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AFL Gave Undue Prominence
to the Racketeering Issue

But Neither Dubinsky Nor the AFL Chieftains
Took a Correct Working Class Attitude Toward It

(14 December 1940)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. 4 No. 50, 14 December 1940, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The problem of racketeering occupied an altogether disproportionate place at the AFL convention at New Orleans. It is a very minor problem in the trade union movement as a whole. Had the AFL chieftains been grappling, with the basic problems facing the workers, the racketeering question would have automatically been relegated to the subordinate place it should have taken. But since the convention was given no real problems to deal with – the main time was consumed with canned speeches from government officials and other people who had no business being on the platform – it is no wonder that both at the convention and in the press the question of rackeetering loomed out of all proportion to its importance.

Dubinsky’s Proposal

Dubinsky, too yellow to tight on real issues – he didn't open his mouth even to second Philip Randolph’s eloquent plea against Jim Crow – picked this “popular” issue – i.e., popular with the capitalist press.

Dubinsky’s proposal to empower the AFL Executive Council to suspend any union official “convicted of an act of moral turpitude” would have placed in the hands of the reactionary Council the exact powers which Dubinsky had opposed when, they appeared in the form of the right to suspend international unions for “dual” unionism. Militant union leaders, convicted or framed-up in strike activities, could be tossed out of the AFL by a simple vote of the Council.

By its terms only, “convicted” persons could be suspended. The well-known tie-up between the police, courts and racketeers precludes many such convictions. Except, of course, in the case of honest union strikers.

Further, this proposal placed the responsibility for dealing with racketeers on the shoulders of a few leaders, instead of on the rank-and-file of the unions.

The convention leaders turned this proposal down. Green and Co. didn’t want to be placed in a position where at any time in the future they might be compelled to act against a “pal.” The defeat of Dubinsky’s proposal also reflected the concern of the various international officers for their jealously-guarded control over their individual unions.

As a counter proposal to Dubinsky’s, the Executive Council merely put. through a resolution piously “condemning” labor racketeering in general and suggesting that the various internationals “take steps” on their own initiative.

The convention failed to expose the real character and causes of racketeering, and to open the way for strengthening the democratic processes within the local unions which would enable the membership to make short shift of dishonest elements.

Little Racketeering Exists

What is the extent of the “racketeering” within the AFL? Contrary to the impression deliberately fostered by the boss press there is relatively very little.

Such racketeering as does exist is almost entirely confined to small unions, and these mainly in a few secondary service industries.

This fact is made clear by Louis Stark in an article in the New York Times, Dec. 1: “Investigations by prosecuting officials in New York, Chicago and other large cities have disclosed that racketeering is prevalent in small industries where cut-throat competition prevails, such as in cleaning and dying, laundry and restaurants.”

Bosses Responsible

What is more significant than the limited extent of union racketeering. is the fact that it is directly invited and sanctioned by the bosses in these industries. As Stark points out, “Almost invariably the union racketeers have been found linked with dishonest business men, crooked politicians and outright criminals.”

He adds:

“Small employers in these industries, by their own motion or through outside instigation, form so-called trade associations to limit or increase prices. The crooked union leaders lend themselves to the associations at a price. They ‘police’ the industry and supply the ‘police’ from criminals among their number.

“Racketeering union leaders cooperate with dishonest business men to force other business men to join trade associations or to keep them out of trade associations. In either case the object of the trade association is monopoly and higher prices.”

From this it is apparent that racketeering is a direct measure of the influence of the bosses within any union, and not a phenomenon native to unionism itself, as the bosses try to claim.

Why It Isn’t Ended

The question is: If the extent of such racketeering is really so limited, if the vast bulk of the AFL local unions and leaders are free of any such taint, why is it seemingly so difficult to eradicate the evil?

The answer is simple. A policy which would clean out the Racketeers in double-quick time is possible: But it poses a threat to the reactionary craft leaders, and it is the one policy of which the bosses – those who cry loudest against the evil – are in deadly fear.

That simple policy is to restore democratic rank-and-file control within the unions of the AFL!

The prevalent leadership dominates the ranks with an iron fist. Concerned primarily with the questions of dues collections, ironing out interminable jurisdictional disputes, and curbing the desires of the 'members for militant trade union action, the leadership enforces the principle of dictatorial control from the top. So long as these unions pay their dues, Green and Co. do not care whether the members attend meetings, or whether local meetings are ever held. If members who dare to oppose the policies of their officials are arbitrarily expelled without proper trial, that’s no skin off Bill Green’s nose.

CIO Hasn’t Any Racketeering

The proof that it is the lack of democratic practices within the AFL which enables the few racketeers to flourish within it, and that racketeering flourishes only in small crafts, is demonstrated by the complete freedom of, the CIO from racketeers. It might seem that the new unions of the CIO, formed quickly of inexperienced workers and prey to many unknown and untested elements, would be duck-soup for the penetration of boss racketeers. But it isn’t.

No handful of rats or gangsters who valued their necks would dare try to intimidate a meeting of industrial workers who had stood up to clubs, revolvers, rifles; machine guns, sawed-off shot-guns and tear gas in the hands of police and National Guardsmen!

It is hard to conceive of the appearance of a racketeering situation in an industrial union. To appear it would require a type of connivance with the bosses which is alien to a mass-production industry and an industrial union. It pays a boss to connive with a small craft union, even to the extent of paying relatively good wages. He could never feel that way about a mass-production industry, where the wage bill looms as the key factor and where an industrial union is bargaining on behalf of all the workers in the plant.

The CIO is thus well-nigh guaranteed in advance against, racketeering. The less favorable situation of the smaller craft unions in the AFL could, however, be overcome if the rank and file in any union were aided by the national AFL leadership to establish genuine democracy and use it against any racketeer.

But real union democracy – that means militancy and strikes; and you can’t get the Greens and Wolls to go for that!

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