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Labor Must Fight to Compel
Truman to Fulfill Promises

Vote of Working Class Is Decisive in Election

(8 November 1948)

From The Militant, Vol. 12 No. 45, 8 November 1948, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Organized labor is the overwhelmingly dominant force in American political life today. It represents an outright majority of the population. Its numbers, if mobilized on a correct program and in its own party, could sweep the nation and take political power outright in the name of the working class.

That fact has now been conclusively proved by the national elections. The victory of Truman and the Democratic recapture of the House, and Senate marked a “personal triumph” of the Man from Missouri only in the most limited, sense. What was absolutely decisive in this election was the labor vote.

The party that commands the labor vote commands political rule. No party can prevail without it – as the disdainful Republicans and the ill-conceived Wallaceite Party have learned to their chagrin and regret.

It did not even take an unprecedented outpouring of the working-class electorate to ensure the defeat of Dewey and the Republicans, who campaigned as the open and avowed spokesmen of Big Business and anti-labor reaction. Actually, the total vote registered fell relatively far below those of 1940 and 1944. At this writing, it does not appear the vote will even surpass the 1940 total of over 49,000,000, while in terms of increased population it should have been over 56,000,000.

Labor Weight

But such is the weight of organized labor in the American population that it could pick a discredited mediocrity like Truman, conceded by the union leaders themselves not to have a chance if they could not arouse the labor vote, arid put him back in the White House. And what is more, they delivered a stunning defeat to the Taft-Hartleyites in Congress. Senator J. Howard McGrath, Democratic national chairman, spoke from the heart in the very, first words of his victory statement when he paid full tribute to organized labor for the Democratic triumph.

Roosevelt’s electoral successes were usually attributed to his personal qualities, his dynamism, charm, magnetism – the FDR "magic.” It was never entirely clear whether the trade union bureaucracy was mobilizing the vote behind Roosevelt, or just moving in behind his coattails.

This ambiguity is now removed. Truman lacks all the magnetic qualities of Roosevelt. He is colorless in personality, mediocre in talents. His record as a strikebreaker, his bellicose war-mongering, his “loyalty” purge and witch hunt, his retreat before the monopolies when he liquidated almost all price controls in 1946, put him in widespread disfavor with the workers. Their growing indifference to whether the Democrats or Republicans ruled in Washington was graphically expressed in the 1946 Congressional elections, when their failure to vote in large numbers ensured Republican Control of the 80th Congress.

By the time of the Democratic Party convention this year, even the pro-Democratic union leaders were loudly agitating for a different candidate – anybody at all but Truman. Only with much hesitation and reluctance did the bulk of the CIO and AFL leaders finally present Truman to their members as the “lesser evil.” Yet, even with the Democratic Party torn on the left by Wallace and on the right by the Dixiecrats, the organized labor movement was able once more to put over the Democratic ticket.

Left Shift

If the results of this election testify to the predominant weight of organized labor, they likewise register a sharp leftward political shift of the American masses. The workers and the lower middle class did not vote with any enthusiasm for Truman and the Democrats. They voted against the bare-faced reactionary policies of the Republican-controlled 80th Congress, and above all, the Taft-Hartley Act. For this law was the one clear-cut issue that distinguished the Truman platform from the Dewey platform.

The Republican Party’s brain-trusters and Big-Business sponsors took their successes in the 1946 Congressional elections and the wave of reaction generated by the 79th and 80th Congresses as a definitive triumph and permanent entrenchment of their power. They rushed to cash in their chips even before they had the winning hand. Intoxicated by the fumes of temporary victories, they boldly and unguardedly disclosed their full hand, by dealing the final blows to price control, scuttling the housing program, enacting relief-for-the-greedy tax laws, and pigeon-holing all vital social legislation from anti-Jim Crow bills to health and education measures.

They mistook the loud applause of their own press, the praise of the NAM and the Chamber of Commerce, the rabid anti-labor speeches in Congress as the sentiment, or at least acquiescence, of the people. But deep down among the workers, the Negro people, the veterans there was swelling a strong tide of resentment and hostility to the Republicans and all their works. While the union leaders were in retreat, while the Truman Administration was break ing their strikes, the workers could find no outlet for their, opposition to reaction.

Progressive Sentiment

But this tide of progressive sentiment burst through at the first opening the masses saw – the elections. And because the workers saw no other way to combat and repudiate Taft-Hartleyism, they fell back on Truman who expressed at least verbally some of the aspirations of the working people. They consciously and deliberately chose the “lesser evil.”

Truman, with a split party, with no real backing from his own professional lieutenants, in the end could count on support only from organized labor. And it was to labor primarily that he adapted his campaign strategy and his promises. He pitched his tune to the ear of the working masses, going all out in social demagogy, indeed, far beyond anything Roosevelt expressed. Truman figured it was all or nothing. And there he was right – against all the dopesters, experts, and political sooth-sayers.

In the last stages of the campaign, Truman put forward in almost undiluted form the program of the CIO and AFL. He came out unambiguously for repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act. He promised housing, price and rent control, higher minimum wages, health insurance, a broad program of civil rights. Anything and everything that he thought the people wanted – and which had somehow failed to materialize after sixteen years of Democratic rule.

In some respects Truman outdid Wallace in demagogy, and the Wallaceites have good reason to complain that Truman “stole” their domestic program. He even snatched Wallace’s foreign policy of “man-to-man” dealings with Stalin, with his proposal to send Vinson to Moscow to negotiate directly with the head of the Kremlin.

Wallace Debacle

It was these factors, in addition to the trade union leaders’ energetic mobilization of their membership behind Truman that resulted in a first-class debacle for Wallace and his Stalinist backers.

Undoubtedly, the CIO and AFL leaders will, regard the victory that they gained for Truman and the Democrats as the vindication of their policy of working for the “lesser evil” within the two-party capitalist political monopoly. Prior to the election, the more astute trade union bureaucrats, inside both the CIO and AFL, were impelled to use the promise of a third party and even a “labor party” by 1952 as bait to lure the masses into support of Truman. This third-party talk may cease for a while.

Vast Gulf

It is likely that Truman will pay off the support of the unions with a few. organizational concessions to the union leaders, a little relaxation in the harsh enforcement of the Taft-Hartley Act, the pushing of minor social legislation. But the masses will soon learn the vast gulf between the demagogic promises of a desperate capitalist candidate and the fullfillment of these promises when the elections are over.

The re-elected Truman administration will not alter the conditions of the working people or change the direction of the American capitalist system. The drive toward militarism and war will continue. Not a single basic problem of the people will be solved.

No Illusions

The labor movement would be committing a tragic error if it now sat back in the expectation that the battle has been won and that Truman will now carry all of his many promises into practice. The labor movement will gain only those concessions that it demands and fights for. Any illusions that labor can wait for Truman to deliver will net only demoralization and disillusionment. Instead, right now, while the issues of the campaign are still fresh in everyone’s memory, labor must mobilize its numbers and resources to demand that the administration make good on its promises.

For example, rather than waiting on Truman and the crooked Democratic politicians to come across on their promise to repeal the Taft-Hartley Act, the unions right now – should make preparations to convene a united Congress of Labor to meet with the opening of the 81st Congress and ensure that this dastardly slave law is repealed. And as down payment on his promises, the labor leaders should demand that Truman dismiss the labor-baiting scoundrels who comprise the present NLRB.

The workers interpret Truman’s election as their victory. Their heightened morale and feeling of increasing self-confidence must now be utilized to resume labor’s forward march on all fronts, the regaining of the ground lost, and the achievement of their aspirations.

Truman’s victory may temporarily delay the development of an independent Labor Party and temporarily rehabilitate the declining prestige of the labor bureaucracy. But labor in this election learned that it has the power to make of break politicians and that it cart take over the very seats of government when it decides to do so. This knowledge and feeling of strength will more than offset any temporary illusions in Truman. And as the honeymoon period comes to an end and experience teaches them that they cannot depend on capitalist politicians and parties, the self-confidence gained in this election will help propel labor to the road of independent class politics and a drastic radical program to meet their needs.

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