Gordon Haskell Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Gordon Haskell

Afterthoughts on the Convention

Murray’s Assault on the CP
Marks End of a CIO Era

(13 December 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 50, 13 December 1948, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The tenth constitutional convention of the Congress of Industrial Organizations marks the end of an era in the history of this great labor organization.

This was the decade in which the CIO has been led by two groups of men representing two clashing points of view. These groups have worked together with little friction. Their alliance has now been broken for good by the political and social conflict which is taking place on a worldwide basis.

On the one hand we have the followers of the theories, ideas and practices of the Communist Party (Stalinists). These men entrenched themselves in the CIO during the thirties. They were some of the most active and militant leaders during the years when the CIO was marching ahead, organizing the workers in the mass production industries. The influence and authority which they gained during that period put them in a position to take over organizational control of a number of international unions. Ever since then they have been hanging on to this control by a combination of ruthless, bureaucratic rule, clever demagoguery and a minimum of service to the workers they represent.

Fight in the Open

Throughout its history in the CIO, this Stalinist gang (now commonly referred to as the “left wingers” by their rivals and the press) has pursued one consistent policy: to use its power in the CIO to promote the political interests of the rulers in the Kremlin. When these interests required militancy, they were as militant as any bureaucrats. When they required that the workers of America lie down and take everything the employers had to throw at them (as during the war years) the Stalinist leaders were the chief advocates of the no-strike pledge and every concession to the bosses.

The other group, which at this convention has broken the partnership and come into complete and unquestioned control of the national CIO as well as of most of the internationals in it, can best be described as liberal, capitalistically minded, labor bureaucrats. They too have their well-oiled machines which operate to stifle opposition in their unions from any source, and to perpetuate themselves in power. Their policies also vary from militancy, when the bosses give them no other choice, to a fervent desire to make deals with the employers which they can sell to their memberships so as to avoid strikes and keep the rank and file as quiet as possible.

At no time in the past have the Stalinists had the greatest influence in the CIO. The second group, led by John L. Lewis in his day and by Philip Murray since big John left the CIO, has always had the upper hand. But up to this convention, whatever disagreements there may have been were settled by deals in the back rooms. Now the fight is in the open, and the Stalinists are on the run.

Balance Changed

Why was the partnership broken? It is a well known fact that men like Murray always prefer a quiet deal to an open fight. For when the leaders of great unions fall out, when they begin slashing each other’s machines to ribbons, it always gives the rank and file a chance to break through the machine control and take matters into their own hands. That is what Murray and men who think like him fear more than a rival clique. That is why all these years these two groups of CIO leaders have quietly settled their disagreements without permitting the ranks even to know that a conflict was going on.

At this convention of the CIO, however, the balance of power between the Murray and the Stalinist wings had been changed drastically in Murray’s favor. During the past year the Stalinists have taken a whipping in two of the largest CIO unions (United Automobile Workers and National Maritime Union) and one of the smaller ones (Transport Workers), and their position has been challenged in several others where they had been in complete control before.

This made it possible for Murray and his lieutenants to open an all-out fight without having to fear that the Communist Party adherents would make serious trouble in any large unions except the United Electrical Workers, the International Longshoremen & Warehousemen and the Fur Workers. The other unions which they control either have such powerful anti-Communist groups in them that the Stalinists would be afraid to stage an all-out fight or are so small and weak that even if the Stalinists should try to pull them out of the CIO the loss would be hardly felt.

That is the organizational side of the question, and it should not be overlooked. This weakening of the Stalinists in CIO did not take place chiefly through maneuvers by the Murray bureaucracy, but by revolts of the membership against Stalinist control. In two major cases, to be sure, these revolts were led by turncoats from the Stalinist machines (Curran in NMU and Mike Quill in Transport). But the fact that in these cases, as well as in the others, anti- Stalinist factions won out, is ,an Indication of the fact that the Stalinists have begun to slip everywhere in the influence they have enjoyed in the CIO since the thirties.

Of course, this turn of the workers from Stalinism is not 100 per cent progressive, any way you look at it. No doubt thousands and even hundreds of thousands of them have been influenced more by the reactionary anti-Communist propaganda spread by the government, press and radio than by a clear understanding of the true nature of Stalinism. At the CIO convention in Portland the Murray faction’s arguments and attacks on the Stalinists were about half legitimate and progressive and half reactionary and red-baiting. They are leading the workers away from Stalinism, but not toward a sounder, more realistic position of struggle for their rights and interests against their ruling-class enemies in this country.

Shape of a New Era

An era has ended in the history of the CIO. The question for every worker who regards this great movement as the strongest and most progressive wing of American trade unionism is: what is the nature of the new era which the tenth constitutional convention has opened up?

The convention itself can’t give a full answer to this question for the happy reason that the officials who represented their memberships there are not the only ones who will decide this question. The economic, social and political developments in America, and in the world, and the way the rank and file of the CIO reacts to these developments will tell the whole story.

But there can be no doubt of the intentions of the Murray CIO bureaucracy in this matter. If they have their way, this will be the era in which the CIO becomes a powerful political force to prop up the capitalist system at home and abroad while gaining the most it can get for the workers while doing so.

They believe that the Democratic Party victory has ushered in the New New Deal. They forget that the old New Deal was not a rosy heaven for the workers. They have forgotten, or would like their constituents to forget that in 1940, after seven years of the old New Deal, there were still from ten to fifteen million unemployed; that according to their own statements at the time these unemployed were never adequately provided for by the New Deal; that during the New Deal the CIO had to fight on the picket lines for most of the major gains it made; and that the old New Deal solved the problem of full employment only by drafting eleven million young Americans into the armed forces and putting the rest to work to provide them with arms and sustenance.

Effects on Nation

They passed a great number of resolutions at this convention which, if carried out, would vastly improve the standard of living of the American people. These resolutions on housing, minimum wage, civil rights for Negroes and other minorities, medical care, taxation, wages, participation by representatives of labor in controlling the Marshall Plan, etc., etc., do not differ materially from resolutions passed at any other CIO convention. The point is that they were never carried but in the past because the CIO relied on the good will of the government with a little “pressure” from labor to carry them out.

Now they know what socialists have been saying for a century, that labor can be the DECISIVE political force in the country. Yet their proposals, running through all their speeches, on how their program is to be put into action, are no different than they were before the Truman election.

Murray and his co-thinkers dream of a peaceful partnership with capital in industry and in government. In this partnership they, the official leaders of the labor movement, will put their feet under the table with the millionaires, military brass and the government bureaucrats to arrange the life of the nation. The workers in the factories and mines, on the farms and railroads of the country will go on working diligently, producing “reasonable” profits for their employers, contented and safe in the knowledge that their elected trade union officers are looking after their welfare at the top. This is the bureaucratic paradise which Murray has to offer the millions of men and women who pay the bills for the CIO.

Warning to Dissenters

Of course, just as the nation is to be run by a bureaucratic partnership of labor leaders, capitalists, churchmen and politicians, the unions themselves are to be run by a partnership of anti-Communist bureaucrats. Any labor leader who tries to break this partnership by advocating policies contrary to those of Murray & Co. is committing a crime because when big-shots fall out the ranks may rally behind the factions and take things into their own hands.

The measures passed at this convention which give the National Executive Board great powers to intervene in the affairs of various internationals are now directed against the Stalinist leaders in some of the weaker unions. But the whole atmosphere generated at this convention along the line of demanding unquestioning adherence to the policies of the majority in political as well as all other matters can and will be used as a weapon against any dissenters who may appear in the future.

This is of vital importance to every thinking member in CIO. Already there is a “left” and a “right” wing in the Murray majority. However, the left wing went down the line with Murray at this convention in order to smash the Staijnists. They were silent when Murray violated democratic methods in running the convention. They were silent when Van Bittner and others made speeches which should make every thinking liberal, let alone people who consider themselves “radicals,” blush with shame. They did not put forth one idea of their own which would lead the workers back home to realize that Murray is not the only real leader in CIO.

Overall Meaning

Yet they were there. As Murray’s bureaucratic paradise reveals itself to the workers to be made of the same flimsy material as all other dreams, there will be more of them. As the ranks find out in the next few months that reliance on “their” president and “their” Congress, and their “American middle way” simply means that they have to carry the load of inflation or depression and, in any case, of the vast domestic and foreign military expenditures on their backs, the left wing will become stronger.

Of this there can be no doubt. Yet it is our contention that this tenth convention of the CIO will make the job of the left wing harder in the future, not easier.

For this convention did not smash the Stalinists. As we have pointed out, that job was done to the extent it has been done before the convention, by vote of the ranks in key unions. The convention simply recorded this fact and gave the Murray forces the heart to organize further measures to smash the Stalinists from above. At the same time, due to the timidity, “practicality” and inaction of the real left wing, it put more power in Murray’s hands and lent more prestige to Murray’s name and through it to his theories about the future role of labor in America than he has ever had before.

For the first time in the history of CIO this convention has established the principle that this great labor body can demand the loyal carrying out of all decisions not only in its basic field of trade union strategy and tactics, but also in the wider field of politics. And at the present time this means that all leaders of CIO are bound by convention decision to be loyal to the political ideas of Murray’s bureaucratic capitalism and to the Democratic Party which he hopes to make the vehicle for putting these ideas into practice.

That is the overall significance of this convention of the CIO. That is the New Era which Murray thinks he has inaugurated at Portland.

The old era of Stalinist-Murray collaboration lasted ten years. We predict that the New Era will not last a quarter as long. It will end either in the destruction of the free labor movement in America at the hands of those whom Murray seeks as peaceful partners, or much more likely, in an upsurge of the CIO spirit of the thirties but this time applied to the political struggle against the capitalists which will go hand in hand with the economic struggle. When this Murray era ends, Mr. Murray and his closest lieutenants in CIO will be swept away with the dream which they are now dreaming.

Gordon Haskell Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers’ Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 6 October 2018