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Ethics and the Unions - Part 2

West Coast Longshoreman's Harry Bridges

The same issue of New Politics carried an article by R.J. Pierpoint revealing how another Communist Party stooge, Harry Bridges, of the west coast International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union (ILWU) keeps his machine in power. He created a job trust of favoured "A" men, full members who are given the best paying, easiest jobs in reward for supporting Bridges; and class "B" men, who in spite of the fact that they pay full union dues and are under the jurisdiction of the union, are not allowed to join the union! They are denied voice and vote and are allowed to attend meetings only when they are sitting in a segregated section of the meeting hall. If, and when, they are finally promoted to full class "A" membership, they must first prove that they are faithful supporters of the Bridges machine.

John L. Lewis: Architect of the CIO

Because Lewis was in the forefront of the struggle for "industrial unionism" and played a key part in the launching of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) he is held in great esteem in many "progressive" and even "radical" circles. Perhaps the best way to expose the true nature of the CIO is to trace the career of its founder, John L. Lewis, President of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA).

The parent union of the UMWA was the National Federation of Mine Laborers. As stipulated in its constitution (1885), the Federation consisted of Lodges (Locals) and districts which vigilantly defended their independence from the domination of the National Office. Their insistence on autonomy and unity through federation (free agreement) was in keeping with the finest libertarian traditions of the American Labor Movement.

Lewis's predecessors as President of the UMWA, John Mitchell and Frank Hayes, tried to curtail the autonomy of the locals and centralize the structure of the union, but did not wholly succeed. But Lewis, despite formidable opposition, succeeded. When Lewis became President in 1919 he did away with the federalist structure of the union, rooted out autonomy and self-determination of locals, centralized and took complete control of the union. (see Morton S. Baratz; the Union And the Coal Industry, p. 76 and Saul Alinsky's very friendly biography, John L. Lewis).

Professor J .B.S. Hardman wrote that:

. . Lewis made his drive for power without any concern for the-. Miners' democratic traditions and individual ways He let nothing stand. in the way of the authority and power he was after. He tolerated no dissent, whether by members or second line leaders, in the internal life of the union or in the shaping of policy in union industry relations (John L . Lewis: Labor Leader and Man--essay).

Lewis amended the constitution, giving him, the President, the full power to amend the constitution and suspend or remove any official for insubordination. He told the 1944 UMWA Convention that he was;

. . . sick and tired of these elected officers in some districts, when we ask them to do something, and have them tell me 'Why, I am autonomous What the hell do I care whether they are autonomous or not? I want action. I want service. I want loyalty. . . (Hardman).

Ruling The CIO

Lewis ruled the CIO in the same despotic manner as he did the UMWA. He appointed all members of the CIO Organizing Committees. Most important posts were filled by his lieutenants from his UMWA. The Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC) was headed by a vice-president of the UMWA, Philip Murray. The Packing House Organizing Committee by another UMWA official, Van A. Bittner, and so on.

Organizing Committees had no rights whatever. They were not allowed to set policy, negotiate contracts, call strikes or vote on any substantial issue without the express approval of Lewis. Thus, in 1937, Lewis appointed Harry Bridges President of the west coast Longshoremen's Union, to become Director of the West Coast CIO organization without consulting anyone--not even CIO Vice-President Sidney Hillman. Lewis' associates learned of the appointment through the newspapers. Lewis negotiated contracts behind closed doors, with the corporations in the utmost secrecy.

This is how Lewis negotiated an agreement within Myron C. Taylor, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the United States Steel Corporation Taylor recalls that:

for a time . the secret negotiations seemed to be off. But on Sunday morning, Mr Lewis and Mr. Murray came to my house and after a short talk accepted the formula for recognition of the SWOC in principle. .

Lewis elatedly declared that the ". . . settlement was made possible by the far-seeing vision and industrial statesmanship of Myron C. Taylor...." The New York World Telegram (March 4,1937) revealed that ". . . two financiers closely identified with the Morgan interests, said that they had only praise and admiration for Mr. Lewis...."

Five years before in the 1932 strike, when the members rejected a proposed agreement by referendum vote, Lewis, against the expressed will of the strikers, signed a secret agreement with the coal operators. And it was this cynical disregard for the most elemental principles of democracy which led to the split in the UMWA and the formation of the Progressive Mine Workers. In the forty years of his Presidency (1919-1959) every strike was settled by him in person or by orders to his lieutenants.

Employer-Labor Co-operation: Lewis Style

In spite of the fact that the UMWA was always an industrial union, it has a long record of collaboration with employers every bit as shameful as any of the AFL craft unions. The UMWA was affiliated to the AFL for many years and its leadership was permeated with the "business unionist" spirit of Gompers. A few examples of the Lewis brand of "industrial unionism" In the anthracite strike that began September 1, 1925, Lewis demanded the establishment of the checkoff system, which Daniel De Leon graphically described:

. . . the check-off turns the employer into a union officer, seeing that he checks off from the pay envelopes, the dues and assessments and other money obligations of the men to the union, and turns the same over to the union treasury the employer is turned into a sort of financial secretary of the union . .

In return for the check-off, Lewis signed a five year no-strike agreement, ignoring the demands of the miners for more wages and better working conditions. While the anthracite miners were on strike, the soft-coal bituminous miners--members of the same union--were busy digging bituminous coal which was being used as a substitute.

Business circles reacted enthusiastically to the strike settlement. Their organ, The New York Times, waxed lyrical:

. . . Strikes being virtually excluded, the operators have no objections to the check-off; throughout, they have shown a willingness to strengthen and build up the union in all its legitimate activities....

The Times also carried the following dispatch:

. . . Philadelphia, Feb. 12--a huge basket of roses was sent tonight to John Llewelyn Lewis, President of the United Mine Workers, by mayor W.W. Ingles, Chairman of the Anthracite Operators Negotiating Committee. With the flowers was a card which pointed out that besides marking the end of the strike, it was the birthday of the miner' leader and another great American, Abraham Lincoln.... (see Eric Hass; John L. Lewis Exposed, Socialist Labor Party pamphlet)

In his book, The Miners Fight For American Standards (1925) Lewis pleaded for "... unity between Capital and Labor . .. only a full partnership could save our economic system . . . the policy of the UMWA ought to have the support of . . . every thinking business man in America . . . broad minded operators realize that were the UMWA to crumble . . . they would be replaced by something far more sinister and radical.... "

In the radio address, Sept. 7, 1936, Lewis repeated that the labor unions were grounded on the right to private property. The CIO is " . . . dedicated to the proposition of the right of the investors to have a profit on their investments.... "

In June 1948, Philip Murray, Lewis' closest associate who succeeded him as President of the CIO declared:

. . . in fact we have no classes in this country . . . we are all workers here . . . even the division of workers into management and 'labor' turns out to be artificial. Management involved plenty of labor, and labor involves considerable management.... (article in American Magazine)

CIO Deceives Workers

The CIO came to power by exploiting and diverting into safe capitalist channels, the massive strike movement of the millions of workers in the mid 1930s. Sid Lens observes that:

. . . leaders of both AFL and CIO were agreed on the necessity for circumscribing the increased militancy in the basic industries . . . no one in the AFL or the CIO was under any illusion that Lewis, Hiliman and Dubinsky were out to build a radically new kind of movement.... (quoted, John Zerzan in Telos, quarterly, Spring 1975)

Sid Lens emphasized that

. . . it was the mood of the rank-and-file that made possible the CIO and unionization . . . there were only four CIO organizers in the Detroit area before the sit-down strikes and the sit-downs came as a complete surprise to Murray and Hillman . . . in 1930, five years before the organization of the CIO, the number of spontaneous sit-down strikers was 158,000; in 1933, 812 000; and in 1934, 1,353,608.... (The Crisis of American Labor, p. 181)

In regard to the great spontaneous sit-down strikes that shut down the General Motors system, the Harvard economist J. Raymond Walsh stated flatly that the CIO had certainly not called the strikes. Wellington Roe, who participated in the strikes, wrote that:

. . . the CIO high command . . . tried in vain, to prevent the strikes . . . the public was led to believe that Lewis was the originator of the sit-in strikes . . . actually Lewis had no more to do with the sit-in strikes than some native of Patagonia.... (quoted, Zerzan)

Frances Perkins, President Roosevelt's Secretary of Labor wrote:

. . . I know for a fact that John Lewis and Sidney Hillman and Lee Pressman (Chief CIO lawyer) made great efforts to get the men to leave the plants.... (She also recalls Roosevelt's advice to a group of business leaders) you should not be afraid to have the CIO organize in your factory . . . they don't want to run your business. You will probably get a lot more production and a lot more peace and happiness if you have a good union organization and a good contract.... (quoted, Zerzan)

In 1937 Lewis assured the employers that " . . . a CIO contract is adequate protection against sit-downs, lie-downs, or any other kind of strike .... " At the 1935 convention of the AFL, Lewis and Charles P. Howard (deceased), President of the Typographical Union, who helped organize the CIO, urged the AFL to accept organization of workers in the mass-production industries into industrial unions. Howard warned the delegates that:

. . . the workers of this country are going to organize, and if they are not permitted to organize under the banner of the American Federation of Labor, they are going to organize under some other leadership And if either of these conditions should eventuate, I submit to you that it would be a far more serious problem for our government, for the people of this country and for the American Federation itself than if our organization should be so moulded that we can organize them under the leadership of this organization....

Lewis told the convention:

. . . I stand here and plead for a policy . . . that will protect our form of government against the (radical) isms and philosophies of foreign lands that now seem to be rampant in high and low places throughout the country....

According to the organ of big business (Business Week--June 7, 1958) the corporations accepted the CIO brand of "industrial unionism" because as a matter of policy, the mass-production industries prefer to bargain with a strong international union able to dominate its locals and keep them from disrupting production.

As far back as 1926, Gerald Swope, President of General Electric Corporation, tried to persuade the AFL to organize a nation-wide union of electrical workers on an industrial basis. Swope believed than an industrial union " ... would mean the difference between an organization which we can work with on a business basis, and one that was an endless source of difficulties.... " The difficulties Swope had in mind were negotiating separate contracts with different local unions in the same plant or vicinity, whose contracts expire and must be renegotiated at different times which could prolong strikes and halt production indefinitely.

The implementation of the CIO brand of "industrial unionism" necessitated the creation of a highly centralized bureaucratic organizational structure which practically emasculated control of the union by the membership.

Fake "Leftists"

While the "achievements" of the self-styled "leftists" who helped build up the pro-capitalist CIO has been widely hailed; their treachery has not been adequately exposed.

To give the CIO, in keeping with the times, a mildly "radical" coloration and thus neutralize leftist opposition, Lewis placed thousands of "progressives" and "radicals" on the payroll. He even employed some opponents to his UMWA dictatorship, whom he had expelled, dumping them when he no longer needed them. Leaders of progressive "socialistic" unions (Sidney Hillman, David Dubinsky, Leo Krzyki and others) also held high posts in the CIO.

Attracted by Roosevelt's "welfare" state program, members of the Socialist Party left the party en masse to join Roosevelt's liberal wing of the Democratic Party. Hordes of job hunters and careerists; "progressives," socialists, communist, etc., each for their own reasons, joined the CIO crusade. In addition to the powerful backing of the Roosevelt administration, millions of dollars supplied by the miners and other unions were poured into the organizing campaign.

The IWW, the little impoverished radical groups and isolated individuals, who fought so valiantly to expose the CIO fraud and uphold the honor and integrity of the revolutionary labor movement were simply overwhelmed by the formidable counterrevolutionary coalition.

Sidney Hillman: Associate Architect of the CIO

In 1938, Sidney Hillman, Vice-President of the CIO, summed up his "partnership between labor and capital" creed, which he practiced throughout his long career:

. . . Certainly, I believe in collaborating with the employers! That is what unions are for. I even believe in helping an employer function more productively. For then, we will have a claim to higher wages, shorter hours, and greater participation in the benefits of running a smooth industrial machine.... (Matthew Josephson; Sidney Hillman: Statesman of Labor, p.439)

In 1911, Hillman worked out a strike settlement with the clothing manufacturers, Hart, Schaffner and Marx, for the prevention of strikes, by submitting all disputes to an arbitration board consisting of the union, an employer representative, and an "Impartial Chairman." The agreement stressed that:

. . . peaceful collective bargaining grows out of the will to understand, respect, and possibly even support the specific interests of the other side.... (Josephson, p.60)

The union pledged that it would do everything in its power, to increase production, promote efficiency, better machinery, and even to speed up production by instituting the infamous "speed-up" system. For this he was bitterly denounced by the rank-and-file members of his union, the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (ACWA). The union was willing to help the clothing manufacturers solve their production problems in Chicago, Rochester, and elsewhere, on the false pretext that:

. . . a firm and its workers are in the same boat. Workers cannot get good wages unless the employer makes a satisfactory profit . . . as a result of advice by the union, needless processes on a coat are eliminated; deficiencies in organization are corrected--even at times--at the SACRIFICE OF SOME WORKERS.... (Josephson, my emphasis, p. 467)

In accordance with this position the sentence to the preamble of the ACWA Constitution, concerning working-class control of the system of production was later eliminated.

Hillman had the dubious distinction of formulating both the structure and measures later adopted, in the main, by the "New Deal" welfare state government of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Roosevelt grasped the advantage of enlisting the services of a man like Hillman, whose ideas parallelled his own. Hillman became Roosevelt's unofficial adviser on labor policy and unofficial link between his administration and the labor movement. As President of the ACWA, and later of the CIO, he exerted his immense influence for the benefit of the Roosevelt administration.

In 1937, the spreading wave of sit-down strikes alarmed Congress, which threatened to investigate the growing labor trouble. Hillman was summoned to the White House by Roosevelt who asked Hillman to get the CIO to cut down the number of strikes. Hillman assured Roosevelt that he would do so, and the threatened investigation was called off

In 1940 Roosevelt reminded Hillman that he expected him to keep labor in step. He also called upon him to rally Labor's support for his election campaign.

When Roosevelt launched the National Defense Advisory Council, and during the war years, he placed Hillman in charge of formulating and putting into effect the labor policies of the government. His over sympathetic biographer, Matthew Josephson, sums up Hillman's attitude:

. . . his approach was sympathetic to 'Statism,' industry and labor must cooperate closely to carry out Roosevelt's program. If one or the other fails to do so . . . the State through its power of persuasion, or coercion, if necessary, must compel them to do so.... (p 346)

In accordance with this policy, Hillman tried to justify Roosevelt when he ordered the army to break the strike at the North American Aviation's immense Englewood, California plant, driving back the pickets with fixed bayonets. Hillman denounced the strikers as:

. . . a small band of irresponsibles who defied their own auto workers International executives in the midst of a world war.... (Josephson, p. 544)

Hillman And Gompers

When two hundred and fifty CIO executives came to Washington to denounce the government's strikebreaking and other coercive policies, Lewis, this time, rightfully, bitterly castigated Hillman as:

. . . a traitor who was standing at Roosevelt's side when he signed the order to send in troops ... to stab labor in the back.... (Josephson quote, p.548)

Hillman is still revered by bourgeois historians, "enlightened" capitalists and "liberal" politicians as one of the great "labor statesmen" and labor leaders of modern times. A more objective assessment of his career will identify him as the man who helped engineer the regimentation and subjugation of the labor movement by the all-powerful state. He will be identified as the man who helped forge the "labor front" of the welfare state.

Gompers and the AFL had always been against government interference and regimentation of the labor movement, not because he was an anarchist, but for the same reasons as the laissez-faire "free enterprise" capitalists; whose "rights" Gompers and the AFL wholeheartedly endorsed, i.e., the unhampered right to exploit the workers at will.

Like the "free enterprisers," Gompers too, opposed governmental social-security, unemployment insurance and other welfare programs. Probably, as his sycophantic biographer, Philip Taft, observes:

. . . because the increased importance of government economic affairs during World War One and the friendliness of the Wilson administration towards organized labor, softened the anti-government attitude of AFL leaders....

The "welfare" statist Hillman's conduct during World War Two, did not differ substantially from Gompers' behavior during World War One. It could be said--not without reason--that Gompers set the example later followed by Hillman. For example: Hillman, like Gompers in August 1916, helped set up a National Defense Council, in preparation for World War Two, and Hillman, like Gompers, became Chairman of the Labor Division.

Like Gompers in 1917, Hillman too, called a conference of "management, labor, and the public to discuss increased production, freeze wages, prohibit strikes and, like Gompers, also work out an "...effective way of allaying increased spreading of discontent in industry.... "

Like Gompers, Hillman too, advocated measures to " . . . oppose the influence of anti-war elements within the labor movement.... " (see Philip Taft; The AFL In The Time Of Gompers, pgs. 345-346, 342, 358-359)

Rise of "Welfare" Statism

The great depression of the 1930s marked the collapse of "Private Enterprise" Capitalism. It also sparked the spontaneous uprisings of the "sit-in" strikes. The whole system of human exploitation was threatened. The political state saved itself, and all that was essential to capitalism, doing what "private enterprise" could not do. Concessions were made to the workers, the farmers, the middle-class, while the private capitalists were deprived of some of their power.

In regulating the relations between the classes, the state increased its own power and the foundations of state-capitalist "welfareism" were laid. The state could not do this alone. It had to overcome the resistance of old-line capitalism, and hence, needed the cooperation of a mass labor movement able to control the restless workers. The government of Franklin Roosevelt enacted "favorable" labor legislation and gave "progressive" labor leaders a chance to fill their depleted treasuries with the dues and assessments of the newly organized workers.

At first the labor fakers of the craft unions would not cooperate. They resisted change because they shared the economic ideas of private capitalism. On the other hand, the conservative unions could not undertake an effective program of organizing the unorganized because of their antiquated organic structure and the jurisdictional problems it created. A split took place and the CIO was born.

Time is a great healer and twenty years blurred the differences dividing the rival factions. The CIO was firmly established and the conservatives adjusted themselves to the fast that "welfareism" was here to stay. They must live with it, and those who could not would be eliminated. Both cliques of labor mis-leaders came to see the advantages of peaceful co-existence. There was, after all, no fundamental differences between them. The CIO admitted craft unions and the AFL gladly accepted dues from industrial unions. They were as two thieves who had long fought over the loot and finally worked out a settlement. The unified AFL-CIO was the result. Rival capitalists also form trusts when it pays them to do so. Greed and jurisdictional conflicts divide them but "enlightened" self-interest draws them together. The "ethics" of expediency are flexible.

The character and function of American unions have changed greatly. A state regulated economy needs a state regulated labor movement. The government will help the unions as long as the leaders can assure smooth cooperation of a docile labor force. The "welfare" state has come to assume ever greater social functions and has intervened on an ever greater scale in regulation and control of economic and social life. The state regulates and shows an increasing tendency to dominate the whole field of social security, business, labor, crop and price supports, utilities, housing, etc.

This process was expanded and accelerated by World War 2, the Korean War, "defense" spending, foreign aid programs and prosecution of the "cold war" between the two great power blocs -- United States and Soviet Union. The bureaucratic administrative apparatus kept pace with the expansion of governmental-power. Individual liberty and local initiative diminished as state domination of society increased. This process continues inexorably regardless of the political party in power.

A similar development has been going on in the labor organizations. As the unions have increased in membership, as they converted themselves into job trusts and gone into the field of welfare, they have established a similar system within their own domain. The administrative machinery has grown in proportion. The labor bureaucracy, by itself or jointly with the employers, controls many billions of dollars in welfare funds. These funds are used to reinforce bureaucratic power and render the membership ever more dependent on the leadership.

The dictatorship of the leaders over the workers has been further reinforced by the vicious practice of industry-wide bargaining on a national scale, long-term contrasts and the power to discipline dissident members.

Just as the citizen's rights are curtailed by the growing power of the state bureaucracy, so are the worker's rights curtailed by the ever-greater usurpation of power by the labor bureaucracy. Subjected to the triple exploitation of the employers, the state, and the union dictatorship, the worker has ever-less to say about wages and working conditions. Instead of fighting for shorter hours and better conditions, the worker is forced to seek more overtime, and both husband and wife must work outside the home.

The merger of the AFL and CIO was an attempt to better fit the union structure to the needs of state capitalist "welfareism," which requires a maximum centralization over the working class. A military commander cannot tolerate jurisdictional disputes in the armed forces. The army must be firmly disciplined. It must obey as a unit. A regimented labor movement is a civilian army and jurisdictional rivalry cannot be tolerated.

The state drives toward complete control of society. This is inherent in its nature--especially in a period of crisis. State capitalist "welfareism" is exploitation streamlined. AFL-CIO unionism is business unionism streamlined. The groundwork is being prepared for a totalitarian society in the United States and the AFL-CIO is already playing the role of "labor front" in the embryonic steep. When this process is completed, as it will be if not halted by worker's resistance on a massive scale, the unions will, as in Russia, be turned into mere puppets of the totalitarian state.

The AFL-CIO is now willing to accept "reasonable" legislation, which will of course, be enforced by the judicial and police powers of the state. Tyranny is crafty. It advances gradually, but relentlessly. Step-by-step the legal process proceeds, until labor is bogged down in the legal quicksand. The dictatorship of the state can be imposed just as readily by a "labor party" or by "welfareism." The difference will in the last analysis be superficial. Monopoly of power has its own logic; its own rhythm; it is not concerned with labels.

The Statist Trap

The American workers are already beginning to pay a heavy price for allowing their misleaders to lure them into the statist trap. The bait was "favorable" labor legislation. First, came the "pro-labor" Wagner Labor Relations Act. This was followed by the "anti-labor" Taft-Hartley law. Now, the government is going to enact yet another maze of laws which will finally strap the labor movement into the statist strait-jacket.

Since this essay was first written over twenty years ago, the growing regimentation of the labor movement and its impact on both the size and structure of the union bureaucracy is becoming more and more obvious. "Welfare statist" AH Raskin labor expert of the New York Times, takes note of this development.

traditionally and invariable . . . union leadership came out of the workplace But a quite different trend has asserted itself . . . ever since Franklin D Roosevelt's "New Deal" put a bedrock of law under collective bargaining, union Presidents have had to be experts in an ever-expanding compendium of statutes covering every aspect of union function from minimum wages to plant safety. But the need for professional knowledge does not stop here. The mushroom of union treasuries welfare funds, and community involvement, obliges labor's men of power to master skills in banking, real estate, foreign trade, economics housing and politics.... All big unions have built up sizable staffs of lawyers, accountants, and other specialists to assist their policy makers in coping with these responsibilities.

By way of illustration: the original agreement between the United Auto Workers (UAW) and General Motors Corporation consisted of only NINE PARAGRAPHS. A few years ago the contract consisted of TWO HUNDRED PAGES AND ONE THOUSAND PARAGRAPHS. No member could possibly unravel the fantastically complicated terms of the contract. Only a highly trained expert in labor law, or better yet, a staff of labor lawyers, can draw up a contract and avoid the legal pitfalls into which the union would otherwise fail.

The President of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, Murry H. Finley, is a lawyer, as is the Secretary-Treasurer, John Sheinkman. The President of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, Sol Chaikin, is also a lawyer. The Secretary-Treasurer, Shelly Appelton and two Vice-Presidents, Harold Molisani and Wilbur Daniels are also lawyers. The employers regard these new leaders as " . . . very decent men.... " (New York Times news item)

Thousands of specially trained officials and their staffs who never worked in industry, have already been added to the swelling bureaucracy, even further widening the gulf between the estranged members and the functionaries. At the same time, the necessity of dealing with proliferating labor and welfare regulations multiplies the contacts between the union functionaries and their fellow bureaucrats in the various government agencies.

Bureaucrats are by training, profession and environment authoritarian minded worshippers of the state. They have, as Bakunin put it " ... contracted the fatal habit of obedience.... " They conceive social change only within the limits of the laws and regulations decreed by the state. They could no more question the omnipotence of the state, than the Pope would question the existence of God.

"Free Enterprise" business unions and "welfare state" unions, with their bureaucratic administrative apparatus, are themselves miniature states set-up to enforce the rules and regulations enacted by the leadership against members who dare revolt against their tyranny.

Next page: The Labor Party Illusion.