Garrett Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

B.A.L. & Emanuel Garrett

An Exchange of Views
on How We Handled
UAW Party Statement

(March 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 13, 29 March 1948, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

The Criticism:

Dear Editor:

Permit me a comment on Ken Hillyer’s report of the recent UAW Executive Board conference, as well as on your headline for that report in Labor Action of March 15, 1948.

It seems to me that both report and headline are typical of a kind of sectarian journalism, perhaps also the reflection of a kind of sectarian politics, that LA has in most instances happily discarded over the years.

Here was a case where the largest, most important and, despite all the qualifications that can and should be made, the most progressive union in the CIO apparently came out for a Labor Party after the presidential elections. (I say “apparently” because the report is not too clear as to the kind of party the UAW advocates, perhaps because the UAW isn’t too clear either.) Now this is big news, important news. Labor Action has been advocating a Labor Party for years.

Of course, there’s a joker in the deck: the UAW wants a Labor Party AFTER the elections. Well, that deserves sharp criticism, the kind Hillyer made.

But the essential matter is one of perspective. Do you emphasize the step forward the UAW Board’s resolution involves, the possibilities it opens to the militants in the UAW for work on this question – or do you emphasize the obvious weaknesses? In my opinion, it is the FIRST, the step forward and the opportunity made available, that should be emphasized. As it is, the headline doesn’t even report the important news – that the UAW Board came out for a Labor Party after the presidential elections – and one doesn’t learn this in Hillyer’s article till the end of his third paragraph!

The criticism in this article and its headline is made before the report of the stand which is to be criticized.

I submit that that is bad journalism. But more important, it is bad politics. I am in favor, of course, of making all the necessary criticisms of those aspects of the UAW Board’s resolution that are so obviously cowardly. But I think a more fruitful approach would have been to say, in effect: “the UAW Board’s resolution is the first such step taken by any major union in this country and, despite its weaknesses and cowardice which we shall discuss below, we hail it. What is more, we especially emphasize that here is a golden opportunity for the genuine militants in the UAW, a lead they can follow – perhaps, if necessary, even against those who formulated the resolution.”

Politics, as you know, is not merely a matter of what one says, but often as important of how and in what order one says it. In this instance, I think, the manner of saying and the order in which things were said seems quite out of kilter. Am I wrong? What do LA readers in the UAW think?


The Reply:

We disagree radically with our correspondent; politically AND journalistically. Under other circumstances, and in another union situation perhaps, Comrade B.A.L. might have been justified. Not so here. The reasons, we think, are amply indicated in B.A.L.’s letter – when he writes that the UAW “apparently” came out for a Labor Party and that there is a “joker in the deck.” Were we convinced that the UAW statement marked a determined stand by .the UAW leadership to proceed to the formation of a Labor Party, we would have hailed it, and not in modest headlines. That news would have been important enough to have called for the largest type available to Labor Action, used in the largest possible spread. But we submit that ours was the more proper approach in the context of the situation. For, when there is a joker in the deck it rates a lot of attention.

There is a tremendous sentiment in the UAW for a Labor Party, more so than in most unions. One of the principal leaders of the union, Emil Mazey, only recently published an article in the union paper which called clearly and explicitly for a Labor Party. We shall not attempt to estimate how much of Mazey’s popularity rests on this stand (remember: he beat the strongest candidate of the Addes-Stalinist forces in the election for secretary-treasurer), but we believe a good deal of it rests on his advocacy of a Labor Party. Mazey’s article, as our friends in the UAW have everywhere testified, met with a terrific response.

Further, the Wallace appeal is great in the union; yes, even in this union which repudiated the Stalinists so firmly. Some UAW leaders have tried to blind themselves to this reality, but it has undoubtedly been forced on their attention. UAW militants are thoroughly fed up with Democratic and Republican politics.

Offered nothing better, they may take the dismal path of Wallace-Stalinist politics.

Why the Statement?

Thus, it is to meet this sentiment, without actually forming a Labor Party, that the statement of the UAW seems to have been devised. On the surface, it would appear that the UAW is calling for a new party, and that is the impression that the UAW leadership wishes to convey. In fact, however, it is AVOIDING action right here and now by promising something in the future. It is Reuther’s way of meeting the Wallace threat, without meeting it in the one way that would be thoroughly effective.

We are not quibbling about the nature of the party that the UAW says it would like to build – in the future. We have our ideas, and have defined them. But we do not propose to legislate to the labor movement. We do not insist that it be done our way or not at all. When a Labor Party is formed we will discharge our own responsibility in advocating program, etc. But we do insist that a Labor Party be formed; and we consider it our duty to expose those moves which appear to be what they are not.

There is much in the UAW statement that is commendable. There is also much in it that is self-negating. The very idea of waiting until after November is such a negation. For what will be altered AFTER November – except the opportunity (which comes only once every four years) to put a national Labor Party actively in the field. The UAW statement is, we charge, a disguised way of calling for support of the Democratic Party today, while promising something better for tomorrow. That won’t do – and it is our business to say so, and say so prominently.

What Will Change?

The whole game that Reuther and Murray and other CIO leaders are playing is here revealed. Murray, it is true, will not go as far as Reuther in even speaking of anything like a Labor Party. But they are all of them engaged in the pretense that they haven’t made up their minds about whom to support – while they are building the machinery to support the Democratic Party, and while they are hoping that they won’t have to support Truman.

The UAW leadership argues that we have to elect “progressive” Congressmen now, and can’t tinker with Labor Party politics until after the “progressives” – or reactionaries – have been elected. We shan’t repeat our objection to the rotten reasoning of behind “friend of labor” politics. All we ask is: how will this be different after November? Will the UAW policy elect only “progressives”? And if all the “progressives” are elected, WHAT THEN? If we remember rightly, Reuther did something like this before 1944. Maybe he is sincere in his promise. Maybe he really intends to do something after 1948. We will assume that is so. The urgency, however, is great NOW. So why not NOW?

We refuse to be parties to a fraud. If the UAW leadership is going to build a Labor Party, the way to do it is to start building. If they do, we will hail it THEN. But we would like to see it FIRST. Until we do, we will continue to harp on the subject, continue to report what we see. In the meantime, we feel that the best way to assure the UAW’s initiative in the building of a Labor Party is to do what we can toward persuading the ranks of the union that they must DEMAND of Reuther and the UAW leadership unequivocal action for a Labor Party before and after November, 1948.

Emanuel Garrett

Emanuel Garrett Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 23 December 2015