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B.J. Widick

In the Labor Unions

(25 August 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 62, 25 August 1939, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

NEW YORK CITY – A real indication of how the members of the International Typographical Union stand on the question of labor unity was furnished this week-end by “Big Six” as Local 6 of the I.T.U., the largest unit in the union, is known.

A special resolution was adopted at a membership meeting urging the I.T.U. to defy the AFL executive council on the issue of assessments levied for a war against the CIO.

Only last week William Green, president of the AFL, announced the suspension of the I.T.U. for its refusal to contribute an assessment to the AFL “war chest.”

Issues Involved

For two years the I.T.U. has persistently refused to collect this tax of one cent per member, which would amount to $22,000, and turn it over to the AFL executive council.

At the last convention of the AFL the seating of the I.T.U. delegates was a hot issue because of its stand on this question but a compromise was worked out which simply postponed action on the question.

The AFL council precipitated a crisis on this problem last week because the I.T.U. is holding its national convention at Fort Worth, Texas, now and the council hopes that the policy of the I.T.U. can be changed.

The purpose of the Big Six resolution is to crystallize national sentiment within the I.T.U. for a “Don’t fight the CIO” attitude.

There is another and just as fundamental issue involved in the dispute between the I.T.U. and the AFL executive committee. The right of autonomy.

Elmer Brown, newly-elected president of the Big Six, pointed it out in a prepared speech given before the union voted on the resolution.

The AFL does not have the right to levy an assessment on the printers because the union is an autonomous affiliate of the AFL, according to the view of the I.T.U.

“The AFL has been exercising authority never intended by the membership of the AFL. I could never agree to submit to the policies advocated by the AFL.

“Nor would I ever recommend that my union submit to the dictation of the executive council of the AFL. To do so would destroy the autonomy of the International Typographical Union.”

“It is my opinion that this suspension was timed for one purpose only: that the reactionaries within the executive council of the AFL had hoped that by suspending the I.T.U. on the eve of its convention they would intimidate us. They can suspend us, they can fight us, but they can not intimidate us,” Brown declared.

Danger of Split

If the I.T.U. nationally follows its present line and refuses to pay the assessment, many new complications will develop in the AFL internally. Automatic suspension from Central Trades and Labor Assemblies might follow. And the relationship of the I.T.U. to other unions in the Allied Printing Trades Councils becomes a new headache. For which the main responsibility will rest on the AFL executive council because of its intransigent attitude toward the autonomy of the I.T.U.

Naturally, the stand of the AFL executive council tends to throw the I.T.U. into the arms of the CIO, especially if all the complications develop.

Meanwhile, progressives within the AFL have a job on their hands to prevent a split in local bodies because of the suspension of the I.T.U.

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Last updated: 6 March 2016