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AFL Chiefs Play into Hands
of Labor’s Foes on Taft Act

Turn Convention into Orgy of Reaction, Warmongering

(29 November 1948)

From The Militant, Vol. 12 No. 48, 29 November 1948, p. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

From the debate and decisions of the AFL convention in Cincinnati last week, you’d never know that American labor had just given a powerful demonstration of its strength and an overwhelming expression of its desire to combat reaction. The AFL leaders converted the convention into a rampage of reaction itself, cynically betraying the progressive aspirations voiced by the workers on Nov. 2.

Even as they boasted of labor’s “victory,” these leaders showed utter cowardice about pushing labor’s demands, particularly on the key question of repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act. Instead of pressing to the utmost for unconditional repeal of the Slave Labor Laws, they virtually invited Congress to pass a “substitute” law that would be a Taft-Hartley Act with its face lifted. “Restraint,” “moderation,” “caution” – this was the keynote of the AFL bureaucrats when it came to labor’s needs.

Now that they had helped restore an unregenerate Democratic Party to full power, the AFL high moguls tossed out of the window all their pre-election hints about forming a new party after the election. Although they voted to continue Labor’s League for Political Education as a permanent organization, they made it clear their aim is to use the LLPE merely to tie labor more firmly to the capitalist two-party system. They rejected a resolution for the building of an independent labor party.

All the problems of the workers – inflation, housing, health and education, civil rights – were shoved into a corner. Instead, the dominant theme of the convention was anti-communism, militarism and war preparations.

The well-heeled bureaucrats went far beyond anything even the capitalist bi-partisan coalition itself has dared attempt in unrestrained incitation of war hysteria. They adopted a resolution calling for a blockade of Russia and a full-scale military alliance of world capitalism, armed by the U.S., against the Soviet Union.

If there is one thing all past experience teaches about capitalist politics, it is that politicians once in office quickly forget their promises or try to water them down. This fact dictates to the. union leaders the absolute duty to mobilize the workers to fight; for the fulfillment of Truman’s promises – particularly, unqualified, repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act.

“Substitute” Law

There have been more than enough signs that Truman is trying to weasel out of this promise by proposing a “substitute” law that would include many of the worst features of the Taft-Hartley Act. Vice President-elect Barkley told the AFL convention as much when he advised the delegates in a speech not to expect “miracles” on labor legislation. This should have been ample warning to the AFL leaders.

Instead they proposed to leave the door open for new curbs on labor, backed by their sanction and support. Their resolution calls for “substitute” legislation to ensure that “the public welfare is paramount ... the economic health, safety and welfare of the nation must not again be placed in jeopardy by the irresponsible action of anyone.” The speakers on this resolution made it clear they meant measures to outlaw industrywide or any other large strikes which the bosses complain are against “public welfare.”

Doctrine of “Restraint”

The doctrine of “restraint” was preached boldly by Joseph D. Keenan, director of the AFL’s Labor’s League for Political Education, who said that “we might as well admit that the Wagner Act went too far in our favor.”

George M. Harrison, head of the resolutions committee, and George Meany, AFL secretary-treasurer, said that Truman’s anti-labor proposals of January 1947 – including a ban on various forms of strikes and machinery to break strikes involving a “national emergency” – would be looked upon “favorably” by the AFL.

Boilermakers’ President Charles J. MacGowan, who was the chief speaker on the resolution, urged “restraint” in seeking repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act so that “the people” should not think that “labor now is in an arrogant and vindictive frame of mind.” He said that labor “should be alert to the excesses committed by certain segments of labor.” He wound up by asserting that “labor is not contemplating a wave of strikes which would paralyze any part of our economy” and that “instead of agitating for a general fourth round of wage increases,” everyone should urge a “price rollback.”

The fact is that labor’s living standards are already reduced by the tremendous inflation from which the monopolists have reaped record profits. “But the only recognition the AFL leaders gave this crucial problem was to raise the already rat salaries of William Green, their president, and George Meany. For the AFL membership, however, they counseled “restraint.”

Selling Out

It is clear these union leaders are preparing to give away everything the workers thought they had won when they voted for Truman in the mistaken belief that this would help restore the unions’ unrestricted right to fight for higher wages and better conditions.

The truth is that the AFL leaders are slavishly following the policies of the Truman administration. This is clear from the obvious way in which they are adapting themselves to Truman’s moves to hedge on his promise to repeal the Taft-Hartley Act. It is even clearer jn their position on foreign policy – the real signpost pointing the reactionary direction of Truman’s regime.

Beat War Drums

All Truman’s promises of progressive reforms must go up in smoke because his drive toward militarism and war is consuming the substance of the people through the vast arms budget. Everything in the AFL convention was subordinated to a demonstration for Truman’s war program.

The delegates were whipped up by a string of government spokesmen, including Paul G. Hoffman and W. Averill Harriman, and. rabid professional Stalinophobes like the renegade ex-radical intellectual, Max Eastman. Then the AFL leaders – undoubtedly anticipating their mentors in the State Department – pushed through a resolution calling on the U.S. and the Marshall Plan countries to sever trade relations with Russia; unequivocally supporting the imperialist Marshall Plan; and demanding not only all-out military preparations by the U.S., but that America “should also provide arms and enter into a defensive military alliance” with all “friendly nations in Europe, Asia or elsewhere” against the Soviet Union.

Committed to a program which can only lead to militarism, dictatorship and war, the AFL leaders cannot at the same time fight on labor’s behalf against inflation, for a higher standard of living, for adequate housing, for more unemployment insurance and old-age benefits.

Reactionary Foreign Policy

But even in their all-out backing of the bi-partisan war program, the AFL chiefs were forced to give an intimation of the real anti-labor and anti-democratic character of the foreign policies of U.S. imperialism. Their resolution sharply criticizes the “Taft-Hartleyism” of the American military governments in Germany and Japan. It complains about the refusal of U.S. authorities “to grant German labor the right to participate effectively in ERP machinery”; demands a halt to the policy of placing former Nazi industrialists and financial magnates in posts of authority; and demands a “redefinition” of U.S. official policy toward Japanese labor.

To Continue LLPE

In one respect, the AFL leaders made a radical departure from their horse-and-buggy traditions. They definitely abandoned their old policy of “no-politics.” They voted to continue Labor’s League for Political Education on a permanent basis, organized throughout every precinct of the country.

This formal step into politics through an independent organisation has been imposed on the AFL leaders by the pressure of the Workers, who refuse any longer to rally to the direct summons of the old capitalist parties. It likewise reflects the great fear and shock felt by the labor leaders when they realized their total political helplessness before the Taft-Hartley assault of Big Business.

But these union leaders once more revealed themselves as thoroughly capitalist-minded and Unalterably devoted to the capitalist system and its political, rule. Their aim is not to organize labor independently in the political field to fight for its own class aims through its own class party – not even eventually.

Reject Labor Party

They demonstratively voted down a resolution for the formation of a new political party and completely ignored the plea of A. Philip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, to consider the question of building a labor party along the lines of the British Labor Party.

But the AFL leaders in no wise reflect the deep leftward moving currents in the American working class. Right now these bureaucrats are riding the crest of their “victory” smug in the enjoyment of their full treasuries, their big salaries and the constant flow of dues. This will not last for long.

They tried to hold back the progress of the workers in the mid-Thirties, but economic and social conditions raised a tide of labor revolt that swept right over the old-line leaders and brought with it the CIO and the era of industrial unionism.

Tomorrow, the inevitable crisis of American capitalism, the refusal of the capitalist government of Truman to yield anything but crumbs to the workers, will set the ranks of labor into irresistible motion. Labor – with or without its present leaders – will move forward to its next historic step, class political action through its own party.

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