it now pretends to have. (The strike seems lost.) Strike situations invariably embarrass the Stalinist administration for political reasons, and the fact that they reveal stark empty treasuries.”

Trend Against C.P.

“The reorganization is in no respect a step towards ‘industrial unionism’ as the story states. The Stalinists made a feint towards such organization two years ago – amalgamation of some craft locals. If it is attempted by them now, it will not be done voluntarily because it would weaken their position considerably (apparently all they are seeking is a cloak for maneuvers to usurp further control).

“The trend in all the food locals is against them and they face the possibility of being slaughtered at the polls in the coming elections – as they were in Local 677, and to a lesser extent in Local 16 a few months ago – unless they pull something spectacular or diabolical out of their bag of tricks.”

Negro Unionists

Worthy of study for progressive unionists is the material contained in the current Journal of Negro Education, published by Howard University and available at all the libraries, on the question of Negroes in the union movement.

This material is part of a general survey of the status of the Negro in American society (also very valuable insofar as information, etc. is concerned).

A special section is devoted to the presentation of the statistics of the number of Negroes in industry, types of work they do, etc.

Then a brief history of the Negro’s role in the American labor movement in the past, his efforts to build independent unions, the policy and practices of the A.F.L. in relation to this problem, and the C.I.O. policy and practice towards the Negro is contained in this magazine.

Along with Spero and Harris’ book, The Black Worker, this material is the best we have been able to find for facts on this vital problem. Unfortunately, the material is too copious to be presented in this column. We can only recommend a. reading of it.

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Last updated: 6 March 2016