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B.J. Widick

CIO Meet Vacillates on Program

(13 October 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 78, 13 October 1939, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Revealing the heavy pressure of the rank and file, John L. Lewis opened the second annual convention of the CIO with a wordy opposition to war and its preparations, and an appeal that the Roosevelt administration concentrate its major energies on the burning problems of unemployment, insecurity, and the growing cost of living in America.

Reflecting the differences of opinion on the CIO executive board, Lewis dealt with the problem of war without offering any concrete program of fighting against war. Further, he skirted the issue of supporting Roosevelt to avoid a sharp dispute on the convention floor, if possible.

Year’s Changes

For the CIO is in an entirely different position than it was at its first convention a year ago. Unqualified endorsement of Roosevelt, promise of support for a “war for democracy,” and unity with the AFL were the main themes of the previous convention, along with the usual planning of organizing campaigns.

In the executive board sessions before the CIO convention, Sidney Hillman, president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, fought for the reiteration of last year’s program.

Through a public statement issued prior to the CIO convention Hillman gave his unqualified endorsement of Roosevelt’s pro-war policies and his domestic program.

Stalinist Role

The seventeen Stalinists on the CIO board favored the “new line” by including the slogan Keep America Out of Imperialist War, by dodging the “neutrality” issue, and by making reservations on support of Roosevelt. Fearing a purge because of the strong feeling in CIO ranks against the Stalin-Hitler pact as well as their“rule or ruin” policy, the Stalinists were cautious in advancing their program.

The Lewis program, backed by his powerful henchmen from the United Mine Workers of America who occupy key position in the CIO consisted mainly of what he had said in his Labor Day speech. That speech created quite a stir because it was regarded as an answer to Roosevelt’s plea for national unity

Third Term Disputed

The break between Roosevelt and Lewis following Roosevelt’s attempted double-cross of the miners’ nation-wide strike last spring, and Roosevelt’s demand for unity with the AFL on any basis forced Lewis to reserve his decision on the 1940 presidential elections. Instead of a third term endorsement for Roosevelt, Lewis favors an indefinite stand for a “progressive” candidate.

Yet the CIO state convention of California which just concluded its sessions went on record for the third term despite top CIO pressure. This issue is likely to evoke a sharp dispute at the national convention.

The Stalinists have apparently obtained the assurance of Lewis that he will seek to suppress any discussion of their role by means of an appeal for “unity.” However, at least one state convention of the CIO has gone on record denouncing the Stalin-Hitler pact, etc., and dodging the issue will be very difficult.

Compromises Seen

The Lewis report avoided a serious discussion of the problem of labor unity, although he took his usual cracks at the AFL leadership. This reflects the less favorable position of the CIO on this question since the last convention.

The AFL convention indicated that its membership was well over 4,000,000 while the CIO has discreetly kept silent on its present enrollment. The blundering leadership of Lewis,and above all, the devastating effects of the Stalinist rule-or-ruin clique within the CIO has played havoc with the membership of the industrial unions,although some gains in packing houses and elsewhere can be noted.

Seeking to put up a good front for the CIO, Lewis and the top leadership of the organization have been working day and night to effect compromises on all questions so that the convention will appear “democratic, united and progressive.” Since the essence of Lewis’ control in the CIO is dictatorial,the “unity” slogan is becoming more of a cover for the nefarious Stalinist machinations.

In the process, CIO progressivism is fading as it fails to meet new issues squarely and militantly. Compromises will hardly stand any real discussion.

Faces Dilemma

Nor can the dilemma facing the CIO be met merely as in the old days, namely by evading a clear-cut stand. Will the CIO seriously launch a fight against American participation in the second world war? This involves a sharp break with the Roosevelt administration. A call for a labor party? This week will decide.

The unemployed know that unemployment is terrible. The question they ask Lewis is, what are you going to do about it? Will the CIO organize the WPA and relief workers to fight for their rights?

Lewis by his mild attack on the National Labor Relations Board and his concentration of fire on Vice-President Garner, instead of naming Roosevelt as responsible for WPA cuts, etc., reveals that he still intends to drift along, hoping for the best.

Only to the extent that rank and file pressure for a militant,independent and clear-cut program is manifested at this convention will the CIO be able to advance in the coming period in addition to holding on to its present forces. Otherwise, a further disintegration of this industrial union movement, which remains on a historical plane as progressive in relation to the AFL, is the menace of the coming period.

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