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Final Argument

Albert Goldman

“The Party and the Trade Union Movement”

Albert Goldman Tells the Jury Why Trotskyists Are Interested
in Unions and How They Function in Them

(November 1941)

From The Militant, Vol 6 No. 2, 10 January 1943, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In this, the fourth installment of his final argument to the jury in the Minneapolis “sedition” trial against members of the Socialist Workers Party and Local 544-CIO. chief defense counsel (and defendant) Albert Goldman discusses the part, played by Trotskyists in the labor movement.


I come now to the question which I consider third in importance. First is the question of whether or not we advocate the violent overthrow of the government; second in importance is the question of our attitude on the war; and third, is the question of our activities in the trade unions. When we consider that question we come to the point that actually explains the reason for this prosecution.

The Party and the Trade Unions

Mr. GOLDMAN: More time, ladies and gentlemen, was spent on the trade union question in this case than on any other single question, including the central issue of the case as to whether or not there is a conspiracy to overthrow the government by force and violence. And I am not surprised at that. I expected it because the trade union question has far more to do with this case than the question of the overthrow by force find violence of the government of the United States ...

Consider the chief witnesses for the government – who they are, what they are doing now, what role they played in Local 544 before the indictment – and the conclusion is inescapable that this trial is essentially a contest between two factions in the union, with the government being part of one faction. I dare anyone to attempt to disprove that statement. Of course counsel for the gbvemment cahnot admit that and they must try their best to disprove. it. They must repeat over and over again: This case involves only the. question of whether or not the defendants violated certain sections of the law. But all in vain! No matter what the government says, it cannot escape from the facts.

Therefore, i hope that you forgive me if I deal with the question of trade unionism, as it is involved in this case, quite extensively.

What did the government try to prove by introducing the question of trade unionism? It tried to prove that the Socialist Workers Party aims to gain control of the unions and to utilize that control for the purpose of getting the masses organized into unions to take up arms against the government. That in essence is the government’s position.

Let its, then, analyze the evidence to see whether the government has succeeded in proving its contention. Mr. Anderson, in his opening statement, made it clear that the evidence would prove that the Socialist Workers Party conspired to dictate to the union's and to utilize the unions as instruments for the purpose of furthering the central aim of the party, to wit: to overthrow the government by force and violence. No other purpose was attributed by the prosecution to the Socialist Workers Party as far as the trade union question is concerned.

And then the parade of government witnesses began and on the basis of the testimony of those witnesses it could be deduced that the airn of the Socialist Workers Party in working within the unions was altogether different from that, which Mr. Anderson indicated it was. Dictate to the unions! How could the Socialist Workers Party dictate to the unions of this country? Even on the basis of the testimony of the government’s own witnesses; as elicited from them through cross-examination, it became clear that the Socialist Workers Party never could and never did try to dictate to the unions. And when you take into consideration the evidence of the defendants, then you can see that all that the Socialist Workers Party aimed at was to have its members work in the unions, do the best they could for the workers and the unions and thus gain influence with the workers.

Every Party Seeks Influence in Unions

To work in the interest of the unions and thereby get the confidence of the workers and be elected to offices in the union, is a right which I shall defend day in and day out. Every person living in the United States, every group in this country, has a right to do exactly that. And as for us, we intend to exercise that right. It is unquestionably true, ladies and gentlemen, that the Socialist Workers Party would like to have great influence in the trade union movement so that it could persuade the workers to follow socialist ideas. Unfortunately for us and much to be regretted by us, is the fact that our influence in the trade union movement is very limited.

Every political party desires to get control of the unions. The question is for what purpose and in what manner? Can it be denied that the Democratic Party would like to get and retain control of the trade union movement? Can that be denied of the Republican Party or any other party? Of course not. Every political party attempts in various ways to get support in the trade union movement and as far as the Republican and Democratic Parties are concerned, they succeed in getting control of that movement through tying themselves up with the bureaucrats who lead that movement.

Our Faith in the Workers

The trade union movement is the most powerful institution in this country. Why? Because it includes in its ranks vast numbers of industrial workers and railroad workers and is thus able to continue or to stop production and by stopping production, to throw the country into a terrific turmoil. If the trade union movement had leadership with social vision, it could easily solve the problems of this country but unfortunately the leadership is in the hands of narrow and bigoted men.

Our party supports the trade union movement against the employing class, even though certain sections of the unions are led by the type of men whom we designate as reactionary. We have so much faith in the essential correctness of the trade union movement – so much faith that the workers ultimately will throw the racketeers and bureaucrats off their backs – that we support the trade union organizations. As was said several times by government witnesses who did not understand the significance of their testimony. We are always in favor of the workers as a class, against the employers as a class. To us, the workers who create the wealth of society are always right against the employers who get the benefit of that work. That is why we support the workers against the employers even though the workers at times are led by people in whom we have no confidence whatever. It has been sufficiently brought out in the evidence that we do not have any confidence in Tobin, yet we would unhesitatingly support the Teamsters International under the leadership of Tobin, against the employers.

The trade union movement at the present time, led by men like Tobin, who are interested only in their personal welfare, irritates many people. It irritates the small business men; the farmers and even many workers with the senseless jurisdictional struggles and clique fights constantly going on. As I said before, the leadership of the trade union movement lacks social vision and the task that we have set ourselves is to try to educate the members of the unions so that they will insist on having as their leaders men who understand the problems of society and who understand the power and the responsibility of the trade union movement in solving those problems.

What Are Our Aims in the Trade Unions

Do we then attempt to control the trade union movement? If by that is meant that we send our members into the trade unions with instructions to work in the interest of the members of the trade unions and to gain the confidence of every worker and to be elected to office, then we must admit that we try to control it. But Only in that sense and in no other sense. The history of Local 544 conclusively proves our contention that our work in the trade union movement is of that nature.

We are interested in bringing immediate benefits to the workers. Does it appear to be contradictory that socialists work to bring immediate benefits to the Workers and at the same time look forward to a revolutionary situation when the masses will be dissatisfied with the dreadful conditions confronting them? Why is it that we try to improve the conditions of the workers? Remember that our object is to win the confidence of the masses and to do so we must work for an immediate improvement in their conditions. We must show them that their poverty and suffering is not brought about by anything they do, but by the existence of the capitalist system, by the greed of the capitalist class. We must show the workers that what we are interested in is in improving their conditions.

But we also tell them that rio matter how much we try to improve their immediate conditions, the social system under which they live makes it impossible in the long run to achieve any real improvement. Whether the workers like it or not, they will ultimately find themselves in a situation under the present social Order when there will be no solution except to change that social order.

Our Record in Local 544

Under the strict rules of evidence it was impossible for its to prove how much the defendants have done to improve the conditions under which the workers labor. But enough has been permitted into evidence to show beyond the peradventure of a doubt that the activities of the Dunne brothers, of Farrell Dobbs, of Carl Skoglund and of every other defendant who is a member of Local 544, aided the truck drivers in getting improved conditions. Can there be the slightest doubt of that? Who built Local 544? The defendants played by far the most important role in organizing the truck drivers. The evidence is overwhelming, that in their activities the defendants were motivated by the fundamental aim of improving the conditions of the truck drivers and other

workers and, what is more, they did succeed in improving the conditions of the workers in Minneapolis. You do not have to take our testimony for that, but the testimony of the witnesses for the government.

The defendants won the confidence of the truck drivers because we represented their interests. The truck drivers, who know nothing about socialism and surely nothing about Trotskyism. know the Dunnes, know Dobbs, know Skoglund and all the other defendants as people who are absolutely honest and sincere in their work. They know them personally and they understood that the defendants were working for the interests of the truck drivers.

Witness after witness for the government testified that they had been in opposition to the defendants, that they ran candidates against them in the elections of Local 544, but no one dared even to suggest that the defendants were not rightfully elected. The overwhelming testimony on the part of the government witnesses was to the effect that the defendants controlled Local 544 not by force, not by compulsion, but by virtue of winning the confidence of the men and of being elected to office in the most constitutional and democratic manner, with the rights of free speech and free criticism allowed to all opponents.

The membership of the truck drivers rose from 200 in 1934 to 6,500. Why do you think the truck drivers flocked into the union? Was it because the defendants were socialists or Trotskyists, or was it because the vast majority of them understood that they gained something practical by being in the union?

There were, of course, people like the government witnesses, who were not satisfied with Local 544 and its leadership. As I told you , modern society is constituted on the principle of “dog eat dog”. There are many who try to benefit themselves at the expense of others and that is true of some people in the trade union movement. There is, in fact, no escaping from that principle anywhere under the present social system.

Two government witnesses came from Omaha. They turned out to be honest witnesses. These witnesses – Tommy Smith and Malcome Love – testified that they joined the party not because they understood the principles of the party but because they knew Dobbs and they knew the Dunnes and, said Tommy Smith, because the leaders of Local 544 were “labor-minded,” they were “the only ones who helped other unions organize the unorganized.” Dobbs went from one

city to another helping his fellow workers and Tommy Smith said: “I joined not because I knew anything about socialism but I knew the leaders of Local 544; I knew how honest they are and I figured that what is good for them is good for me.”

Even the hostile government witnesses had to admit that the Socialist Workers Party members were always willing to help the unions. Stultz from Omaha was a hostile witness but, not being as shrewd as Bartlett, he admitted the truth. He testified that defendant Alfred Russell wrote letters for Local 554 in Omaha, that Russell helped negotiate with employers arid that Russell and other members of the party edited a union paper to present the case of the workers to the public.

How the Party Helped the Unions

The workers in the union could not write and could not edit a paper because they did not have the benefits of a formal education. It is not their fault. It is the fault of a system that condemns youngsters to go to work at the age of 13 and 14; it is the fault of a system that prevents youngsters from attending high school and college. The employers had no difficulty in finding people who could write for them – they had money to hire such people – but the workers didn’t have any money and so they had to depend upon members of the Socialist Workers Party, members who were willing to work for little or nothing in order to serve the interests of the workers. We admit that our members workers go into the unions only with that purpose. They constantly have the welfare of the workers at heart.

Mr. Anderson naively asked the following question: "What business had the Socialist Workers Party to organize the Federal Workers Section? Should not the government be trusted with taking care of relief clients?” And by the government, I presume, Mr. Anderson means the people who have charge of WPA and the relief set-up. No, Mr. Anderson, it is obvious that the 2,000 members of the Federal Workers Section did not have sufficient confidence in the government officials. Out of these 2,000 members, there were probably no more than half a dozen or so members of the Socialist Workers Party. The fact that 2,000 men and women considered it necessary to become members of the Federal Workers Section proves conclusively that they thought the organization to be of great benefit to them. These men and women recognized that to protect their interests, it is necessary to organize and exert pressure upon government officials who otherwise would neglect their duties.

It has been the universal experience of all people, that the government gives aid only to those people who are organized. The farmers organize, and if they don’t – they should. The same is true of the small business men. The workers organize and the unemployed have a fight and a duty to organize.

The Defendants and Union Democracy

How did the members of our party who were in the leadership of Local 544 exercise control of the union? What is the policy of the Socialist Workers Party with reference to the method of controlling unions? You will find that policy explained in the Declaration of Principles and in the pamphlet on trade unionism written by Farrell Dobbs. Complete inner-democracy in the trade unions is stressed both in the Declaration and in Dobbs’ pamphlet.

Unfortunately there is very little democracy in the trade union movement. There is practically none where men like Tobin rule. But wherever the Socialist Workers Party members are elected to office, they see to it that the members of the union have full democratic rights.

We have a firm and undying conviction, ladies and gentlemen, that without the understanding cooperation of the masses of the people, there can be no progress; there can be no real progress if people do blindly what they are told to do, no matter how good the intentions of the leaders may be. There can be no real progress under the rule of dictators no matter how benevolent they may be. There can be progress only if the masses understand what they are doing, understand their rights and exercise those rights – only if the masses take control of their own fate and destiny – and this can be done only through education and the democratic process.

Some of you, when questioned by the Judge before being accepted as jurors, said that you had heard and read something about the Soviet Union and thought that it was a communistic or socialistic state. By this time I think you understand that, as socialism is conceived by the defendants, its existence is impossible without freedom, without liberty, without democracy. There can be no socialism without freedom of the press, freedom of discussion, without the voluntary cooperation of the masses.

By the testimony of the government’s witnesses it was shown that in Local 544, under the leadership of some of the defendants, there was complete democracy, complete honesty and the local was completely free of gangsterism and racketeerism except insofar as some of the government witnesses tried to get away with certain racketeering practices.

What We Believe About Strikes

Oh yes, we were in favor of strikes. Mr. Anderson, in his opening statement, evidently with the intention of startling the jury, accused the defendants of never being satisfied, of constantly agitating for higher wages and more strikes, never wanting to arbitrate or to negotiate. But what has the evidence shown? The defendants, of course, have called strikes; but only after receiving authority from the members of the union, only after all attempts to negotiate with the employers have ended in failure. As far as Local 544 is concerned, the evidence shows that since 1936 there has not been a single major strike – the truck drivers were organized and the employers understood that they had to negotiate with Local 544.

Mr. Anderson also promised to show you that the defendants never believed in arbitration. But Mr. Dobbs, while he was on the witness stand, explained to you that while we prefer direct negotiations between unions and employers and while, as a general rule, we do not think arbitration is the best method of settling disputes, still we accept arbitration Under certain circumstances. There is no question of principle involved.

When Mr. Dobbs said that he does not believe that there are impartial arbitrators, he explained that in a society divided into classes the fundamental issues dividing those classes cannot be arbitrated. There is no possibility of finding an impartial arbitrator on these fundamental issues. But that does not mean that we would exclude arbitration under all circumstances. The fact is that both in Local 544 and when Mr. Farrell Dobbs was secretary of the 11-state over-the-road Area Committee, there were many cases of arbitration.

The evidence proves conclusively that the defendants practiced real trade union democracy to such an extent that the vast majority of the truck drivers followed the defendants and would now prefer them if they had a chance to indicate their preference by a democratic election.

Listing the Government Witnesses

In contrast to the trade union policy of the defendants, I shall now show you what was the trade union policy of the government witnesses. As I indicated before, this case is nothing but a struggle between two factions in the union with the government siding with the faction consisting largely of the witnesses against the defendants. I will read you the names of the chief government witnesses and on the basis of their own testimony I think you must agree with me that they constitute the opposition to the leadership of the defendants in Local 544:

Those are the main witnesses. Then we come to witnesses of secondary rank: What is their relationship to the power that controls 544-AFL? They are:

The following witnesses testified that they were formerly on the Tobin Receiver’s payroll:

The following government witnesses are members of the Committee of 99, organized on behalf of Tobin to oppose the leadership of the defendants in 544:

MR. SCHWEINHAUT (Prosecutor): Bove was not a member of the Committee of ’99.

MR. MYER (defense counsel): Look on Page 1182 of the record, Mr. Schweinhaut.

MR. SCHWEINHAUT: I stand corrected.

MR. GOLDMAN: I continue the list:

All one has to do to become convinced that this trial is nothing but a continuation of the factional struggle in 544, is to read the names of the witnesses.

(To be continued next week)

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