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B.J. Widick

In the Trade Unions

(9 May 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 31, 9 May 1939, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A rubber worker asked us to explain why the A.F.L. top leadership is so vehemently opposed to the present Wagner Labor Relations Act.

The best source of explanation lies in the A.F.L. leadership itself.

In the current issue of the A.F.L. weekly news letter, William Green’s fight against the Wagner Act is made clear, although, of course, the reasons given are mainly reactionary. Just as the A.F.L. bureaucracy fight against the Act is reactionary.

The Nub of the Question

“Many craft unions are threatened with dissolution and destruction by Board decrees,” the A.F.L. declares. It refers, of course, to decrees of the National Labor Relations Board operating under the Wagner Act.

“For example, in the Fried-Ostermann case the employer manufactured both clothing and gloves. They were separate departments. Glove making has always been a separate craft during the entire history of organized labor.”

“The glove makers were practically one hundred per cent members of the A.F.L. glove workers union. The majority of the clothing workers were members of a clothing workers union not affiliated with the A.F.L. A dispute arose over representation.”

“The clothing workers requested the Board to fuse the glove workers and declare them one unit ... The Board did so.”

“In a recent decision (Finch case) the Board went so far as to hold that a carpenter who had voted for his A.F.L. Union could not refuse to be represented by a C.I.O. liquor distillery workers’ organization.”

The A.F.L. statement significantly adds, “Everyone knows that in this country there are countless plants where single A.F.L. craftsmen, such as stationary engineers, electricians, carpenters and the like, are employed.”

That brings us to the crux of the matter. It is absolutely inevitable that the N.L.R.B. “favor” industrial unions since collective bargaining is on a plant wide basis. We are for that policy 100 per cent.

Against Labor’s Interests

Industrial union interests won over craft interests in both cases cited by the A.F.L. statement. We remember how 14 A.F.L. craft unions were replaced in the Akron rubber shops by one industrial union. The workers benefited more under industrial unionism.

Put the threat to their craft positions and their placing of craft interests above the interests of the labor movement as a whole, causes the A.F.L. top leaders to struggle against any legislation or policy which even indirectly favors industrial unionism.

The fact that the A.F.L. statement mentions as an example the incident of a carpenter is not accidental. Bill Hutcheson, carpenters’ union president, is leader of the die-hard clique in the A.F.L. council. His blind and selfish craft interest makes him the leader of the A.F.L. opposition to the present Wagner Act. Since his union has 300,000 members, his voice has been very powerful in A.F.L. council meetings. Hutcheson, whose role in the labor movement we explained recently in a column, is determined to preserve his bureaucratic privileges at all costs.

And, by the way, the A.F.L. opposition to Edwin Smith, N.L.R.B. member, is not a “mistake” as commonly supposed. He happens to be strongly in favor of “one collective bargaining agency” for a plant. Industrial unionism, in other words. That is why Green centered so much fire on him.

The A.F.L. proposal to replace the present three man board with a five man board, along with other amendments, is a maneuver to make the N.L.R.B. pro-craft union if possible.

Blind bureaucrats like Hutcheson would even prefer no legislation and at least the abolition of the Wagner Act to anything which is not favorable to their reactionary philosophy.

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Last updated: 15 January 2016