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B.J. Widick

In the Labor Unions

(27 October 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol III No. 82, 27 October 1939, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Pressure on John L. Lewis to purge the Stalinists came directly from President Roosevelt through Sidney Hillman, president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America.

Hillman was so determined to hold a purge at the convention itself that it created a conflict between himself and Lewis before the convention began.

We have been informed that Hillman was so anxious to begin a “red-baiting” drive that he threatened to take the issue on the floor directly.

Forces Hillman’s Hand

Besides, Hillman was quite outspoken in his demand that Lewis make peace with Roosevelt, and the CIO convention go on record in full support of Roosevelt.

Lewis became disgusted with his ally, Hillman, and decided to force his hand in advance of the convention. Lewis calmly told the CIO executive council and leading figures at a joint meeting that he was going to resign the chairmanship.

This announcement created consternation among those present at that meeting for it appeared that Lewis was in dead earnest about resigning.

Hillman jumped up and strongly urged Lewis to reconsider his decision. He said he’d rather have Lewis as president even if he thought Lewis was wrong on some policies, especially with respect to Roosevelt, than to have correct policies adopted, and Lewis resign.

It was Hillman’s way of saying that he was willing to retreat from a drastic onslaught on the Stalinists at the convention.

Lewis also retreated from his refusal to support the Roosevelt neutrality bill and whatever hesitation he had on purging the Stalinists was removed.

However, he was much smarter in his strategy than Hillman. Hillman wanted a dramatic purge at the convention combined with a stirring rally to line up the CIO openly behind Roosevelt’s pro-war policies.

Lewis bided his time until the convention was over. Then he walked into the executive board meeting and said bluntly what everyone knew he had on his mind.

Strong Language

The decision of the convention to have an eight man directing board consisting of the officers and six new vice-presidents, was a strong hint to the Stalinists that they were going to be left out in the cold insofar as top leadership was concerned.

But the tough talk of Lewis to the board members was stronger than the Stalinists had expected.

“Every known Communist Party member on the payroll as organizer or other appointed position is to be fired.”

“If there is any doubt about an individual, give him the benefit providing he devotes his full time to building the CIO.

“We’re not going to have a red-baiting campaign but we are going to get rid of these people.”

These are literally the exact words he used in his talk.

While the CIO top leaders are calculating that the Stalinists will accept this and keep quiet, Harry Bridges, California director of the CIO appeared at the woodworkers convention to help defeat a resolution condemning Nazism, communism, etc.

This furnishes the first real test on the question of the Stalinists in the CIO.

What action will Lewis take after convention delegates pro-test about the “interference” of Bridges who was not an official delegate but only a guest at the woodworkers’ convention? Judging by press reports, the delegates are determined to launch a drive against the Bridges action.

Stormy weather lies ahead in the CIO movement.

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Last updated: 17 February 2018