B.J. Widick Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

B.J. Widick

In the Labor Unions

(17 November 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 88, 17 November 1939, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The importance of labor unity is emphasized every time any kind of a meeting between CIO and AFL officials is reported in the press by the prominence given to those reports.

And when President Roosevelt’s conference with John L. Lewis and William Green was announced it naturally was given widest publicity. For this was a very important meeting.

Each week that brings Roosevelt’s determination to participate in the second world war to a stronger conviction, also emphasizes that the continued rivalry and struggle between the labor organizations disrupts the plans of the war machine. This has often been explained in previous columns in the Socialist Appeal.

Since “unofficial” intervention by Roosevelt through Madame Perkins brought no results, Roosevelt took the bull by the horns and summoned Lewis and Green to a conference.

Will Lewis Agree?

Proposals from the War Department to the CIO and the AFL on the role of unions in war time had been studied by the labor chieftains. A general picture of these proposals is given by Robert Bendiner in the current issue of The Nation.

“In the M-Day preview now showing before an exclusive audience of trade union executives, the program for labor is reliably held to look something like this: First an emergency period will be proclaimed, even before the declaration of war, during which the President will suspend the provisions of the Walsh-Healy Act, which requires the maintenance of specific labor standards in the manufacture of products bought by the federal government. During this period, and subsequently, the Employment Service, now removed from the jurisdiction of the Labor, Department and placed under the supervision of Paul V. McNutt, will become a key agency, geared to distribute and furnish adequate supplies of skilled labor to all war industries and to prevent its diversion into armed forces.”

War Dictatorship

Outright capitulation to these totalitarian – and shocking although not surprising – proposals of the War Department would sound the death knell of union independence, and expose Lewis and Green beyond all repair.

However, already a section of the AFL and the CIO leaders have accepted in principle the ideas of the militarists. The blast of the Navy Department against the CIO reflects its aggravation at the resistance it has thus far met from part of the top CIO circle.

Is it a wonder that Lewis entered the White House with trepidation? And that he was very silent after the conference, in marked contrast to his bombastic utterances after the conference last Spring with Roosevelt and Green?

Roosevelt talked cold turkey to the labor leaders at the conference last week. Last Spring he tried to use a big stick but it didn’t have much weight behind it. For that was in the pre-war period. Now Lewis and Green understand, if they had any doubts, the deadly seriousness of the Roosevelt demand for labor unity behind his war program.

Clubbing was not necessary for Green. He has indicated often enough that he is ready to serve as an agent of the war machine at any time. But Lewis has been a bad actor, as his Labor Day speech indicated. Lewis is more subject to rank and file pressure. His coolness and reluctance to the Roosevelt program has been obvious.

Now comes the big test. Will Lewis try to outdo Green? Seek to utilize the plans of the War Department to establish himself as the chief lieutenant of the Army within the labor movement? Or can the ranks of the CIO put on more pressure and force Lewis to resist the reactionary proposals of Roosevelt. Can the CIO call for labor unity against the war program, instead of being forced into a unity behind the program? This is the vital issue before the American labor movement today.

The future of the labor movement rests on its accepting the road of struggle against the Roosevelt war plans, uniting behind a program of militant action to preserve its liberties, advance Its organization, and obtain its rights in collective bargaining.

B.J. Widick Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 16 April 2018