Notes on “The CIO: From Reform to Reaction,” by E. Jones

“most American leftists have not considered the contradictions inherent in revolutionary unionism”
-meh. a basically unsupported aside that reappears in the conclusion as well.

“the failure of previous political combinations to solve the Great Depression to their advantage should be examined not only to situate the CIO in its historical context, but also to provide a basis for comparison with the futile attempts of capitalists, governments, unions, et al. to halt the present economic decline” in the 1970s when Jones was writing. Not sure about this, because the economic crisis of the 30s did end eventually.
The AFL’s “traditional opposition to government interference (…) matched pre-depression production relations and the laissez-faire ideology of the bourgeoisie.” I’m not convinced there was a class-wide capitalist consensus on laissez faire, certainly not in the early 20th century. Also the AFL had pursued legislative agendas well before 1933. Looking more into the AFL’s 30 ours bill and responses to it could be interesting, as could the AFL’s parliamentary efforts previously.
– Hillman and Lewis’s legislative efforts
— Hillman’s arguments about collective bargaining, “labor statesmen”
– Kolko quote on stabilizing (or capitalist class formation?) role of unionization
– “industries with high capital concentrations could rely on trusts and oligopolistic leaders to police their agreements to reduce costly competition, smaller capitalists often turned to outside organizations–such as rackets, unions, and governments–as the most effective means of enforcing regulation beneficial to the trade’s more powerful firms. When successful, these regulating agents reduced competition in fields of easy capital entry by exacting tribute in the form of protection premiums, union dues, or taxes. But the inroads of runaway shops and new mines during the 1920’s, followed by the depression, so weakened the hegemony of the textile and mining unions that they needed government backing to eliminate “sweating” and shake down firms that wouldn’t see reason.”
“the recovery proposals of former members of the War Industries Board–Bernard Baruch, General Hugh Johnson, and Gerard Swope (…) Swope’s plan included employee and possible union participation. Fondly recalling the “efficiency” of their economic planning during the war, when former antagonists were encouraged to join hands to share the spoils, Baruch and Johnson implied that a return to the good old days would follow the formation of “trade associations for mutual help” and business’ self-regulation under government supervision.”
The NIRA introduced “six hundred industry-wide “Codes of Fair Competition.” Trade association agreements would now be legally enforced by FDR’s National Recovery Administration (NRA), directed by General Johnson” and “a “Section 7a,” which outlawed yellow-dog contracts (i.e., promises not to join a union as a condition of employment), provided “that employees shall have the right to organize and bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing,” and gave the President power through the NRA to prescribe maximum hours, minimum pay, and working conditions. With this legislation the New Deal’s mutually antagonistic coalition of big business, smaller capitalists, farmers, and unions, while groping for a solution to the crises, took its first faltering step toward managing the social unrest.”
“The FDR-appointed National Labor Board (NLB) (precursor of the National Labor Relations Board [NLRB]) in July 1933 settled the strike with the “Reading Formula,” an interpretation of Section 7a that provided for majority-rule, secret-ballot elections of exclusive agents to represent a group of workers ambiguously known as a bargaining unit (an ambiguity that would later be ironed out by the NLRB).”
“most mass-production manufacturers, who regarded unions as unnecessary expenses and threats to their absolute control of production, expanded their “employee representation plans” developed in the 1920’s or established new company unions, which by the end of the NIRA period gained three times more members than the AFL unions did. In September 1933, miners challenged the company unions in the “captive” mines (owned by steel corporations) with a strike for UMW recognition despite Lewis’ efforts to restrain them while he negotiated the NRA code with the less resistant, smaller operators of the “commercial” mines. By late October, after withstanding considerable violence, the 100,000 strikers compelled FDR to enforce their NIRA given right to form independent unions. Several giant electrical concerns also accepted union advances when persuaded by strikes, as Philco, or by economic reason, as was General Electric (GE) President Gerard Swope, who since 1926 had sought an industrial “organization with which we could work on a businesslike basis.””
– read up on the Philco agreement and its history
– “Business defiance of the NLB spread after December 1933” helping lead to the strikes in the spring of 1934. Teamsters strike ended with “a minimum wage and union recognition according to Reading Formula elections.”
“Secretary of Labor Perkins [advised President Roosevelt] that the general strike committee was “in charge of the whole strike . . . and represents conservative leadership”
With the passage of the NLRA “the Reading Formula (…) was given the force of law.”
“Interpretations of the Wagner Act as a conscious plan of capital to reintegrate potentially revolutionary workers into the system via unionization ignore the complexity and uncertainty of the situation. As with the NIRA, a coalition of mutually conflicting interests produced legislation whose application would be determined by a dynamic interaction of political and economic forces as the depression took its course. (…) most interests behind the NIRA (e.g., Northern textile manufacturers, retail magnates, organized labor, et al.) rallied behind Wagner in their continued search for an amenable solution to the depression. The NIRA’s rationale of business self-regulation to eliminate unfair competition was now supplanted by arguments that economic recovery was thwarted by the underconsumption of workers and the disruption of commerce due to strikes. Collective bargaining, it was argued, would eliminate most strikes; and, unionization would boost mass purchasing power by redressing the imbalance in the economy caused by the disproportionate power of concentrated capital. Calling for “industrial democracy” to supplement political democracy, many Democrats from industrial regions sought labor support and promoted unions as sources of a new breed of junior statesmen, who would defend workers’ economic interests and democratic rights on the job against the abuses of corporate totalitarian rule.”
“While signaling to liberals a need for “industrial democracy” and collective bargaining machinery to handle labor disputes, the 1934 strikes also had demonstrated concretely the limits of workers’ militancy, their strike power in various industries, and government reactions, and had elucidated the possibilities for establishing industrial unions under the new legal protection of the Wagner Act.”
Dan Tobin from the Teamsters: “We do not want to charter the riff-raff or good-for-nothings, or those for whom we cannot make wages or conditions . . . . We do not want the men today if they are going on strike tomorrow.”
John L. Lewis thought that “under the Wagner Act (…) industrial unionism was no longer a revolutionary but a business proposition”
– look into the chartering and early organization of the CIO. “Of the CIO’s seven charter unions, the most important in terms of membership and resources were the UMW, the ACW, and the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (…) The most significant of the emerging industrial unions that affiliated with the CIO [after the expulsion in 1936] were the United Rubber Workers (URW), the United Auto Workers (UAW), and several Communist unions–the United Electrical and Radio Workers (UE), Harry Bridges’ International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union
(ILWU), and the National Maritime Union (NMU). Two weak unions–the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel and Tin Workers (AA) and the UTW-formed the basis of the CIO’s two main projects–the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC), led by Philip Murray of the UMW, and the Textile Workers Organizing Committee (TWOC), led by Hillman of the ACW”
“Early in 1936, rubberworkers in Akron, Ohio began demonstrating their power to bring reluctant bosses to terms through their repeated use of the sitdown strike, an adaptation of the IWW folded-arms tactic that proved very effective in shutting down assembly lines and idling entire plants. Although it would eventually benefit from these sitdowns, the URW (which in 1935 claimed only 3,000 members among about 100,000 rubberworkers) initially disapproved of this form of direct action. Not only did the URW seriously weaken the February Goodyear strike by convincing strikers to march out of the occupied plant to the union hall and, consequently, to bitter-cold, vulnerable picket lines, but it also refused to recognize the strike until CIO organizers arrived on its sixth day. Shrewder than some of their local leaders, the CIO national officials would for a while support, although rarely initiate, sitdowns whose goals included CIO recognition. Visiting Akron in 1936, Louis Adamic described the URW organizing drive that pulled 75,000 members by 1938: “In November I was told in Akron that nearly every serious sitdown boosted the membership by as much as five hundred. Organizers signed up men while they “sat.””
In his efforts to reassure the public in 1937 that the sitdown did not pose a revolutionary threat but would lead to industrial democracy, Joel Seidman accurately predicted the replacement of direct action with grievance arbitration once the URW solidified its control: “The rubber workers are new and enthusiastic unionists. The sitdown technique works, so they use it as soon as an issue arises. Their officers are urging them not to stop production without first bringing their grievance to the attention of the union and the company through the regular channels. . . . As the rubber workers become more experienced and more disciplined unionists, the sitdowns over petty issues will doubtless disappear.”
Having pulled short sitdowns known as “quickies” since 1933, autoworkers in 1936 began to “stay-in” demanding union recognition, wage increases, reduction of hours to prevent layoffs during model changes, abolition of piecework, reinstatement of union members, etc. Learning from Akron workers the effectiveness of the sitdown in enabling a minority to halt production, preventing strikebreaking, and rallying workers to the union, the UAW sanctioned organizational sitdowns, the most dramatic of which would occur at Flint during the General Motors (GM) strike.”
After the Flint sit-down “previously reluctant workers flooded into the UAW and public opinion swung to the strikers, who, despite “their unconventional behavior,” after all were only “pursuing objectives sanctioned by law but denied them by their employer.””
US Steel’s agreement with SWOC was partly influenced by the company’s “experience with Lewis as a responsible enforcer of their captive mines agreement.”
– as the 30s progressed, the CIO relied on NLRB procedures for recognition and lost; militancy was a better route to recognition.
– “only a militant minority of workers had defied public opinion, strikebreaking fellow workers, and the state’s might, in order to force the advances that the CIO had capitalized on. (…) Lewis had to reject GM’s proposal for NLRB elections in February. Lee Pressman, counsel for the CIO, described a similar situation in steel in 1937: “There is no question that [the SWOC] could not have filed for a petition through the NLRB . . . . for an election. We could not have won an election for collective bargaining on the basis of our own membership or the results of the organizing campaign to date. This certainly applied not only to Little Steel but also to Big Steel.” (…) Communists, acting as unionists par excellence, initially ambivalent toward “undisciplined” sitdowns, actively opposed them after union recognition had been won.”
“As Seidman pointed out, the implicitly revolutionary aspect of the sitdown was usually masked by the reformist goal of union recognition: “It is precisely because such strikes seem to challenge the rights of property ownership that such controversy has been aroused over them. And yet it should be clear that sitdown strikers are not challenging the ownership of the plant, but merely the employer’s right to dismiss them and operate the plant with strikebreakers . . . . Nor is the sitdown a revolutionary weapon, as some have proclaimed. It asserts, not the right to the factory, but the right to the job . . . . The sit-down should be sharply distinguished from the seizures of Italian factories by workers following the World War, for there is no attempt to operate the plant.” Since most strikers thought they were fighting for a better life under capitalism and not for the system’s abolition, it is hardly surprising that when union organizing drives ran into difficulties, the militant minority of workers did not take desperate steps to force events beyond the barriers of reform, but chose to bide their time in hopes of recouping their losses in the future.”
“As possibilities for achieving material gains through strikes diminished, the CIO increasingly concentrated on NLRB election campaigns and lawsuits as NLRB certification became the most feasible advance.”

New York Times “Unauthorized Sit-downs Fought by CIO,” April 1937:
“(1) As soon as an unauthorized strike occurs or impends, international officers or representatives of the UAW are rushed to the scene to end or prevent it, get the man back to work and bring about an orderly adjustment of the grievances.
(2) Strict orders have been issued to all organizers and representatives that they will be dismissed if they authorize any stoppages of work without the consent of the international officers, and that local unions will not receive any money or financial support from the international union for any unauthorized stoppage of, or interference with, production.
(3) The shop stewards are being “educated” in the procedure for settling grievances set up in the General Motors contract, and a system is being worked out which the union believes will convince the rank-and-file that strikes are unnecessary.
(4) In certain instances there has been a “purge” of officers, organizers and representatives who have appeared to be “hot-heads” or “trouble-makers” by dismissing, transferring or demoting them.”
“the AFL officially welcomed the return of its prodigal son to business unionism in 1955” when had the CIO not practiced business unionism?
“the CIO never challenged, nor intended to challenge, the foundations of the economy within which it operated. Organized to fight for better conditions for a strong minority of the total workforce, the CIO under government protection extended unionism beyond its former craft domains to cover mass-production workers, but it did not oppose wage-labor or purport to fight for the working class as a whole. ”
“unions that forgot their subordinate place in the capitalist economy (e.g., the IWW during the first world war, the Communist UAW faction during the Hitler-Stalin Pact, and the UMW during the second world war) were easily isolated and restrained, if not suppressed, by military and legal means.” – ??
“By leaving the fundamental capital-labor relation intact, the labor movement of the 1930’s allowed its destiny to be determined by the demands of profitability and capital accumulation. No sooner were its contracts accepted by industrialists during the war, than the CIO dropped its radical posture and settled down to the business of unionism, the brokerage of labor-power.”

Advertisements