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Walter Jason

Delegates Smash Stalinist Grip
in Wayne County CIO

(13 September 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 37, 13 September 1948, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

DETROIT – The iron grip of the Stalinists over the Wayne County CIO Council was finally smashed, after one of the most hectic, turbulent and violent conventions ever seen in the CIO movement.

In spite of continual disruption, booing, heckling, bureaucratic rulings, sudden adjournments and every other trick in the Stalinist arsenal of “rule-or-ruin” tactics, the majority of the delegates, aided by the national CIO, cleaned out the mess.

This convention was almost an incredible spectacle. The final touch was supplied by the Leonard caucus and its SWP supporters. This caucus distinguished itself from the Stalinists in only one respect: numbers. In every other respect, the friends of the SWP spoke, functioned, acted and conducted themselves as chief assistant hatchetmen for the Stalinists.

The entire struggle at the convention was confined to the organizational plane, with one question predominating: Could the Stalinist leadership be ousted?

The anti-Stalinist forces, consisting mainly of a bloc of pro-Reuther and steel delegates, had a clearcut majority, even without any disputed delegations being seated. With the 90 or so disputed delegates seated, the anti- Stalinist forces, representing, the vast bulk of the CIO membership in this area, was an overwhelming majority.

Rule-or-Ruin in Action

The essence of the Stalinist strategy was therefore to keep the contested delegates from being seated, and by means of complete control of all committees and the chairman- ship to prevent the majority of delegates from expressing their will oh any question,

This could be accomplished best by preventing any serious debate, by creating a violent atmosphere which made any discussion impossible, and by filibustering the convention until enough anti-Stalinist delegates left to make a return of the Stalinist bloc to office possible. There is nothing new in these tactics. They are the hallmark of Stalinism in the labor movement.

Whet was the issue in dispute on seating the delegates? Over 90 delegates representing thousands of CIO members came to the convention after their local unions had paid four months per capita and they were denied entrance on the grounds they hadn’t paid one year’s back taxes.

It was on this issue that the SWP, repeating the CP, called a fight for “democracy versus bureaucracy.” Before the, last convention a similar arrangement had been approved by the national CIO at the request of the Stalinists – but that was last year. This year, fearing loss of control of the council, the Stalinists rejected such an arrangement.

More than that, the Stalinist clique was afraid to have the convention vote on that issue, for its defeat was assured by the democratic will of the majority. The issue in reality was just the opposite of that claimed by the Stalinists and the SWP. It was a case of a discredited minority, the Stalinists, seeking to keep bureaucratic control of an organization they had no political, organizational or any other kind of right to keep, because neither their policies nor leaders were acceptable to the majority of the delegates.

Key Report Stalled

On Thursday night, when the convention opened, the usual trick stuff was begun. A special resolution’ endorsing the strike of the De  Soto workers was introduced. Of course it was supported by everyone, even though it was just a stall to keep the credentials committee from making a report.

On Friday morning, in spite of many efforts to get a report from the credentials committee so that the issue could be debated and the Stalinists defeated, nothing happened. The noisy demonstrations, marked by a little scuffle now and then, made any action on the part of the anti-Stalinists impossible.

Meanwhile, the Stalinists added another touch to inflame the disputed delegates. The galleries were ordered cleared, and the delegates were left outside, unable even to see the convention as visitors!

The disgruntled delegates met downstairs from the hall and told Germer they would give him an hour in which to act, or they would take action to seat themselves. Whereupon Germer informed Tracy Doll, chairman of the session, that unless the credentials committee reported (and he told the credentials committee the same thing) he would have to move.

Finally, late Friday afternoon, the credentials committee, headed by Whitey Urban, president of UAW Local 190, made its report, denying the delegates full representation, and blasting “CIO interference and bureaucracy.”

Attempts to discuss the issue were made, but it was impossible because of the violent atmosphere. Noisy demonstrations greeted every anti-Stalinist spokesman, while the many sergeants-at-arms kept the anti-Stalinists from making much noise.

Germer outlined the CIO constitution dealing with this question of the relationship between local councils and the national CIO and easily demonstrated, of course, that the policies and rules of local councils were under the control of the national CIO.

He explained, and there was no denial, that Tracy Doll, Sam Sage and Coleman Young (Stalinists) had agreed in Pittsburgh to go along with the compromise formula that delegates be seated if local unions paid four months per capita (three months of that money to be held by the national CIO since no one trusted the Stalinists).

CPers Violate Agreement

He also explained how, the previous year, these same officers of the Wayne County Council (except Young, who was not elected then) had asked for such an arrangement from the national CIO, thereby recognizing the authority of the national CIO as final in such matters, and how the national CIO had approved. He warned the Stalinists against splitting.

A vote was in order, and it looked bad for the Stalinist-controlled credentials’ committee. But Ernie Mazey came to their rescue. He suggested to the chairman that the time for adjournment was past, whereupon Doll took the hint and arbitrarily adjourned the session.

Of course, many anti-Stalinist delegates felt that victory was at hand the next morning.

But they did not reckon sufficiently with the desperation of the Stalinists. All Saturday morning was stalled around, and finally, after some noisy debate, a rollcall began.

The results of the rollcall were obvious to everyone following the vote. The anti-Stalinist bloc had won by nearly 300 votes! Seating of the delegates seemed, to many of them, just a matter of minutes.

But – and this actually happened! – the committee counting the votes disappeared. No results could be announced. A real clever maneuver! And the convention was again adjourned by action of the chairman!

Enough was enough, and at this point Germer announced that the national CIO would conduct, the rest of the convention on Sunday morning at Local 174 hall. He urged all delegates to attend. It was all over for the Stalinists.

Convention Split

Some of the delegates wondered at this point if the Leonard caucus would dare participate in a rump convention if the Stalinists held one the next day or if they would retreat and participate in the convention under the authority they had been denouncing for the last three days.

This caucus had no choice. The next morning they recognized the legality of the national CIO action by walking into Local 174. The delegates cheered this action for it meant that everyone except the Stalinists recognized the Germer-called session as the legal one.

Meanwhile the Stalinists meeting at Local 17, made some speeches denouncing everyone and then adjourned, with all, remaining non-Stalinists breaking from them and going to the CIO convention.

Two important actions were taken on Sunday. National CIO policy regarding the elections, the Marshall Plan and the Reuther viewpoint on a new party were combined in one resolution and passed as a matter of course. A new leadership was elected with Mike Novak, president of Dodge Local 3, as president, A1 Barbour, of Local 7 as secretary-treasurer, and Fuller of the steel workers as executive vice-president.

Carrying out the farce to the very end, the Leonard-SWP caucus pulled another stunt that didn’t help their reputation any. Ernie Mazey, nominated against Novak for the presidency by Jack Lesnick of Local 36, declined after making a brief but violent denunciation of “this undemocratic convention” and these individuals walked out.

Among the many important features of this convention was the failure of the Stalinists to attempt even to put up a fight for their Wallace line. Rather they confined their whole struggle merely to retaining organizational control of the council. This played into the hands of the anti-Stalinists who mainly were behind “national CIO policy,” but weren’t too happy to engage in political debate on the national elections. Indirectly, of course, the political struggle was clear. Certainly in those circumstances a labor-party tendency would have difficulty in making its weight felt. But the SWP, having its leading spokesmen in Detroit there, made no effort to distinguish itself from the Stalinists. They confined their speeches and participated in the demonstrations strictly in defense of the Stalinist regime of the council. It will take considerable time and quite a change in their pro-Stalinist line to wipe out the disgrace they inflicted upon themselves.

While we disagree with the political policies (endorsement of Truman, etc.) of the majority of the delegates, certainly it was the duty of every union man to help bring the Wayne County CIO Council back into the CIO as an organization subject to the wishes of the American workers, in one form or another, rather than permit it to remain an outpost of the Stalinist wreckers of the labor movement.

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