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AFL Convention Blocks Labor Unity
by Hostility to Industrial Unions

Dubinsky Is a Sorry-Looking Figure
as Craft Moguls Push Him Around

(7 December 1940)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. 4 No. 49, 7 December 1940, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The American Federation of Labor craft chiefs intend to ride to labor “unity” over the broken bones of industrial unionism.

That was made clear by the just adjourned sixtieth annual convention of the AFL in New Orleans.

Despite William Green’s reiterated pious prayers for “peace and harmony” and his self-righteous denunciation of John L. Lewis as standing in the way of unity, the AFL head and his lieutenants failed to make the one simple declaration which might have given substance to their charges against Lewis. All Green had to say in order to clear the, path to unity was:

“I deny that we intend to obstruct industrial organization or to dismember the mass unions of the CIO in the interests of the craft organizations. The AFL is ready to aid in the building and extension of industrial unions in the mass production industries.”

The deliberate silence of the AFL spokesmen on this one crucial point speaks more loudly than all the flowery “unity” talk unloosed on the delegates. The AFL chiefs are ready to “unite” with the CIO only around the funeral pyre of industrial unionism.

The resolutions and proceedings of the convention merely underline the real meaning of this silence.

One of the first acts of the convention, on November 22, was the endorsement of a proposal contained in the report of the committee on local and federal organization, to deny local AFL councils’ the right to receive communications from any organization not, affiliated with the AFL – a measure aimed at preventing any possibility of united action against the employers by local AFL and CIO bodies. This resolution assumes a particularly vicious character in the light of the inspiring example of labor solidarity given by the various AFL locals in their support of the CIO workers on strike at the Vultee Aircraft plant in Downey, California.

A choice example of how the AFL craft moguls are setting traps for the industrial unions, in the event of unity, is the resolution passed by the convention, on the endorsement of the Executive Council, giving the Council power to suspend international Unions “in cases where 2 or more national and international unions unite and conspire to create and launch ail organization for any purpose dual to the American Federation of Labor.”

David Dubinsky, head of the Intern’al Ladies Garment Workers who deserted the CIO industrial unions [line of text missing] ed would be greener pastures inside the AFL. attempted to oppose this resolution. Dubinsky complained that this resolution was an effort to skirt around a promise which he alleges the Executive Council made to him as a condition for his return to the AFL fold, that no international union would be suspended from the AFL without the majority approval of a convention.

One indication of how the industrial unions would be cut to ribbons if the CIO unions should return to the AFL was given during the session of November 26. Representatives of several local “federal” unions, which have a semi-industrial character, caused a minor storm in the convention by charging the craft unions with raiding their membership.

Craft Raids Protested

Michael O’Gorman, representing a federal union of 2,800 members at the Midvale Steel Co. in Philadelphia, attacked the craft unions on this score and pleaded with the craft internationals “to leave us alone.” Morris Pratt, speaking for the Refinery Workers federal union of East St. Louis, charged that the Operating Engineers Union was trying to “take over” his organization. Other delegates from federal unions made the same plaint.

Even Dubinsky, making a violent denunciation of the CIO and Lewis on the question of unity negotiations, was forced to call attention – in his own cowardly and feeble way to be sure – to the real hostility toward industrial organization still burning fiercely among the AFL tops. During the session of November 28, Dubinsky pleaded with the craft chiefs, declaring, “There is no need for differences between labor. But there, must be a broader attitude toward those who favor industrial organization.” He admitted sadly that he would prefer a “more progressive” attitude in the AFL toward the problem of organizing the unorganized and the industrial form of union.

Jim Crow Continues

In striking contrast with the brotherhood with which the many Negro delegates were treated at the CIO convention, and the various progressive steps taken by the CIO to unite the Negro and white workers, the AFL convention reaffirmed its traditional Jim-Crow policy. The modest proposal of A. Philip Randolph, President of the Sleeping Car Porters, for the setting up of an inter-racial committee within the Federation to remedy discrimination by unions against Negro workers, was rejected. The convention merely repeated the hands-off formula it has used so often before, merely asking the international unions “to give most sincere consideration” to the problem – carefully avoiding the setting up of any machinery which might actually do something on the matter. The action of the convention brought a bitter and merited rebuke from Randolph who year after year has vainly sought justice for his people from the craft-moguls.

Fawning Upon Roosevelt

One of the most disgusting aspects of the convention was the manner in which Green and Co. fawned and scraped before the government and its representatives. While graciously accepting an $8,000 increase, bringing his yearly salary to $20,000, Green was eager to offer the “sacrifices” of the workers for the sake of “national defense.”

Green went so far as to state: “There are a number of ways in which we (!) can sacrifice – by giving service of the highest order and by preventing the interruption of production through stoppages for any trivial reason – or for any reason.”

The next day, it is true, Green back-watered on this extreme assertion by excitedly informing them press, “I meant no such thing as giving up the right to strike. I was referring to the need of setting up tribunals or other machinery to safeguard against the necessity for strikes.” No doubt a lot of heat had been turned on Green by some of the delegates between the two statements.

The “Racketeering” Issue

The sorriest spectacle at the convention was Dubinsky.

He introduced a resolution to give the AFL executive council power to oust any union official found guilty of “any offense involving moral turpitude.”

All Dubinsky received for his efforts was a good sock in the mouth and the enmity of all his “friends” among the AFL officialdom.

The officialdom, in turn, presented a cowardly front on the whole matter. Instead of telling the bosses to go to hell and keep their snouts out of the internal affairs of the unions; denouncing the smear campaign “to help Labor for its own good” as nothing but an attempt by the bosses to get their fingers into the union affairs; and instructing the bankers and industrialists to have a mind for their own racketeering which takes billions for the thousands taken by the relatively few labor racketeers; the AFL leaders passed a feeble resolution condemning racketeering in general as a concession to this boss pressure.

Nothing is more condemnatory of the entire conduct of this convention than the fact that a major share of its time was spent in fighting and fumbling over the Issue of’ “racketeering.”

To add spice to the mess concocted at the convention by the craft chiefs, Madame Perkins, Milo Warner, head of the American Legion, and Sir Walter Citrine, and a whole parade of similar types, whooped it up for war, unlimited support to the Roosevelt administration and its anti-labor pro-war program, and for more “sacrifices” from the workers. Citrine, who was knighted by the British monarchy and not Without cause, described “with pride” the “voluntary” surrender by British labor of the right to ‘strike and the acceptance of “practically unlimited” working hours in the interests of British imperialism.

In every respect this AFL convention demonstrated that the CIO is still the basic and progressive union organization of American labor.

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