The CIO and It’s Left Wing: Their Rise and Fall By Mike Olszanski April, 1997 (Revised 11/2011)
All that harms labor is treason to America. No linecan be drawn between these two. If any man tells youhe loves America, yet he hates labor, he is a liar.If a man tells you he trusts America, yet fears labor,he is a fool.I am glad to see that a system of labor prevailsunder which laborers can strike when they want to....I like the system which lets a man quit when hewants to and wish it might prevail everywhere.The strongest bond of human sympathy, outside ofthe family relation, should be one uniting allworking people of all nations, tongues and kindreds. -From the speeches of Abraham LincolnIf I went to work in a factory, the first thing Iwould do would be to join a union. -Franklin D. RooseveltWe were nervous and we didnt know we could do it.Those machines had kept going as long as we couldremember. When we finally pulled the switch andthere was some quiet, I finally remembered something:That I was a human being, that I could stop thosemachines, that I was better than those machinesanytime. -Sit-down striker, 1936
Mike Olszanski 1 April, 1997 Long before Marx exhortation: "Workers of all countries, unite!" workerswere organizing in the United States of America. The first U.S. unions were morelike guilds and, organized along craft lines, had limited goals and limited success.Not until the CIO did mass unionization begin. As with all social movements,various theories have been advanced in an attempt to explain the successes andfailures, the rise and decline of the U.S. trade union movement, but traditionaltheories of sociology and social psychology, while offering some insight into thereasons the labor movement gained ground in the 1930s, seem inadequate tothoroughly explain the complex dynamics at work in the movement at variousperiods in its development. The breakdown theory of Durkheim, et al., fails to differentiate betweenmob action and the organized, planned collective activities of unions, e.g., strikes,demonstrations, slowdowns etc.—clearly rational activities which have achievedsignificant long term gains in the areas of wages, hours and working conditions,not to mention simple respect.1 Indeed, the U.S. Labor movement seems to refutea great deal of what Durkheim had to say.
Mike Olszanski 2 April, 1997 The charismatic leadership theory of Max Weber emphasizes theimportance of leaders with strong personalities. Applied to the likes of John L.Lewis, it seems to have been a factor in labors success2. Piven and Clowards caveat concerning the counter-productive effects of thetendency toward bureaucratization in organizations like unions and the coopting ofleaders casts some light on the conservative trend in the unions, though I do notagree that this was inevitable, by any means.3 Solidarity theory, ala Marx, furnishes perhaps the most rationalunderstanding of the labor movement. The movement according to Marx stemsfrom the adversarial relationship between capital and labor inherent in the capitalistsystem, the recognition of that relationship by a class-conscious working class, andthe empowerment of the class through its mass organizations which act in theinterest of the workers vis-a-vis management. By itself however, it fails to explainorganized labors loss of power and influence in recent years.4 The CIO organizing days of the 1930s and 1940s saw some of the mostrapid, dramatic and profound advances for the American labor movement inhistory; the 1980s perhaps the most precipitous decline. I will argue that perhapsthe single most important factor in that advance and subsequent decline was theinfluence and activities of the left within organized labor in the thirties, and thevirtual elimination of the left in the purges of the 1940s and 1950s. 5
Mike Olszanski 3 April, 1997 My broad definition of the left includes socialists, communists andanarchists whether organized or independent, i.e., those who believe basic systemicchange to be desirable, whether or not it is inevitable. Indeed, many labor activistsjoined and left organizations like the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW),Socialist Party (SP), Communist Party USA (CPUSA), Socialist Workers Party(SWP) and others at various times during their careers. Salient examples includeWilliam Z. Foster, organizer of the national 1919 Steel Strike who left the IWW tobecome a major leader of the CPUSA. The six Dunne brothers, who led the 1934Minneapolis Teamsters strike, likewise started with the CP at its founding in 1919(Bill Dunne edited the Daily Worker at one point) then changed to the Trotskyistsduring the CP split in the 1920’s.6 While most histories of the 1930s credit Roosevelts New Deal with thelegalization and encouragement of union organizing e.g., the Norris-LaGuardia Actof 1932, Section 7a of the NIRA and the National Labor Relations Act of 1935("Wagner Act") it must be emphasized that, as Gore Vidal and others have put it,"Roosevelts aim was to save capitalism."7 The left, including the Communist Party (CPUSA) and socialists andanarchists of all denominations were unfettered by any such allegiance to acapitalist system which had caused the worst depression in history and whose
Mike Olszanski 4 April, 1997worst faults and contradictions had become manifest in that depression. Classconsciousness among the poor and workers was high. While they were not joiningradical organizations in droves, they joined unions by the millions, unions ledand/or clearly influenced by reds, and in many cases calling for basic systemicchange. "Class consciousness in action," Cohen calls it.8 Roosevelt, Wagner and other New Deal liberals were, at least in part,responding to the perceived threat to the very survival of the political economicsystem of capitalism posed by the specter of revolutionary change. In providing asafety net (social programs) and safety valve (legal unions) FDR liberalism (socialreforms) sought to blunt Durkheimian discontent, anomie, revolt. The KeynsianWelfare State (KWS) was the response to the depression based on the economictheories of John Maynard Keynes, adopted by the New Deal. However sincereFDRs sympathies for the working class, he was not of it. He could, however, read the writing on the wall. In 1934 theMilwaukee streetcar strike, nation-wide textile strike, Minneapolis "riot", and thegeneral strike in San Francisco, were an indication of how far workers could andwould take things. That year leftist west coast Long Shoreman Union presidentHarry Bridges, with the help of the Communist Party, had built a power basewhich enabled him to shut down west coast ports. From Seattle to L.A., 50,000dockworkers walked out, precipitating the San Francisco General Strike, which
Mike Olszanski 5 April, 1997brought out National Guard troops with machine guns and tanks.9 Hugh Johnson,Roosevelts head of NRA, called the strike "a menace to government" and "bloodyinsurrection."10 This was a kind of re-run of the Seattle General Strike of 1919,over the longshoremens refusal to load military supplies for the U.S. interventionin Russia.11 The Toledo Auto-Lite Strike and Minneapolis Teamsters Strike of1934 also saw armed conflict, and many strikers throughout the country includingtextile strikers throughout the south ran up against “prison graduates” employedby “strike breaker number one” Pearl L. Berghoff.and his cronies.12 The million and a half workers who struck 1800 times that year weresending a message, clearly articulated by Upton Sinclair in his campaign forGovernor of California as a Socialist and to a lesser extent by groups like theFarmer-Labor Party of Minnesota, led by Governor Floyd B. Olson and Huey P.Longs "Share the Wealth" campaign. The message: the system is not working forthe working class, and the working class can change the system. While the rightwing was making their voice heard by spending millions, it must have been clear toRoosevelt that if push came to shove, millions of workers could exercise morepower than millions of dollars. The Bonus Army march on Washington of 1932might be the precursor of a not so peaceful "invasion" of jobless workers the nexttime.
Mike Olszanski 6 April, 1997 Why were American workers willing to join a labor movement clearly led(on the local and shop-floor level) and influenced by the left in the 1930s? Whydid some fraction of the same workers actually join Socialist and Communistorganizations during the same period? William Z Foster, first a member of theSocialist Party, later the International Workers of the World (IWW) later leader ofthe Communist Party (CPUSA) who was active in organizing unions from aroundthe turn of the century through the Great Steel Strike of 1919 offered thisexplanation, supported, I believe, by a preponderance of the evidence: The workers progress best, intellectually and in point of organization, under two general conditions, the antipodes of each other: (1) during periods of devastating hardship, (2) in eras of so-called prosperity. When suffering extreme privation they are literally compelled to think and act, and when the pressure of the exploiter is relatively light, during good times, they take courage and move forward of their own volition. The static periods...are when times are neither very bad nor very good. The workers...learn by action. It is just when they enjoy greatest power and well-being...that they are most stimulated to desire and demand more.13 During these exciting times in the thirties, people like John Sargent, NickMigas, and Joe Gyurko at Inland Steel joined the Steelworkers OrganizingCommittee (SWOC) organized the giant Local 1010, negotiated our first contracts,got beaten up on the picket lines, collected dues at the plant gates (before thecheck-off) and were later hounded by the FBI, dragged before the HouseUnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC) red-baited in union elections and in
Mike Olszanski 7 April, 1997the case of Migas, Local 1010 president in 1945, beaten by reactionary USWAgoons for his exercise of the constitutional right to free speech at the UnitedSteelworkers of America (USWA) convention. Leaders like John L. Lewis of course still garner the credit of historians,lending some credence to charismatic authority theories. Punching out "Big Bill"Hutcheson of the Carpenters union at the 1935 AFL Convention in Atlantic City,then walking out to form the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) assuredLewis a legendary place in the history of the labor movement. Denouncing theconservative AFL leaderships refusal to support the "industrial organization ofmass production workers" in auto and steel, Lewis invoked (for him) typical high-flown bombastic prose: "I was seduced, I am enraged, and I am ready to rend myseducers limb from limb." 14 His answer to Michigan Governor Frank Murphywhen machine guns were placed at the gates of the GMs Flint auto plant during thesitdown strikes still sends chills down my spine: Tomorrow morning I shall personally enter GeneralMotors Plant Chevrolet #4. I shall order the men to disregard your order, to stand fast. I shall then walk to the largest window in the plant, open it, divest myself of my outer raiment, remove my shirt and bare my bosom. Then when you order your troops to fire, mine will be the first breast those bullets will strike." Inspirational, charismatic, indeed. Smart and effective, sure.Also flamboyant and self-aggrandizing.
Mike Olszanski 8 April, 1997Contrast those words with those of USWAs John Sargent, several times electedPresident of Local 1010 at Inland, who considered himself, …fortunate to be caught up in a great movement of the people in this country. And that doesnt happen very often in ones lifetime ...a movement that moved millions of people, literally, and changed not only the course of the working man, but...the relation- ship between the working man and the government ...and the boss, for all time in this country." Workers who were "gonna have a union, come hell or high water. nothin was gonna stop em.15 Sargent, a leader of the CPs Young Communist League (YCL) in theearly thirties, who apparently left the party before the fifties, creditsthe left, and especially the masses, with building SWOC, the CIO and theUSWA: A young fella who becomes active in the union, who hasnt got a broader perspective than just the union, sees the union as a stepping stone to security for himself, either to get a job in the union...or to use the union to get a job with the company, as a foreman, for instance... It was that way once you got the check-off. Unless the guy has a socialist viewpoint, or some kind of broader view- point of what this whole thing means, youre not gonna get good leadership. Thats an important part of it. The other side of the coin: these guys then become purists, and like any religion, ya know, you cant dissent any more. Thats the problem in the labor movement, or you havent got any movement.
Mike Olszanski 9 April, 1997 Historys important. But if anybody tells you you gotta believe a guy like me because hes been through this stuff, dont listen to him. Its not 1936 now. Use your own initiative...These old guys are alright. They did what they had to do.16 My own union experience supports Sargents view of the importance ofa leftist perspective. It was once again the leftists who were most often correct onthe issues, who did the most and best union work. Their reward: redbaiting. WhenI started at Inlands Indiana Harbor Works late in 1963, John was again running forpresident of the 18,000 member Local 1010. My introduction to union politics wasan introduction to red-baiting, as all through the mill I saw posted Xerox copies ofexcerpts from Sargents testimony before The House Un-American ActivitiesCommittee (HUAC), with "commie" scrawled across them in red marker. Despitebeing cleared by HUACs 1958 Gary inquisition, as reported on the front page ofthe Gary Post Tribune, John Sargent was viciously red-baited until his retirementfrom union activities due to a heart condition around 1967. His Rank & FileCaucus overcame it, and he won his last term as Local 1010 president in 1964.17 President Sargents 1943 letter to the War Labor Board, threatening to strikeInland in defiance of the CIO (and CP) supported war time no-strike pledge, bringsinto question Sargents adherence to any "party line" during the war years, but addsweight to his image as a militant, rank & file oriented leader.18
Mike Olszanski 10 April, 1997 Peter Calacci, Trotskyist in the forties--when it was popular—was presidentof 1010 from 1956-1962. Sectarian anti-communist and opponent (with ManuelTurbovich and Max Luna) of Sargents Rank & File group, he supported theUSWAs anti- communist line, and was appointed sub-district Director byGermano.19Supporters of Sargent and members of the center-left Rank & File Caucus at 1010included accused Communists Jim Balanoff (elected president of 1010 in 1976 andDirector of 120,000 member District 31 in 1977) and Joe Gyurko, long-timeGriever and later Grievance Chair. Joe Gyurko started at Inland in 1939 and paidhis first union dues before his probationary period ended. He was a "DuesSteward" in the days before the check-off, and on the first negotiating committee at1010. When SWOC became the USWA in 1942, Gyurko helped build its firstgrievance committee. In the mill during the war years, he packed tin-plate incrates destined for the Soviet Union, and complained of co-workers who "nailedthe crates just any-old way...They didnt care cause it was for the Russians." Nowin his seventies and long-since retired, Joe still finds it difficult to talk about theMcCarthy era, but told me in a taped interview in May of 1983 about how FBIagents sat in a car parked in front of his house day and night, watching every movehe and his family made.20
Mike Olszanski 11 April, 1997 Like John Sargent, Jim Balanoff and countless others across the countryGyurko had to overcome vicious red-baiting and Government intimidation to getelected to any union office from 1947 or 1948 on. Passed over by many careeristsand right-opportunists, it would be 1980 before Joe was elected to full-time unionoffice. Needless to say, Rank & Filers, accused reds and militants, never gotoffered jobs on the USWA staff anymore until left-leaning Ed Sadlowski of Local65 (U.S. Steel South Chicago Works) was elected District 31 Director in 1973. An especially poignant example of guilt by association is the case of a co-worker of mine, Stanley Rygas. A member of the Rank & File Caucus in the early1950s. Rygas, an elected Assistant Grievance Committeeman, was removed fromoffice by 1010 President Don Lutes in June, 1953 for allegedly rubber-stampinghis name to Communist literature and mailing it to other union members. While he"emphatically denied this forgery" and subsequent charges of violating theUSWAs anti-Communist clause, Rygas received notice from Secretary-TreasurerI.W. Abel in April 1955, that the Inter-national Union had upheld Lutes motion toterminate his union membership (tantamount to having him fired by Inland) subjectto appeal in Pittsburgh. In charges filed against him, his association with JohnSargent, Jim Balanoff and other "known or suspected Communists" was used asevidence against him.21 When Sargents eligibility to run for office was challengedin 1954 and when he was called before HUAC in 1958, his association with Rygas
Mike Olszanski 12 April, 1997was in turn used as evidence against him!22 Stanley subsequently kept his unionmembership, and therefore his job in the mill, but never again ran for union office,and never discussed union politics. Some historians see the 80,000 members of the CPUSA at its peak(one ex-Communist leader estimated closer to 100,000)23 and the 100,000 votesreceived by William Z. Foster in 1932 as insignificant. But who has estimated thenumber of workers who, not willing to join a party or vote for Foster or NormanThomas, would fight side by side with reds for union rights and perhaps evenfundamental systemic change? In the thirties --a rare period of American history--radicalism, including socialism and even Communism, were recognized, as theyhad traditionally been in Europe, as legitimate alternatives to capitalism. 24 The work of leftists in organizing, building and leading unions wasrespected and admired by workers, and when John L. Lewis began the CIOorganizing drive, he used every red he could find to get the union built,recognizing their ability, dedication, discipline and experience--in the labor andunemployed movements. No friend of revolution, Lewis, when asked whether hedidnt fear losing control to the left, is rumored to have remarked, "Who gets thebird, the hunter or the dog?"25 His cynical strategy of exploiting the talents andenergies of leftists, with the aim of purging them later, was to prove a paradigmfor the unscrupulous opportunists who later used the House Un-American
Mike Olszanski 13 April, 1997Activities Committee (HUAC) and McCarthyism to expel, not just Communists,but thousands of dedicated, decent, hard-working union leaders whose only crimewas to stand up for constitutional rights against the ruthless, cold-war-inspiredreactionary tide of the late forties and fifties. But if the late forties was a period of reaction, one might have sensedrevolution in the air in the 1930s. During the United Auto Workers (UAW) sit-down strikes of 1936-37, radical Socialists and American Trotskyists publiclydenounced "capitalist politicians" and the "illusions" some workers might haveabout Franklin D. Roosevelt, "class representative of the capitalist state."Communists--supporters of FDR and concerned with bad publicity from red-baiting of the union--used more subtle tactics, (e.g., distributing the Daily Workerinside the plants). Despite their differences though, the various factions workedtogether in the UAW and the CIO. Walter Reuther, a member of the Socialist Party, spent two years in theUSSR, where he and brother Victor worked in a Gorky auto plant. Back in theUSA, he worked with Party members including William Weinstone, and by oneaccount "paid dues for a time to the CP." For its part, the CP, with more membersin the auto plants than the Socialists and Trotskyists, backed Reuther and theSocialist leadership, and worked for unity in the UAW promoting a world wide"United Front."26
Mike Olszanski 14 April, 1997 The forty-four day sit-down of General Motors plants #1 and #2 in Flint,Michigan was organized and led primarily by local Communists WyndemMortimer, Bud Simons ("Mayor" of Plant #1) and Henry Kraus, with the fullcooperation and support of the Socialist Workers Partys Genora and KermitDollinger (Genora was a leader of the Womens Emergency Brigade, so vital in thewinning of the strike). As with other leftists, these leaders had won the respect andfollowing of those with whom they worked by their deeds more than by theirwords. While the men occupied the plant, the women manned picket lines whichsuccessfully held off gangs of armed police trying to storm the plants. As Nellie,one of the Womens Emergency Brigades members put it, "We couldnt have doneit without the Communists and Socialists," whose intelligence, leadership andorganizing ability were critical.27 The February 11, 1937 agreement, negotiated by John L. Lewis, whichsettled the Flint strike was a "giant step toward the goal of bringing industrialunionism to the auto industry..." and "...powerful vindication of the CIO [andLewis] course."28 It was also a powerful illustration of the importance of left leadership andleft-center unity among rank and file autoworkers, who, to a much greater extentthan in steel, exercised considerable local autonomy and control of their own
Mike Olszanski 15 April, 1997union. Early advocates of industrial union organizing, the CPs Trade UnionEducational League (TUEL) organized miners and textile workers in the twenties,according to Eleanor Binkley representing 70,000 workers by 1929, when itbecame the Trade Union Unity League (TUUL). Urging political action and opposition to racism and sexism, TUULorganizers brought their principles to CIO organizing after TUUL dissolved itselfin 1935 in favor of the CPs popular front policy of center-left unity supportingLewis and the CIO.29 A factor in the unity on the left in the mid thirties, according to Hal Draper,organizer for the Independent Socialist League in 1937, was that the NormanThomas Socialists and the CP "crossed each other, going in opposite directions,"around 1935 or 1936, the Communists going right, the Socialists to the left.30Beyond ideology though, leftists were practical enough to understand the need forunity. With the entrance of the United States into World War II, the CIOs wartimeno-strike pledge--supported by the CP to avoid disruption of war materialsproduction as well as to avoid provoking repression by the Government of theunion--was loudly denounced by the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party and MaxSchatmans Workers party (WP) who opposed the war.
Mike Olszanski 16 April, 1997 Especially in the UAW, the split caused problems, but a membershipreferendum on the issue, held by the UAW in 1944, in which but 320,000 of the1,250,000 auto workers voted, reaffirmed the unions commitment to the no-strikepledge two-to-one. Walter Reuther avoided taking a firm position on the issue, butlater used it in his campaign to oust the Communists. The controversy continues tothis day over the wisdom of the Partys enthusiastic support of the pledge, resentedby many rank and file CIO members. In retrospect, CP leader William Z. Foster,allowed that Communists had perhaps erred in enforcing the pledge "too rigidly."31John Williamson, Ohio CP District Organizer in the thirties, was convinced thatthe Partys wartime policies under Browder had "forfeited leadership to theReuthers and other radical phrasemongers."32 Researcher Roger Keeran, while recognizing a decline of the left (at least inthe UAW) as a result of Word War II "Browderism", concludes that this declinewas marginal: ...because in spite of their mistakes the Communists did much that won rank and file respect. The Communists enthusiasm for the war effort certainly appealed to workers who were for the most part patriotic. Moreover, in spite of the wartime restraint, the Communists vigorously pursued the unions objectives in organizing, educational and political work. The Communists also engaged in important struggles on behalf of black and women workers. All of this contributed to... maintaining an important influence in the union after the war. Consequently, the Cold War, rather than the Second World War, would provide the setting for the decisive defeat of the Communists..."33
Mike Olszanski 17 April, 1997 Trotskyists, perhaps the most radical of the left-wing sects in the thirties inthe sense that they eschewed electoral politics in favor of revolutionarymovement, were bitter foes, politically, of the Communist Party "Stalinists".Splitting off from the CP in 1928, in response to Stalins announced policy of"socialism in one country," the at first "tiny" group of expelled party membersformed their own Socialist Workers Party (SWP). In a notable success,experienced organizers--known Trotskyists--inherited from the CP, organized andbuilt a powerful Local of the Teamsters in Minneapolis (Local 544). In 1934 theyconducted a strike, led by Vincent, Grant and Miles Dunne and (later president)Carl Skogland, which caused Minnesota Governor Olson to declare martial lawand call out the National Guard. They introduced "flying squadrons" later usedthroughout the CIO. The strike was supported by the entire labor movement ofthe area, as well as the farmers of Minnesota. While a purely local phenomenon,the Minneapolis Teamsters strike of 1934 impressed labor activists far and wide,who acknowledged that it was well and effectively run, and won respect and areputation for the Trotskyists. Unsuccessful in building an anti-Stalinist party ofgreat size or influences in the U.S., Trotskyists played a role in the building of amilitant labor movement in the thirties and afterward, and aided in the raising of itsclass-consciousness.34
Mike Olszanski 18 April, 1997 Trotskyists worked in the Socialist Unemployed Leagues in the earlythirties, which eventually merged with the CPs Unemployed Councils in 1936,forming a national Workers Alliance which claimed a membership of 800,000.Many CIO organizers would benefit from experience with the unemployedmovement led by the left.35 While the SWP only claimed 3,000 members nation-wide by 1941, the Department of justice claimed to have proof that the numberexceeded 5,000.36 The Trotskyist leaders of CIO Local 544, including the SWPs Dunnebrothers, were indicted under the Alien Registration Act of 1940 (Smith Alien andSedition Act) in 1941, victims --along with Harry Bridges--of Martin Diesinfamous House Un-American Activities Committee and Hoovers FBI a decadebefore Senator Joe McCarthys inquisition of the early 1950s. Noting the years ittook the Justice department to indict these union leaders, independent journalist ofthe day I. F. Stone wondered in print in the July 26, 1941 issue of The Nationwhether it was really their move to leave the AFL and Dan Tobins InternationalBrotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) for the CIO which brought down theGovernments wrath on Local 544. 37 Unfortunately, while the CIO leadership defended the 17 Local 544 leaders,the CPs Daily Worker of August 16, 1941 dubbed them a "fifth column" and"agents of fascism" for their refusal to support FDR and the Allies against Hitler.
Mike Olszanski 19 April, 1997This sectarianism, excused by some based on the need to promote the war againstFascism in Europe, would be used against the CP leaders when their turn came.38 Farrell Dobbs, leader of the Teamsters and the SWP, was the mentor ofJimmy Hoffa, who later disavowed Dobbs Trotskyism, but never his skills as anorganizer.39 At Local 1010, Manuel Trbovich "and other Trotskyists led a mid-wardepartmental strike over a discharge to a successful re-hiring," according toStaughton Lynd.40 Race and ethnicity were major factors in the American labor movement fromits inception. These divisive factors were overcome by class-consciousnessfostered by a leftist perspective, with he help of left-wing leadership. The resultingunity played a major role in the success of the CIO, as well as in progress forminorities. Subsequently, the purge of leftists resulted in the erosion of many ofthe gains made by minorities through the CIO. The earliest trade unions were craftunions, operating much like guilds. Exclusive clubs, they exercised not just ethnicand racial discrimination in admitting members, but also a good deal of nepotism, atradition which survives to this day in AFL building trades unions. Social historian Lizabeth Cohen among others argues quite convincinglythat the success of the CIO in the mid thirties was as much the result of changes inthe workers own self-image in terms of race, ethnicity and class during the 1920s
Mike Olszanski 20 April, 1997and 1930s as on external influences like the charismatic leadership of John L.Lewis or the anti-union militancy of corporate America.41 In 1919, Cohen reminds us, workers "launched the greatest strike wave inAmerican history."42 It failed, she says, less because of the governments RedScare, the AFLs conservatism and the strength of the employers resolve thanbecause of the workers own isolation in local neighborhoods and fragmentation byethnicity and race. Divided--by location, language, culture, loyalty, color--theworkers were more easily conquered.43 Having only recently come together in huge industrial workplaces--most ofwhich were still segregated along ethnic and racial lines by plant and department--workers in 1919 went home to ethnic neighborhoods and racial ghettos which werecut off from each other and still insulated from the larger mass culture just thenbeginning to emerge. African Americans, of course, were relegated to even morecircumscribed sections of the city, denied even the advantage of living close to themills and factories where they worked.44 Working -class ethnics identified with,relied on, were loyal to their neighbors, who spoke the same language, ate the samefood, enjoyed the same dances and music went to he same church and mostimportant of all, were the same color. They patronized local ethnic businessesand established their own charities and banks. In short, they "took care of theirown," resisting attempts, even by religious leaders such as Catholic Archbishop
Mike Olszanski 21 April, 1997(later Cardinal) Mundelein, at “Americanizing" them. By 1919 they had not yetencountered, much less embraced the mass culture most of us take for grantedtoday, which would tend to homogenize society across ethnic, if not racialboundaries, classes and even regions in the twenties, spurred by advertisers seekingmass markets who would exploit mass media like radio and the movies.45 Ms. Cohens analysis squares pretty well with that of William Z. Foster, aleader of the 1919 Steel Strike, and offers valuable insight into the sociology of theearly labor movement. Sociologist Steven Steinberg agrees with Cohens view onthe importance of ethnic and racial divisions in the early twentieth century, andtheir exploitation by capitalists. Even earlier, after the collapse of the militant, racially inclusive andavowedly radical Knights of Labor, skilled workers were split from less skilledimmigrants and blacks by cunning employers who, in the absence of class-conscious organization, exploited "status anxieties and simple fear combined toheighten craft exclusiveness among (the remaining) skilled workers."46 Ethnic pluralism--"diversity", to use the latest popular term--survived in firstand second generation immigrants, in part paradoxically, Steinberg says, due tothe segregation of groups like African Americans, Jews and--at least initially--other ethnics by the WASP power structure, and the consequent necessity forethnics and minorities to stick together in the face of the prejudice and
Mike Olszanski 22 April, 1997discrimination which they faced. Eventually the "melting pot" of American massculture largely subsumed ethnic, but not racial identities. Immigrants andespecially their children changed, adapted, assimilated in response to the need "tofeel a part of their adopted society."47 They were able to do so and also, eventually to achieve relative economicsuccess, according to Steinberg because they were the same color as the WASPelites. Other racial minorities, especially blacks, had no such ability to assimilate.Hence, it was not a lack of cultural "family" values (as todays "culture of poverty"theorists and right-wing politicians would have us believe) but the brand of racismwhich relegated a large section of AfricanAmericans and other non-whites to acontinuing underclass status. Exploitation by the bosses of ethnic and racial divisions had helped defeatthe steel strike of 1919 and other strikes and organizing efforts of that period. Ashas been widely reported, African Americans were imported as scabs to break thesteel strike: Black sharecroppers were brought up from the South. They were promised good jobs at high wages with good conditions. They knew nothing about making steel, nor did they know that they were being used as strikebreakers."48
Mike Olszanski 23 April, 1997 Perhaps less well known, but well-remembered by veterans of the early daysof Local 1010 is the fact that Inland Steel, in Indiana Harbor, preferred to importits scabs from Mexico, housing many of them in a company-owned flea bag hotelin the shadow of the mill, later known as the Baltimore. Many of these immigrantsdescendants helped build the USWA and the CIO in the 1930s.49 The break with the AFL in 1935 was, to a great extent, a break withracism and ethnocentrism, both implicit features of the old craft unions, whichdisdained lower skilled industrial workers almost as a lower class. The right wingAFL leaders contempt for blacks and unskilled immigrants was matched by theircontempt for communists, socialists and the syndicalists of their early rivals, theIndustrial Workers of the World (IWW), many of whose leaders, like William Z.Foster, would later lead the CPUSA. Cohen credits Communists with "constantlyagitating against white racism and for black equailty,"50 and organizing, along withsocialists, unemployed councils that paved the way for union organization by theCIO, which inherited many of its organizers from the unemployed movement.51 CIO leaders of the thirties, especially leftists, conscious that solidarity of theentire working class was essential, strove to foster class unity, to make sure thatthis time would be different. Organizing along industrial lines meant organizingacross craft lines, which meant organizing across ethnic and racial lines.
Mike Olszanski 24 April, 1997 Black and ethnic organizers were hired, staffs deliberately inclusive ofthe different groups. Indeed, the CIOs "celebration of diversity", encouraged bythe left, anticipated recent efforts.52 According to labor historian Robert Zeiger, It was the Communists and their allies, after all, who created and sustained the most principled biracial unions of the CIO era, unions that in some cases pioneered in promoting egalitarian workplace practices and in energizing somnolent civil rights organizations.53 Blacks, "..a population that had catalyzed unionization."54 were activelyrecruited by UAW and CIO organizers, joining in large numbers. Some, like Local1010 (USWA) officer (and Socialist, according to Sam Evett) Bill Young, whosefather was beaten on the streets of East Chicago during the 1919 steel strike, wereelected by their fellow workers because of their radicalism and heroic behaviorduring strikes. In 1978, Young told CBS TVs George Herman about being clubbedon the head at the 1937 "Memorial Day Massacre" at Republic Steel in SouthChicago, where ten union men (three from Local 1010) were killed--gunned downby Chicagos finest. "They beat me pretty good, but I was on the picket line thenext morning," the eighty-something retiree told CBS. Why did he join theunion? "You had no rights the boss was bound to respect," Young declared.55
Mike Olszanski 25 April, 1997Most oppressed, many Blacks accepted radical ideas, and recruitment by radicalgroups, as freely as immigrants familiar with leftist ideas from their Europeanbackgrounds. According to Jimmie Carters Secretary of Labor Ray Marshall, Communists...were unquestionably a force for equalitarianism in the CIO. By raising the race issue to gain Negro support, the Communists forced white leaders to pay more attention to racial problems.56 In the UAW, Communists led in recruiting black leaders into its local organizations, which in turn functioned as civil rights ginger groups.57 In 1941 a left-led alliance of the NAACP and the UAW helped the DetroitRouge Local 600 organizing drive, then provided a vehicle for blacks to gainpower in the UAW and launch local civil rights drives all during World War II.The NAACP in Michigan gained so many working class members as a result of thealliance that it was transformed from the elite-dominated organization of pre-waryears.58 Years later actor/singer/activist Paul Robeson would praise Local 600 as aparadigm of black-white and left-center unity in the CIO. At a picnic in 1951organized by the black foundry workers and attended by a racially mixed audienceof nearly 7,000 Robeson,
Mike Olszanski 26 April, 1997 ..was moved to pay tribute to the foundry workers who.. have developed a unity which is the core of the progressive militancy of the entire local.59This in the face of vicious attacks by the right wing Reutherites and cold-warriorsin the Truman administration on the CIOs left wing. Another union in which militant blacks played a leading role also exemplified the CIOs role in civil rights struggles. The United Federal Workers (UFW) chartered by the CIO in June, 1937 launched an all-out drive to organize Government employees in Washington, D.C. in 1942, led by four organizers, two of which were women. A Black machinist and Howard University graduate, Marie Richardson was one. Another was Coleman Young, later elected mayor of Detroit. The UFW elected Thomas Richardson, a former organizer with the SouthernNegro Youth Congress, one of the first Black Vice Presidents of a CIO union in1944. And the first woman seated on the CIOs national executive board wasEleanor Nelson, President of the UFW. Attempting to deal with Federal job cuttingafter World War II, and its devastating effect on black government workers, theUFW proposed a Mandatory Transfer Plan, the main points of which were adoptedby the U. S. Civil Service Commission in 1945, giving veterans and laid-offFederal workers preference for reconversion jobs. UFW President TommyRichardson stressed the importance of fighting for full-employment policies after
Mike Olszanski 27 April, 1997the war to protect war-time gains of blacks and maintain black-white unity in thelabor movement. The questions of seniority and lay-offs as they affect Negro job gains can only be resolved in a framework of strong national unity, forged by the fight of the common people for permanent peace and full employment.60 In 1943, a militant strike led by the African American majority ofworkers at R. J. Reynolds in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, won recognition forthe left-wing United Cannery,Agricultural, Packing and Allied Workers ofAmerica (UCAPAWA) and a measure of work-place democracy and blackpower.61 Also in the forties, the CIOs Political Action Committee (PAC) helped electBenjamin J. Davis, a black Communist, to the New York City Council.62 West Coast CIO Chief Harry Bridges, President of the InternationalLongshoremen and Warehousemens Union (ILWU) for nearly fifty years, was anaccused Communist with strong ties to the CP. He never denied his socialistconvictions, and in keeping with them, fought for racial equality in his union, theCIO and the nation. As black ILWU activist Cleophas Williams told Studs Terkelin a 1992 documentary, Bridges was,
Mike Olszanski 28 April, 1997 Honestly committed to making the world a better place for people to live in...One night at union meeting, one of the old timers asked Harry, When the war is over,what are you gonna do with these black guys whove come here to take our jobs away from us? Harry said he wished we had a system where we could have full employment... But if things ever reached the point where only two workers were left on the waterfront...if he was the one to make the decision, one would be a black man. "Discrimination against Negroes is anti-labor, anti-American and anti-white," Bridges wrote in his monthly column for the union newspaper. He mighthave added, anti-working class. "The ILWU had a reputation for racial equalitywhich gave them a strong base of support in Hawaii," Terkel says in the PublicTelevision film, and Harry Bridges was the first to organize the various ethnicgroups there into a union.63 African American Jesse Reese worked at Youngstown Sheet & TubesIndiana Harbor Works, during the CIO days in the 1930s. Reese joined theCommunist Party, and helped organize the Steelworkers Organizing Committee(SWOC) later the United Steelworkers of America (USWA). He saw the party asthe major force behind building the CIO, and the union as the vehicle for blackadvancement as part of the advancement of the entire working class. Interviewed in1973, Reese complained that after the reds were purged, the union became a "dogwith no teeth."64
Mike Olszanski 29 April, 1997 Another Black Communist, Joe Henderson, participated in a number ofstrikes to integrate the locker rooms and eliminate other racist practices atBethlehem Steels Sparrows Point plant starting in 1949. He is credited withsigning up 1,300 Black and white steelworkers for union dues checkoff to block aBethlehem effort to decertify the USWA in the early fifties. Refusing to testify ata HUAC hearing in 1951, Henderson was again summoned by HUAC in 1957,and fired by Bethlehem as a result. An open member of the CPUSA from 1942until his death in 1995, at age 83, Joe Henderson was an organizer for the LaborersUnion and the ILWU during World War II.65 Ray Dennis, first black elected to the Cleveland CIO Councils executiveboard, and one more African American who saw the party as a major force in thefight for racial equality, was elected president of Die Cast Workers Local 35(International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers) in 1943. In 1947 he wenton went on the staff of Mine and Mill, another left-wing union, travelling thecountry to "beat off raids and secessionist movements within his union."When he refused to sign a Taft Hartley anticommunist affidavit, along with othermembers of his union, Mine and Mill along with 10 other unions, was expelledfrom the CIO. Rays Die Cast Division was forced to strike for 15 months in 1948and after the strike was won, he became district director of Mine and Mill. Tried
Mike Olszanski 30 April, 1997and convicted twice of "conspiracy" under the Taft-Hartley act, Dennis waseventually vindicated by the U. S. Supreme Court. With the merger of Mine, Milland Smelter with the USWA in 1967, he stayed on as a staff representative inCleveland, having missed the USWAs purges of the fifties. He retired in 1977, atage 65. Ray Dennis told an interviewer in 1997, Organized labor is the most democratic and progressive force in our society. We suffered a devastating setback when we allowed anti-communist hysteria to split our ranks. 66 Inland steelworker Nick Migas, an open member of the Communist Partyand organizer for the Steelworkers Organizing Committee (SWOC) in the thirties,learned about socialism, as well as the destructive influence of racism, early in lifefrom his father--an IWW member--and "Big Bill" Haywood, the Wobblies leader. When I saw how the company worked against the workers, especially the foreign born workers who were in no position to defend themselves, it kind of roused my feeling about those people not getting a fair deal...We had a lot of Mexican workers in my department where discrimination was practiced. They were constantly kept on small, menial jobs--scrap yard, labor gang, furnaces--dirty, menial, hard work. And no chance of promotion. Thats why the union swept like a wildfire through the mills.67 Migas, an ally of left-wing Local 1010 President John Sargent, and “Wildcat
Mike Olszanski 31 April, 1997Willie” Maihoffer, led a wildcat strike in #1 Open Hearth when the companyrefused to promote a black man to second helper on the furnace. Many of the whiteworkers were southern, and tended to back managements position. At a meetinginside the plant at which the plant superintendent Gillies vacillated, Migas lecturedhis fellow workers on racism: ...discrimination starts, maybe, with a Negro, but next it will go to the Mexican worker...and then it will go to the Kentuckian, the hillbilly....Then a so-called hillbilly wont be able to work in a steel mill. And where will it stop?68 The man got his job. Migas was later elected President of USWA Local1010 in 1945, having served briefly on the USWA staff until he was fired forsupporting insurgent George Patterson in a bid for Director of District 31 againstJoe Germano. Challenging USWA President Phillip Murray over his cold warforeign policies at the 1948 convention, where he was an elected delegate, he wasbeaten by goons. Later red-baited out of the union (though he himself claimed healways wanted to go back to the farm anyway) Migas is one more example of howleftists, who also happened to be, it would appear, some of the best fighters forminority rights, were removed. 69 In the late 1940s the purging of left wing elements from the CIO left it in
Mike Olszanski 32 April, 1997the hands of a class-collaborationist leadership which did little to fight racism. AsArt Preis says, The right wing, led by the Murray-Reuther-Carey forces, was indeed weak and vacillating on such issues as upgrading of Negroes, removing barriers to skilled and better-paid jobs for Negroes, and ensuring Negro representation on all union committees, including the highest.70 The November 20, 1949 Daily Worker criticized the CIO conventionslack of emphasis on these issues, and demanded, …recognition of Negro leadership in the trade unions by securing representation on the policy- making boards of the steel and auto workers and of the CIO itself.71 Pre-dating the Reagan eras charges of "reverse discrimination," the Reutherleadership defended the UAWs failure to nominate blacks to the convention on thegrounds that to run "unqualified" African Americans would be "Jim Crow inreverse."72 Also in 1949, some in the Black-owned Pittsburg Courier accused theCIOs Civil Rights Committee (CRC)--originally established as the Committee toAbolish Racial Discrimination in 1942--of doing "little or nothing to overcomediscrimination against Negroes."73 While it was "clear from the outset that the CRCwas to be primarily a public relations organization with advisory powers," which"served as an organization to fight Communists in the Negro community," by 1949
Mike Olszanski 33 April, 1997Willard Townsend, president of the virtually all African American UnitedTransport Service Employees, complained that the USWA was losing members tothe "Communist dominated" Mine Mill and Smelter Workers among Blacks who"jump us for being Uncle Toms for the CIO."74 Clearly left wing unions had abetter reputation among blacks in the late forties than did the main-stream CIOunions. As I see it, the CIOs purge of the left and later surrender (my term) to the AFLin 1955 hurt all workers, but especially minorities. As Ginger and Christiano put itin their anthology The Cold War Against Labor, The plain truth is that the left-progressive unions in the CIO were those most active in organizing those virtually ignored by the AFL: black and women workers and the foreign-born.75 Having effectively amputated its left wing, organized labor had crippleditself in the fight for racial equality. As sociologist William Wilson has shown, the decline of the U.S. labormovement has hurt minorities, who had benefited greatly by belonging to unions,but have lost jobs disproportionately in the job-cutting frenzy of recent years. Lasthired, they, along with women, were the first fired. He cites statistics which showthe percentage of blacks who were union members was nearly cut in half duringthe period between 1969 and 1987.76 This lowering unionization rate hurtunskilled black workers especially and accelerated the decline of vulnerable
Mike Olszanski 34 April, 1997minority neighborhoods, contributing to the ghettoization of blacks and growth ofthe "underclass."77 A highly publicized strike involving black workers occurred in Memphis,Tennessee in 1968, when 1400 city workers refused to collect garbage for twomonths. Dr. Martin Luther King, who at that time was trying to forge a newcoalition with organized labor, was on his way to speak at a mass meeting insupport of the strike when he was assassinated at his motel. The sanitationworkers won some of their demands, including recognition of the union, affiliatedwith the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees(AFSME), whose success in recent years has been largely attributed to a greatdegree of Black-white unity.78 Chicago’s African –American Congressman, Charles Hayes, a leader of theUnited Food and Commercial Workers, told a group of labor leaders in 1985 thatthe issue which must be addressed in order to rebuild the labor movement andrenew the commitment to racial equality is jobs and full employment: Theres got to be some foundation laid for a fighting coalition between the trade union movement and Blacks and minorities... some common objective that we can seek together and I think jobs is that objective....Thats the number one issue before the country today--jobs and unemployment."79
Mike Olszanski 35 April, 1997 The USWA, a top-down, right-of-center union--especially after the redpurges of the fifties--would take until 1976 to accept an African American onto itsexecutive board, then only in response to embarrassing demands by the blackcaucus Ad Hoc Committee, which demonstrated outside the Steelworkers 1974Atlantic City Convention. The I. W. Abel leadership in fact created a special post,of Vice President for Human Affairs, appointing Local 1011s Leon Lynch its firstofficer. Some rank and file black activists, who had supported militant Ad HocCommittee Chair Jonathan Comer for the appointment, considered Lynch an"uncle tom" chosen for his conservatism and loyalty to President Abel’s right wing"official family." Attending my first USWA convention in 1976, this event brought home tome the inevitable connection between the right wing, racism and red-baiting. The USWA was in fact charged by the Equal Employment OpportunityCommission (EEOC) with collusion with the basic steel companies in
Mike Olszanski 36 April, 1997discriminatory job assignments. Departmental seniority clauses in their collectivebargaining agreements with big steel locked blacks and other minorities into lowerpaid jobs in the worst departments of the mills--coke ovens blast furnaces, etc.. U.S. Steel and all the other basic steel companies--with the sole exception of Inland--signed a consent decree admitting past discriminatory practices and agreeing tomillion of dollars in back pay for affected minority employees. Militant Directorof District 31 Ed Sadlowski and his successor Jim Balanoff fought to extend theConsent Decree benefits to Inland employees, obviously victims of the same racistpractices, but got little support from either the USWA International office or theEEOC. Having been deeply involved in the coalition which elected the first blackpresident of Local 1010, USWA, Bill Andrews, I can personally attest to thedivisive power of racism in the union, still felt to this day. In 1985, William Wimpisinger, then President Of the InternationalAssociation of Machinists (IAM) called the CPUSA, "the major impetus to formthe CIO and to pass much of FDRs New Deal..." The party organized, ….unemployment councils in practically every major city in the U.S. during the latter 1920s and early 1930s. Spearheading those local drives to organize the unemployed into...mutual support groups, and thence ducate them toward egalitarianism and socialism, invariably were local Communist Party organizers."80
Mike Olszanski 37 April, 1997 Fast writes, "In the factories, the Communist Party fought consistently forunions, organization of the unorganized..."81 Virulent anti-Stalinist Art Preisadmits, "The Communist Party provided by far the largest number of zealous andcourageous local organizers in the early days."82 Even the reactionary anti-communist George Meany, who embraced theturncoat Jay Lovestone and put him to work influencing U.S. cold war foreignpolicy, respected the organizing ability of CIO Communists. “They wereoutstanding organizers,” he told his biographer Archie Robinson in the late 1970’s,admitting that “Lewis picked up the best organizers there were…He picked upCommies.”83 Like Lewis, Meany could accept Communists as organizers, but notas union leaders. Successful unions like the United Mineworkers under Lewis, InternationalLadies Garment Workers of David Dubinsky, and the Amalgamated ClothingWorkers of Sidney Hillman backed the incipient CIO with money and organizers.In steel, nearly a third of the Steelworkers Organizing Committees (SWOC) paidfull-time organizers were Communist Party members, hired for their skills anddedication. Disciplined, experienced cadres of Communists, well aware thatleaders could call a strike but only the rank & file could win one, sought input fromthe shop floor, and responded to the grievances of ordinary workers in formulatingdemands.
Mike Olszanski 38 April, 1997 Participatory democracy prevailed--at least while reds held positions in localleaderships--to the chagrin of SWOC leaders like Chicago-Northwest IndianaDistrict 31 Director Joe Germano, who like Van Bittner and Phillip Murray wantedto maintain tight top-down control and tried to curb rank & file input and power.84Shop floor leaders like U.S. Steel South Works Local 65s George Pattersonadmired and respected the Communists knowledge of history, as well as unionstrategy and tactics.85 Even anti-communists like Packinghouse WorkersOrganizing Committee (PWOC) leader Philip Weightman acknowledged theCommunist organizers "..contributed...I may not have been as aggressive as I wasif it hadnt been for them, you see." 86 By the end of World War II, 14 of the 31 international unions of theCIO were led by Communists. Nearly a third of the delegates at the 1946 CIOconvention were left-wingers.87 In May of 1946, AFL President William Green, "Attacking the CIO asCommunist-dominated...openly appealed to Southern industrialists to recognizeAFL unions," to fight against "Communist Forces."88 Reactionary and anti-communist policies were hardly new to Green, or the AFL leadership, of course.At the outset he denounced the CIO and the General Motors strike and"...condemned the sit-down tactics as illegal and imported from Moscow."
Mike Olszanski 39 April, 1997He instructed central labor councils to unseat delegates from CIO locals andrevoked charters of councils refusing to purge CIO members--all this in thethirties.89 Thus the right wing AFL leadership fought the CIO and progressiveindustrial unionism from the beginning. The point is that the mass movement ofworkers, led by a coalition of center-left forces, overcame not just theindustrialists, but the powerful forces of reaction within the established trade unionmovement during the thirties and early forties. In the HUAC-McCarthy years, itwould be many of their former allies and comrades who sealed the fate of the reds. A couple of years ago Gus Hall, General Secretary of the CPUSA, washonored (albeit fifty-plus years late) with a plaque by the USWA for his leadershiprole in organizing SWOC. This, the same USWA whose leaders encouraged,indeed abetted his indictment and jailing in the 1950s. With Lee Pressman andIrving Richter, most reds on the USWA, (UAW) and CIO staffs did not survivethe purges, or else became invisible. George Meyers, once head of the Maryland CIO and now chair of theCPUSAs labor commission, was in prison from 1953 to 1957 for "conspiracy toteach or advocate the over-throw of the government." 90 After 1948, USWAPresident Phil Murray applauded such actions, including the CIOs expulsion of 11left wing unions, as "necessary to remove the dirty, filthy traitors." 91 This, the same Murray who but a few years before had defied the Americans
Mike Olszanski 40 April, 1997for Democratic Actions (ADA) newly anti-communist Walter Reuther at the 1946CIO convention with a militant declaration for center-left unity: Let no one create conflict within this movement.... this mighty organization, the CIO, is not going to be divided by anybody....We have our divisions of opinion and we, I suppose, in the years to come, will be sus- ceptable to divisions of opinion. That is mighty healthy...And even more forcefully at the USWA convention in 1946: We ask no man his national origin, his religion, his beliefs. It is enough for us that he is a steelworker and that he believes in trade unionism...Our union has not been and will not be an instrument of repression. It is a vehicle for economic and social progress.... As a democratic institution we engage in no purges, no witch hunts. We do not dictate a mans thoughts or beliefs. Most important of all we do not permit ourselves to be stampeded into courses of action which create division among our members and sow the disunity which is sought by those false prophets and hypocritical advisers from without who mean us no good.92 Of course, once World War II was over, as Zeiger puts it, "Murrays visionrested on hopes for a smooth transition from war to peace and on business-laborcollaboration…" [Italics mine]93 Yet he continued his support of participation bythe left through the 1947 CIO convention at Boston, declaring himselfunequivocally opposed to amendment of the constitution to provide for expulsionof the reds which Reuther was demanding. He said that history had proven thatexpulsions would take control of the unions away from the membership.94 Ofcourse he was right. Murray first signaled a change in attitude toward the
Mike Olszanski 41 April, 1997Communists at the May, 1947 meeting of the CIO executive board: It is high time the CIO leaders stopped apologizing for Communism...throw it to hell out, and throw out its advocates along with it. When a man accepts office to render service to workers, and then delivers that service to other outside interests, that man is nothing but a damned traitor.95 That year he also forced out suspected Communists Len DeCaux, Fred Avilaand Harry Gantt of the CIO News, and USWA Washington D.C. legislativerepresentative Robert Lamb. By 1948 Murray had caved in to the Reuther-Green-Dubinsky forces. It hasbeen said that his Catholicism had a great deal to do with his denunciation of theCommunists. He was clearly under pressure from the virulently anti-communistAssociation of Catholic Trade Unionists. He fired USWA General Counsel,longtime CP member and, some say, brains behind his administration LeePressman for--in the words of liberal journalist and USWA chronicler JohnHerling--"loyalty to the Communist movement over that to the CIO andSteelworkers Union." Herling, who deplores the red-baiting of "innocents", likeanti-communist I.W. Able by their union foes, does not hesitate to useundocumented innuendo in describing the likes of "admitted" communistPressman.96 Actually it was in large part Pressmans support of Henry Wallaceagainst Murrays favorite, Truman (Pressman steered the platform committee of the
Mike Olszanski 42 April, 1997Progressive Party at the 1948 convention) along with Murrays attempt to flee thesinking ship of communist affiliation, which influenced the decision to dumpPressman after years of exemplary service to the USWA, CIO and the New Deal.97 The Henry Wallace campaign for President on the Progressive Party ticketindeed provided the line of fracture around which rabid anti-communists likeILGWUs David Dubinsky and the USWAs Van Bittner, brought their long-simmering resentment and hatred for the reds into the open. Bittner welcomed "thefirst open fight between the trade unionists and the communists," declaring(ironically, as it turned out) "in the end I am sure it will do the CIO a lot ofgood."98 The CIO executive board meeting in January, 1948, condemned theWallace candidacy 33 to 13. But the CIO Communists and progressives hadalready committed themselves to Wallace’s Progressive Party. “Are they going tobe loyal to the CIO or loyal to the Communist Party,” Walter Reuther asked.Supporting Wallace would become, according to David Brody, “the unpardonableviolation that led to the expulsion of the Communist-led unions in 1949.99 Reuther, while appearing at times more militant than Murray, was, it wouldseem, more intent upon defeating the Communists than fighting the companies.Direct confrontation with the Communists over the cold war Marshall Plan and theWallace campaign also suited (and politically benefited) the UAW executive who,narrowly defeating R.J. Thomas for president of UAW in 1946 on an anti-
Mike Olszanski 43 April, 1997communist platform, had turned on his old comrades in the CP. By 1948 hefired Irving Richter, the UAWs legislative rep. in Washington, D.C. for alleged"communist sympathies", and sold-out a strike at "communist-dominated" AllisChalmers Local 248.100 Reuthers "liberal anti-communism" plumbed the depths of opportunismwhen he took his sectarian battle before the public in Colliers magazine, attackingCommunists in the union as having a "fanatical preoccupation with conquest oforganized labor."101 Reuther, the red-baiter, had made a 180 degree turn from hisstand during the CIO organizing drive, when he had stated: ..lets be careful that we dont play the bosses game by calling for the red scare. Lets stand by our union and fellow unionists. No union man, worthy of the name, will play the bosses game. Some may do so through ignorance. But those who peddle the red scare and know what they are doing are dangerous enemies of the union."102 Yet his virulent--and public--anti-Communism would not spare Reutherhimself from the long memories of red-baiters like Barry Goldwater and JimmieHoffa.103 On October 31, 1949, the CIO met in convention in Cleveland, Murraydeclaring that the single issue before the convention was the expulsions of the leftwing unions. Eleven were expelled including Harry Bridges’ InternationalLongshoremens and Warehousemens Union (ILWU) the UE, the Mine, Mill andSmelter Workers Union, the Fur and Leather Workers Union, the United Farm
Mike Olszanski 44 April, 1997Equipment Union, Food, Tobacco and Agricultural Workers, United Office andProfessional Workers, the United Public Workers, the American CommunicationsAssociation, the National Union of Marine Cooks and Stewards, and theInternational Fishermen and Allied Workers. In all, according to the UEs RichardO. Boyer and Herbert M. Morais, nearly a million CIO members were "purged fortheir belief that unions should be run by and for the membership and not by cold-war cliques for the benefit of big business."104 "Operation Dixie," the attempt to organize (largely white) textiles in theSouth, led by Van Bittner, was a top-down campaign doomed to fail because itignored the lessons of the thirties. Officialy the Southern Organizing Campaign(SOC) the CIOs effort tried to ignore racism, as well as its strongest foes, the left-led unions. It failed to find local leaders and establish trust on the shop-floorlevel. The CIO then spent millions "attempting to raid the memberships of [left-ledunions like] the UE, Mine, Mill and the FE."105 In Alabama, the USW “blendedanti-communism with overt racism” in its raid on the largely African-AmericanMine, Mill and Smelter local at Birmingham. Using “elements close to the KKK”the right-wing USW leadership left a long-lasting bitter taste in the mouths ofBlack trade unionists. Operation Dixie failed in great part due to the loss of elanand progressive leadership within the American labor movement resulting from thered purges.106
Mike Olszanski 45 April, 1997 Internationalism, always a vital issue to the left, suffered a mortal defeat in1949,when the CIO withdrew from the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU).The American labor movement turned its back on the largest labor organization inhistory, representing (at its peak in 1978) 230 million union members in 303unions in 126 countries.107 Organized in September, 1945 in the brief post-warspirit of the United Nations, the WFTU program called for: Freedom from every form of exploitation or social and economic discrimination based on race, creed, color or sex, and...equal pay for equal work...[WFTU] calls upon trade unions all over the world to combat all attacks against the economic and social rights of the workers, to defend their vital interests, to secure progressive improvement in their material welfare, and to promote the cause of stable and lasting peace. Anti-communism cut short this bold venture in the organization of theworlds workers. Red-baiting and cold war hysteria had split off American workersfrom potentially the most powerful labor organization which ever existed, on thebasis that unions in "Communist" countries "behind the iron curtain" could not befree. Reactionary leaders in the CIO joined with the AFL in reviving the rivalInternational Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) including unions fromfascist Argentina and Francos Spain, whose membership never exceeded 25million on its best day.108
Mike Olszanski 46 April, 1997 A few left wing unions in the U.S., including the UE, still maintainaffiliation with the WFTU, and unions throughout the so-called "free world" paiddues to both the ICFTU and the WFTU through the 1980s. Their logic, explainedto me by British and Australian union leaders at a WFTU metal-workersconference in Berlin in 1987: the international character of the workers struggledemands that we not ignore the huge, broadly based WFTU. The Taft-Hartley anti-Communist affidavit requirement put increasedpressure on non-communist union leaders, who by signing would not only throwtheir Communist brothers and sisters to the reactionary wolves, but alsodemonstrate their total disregard for Constitutional rights of free speech andassociation. Many capitulated and signed. To those brave trade unionists whorefused, this act of surrender to the forces of totalitarian reaction and Orwellianthought control would, in the words of the USWA Constitution, forever stampthem as "devoid of principle and destitute of honor." Labor "leaders" were at each others throats, the members left in the lurch.The split would never again heal. Dick Barry, President of UE in Canada,decried the "..inter-union warfare...working to the detriment of us all." "Allworkers," he says, were victimized because employers...were able to take
Mike Olszanski 47 April, 1997 significant advantage of the fact that so much union energy was being taken up by interunion struggles instead of unified struggle against the boss.109 As Fast puts it: Communists and suspected Communists were being attacked and driven from their leadership positions, from the union...in this the anti-Communists (many of them in their jobs because of the work and courage of the Communist organizers) in the AFL and CIO turned and led the hunt against the Communists.110 Veteran CIO leader John Brophy had predicted the result: Red-baiting, lies, slanders, raising the cry of Communist against militant and progressive union leaders make up nothing more than a smokescreen for the real objective of the people tha t use them. The real objective is to kill the CIO, to destroy collective bargaining, to destroy the unity of the organized and unorganized workers, that the CIO is building throughout the nation.111 And so the CIO was purged of unions and leaders of "leftist taint."As Ben Gold put it, "The anti-communist campaign in which Murray now joinedthe Truman Administration was directed against much more than theCommunists..."112Anyone who took issue with the CIO leadership, especially on union democracy or
Mike Olszanski 48 April, 1997rank & file control, or support of the Democratic Party or especially U.S. foreignpolicy, became targets. Guilt by association, whether associating with actual orsuspected Communists or merely agreeing with them on issues, was used to brandmilitants, progressives and oppositionists as reds. Cold war anti-communism had alasting chilling effect on militancy and democracy throughout the American labormovement. With the surrender of the CIO to the right-wing AFL in 1955, thepurge was pretty much complete. According to Brody, the AFL-CIO merger andthe establishment of the Committee on Political Education (COPE) “marked anirrevocable commitment [by the American Labor Movement] to the two-partysystem.”113 AFL President George Meany, credited (along with CIO pres. Reuther)with engineering that infamous "merger", was so far to the right that he consideredthe anti-communist ADA and members of it such as the liberal guru John KennethGalbraith "left wing" elements.114 This is but an example of the broad brush ofred-baiting wielded by right-wing union opportunists, which painted evenvirulently anti-communist socialists and social democrats as red or pink. Manywho had red-baited their opposition also fell victim to the anti-communism. As black steelworker, CP member and CIO organizer Jesse Reese (Local
Mike Olszanski 49 April, 19971011, Youngstown Indiana harbor Works) says: The Communists built the union. After we got the union built, something happened to John L. Lewis, and Mr. Philip Murray carried out his aims: he fired every Communist organizer. He made an agreement with the steel trusts, it seems to me...and the unions been going back, back, back, ever since. It doesnt open its mouth. Today we have in our unions what you might call a pet company dog--led by the caretakers...the leaders of our union. And our dog is being fed red-baiting and his teeth have been pulled out (thats the no-strike clause) and your dog dont bark no more..."115 After the AFL-CIO merger in 1955, union membership, especially insteel, auto and among garment workers, began to decrease. White collar jobs, onthe increase, were not organized by the now-complacent leadership. Taft-Hartleyand right-to-work laws helped decimate organized labors ranks.116 Socialists,Communists, and "sympathizers" had indeed formed a "cadre" which in addition toinspiring the movement, injected it with a tremendous amount of energy, and didmuch of the unglamorous and sometimes dangerous work which made it the forceit became in the forties. Organized labors leadership, in driving out the left wing,cut itself off from major resources in terms of organization, leaders, people, etc.Its been said labor amputated its own good, strong left arm, crippling itself in theface of the class struggle. Completing the metaphor, the hemorrhaging wouldnearly kill labor.
Mike Olszanski 50 April, 1997 Movement theorists Piven and Clowers credit the Trotskyists and especiallythe CP, as "an instigating force" in agitating and mobilizing the workers to action,but stress the spontaneity of rank & file action, also quoting John Sargent: You had a series of strikes, wildcats, shut-downs, slowdowns, anything working people could think of to secure for themselves what they decided they had to have.117Yet, as was discussed previously (see page 7) rank and file leaders like Sargentsaw the left, and left-wing thinking as vital to the CIO movement. Piven and Cloward, arguing from what might be described as somethingof an anarchist perspective, downplay the importance of leadership and includeamong the ranks of union leaders increasingly orientated toward management andaway from rank & file control even the Communists, for whom they claim"Radical ideology was no defense against the imperatives created by organizationalmaintenance."118 Commenting on the victory of bureaucracy over militant"disruptive" unionism in the U.K., philosopher Anthony Skillen is also somewhatcynical about bureaucratic union leaderships efforts to obtain industrialdemocracy under capitalism: It is questionable to what extent trade unions, with the corrupting quasi-managerial sinecures they provide for the career representatives of the working people, can be entitled the spokesmen and guardians of the shop floor.119
Mike Olszanski 51 April, 1997 Pivens & Cloward and Skillen do an injustice to left wing unions like theUnited Electrical Workers (UE) (survivors of the purges) and Hospital Workers1199, who remain very democratic and rank & file oriented. UEs slogan, "TheMembers Run This Union", I adopted for my administration as president of USWA1010. Hospital Workers Union 1199 votes on practically everything, and stillnegotiates contracts in the open, whereas most AFL-CIO unions went to closed-door bargaining years ago.120 These critics miss the point that (in the U.S. at least)it was the purges as much as bureaucratic tendencies which left the unions in thehands of class- collaborators. The chickens would come home to roost in 1980, with devastatingresults for the labor movement. Having established a climate of cooperation andcollaboration with business and having driven out and purged the left along withall but a remnant of militants from the unions leadership, the AFL-CIOs rightwing leadership, Kirkland et al., was stunned, decked really, by the opening salvoin the class war declared by Ronald Reagan on behalf of big business. The firing ofPATCO air traffic controllers found U.S. laqbor leaders totally impotent to fightback. HUAC, McCarthyism, the McCarran Act, Taft-Hartley, and the anti-communist opportunism of top union leaders had taken its toll on the labormovement. Without the left, it had forgotten how to fight. The relative prosperity of the 60s had led the industrialists to sue for labor
Mike Olszanski 52 April, 1997peace, which the now-purged and pacified union leadership was more than willingto negotiate in return for modest wage and benefit packages which, in the long run,did not keep up with inflation (in steel, at least). The seventies saw unions like the USWA adopt a "horse trading" strategy,negotiating away previous gains to satisfy newly perceived demands, avoidingeven the threat of a strike. By this time the collaborationist leadership of much of the labor movementhad gotten seriously out of touch with the members, and few would describe mostof labor as a "movement" any longer. Terms like "business unionism"--or, the caseof the Steelworkers David J. McDonald--"tuxedo unionism" came to be applied tomainstream union leaders by the press, their opposition and their memberships.When world-wide competition and market pressures hit them in the 80s, the bosseswent after wage concessions and, more importantly, work rule concessions whichwould enable them to "downsize" more efficiently. "Rationalization" --the shutdown of less productive facilities and job combination and elimination-- putthousands out of work in steel and other basic industries. It would take a newgeneration of class-conscious workers to begin the rebuilding of militant tradeunionism in the USA. There was a fight-back movement in the USWA, and other unions, in the
Mike Olszanski 53 April, 1997late 1960s 70s and 80s. I was part of that movement. In the 1960s and 1970s,the insurgencies of Donald Rarick (and Emil Narick) challenged the "officialfamily" for the presidency of the USWA and, supported by progressives across thecountry, sought to expand union democracy and militancy in the USWA. At Local1010, Rank & File president John Sargent and his protégé, alleged formercommunist Jim Balanoff, supported such efforts and fought for change atconventions, even refusing to sign a (proclaimed sell-out) contract negotiated--without rank and file input--by the McDonald-Able leadership in the 1960s. Along with these remnants of the old left, the "new left" involved itself inthe fight-back movement in the 70s and 80s. I personally worked with members ofthe CPUSA, Socialist Workers Party (SWP), Democratic Socialists (DSOC), NewAmerican Movement (NAM), International Socialists (IS) and a profusion ofTrotskyist and Maoist groups in the movement for democracy and rank and filecontrol in the USWA. The movement supported the Sadlowski campaigns forDirector of District 31 (1973) and President of the USWA (1977) as well as thefight for the right to ratify contracts. Needless to say, I would refuse to namenames.121 Al Sampter of U.S. Steel Local 1014, long associated with the CP, and Alice
Mike Olszanski 54 April, 1997Puerela of South Works Local 65 and the SWP co-chaired the District 31 Right toStrike Committee, a coalition of center-left forces which filed suit (with other rank& file groups) on behalf of the rank & file against the I.W. Ables 1972Experimental Negotiating Agreement (ENA) (see page 36) in 1973 and packed thecourtroom for the show-trial in Pittsburg with steelworkers.122 The Rank & File Caucus at USWA 1010, largest Local in the Steelworkersunion with nearly 19,000 members at its peak in the 1970s, was headed by JohnSargent until he retired in the mid sixties. Jim Balanoff was then elected chairmanand was elected president of the Local in 1976, Director of the giant District 31,with 120,000 members, in 1977. Both of those campaigns had to overcome vicious red-baiting, to whichwould later be added race-baiting. In 1979 (and again in 1982 and 1985, thecenter-left, black-white coalition which was the Rank & File Caucus elected thefirst black President of Local 1010, William "Bill" Andrews, who served thelongest continuous time as President of anyone in the Locals history.123 What kind of union did we fight for? Harry Bridges put it quite well, I thinkwhen he defined a left-wing union, before a congressional committee trying todeport him as a Communist in the 1930s: My definition of a left wing union...is one with a lot of rank and file democracy and control. Its a union that
Mike Olszanski 55 April, 1997 believes that its officers should be easy to remove... and their wages and expenses should be no higher than the highest paid--at the most--worker thats a member of the union...Its also a union that recognizes that from time to time its gotta stand up and fight for certain things that mightnt necessarily be wages hours and working conditions: civil liberties, racial equality, and things like that... 124 In the Teamsters Union (IBT) Pete Camarata, Douglas Allen and theSocialist-led Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) fought to oust the corruptFitzsimmons gang, and bring rank and file control to their union in the 1970s and1980s.125 And in the United Mineworkers (UMW) Jock Jablonski was murdered (in1969) by the corrupt Tony Boyles henchmen for his attempt to build a Rank andFile movement, but Miners for Democracy (MFD)--launched at Jablonskys--funeral, finally ousted the criminal reactionaries, elected Arnold Miller (in 1972)and infused the UMW with a new, democratic fighting spirit, still lacking in mostof organized labor to this day. Unfortunately, Miller turned out to be quiteconservative himself, not surprisingly, since MFD lacked left leadership.126 But we were running against the wind. Red-baiting was a constant reminderthat militants were considered outsiders and leftists, and leftists were not welcomein the leadership of the mainstream American labor movement of the 60s, 70s and80s. Insurgents, rank and file
Mike Olszanski 56 April, 1997leaders, anyone who argued for militancy and union democracy was branded red orpink, and anti-communism among older workers still played a role in unionelections. The forces of reaction still controlled the AFL-CIO unions, by andlarge. In his farewell article in SteelLabor, retiring USWA president I.W. Ableexpressed pride in the fact that the union hed led had become a "bread and butter"union, avoiding involvement with larger social (socialist?) issues, sticking towages, hours and working conditions. In a series of lectures he gave under theauspices of the Steel Industry, at Carnegie-Mellon University in 1975, then-president Able proudly termed the no-strike Experimental Negotiating Agreement(ENA)--which the rank & file considered a sell- out--a "revolutionary approach totraditional bargaining procedures." Demonstrating how collaborationist and out-of-touch USWA leadership hadbecome, Able said that through the ENA "the United Steelworkers and the leadersof the American Steel Industry, have helped point the way to labor peace in thefuture."127 Within five years that industry would begin eliminating jobs on a grand
Mike Olszanski 57 April, 1997scale128, and within eight years would wring wage and work-rule concessions froma USWA leadership too stunned to fight back. Further exposing how reactionaryAmerican Labor leaders had become, he bragged about the AFL-CIO CIA frontgroup, the American Institute For Free Labor Development (AIFLD) later taggedas a money laundering operation for the CIA-sponsored military coup in Chile,which murdered democratically elected President Salvadore Allende and installedthe fascist military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet at the behest of Americancopper interests and ITT. Abel said AIFLDs mission was to "overcomeCommunist infiltration and subversion, and develop effective and responsible tradeunions."129 In fact, AIFLDs unconscionable role in the subversion of democraticChile helped undermine and crush the subsequent strike by U. S. copper miners, byrestoring the flow of cheap copper from Chile. Lloyd McBride, long-time anti-communist, and goon under Murray,through vicious red-baiting and rumored massive vote fraud (especially in Canada,where labor law is lax in that regard) narrowly defeated Ed Sadlowski of ChicagoU.S. Steel Local 65 for president of the USWA in 1977.130 Ed represented the lasthope of the communist and anti-communist left--the militant, progressive, rank &file forces, young and old, in the Steelworkers Union. His campaign, though fraught with a measure of sectarian in-fighting, was
Mike Olszanski 58 April, 1997truly a center-left coalition effort. Groups like Ed Manns and John BarberosYoungtown, Ohio-based Rank and File Team (RAFT), and the CP organizedNational Steelworkers Rank & File campaigned vigorously for Sadlowski nationwide. We were defeated by Lloyd McBride and the USWAs "official family" ofbureaucrats only through the use of a lot of money, red-baiting and dirty tricks.The lack of democratic and other trade union principles displayed by these andother union leaders serves to underline the moral vacuum created by the purge ofmost of the principled leaders. In a press conference at the 1980 USWA Convention, I asked then-presidentMcBride what the union would do to stem the massive elimination of jobs just thenbeginning in steel. His reply chillingly epitomized the bankruptcy--indeed, thetrap--of collaborationist union philosophy. His words are quoted roughly fromnotes and memory, but their meaning was vividly etched into my consciousness forall time at that moment: As you know, under our system of private ownership, the owner of a steel company, or any other company, has the right to close down unprofitable plants. We believe in that system. Therefore there is nothing...I dont know of anything...you tell me if you can, what we can do.131 AFL-CIO President Lane Kirklan reiterated this same business
Mike Olszanski 59 April, 1997unionism position, rejecting class conflict, in 1980: In creating their domestic trade unions American workers cast aside all parties, conspiracies and secret societies whose aim was to create any sort of dictatorship of the proletariat. They committed themselves to work within the system, acknowledging the rights of others while asserting their own. 132 As Zeiger puts it, The ardent embrace of economic growth, combined with the de-emphasis on redistributionist goals,helped pave the way for the contemporary assault on organized labor and the decline of union sentiment among workers. Defensible as the isolation of the Communists and their allies was[?!] the participation of some in the CIO in red-baiting and radical-bashing helped to marginalize even the non-Communist left and to make even the ardent advocacy of racial justice a ground for suspicion.133 Long after the Reagan administration and its big-business backers haddeclared war on the labor movement, the AFL-CIO was still peddling the samepathetic rhetoric, e.g., this in a resolution passed by the 1987 convention: A successful strategy for U.S. production requires the cooperation of labor and management to increase operating efficiency...134 Arguing against just this sort of class collaboration, the president of BritainsNational Union of Mineworkers (NUM) says: This concept of having a consensus with our class enemies