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Jack Wilson

From Our West Coast Correspondent

Movie Moguls Imported Willie Bioff

(November 1931)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 45, 10 November 1941, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

HOLLYWOOD. – Behind, the day-to-day news of the Willie Bioff trial on charges of exerting $550,000 from movie industry magnates is a sensational story of the real labor situation in this cinema capital which is being largely suppressed.

For Willie Bioff, Chicago gangster, who became West Coast czar of the International Alliance of. Theater and Stage Employees, an AFL union, is a symbol of racketeering in the union movement whose origins and causes are being covered up by everyone from Westbrook Pegler, alleged foe of racketeering, to the movie magnates themselves.

And the truth about racketeering in the AFL is explained by the facts of the Bioff case, a classic example of this phenomenon.

Bioff obtained an “in” in the union movement when the Capone gang of Chicago muscled, murdered and slugged its way into control of some Chicago unions during the 1930s.

Bosses Call Him In

He first appeared in Hollywood when the CIO strike wave in 1935 had caused a stir in all workingmen, and the employees in the movie industry, 12,000 of them, began to think in terms of unionism again. The IATSE had been virtually broken in a 1933 strike. It had only 33 dues paying members when Bioff arrived here.

Joe Schenk, Jack Warner and other movie moguls, afraid of a genuine union movement which appeared inevitable, called Bioff here and signed a closed shop agreement with the IATSE.

The 12,000 workers had no say in the matter of the union contract or their own union leadership. They were forced into the union by the bosses. They were forced to accept Bioff’s dictatorship as special international representative appointed by the stooge of the Capone mobsters, George Browne, president of the IATSE and former vice-president of the AFL.

All dissidents in the union were fired from their jobs by the movie tycoons, whenever Bioff called them and asked them to. That is how Bioff remained in power. The bosses kept him there. They used their economic control over the workers to force racketeering on the union!

Westbrook Pegler never mentions this fact. Racketeering in the union movement is primarily a creation of and a weapon for the bosses. When the 3S3memberships of the IATSE expanded to 12,000, the workers fought hard against this whole lousy set-up. But the companies beat them, using Bioff as their tool.

The ties between Bioff and the movie magnates first came to public light in 1937 when it was discovered that Schenk, representing the movie industry, had given Bioff $100,000 cold cash as payment for his services as a tool of the industrialists.

Incensed by this scandal and aroused to fighting pitch by the successes of the CIO, militant movie workers fought for and obtained the right to hold an election between a newly formed CIO union and the IATSE. With a few bread crumbs passed out, coercion on the part of the bosses, Bioff’s rough stuff and other anti-labor devices, the CIO lost the election by a close margin.

Of course Bioff was an expensive dictator. Browne and he shared at least $500,000 in contributions from grateful movie magnates. Likewise he obtained, through assessments, over $2,000,000 in cash out of the hides of the workers.

When Bioff, partly under a lust for more revenue and power, and partly under demands of his masters, the movie magnates, tried to muscle into control of the Screen Actors Guild, he overplayed his hand, already running short from the scandals within his own union.

His old Chicago record, as a gangster and pimp, which was known but sort of concealed or not publicized, hit the headlines. A California State Legislature investigating committee had been afraid to touch on this aspect of his life. But persistent rank and file agitation, and Bioff becoming “too big for his britches” brought out the facts which Pegler then publicized and claimed as his own great discovery.

Schenk Spills Beans

Since all the financial skullduggery behind the scenes in Hollywood came out indirectly in the labor vs. Bioff battle, the U.S. Treasury Department found out that Hollywood’s bosses were indulging in the most flagrant tax dodging this country had ever seen.

Joe Schenk, man among men of the Hollywood top dogs, got it in the neck from the federal government when it was discovered how many millions he didn’t pay taxes on. Once Schenk saw his conviction was inevitable he spilled the beans on Bioff, and Bioff came next on the court docket.

Of course, the movie industry, with the aid of the press, is trying to pass off the whole Bioff scandal as extortion on the part of a gangster against a frightened boss. “He threatened us with strikes,” they weep. They are lying and they know it and we also know it.

Bioff threatened them, after they had brought him in and paid him. After he had the goods on them through their own conduct. Even then they could have forestalled any strike threat simply by paying higher wages. Anything but that, the bosses say.

It cost them over half a million to control the union via Bioff. This was much better than wage increases which might cost them $10,000,000 over a period of five years.

The alleged bribery of congressmen, senators and the courts hasn’t come out yet. It might not. It took ten years for the facts to come out that William Fox, former movie magnate, bought out a federal judge. But sooner or later the truth will out on this situation too.

A Lesson for Labor

There is an important lesson here: racketeers in the union movement are an importation of the bosses, an instrument they create and maintain in order, to keep down the rank and file workers in the shop.

William Green, president of the AFL, and his associates are guilty of shielding this fundamental fact from the workers and of assisting the bosses in keeping the racketeers in control of some AFL unions.

A reactionary like Westbrook Pegler tries to caver up these fundamental facts about the relations of the bosses to the racketeers by writing sensational stories about only one aspect of the racketeering. Thereby he hopes to conceal from the working man the power behind the scenes – the capitalist.

Bioff is guilty, of course. His guilt is part of the guilt of the capitalist class in its crimes against the union movement. The workers must not forget that basic truth.

Racketeering in the union movement will be abolished when the source of it is removed, namely the industrialists. Cleaning the unions of racketeers is part of the bigger struggle to clear the country of its truly big racketeers, the Wall Street gang, the Morgans, Rockefellers, duPonts, etc., who make Capone look like a piker.

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