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New International, July 1948


Vincent S. Wheelon

Books in Review

Crisis of Leadership


From The New International, Vol. XIV No. 5, July 1948, p. 160.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Labor Leader: An Exploratory Study
by Eli Ginsberg, assisted by Joseph Carwell
Macmillan, New York 1948, 190 pp.

Union officials, says Eli Ginzberg, are up against the problem of coaxing monopoly capitalism to give and give, in terms of higher wages and better working conditions. But:

“Business unionism is predicated on certain margins. If these no longer exist, or if they have been substantially narrowed, then the survival of business unionism is threatened. This is the nub of the crisis.”

Once unionism clashes head on with this “nub,” leaders can no longer depend on bargaining strength for higher wages but must transform their organizations into political instruments capable of challenging, in the arena of politics, the capitalists’ attempts to utilize state power to whiplash the workers into moderating or arresting their economic struggles.

Insufficient attention has been given, the author regrets, to just what makes leaders tick, labor or otherwise. Consequently Ginzberg takes up sociological and psychological attributes of leadership – subjects a bit burdensome for a volume only 190 pages in length – and then poses the labor leader as one who, on the American scene up to now, has followed the Gompers tradition of organizing the workers and winning conditions but eschewing political action.

Capitalizing on the indifference of the rank and file to active participation in the organized labor movement outside of demanding more pay for less work, leaders have entrenched themselves in power, consolidated their positions, and assumed control over fat treasuries.

But rather than deal with the careers of typical union figures such as William Green, John L. Lewis, Philip Murray or Walter Reuther, Ginzberg turns over one section of the volume to his co-author, Joseph Carwell, who produces the best part of the book. Entitled The Parkinstown Local, it is a case study based on actual experiences in a struggle to organize a local among indifferent, frightened pottery workers who lived under slave-wage misery in a small Pennsylvania town.

Against the background of discouragement, defeats, boss pressure and the restraining ideology of Catholicism, Carwell focuses attention on young Corsi, the most energetic and forceful personality among the employees of the Burnside-Rogers plant. Emerging from an atmosphere of patient deference to long hours and low wages, hot-blooded Corsi catches fire when union organizers appear. While the officers of the International utilize his close, contact with the ranks to lay the basis for raising the workers to union consciousness, they finally bridle the men into accepting a five per cent wage cut – for the purpose of preserving the new local.

The ideology of the pure-and-simple union bureaucrat is vividly dramatized: Unionism is a function of capitalism; fiery perspectives implying a struggle beyond its boundaries must he purged from the convictions of young labor leaders before they can be tempered for service in the union apparatus.

Chief value of Ginzberg’s book lies in its succinct verification of facts about the labor bureaucracy which observers of the movement already know. Its chief weakness arises from an apparent inability to gauge the intensity of the workers’ emerging struggle with the state, with monopoly on the one hand and the possible failure of AFL and CIO political action on the other.

It may be assumed from the tenor of the book that if unions fail, to heed the call for political action in a manner capable of producing effective results, the consequent inability of labor leaders to find “margins” allowing further improvements in wages and hours will drive them from their presiding chairs and shake the labor movement. Is that right, Mr. Ginzberg?

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Last updated on 8 July 2017