Book Review: Dubofsky, Melvin and Warren Van Tine, “John L. Lewis, a Biography.” Quadrangle, the NY Times Book Co., NY, 1977.

If one is interested in the American labor movement 1919-1959, then one needs to know about John L. Lewis. This is a thorough version of 529 big pages in 8-point type! The authors paint a consistent picture of a history-maker who was an autocrat, an egomaniac, and a shifty manipulator who achieved a certain amount of relatively undeserved success. It’s well documented and presented in a balanced way, so I wouldn’t challenge its veracity, but only its conclusion.

Whatever else he may have been, John L. Lewis was a union man

John L. Lewis was a union man. The authors point out that he could easily have made more money if he had left the labor movement and joined his many capitalist friends. They do not explain why he didn’t, but I will: he was a union man. Union men care about others. They may, and apparently Lewis did, use all sorts of questionable strategies to serve their union members; but their goal is to make things better. I challenge anyone to say that John L. Lewis failed in that noble effort!

Lewis started the CIO and guided it to its great success. He was lionized everywhere for it and was one of the greatest heroes of the period 1935-1939. Afterward, he opposed President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, he opposed entry to World War II, he encouraged a big coal strike during World War II, he opposed President Harry Truman; and he allowed himself to be made one of the most despised public figures in America afterward. Loved or hated, nobody disputes his outsize role in history.

The authors chose hang their narrative on the biennial mineworkers contract negotiations. Many times, walkouts were involved. Lewis was a master strategist who knew how to manipulate the mine owners, his enemies within the union, government supervisors, and whoever else was involved. Because of economic realities, every contract was not a great victory, but many of them were, and much of those victories came about because Lewis was really good at what he did. But it wasn’t mine worker contracts that drew me to the life of Lewis. It was the dramatic change he made in the American labor movement. Lewis implemented industrial unionism when he formed the Committee for Industrial Organizing, known later as the Congress of Industrial Organizations.

Before 1935, the “official” labor movement was characterized by craft unions. They avoided organizing women or people of color. They sought out the elite workers, the ones with irreplaceable skills such as electricians or machinists. Someone who pushed a broom had no chance to get the benefits of labor organization. At the same time, certain progressives tried to implement industrial organizing targeting everybody who worked. The IWW is often mis-called “International Workers,” but their real name was “Industrial Workers of the World.” They tried to organize everybody and were so successful at it that the government arrested, deported, and killed enough of them to hold them back.

After that, the communists tried to infiltrate the AFL with newly-organized industrial workers and industrial ideas. They wanted all unions to be like the United Mine Workers, who organized everybody that worked in their industry. John L. Lewis, head of the mine workers, agreed with them and decided, in 1935, that he could get the AFL to accept it. The 1935 AFL convention, and Lewis’ role, makes a great story. When it was over, industrial unionism had a firm beginning at last and American labor was never the same again.

AFL leaders during the period accused Lewis of splitting the labor movement, but this book makes it clear that John L. Lewis did not precipitate a split and that he spent the his career trying to re-unite the movement. In 1955, they did re-unite to form the AFL-CIO. Unfortunately, the twists and turns of history had left the UMW out of the AFL, the CIO, and the AFL-CIO. None of that was Lewis’ fault.

The book is not a grand view of all labor developments. The IWW is barely mentioned. The communists, who did a great deal of the organizing, are only mentioned when they were being excoriated by Lewis or other people. Nevertheless, I learned a great deal that I hadn’t known before. Here are notes I took as I read the life of John L Lewis:

I was surprised to read that the United Mine Workers were demanding a 6-hour day and 5-day week way back in 1919! Also, they demanded that coal mining be nationalized. Lewis joined in the slogans, but not the implementation. I’m up to page 134, and the authors paint him as a gross opportunist.

Lewis rose through the ranks because he cultivated relationships, not because of some meteoric personality. One of the people he cultivated was 40-year AFL leader Samuel Gompers. Another was head of the Harriman bank. After he got the presidency, he beat down the militant miners. He used red-baiting generously. Some of his supporters beat up his opponents.

The government called out airplanes against the miners in the Battle of Blair mountain in August 1921.

Page 82: “On April 1, 1922, he thus led the largest single coal miners’ strike in United States history.”

June 21, 1922, there was a massacre of scabs in Herrin County, Illinois. After winning an armed battle with strikebreakers and guards, miners took them prisoners. As they drove their prisoners along, they got carried away and murdered 19 of them. “The Herrin Massacre.” Lewis blamed it all on communists.

William Z Foster and his Trade Union Education League targeted the UMW because it was the largest of all American unions and because it was organized industrially. Lewis used the occasion to slather his enemies with red paint and destroy them all. After 1926 or so, Lewis was unchallenged within the union. But through his ascent, the union was in descent. In fact, the authors say that Lewis was able to overcome various District Directors because they were losing so many members and, thus, so much clout. The union apparently dropped from 500K members to 100K. They only won the 1922 strike with a $2M loan from the Harriman Bank.

As Lewis reigned supreme, the union was nearly finished.

Even in 1932, Lewis supported his poker playing buddy, Herbert Hoover, for President. FDR took office March 1933. Even before that, John L Lewis was touting the outline for the New Deal. At AFL-CiO conventions beginning in 1933, he spoke up for industrial organizing. Even before that, he wanted to increase the Exec from 8 to 25 in order to represent more of the union movement. Along about page 190, John L starts being the good guy in this narrative. Befrore that, one might claim that his great accomplishment was keeping the union together through hard times, if one were generous. These authors aren’t.

Lewis had a great lifelong friend in Herbert Hoover. According to the authors, he prized his friendships among the high and mighty, be they capitalists or not, much more than other unionists or the common people.

Pg147: In 1921, UMW had 500K. In 1928, 80K.

Pg 148: Campaigned for Hoover

Pg165: Mother Jones opposed Lewis

Pg167: “Third period” reds were a problem

Pg178: At 1932 AFL Convention, Lewis urged the formation of the United Electrical Workers. He presaged the New Deal

Pg 174: Economist and reformer W. Jett Lauck worked with Lewis for decades. Wrote most of his speeches

Pg 183: The New Deal, Lewis said, was a way to avoid communism. He blasts communists all through his career

Pg 192 “Captive mines” were owned by steel companies. They refused national agreement under Section 7A of NIRA. Some historians claim that Lewis only wanted to form the CIO so that he could organize the captive mines. Clearly, it isn’t true because he went to great lengths to help the United Auto Workers form and win their big action against General Motors.

Pg 201: Opposed women’s auxiliary for UMW

Pg 205: 12% of the American workforce was organized in 1935. That was less than in 1922

Pg 276: GM settlement caused U.S. Steel contract. Lewis did not call nor control the sit-downers at Flint. He dealt with Michigan Governor Murphy and FDR

Pg 277: “What the AFL had failed to accomplish in half a century, the CIO had accomplished in three weeks.”

Pg 278: By the end of August, 1937, the CIO had 3,419,600 members, which was more than the AFL had.

Pg 306: 12-21-37 failure of unity conference\

Pg 307: AFL chartered dual unions, red baited, and linked with Chamber of Commerce to change the Wagner Act to disallow industrial unions. They undermined the New Deal, too.

Pg 307: Nov 1938–CIO is separate. Dubinsky pulled the ILGWU out of the CIO and went back to the AFL. CIA stooge Jay Lovestone was Dubinsky’s adviser.

Pg 314: FDR and New Dealers sold out Steel Workers Organizing Committee even after the Memorial Day 1937 massacre. August 1937 began “Roosevelt Depression.” Lewis criticized FDR and began the break that festered from then on

Pg 319: 1-25-39 Homer Martin resigned from Presidency of the UAW and took his own version of the union into the AFL

Pg 344: Lewis used his oratorial skill to destroy his enemies. He used the word “hottentot” to make his enemies sound like barbarians, savages, or cannibals

Pg 350: Spoke to NAACP and was for full rights for African Americans

Pg 351: Hoover 1940

Pg 351: Puissant is a word the authors use to mean “overly powerful.” FDR was becoming a puissant president, Lewis thought

Pg 358: He endorsed Wendell Wilkie for President in 1939 and swore to resign from the CIO if unions did not follow him. They didn’t and he did.

Pg 369: Phil Murray, anti-communist like Lewis, was elected to lead the CIO. During the war, Lewis tried to rejoin the AFL. In fact, he continued efforts to re-unite the labor movement to the end of his career. The authors blame him for some of the problems, but they record that he did try over and over again.

Pg 457: Jan 24, 1946, UMW re-admitted to AFL

Pg 458: Strike wave of 1946: “In November, 1945, two hundred thousand General Motors employees walked out of their plants. Two months later, 300,000 meat packers and 180,000 electrical workers struck, and were followed shortly thereafter by 750,000 steelworkers. In all, 4,630 work stoppages, involving 5,000,000 strikers, and totaling 12,000,000 idle work-days occurred in the twelve months following Japan’s surrender. While little physical violence characterized these stoppages, they generated violent emotions as middle- and upper-class Americans feared that unions would disrupt their economic security.” After the strike wave, Americans were bitter toward organized labor. This may help explain what happened in 1947.

Pg 468: Truman defeats Lewis in 1946 contract negotiations. Lewis had demanded mine safety.

Pg 474: Centralia mine explosion kills 111. Lewis uses it to push for mine safety

Pg 473: Taft Harley passed June 23, 1947. Lewis fought it before and after (pg 474)

Pg 476: Lewis continued to oppose Taft-Hartley after many unions accommodated themselves to it. In 1953, Lewis also made statements against Wagner Act and said unions were better off without government intervention

Pg 492: He always sought unification

Pg 493: AFL-CIO united in 1955, but they excluded the UMW

Pg 501: “The Jones Boys” were union hoodlums who beat up scab miners. Sometimes the would stop work at a scab mine and line up all the workers, then force them to join. Apparently, Lewis countenanced this through his career, but the book only mentions it this once. This page is also the first mention of Tony Boyle. Boyle took over the UMW and ruled it until he was convicted of murdering Jock Mahoney, his opponent.

Pg 506: Describes Lewis’ banking empire, which began in the 1920s and was gigantic by the 1950s. By then, the coal industry had fallen so low that its great financial achievements began to erode away

Pg 513: For his legacy, Lewis did not ask for statues or honors so much. He chartered 10 hospitals in mining districts. Apparently, Lewis always voted Democrat as he aged.

Pg 528: Died June 11, 1969. Left no papers nor any clear explanation of his lifelong motivations

Pg 529: The book ends with Dec 30, 1969, when Yablonski and his family retired for the night. That’s when Tony Boyle had them killed

Book Review: Kroeger, Brooke, “Nellie Bly, Daredevil. Reporter. Feminist” Times Books, New York, 1994

These are 510 astonishing pages from the life of a person of excess. Whether or not one likes and appreciates everything about Nellie Bly, they would have to agree that she did more and went further than any woman of her time. From around 1890 until her death in 1922, the nation and much of the world followed her from one incredible adventure into another one even more drastic.

Elizabeth Jane “Pink” Cochrane was re-named Nellie Bly when editors were assigning her to find out about scandalous treatment of patients in a mental institution. To investigate, she went crazy and let everybody know about it. While she was undergoing “treatment,” she interviewed and observed patients and staff, then lowered the boom on the entire operation. That was just a beginning.

Before she was through, she had been filthy rich and desperately poor, despised and applauded, deceived and honored. When she began, hardly any women had regular jobs in the news industry. The few women employed at all were assigned gossip columns and society news only. When she passed, one of her eulogists called her simply “the best reporter in America.”

Bly served a time as an industrialist with 1,500 employees in her factory. She invented, and held the patent, for steel barrels. To her credit, she took a utopian attitude toward the treatment of her employees. At another time, she championed the Seamen’s Union. Toward the end of her life, she was especially well known for helping poor widows and orphans.

On the negative side, she supported the aristocracy of Austria all through World War I and afterward. She greatly admired Kaiser Wilhelm. She went out of her way to oppose the Russian Revolution and encouraged President Wilson to help combat “Bolshevists.” Her no-holds-barred approach to business, and everything else, must have made many enemies. In this book, though, any rough edges that Bly may have had could be excused by the anti-woman kind of world she lived in. She would never have succeeded at anything without being tough!

The book is good for explaining the historical setting that Bly had to contend with. It especially clarifies the early days of women’s battle for a place in the world of news. A few other newswomen succeeded during Bly’s life, but no one smashed the glass ceiling as thoroughly as Nellie Bly.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” talk show every Saturday at 9AM. KNON podcasts it and my “Workers Bet Extra” on Soundcloud.com on Wednesdays. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site.

Book Review: Marion Merriman and Warren Lerude, “American Commander in Spain. Robert Hale Merriman and the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.” University of Nevada Press, 1986

Major Merriman went missing in Spain in early 1938, but his young widow could not bring herself to write about him until she reached the age of 70. Then she sought out a prize-winning co-writer to help her.

Generalissimo Franco and his German & Italian fascists prevailed

The book is extremely personal and could double as a love story as well as a history. I read it for the history. Here’s the best line in it on page 195. She was speaking about her husband’s and hers experiences in defending Spain. In this speech, she was talking to the Rotary Club in Reno, Nevada.

“I’m sorry to tell you this, but if you don’t help the Spanish people and take your stand against fascism in Spain, your sons will die in Germany. I promise you that! There will be nothing you can do to stop a world war from starting if you do not help the Spanish Republic now.”

I don’t think that many Americans today know much about the overthrow of the Spanish Republic by fascists. Even those with some inkling probably think it was freedom versus communism, because that’s how things have been distorted worldwide. In fact, the people of Spain were hardly communists. The Communist Party of Spain was a very small group. The nation just wanted to keep the government that they had elected.

The fascists wanted to take over. Generalissimo Franco organized his foreign legionairres from Africa to invade Spain. He received a lot of help from the Catholic Church and his fascist friends Benito Mussolini and Adolph Hitler. For the Germans and Italians, this was a great opportunity to test out their new weaponry. The so-called “great powers,” including the United States, put their hands in their pockets and looked the other way. If they hadn’t, there would have been no World War II! It would profit everyone to muse on why the “great powers” allowed World War II to develop and take place the way they did, but that would be another blog for another time.

In Spain in the mid 1930s, thousands of good young men from all over the world, including from the United States, volunteered to save democracy by going to battle. The Merrimans were among them.

This is a first hand and personal account. Mrs Merriman doesn’t dissect the political forces of the place and time. Her commitment was to follow and to support her husband. Her passions for the cause came later. Neither she nor her husband were communists, she says, but many of the International Brigadistas were, because communist parties across the world organized support for the Spanish Republic. The Republic wasn’t communist, either. It was just a republic.

One gets to know a lot of the people. Many of them, like Dorothy Parker and Ernest Hemmingway, were far more famous than Robert Hale Merriman. Everybody admire Merriman. He was an intellectual economist originally from Nevada, but he went to school in Berkeley and studied for his doctorate in the USSR before deciding, on a personal level, that he had to go and fight in Spain.

In a way, he lives on, because he was one of the models for Hemmingway’s hero in “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” One can read a lot about the American brigadistas in ALBA magazine. I get it monthly. There are a few history books with widely varying points of view, like this one. One fact is consistent in all the coverage: the international volunteers were incredibly brave!

-Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” radio talk show every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. They podcast it on Wednesdays along with my special “Workers Beat Extra” commentary. If you want to know what I really think, you might look at my personal web site.

Book Review: Krugman, Paul, “Arguing with Zombies: Economics, Politics, and the Fight for a Better Future.” Kindle Edition, 2020

Nobel economist Paul Krugman writes columns for the NY Times. He collected a bunch of them from around 2004 to 2020 and ordered them, more or less, by topic, then published it as a book. It’s a chance to learn something about contemporary economics while examining political developments.

As I have written before, the separation of political economy into two separate “disciplines” was a terrible blow to knowledge in general. Consequently, while Krugman does not deliberately try to overcome the gaps of separation, he tends to ameliorate the problem by examining political developments from an economics perspective. The “zombies” in the title are economic theories that have already been discounted, but just won’t go away. Principal among them are the monetary theories popularized by Republican zealots such as drip-down prosperity.

In the introduction, Krugman writes, “The administration of George W Bush was dishonest to a degree never before seen in U.S. politics (though now surpassed by the Trumpists), and it was obviously, it seemed t ome, taking us to war o false pretenseses. Yet nobody else with a columnin a major newspaper seemed willing to point this out. As  result, I felt I had to do the job.”

Krugman’s treatments are candid and clear. He doesn’t mind exposing and naming some of the partisan sellouts who pretend that economic theory underlines outright class warfare. Krugman declares himself a modern Keynesian and argues for government spending throughout the period 2004-2020. Krugman’s co-thinkers can be pretty smug about his recommendations, both those that were applied and those that weren’t, because history is the best proof.

In my opinion, Krugman doesn’t go far enough in his analysis of modern economics. He doesn’t say outright that the liars with zombie theories are really puppets of the ruling class. He isn’t as absolute and clear as Thomas Piketty. When Krugman talks about Piketty, he seems to try to fit him in with all capitalist economists who are trying to make the system work, like Krugman himself. I don’t believe that Piketty is trying to make capitalism work.

On July 21, I wrote that I had just read Paul Krugman’s review of Piketty’s new book “Capital and Ideology.” Krugman thinks that Piketty’s work is epic, but that his conclusions are suspect. Here’s where I disagree with Krugman: “And his [Picketty’s] clear implication is that social democracy can be revived by refocusing on populist economic policies, and winning back the working class.” I don’t think that Piketty has any intention of reviving social democracy.

I haven’t read the new book, but the Piketty tome I read did not mention, anywhere, about reviving social democracy. Like any good Marxist, Picketty does not expect social democracy to be revived. Even if it was, Picketty and I would say that it was only temporary. Capitalism, all Marxists agree, is doomed. For decades now, economists have helped a ruthless and wealthy gang maintain their stranglehold to the detriment of the rest of us. In that sense, all their theories are zombies.

-Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” radio show every Saturday at 9 AM Central Time. The talk show and “Workers Beat Extra” podcast are put on Soundcloud.com every Wednesday. I don’t mind saying what I think and I even made a personal web site that may interest you.

Book Review:

Prashad, Vijay, “Washington Bullets.” Leftward Books, New Delhi, 2020. Preface by Evo Morales Ayma, former President of Bolivia.

I bought the book through Amazon. I believe that it contributes to a trend, especially among younger people, toward a greater awareness of the seamy side of our nation’s role in the world. Some of the ugliest chapters are generally known among the technologically advanced. The CIA’s overthrow of Arbenz in Guatemala, their bloody work in substituting dictators for democracy in Indonesia and most of Latin America, the murder of Patrice Lumumba in Africa, and all the assassination attempts against Fidel Castro in Cuba are common parlance among younger folk. This book attempts to enlarge the scope of understanding and fill in a lot of historical blanks.

The facts are in the book, but this long-running list of condemnations doesn’t follow an understandable pattern and isn’t as clear as other books on the same subject such as “The Jakarta Method.” The problem is probably that other books take up only a few of the bloodstained chapters of American interventionism, while Prashad tries to cover it all. The sheer scope of imperialism’s history, running from the massacres and enslavements of darker-skinned peoples at the very beginnings of colonial America through the current efforts to starve Iran and Venezuela into submission, might be better explained in a series of books explaining interventions in different continents, different eras, or different trends.

Another problem with trying to cover the entire range of international crimes is that American laws protect the documentation from scrutiny for decades before any admissions are made. We are only just now getting official documents about the murder of a million Indonesians in the 1960s, and we don’t know much of anything about NATO’s current slide eastward.

One obvious truth that emerges from Prashad’s effort is that domestic public opinion is always thoroughly prepared before imperialism makes a move. The Gulf of Tonkin resolution, known today as a total sham, prepared public opinion for the invading armies in Vietnam. The invasion of Iraq was preceded by months of repeated nonsense about “weapons of mass destruction.” The U.S. is accused of recently engineering the overthrow of the government in Bolivia, but it’s barely mentioned here. Today, we’re getting spoon fed demonization of Iran, Venezuela, and, especially, China in preparation for whatever they are planning, and we won’t get official release of documents for decades to come.

But communication technology has a way of abrading its way through the sheaths of secrecy. As this is written, Americans are beginning to lose all hope for victory in America’s longest war, Afghanistan. Public opinion already gave up on Libya and Syria.  I have never seen an assessment of the effect of ending the draft on imperialism’s designs, and I have no way of knowing whether or not Americans are willing to support the inevitable next intervention. But Prashad’s book contributes to a healthy trend toward truth and understanding.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” talk radio show at 9AM Central Time every Saturday. We podcast the program and another called “Workers Beat Extra” on Soundcloud.com every Wednesday. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my aging personal web site.

During the late 1940s, the Congress of Industrial Organizations stopped being the CIO. They became part of “business unionism” and tried to partner with their bosses. In the mid-1950s, they went so far as to re-join the American Federation of Labor, thus forming the AFL-CIO. The program that they operated from was like that of the older AFL and sharply different from the vibrant CIO organizing machine of 1935-1947.

The AFL-CIO continued trying to partner with their bosses until, in 1995, they admitted failure and began to develop a progressive kind of unionism that wasn’t new. It was a return in the direction of the old fighting CIO. By then, we had lost 2/3 of our membership and were isolated from virtually anybody that might help us. Now, in 2021, things look better, but we have not returned, yet, to the virility that we lost in 1947.

My main criticism of today’s progressive labor movement is that they don’t own up to their mistakes. The changes that the new, improved AFL-CIO leadership is making are called “new.” We’d be stronger if we knew our history, all of it, and stopped hiding the trends of 1947-1995.

One way to fill in the blanks in our labor history is to look at one of the main protagonists in the drama, the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America. Here, I review a scholarly document and a history book on those missing pages of American labor history.

–Gene Lantz

Document review:

Brueggemann, John of Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs NY, “The Rise and Fall of the United Electrical Workers: Defending or Assaulting Democracy in Cold War Labor Politics?” January 8, 2003

I believe this is a college dissertation for a doctorate in history. I have a hard copy, but I can’t find it on-line. He concludes that the union’s collective bargaining strategy was out of date, that American attitudes changed and the union didn’t, and that organized labor in general had poor strategies for dealing with capital. These are all euphemisms.

But if you read what he says, it’s pretty much what happened. The anti-communist witch hunt succeeded in shifting American opinions, the union tried to hold true and not give in, and, sure enough, the labor movement not only gave in but basically joined the witch hunt. As Brueggemann puts it, “…the CIO… expelled one of its most democratic and vibrant unions.”

They didn’t just cut off the UE, they didn’t just expel it from the CIO, they commenced to raid it like vultures picking at the bones. The amazing thing is that the UE survived and is still a progressive voice in the American labor movement.

Book Review:

James J Matles, General Secretary of the UE, and James Higgins, “Them and Us. Struggles of a Rank-and-File Union.” Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1974.

This is a history of the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America from its inception until the mid-seventies. Matles was the original head of the Organizing Department. He became General Secretary after Julius Emspak died in 1962. I especially appreciated this book because it clarifies what happened to American labor during the critical postwar period. This period is flatly boycotted in official American labor history, so very few people know about it.

My friend Richard Stephens of the National Nurses Organizing Committee recommended it to me during a conversation in which I was recommending “Rainbow at Midnight” to him.

The authors do not use this book to rail against the assaults on their union by the rest of the labor movement, although they report on it factually. Mostly, the book is about problems with management, particularly at General Electric and Westinghouse, the two giants of the electrical industry. Problems within the CIO and with backstabbing in general, even problems with attacks from the government, are reported with sparse comment. I find that remarkable. Nevertheless, a union’s main problem is with management, not with the rest of the unions or even with the government.

The reason I read it, though, is because there are practically no historical accounts of the great change in American labor around 1947. This book goes a long way toward filling that giant hole.

My notes:

Pg 13: UE officers are not allowed to get paid more than their members

Pg 17: Abraham Lincoln: Whenever there is a conflict between the man and the dollar, it can only be resolved by “putting the man before the dollar.”

Back when it was a federal union within the AFL, some of the new locals were allowed to affiliate with IAM. Later on, they realized that IAM intended to split off the craft workers. That’s when they bolted the AFL. There was already a lot of turmoil within the IAM-associated locals, because IAM had a “white male” provision for membership. All the locals were new, industrial unions. Some were “federal unions” and some were in the IAM. They all bolted together to form UE. This took place around the same times that UAW was getting established (1935-8).

Pg 103 5/26/38 House Un-American Activities Committee formed by House of Representatives as a response to the LaFollette committee. HR282 formed it, and it became known as “Dies committee”. Sponsor of the Bill was Martin Dies of East Texas “unreconstructed southern Democrat”. A fink named “Colonel” Frey came from the AFL to accuse CIO members and made quite a plash. New York Times headline “Communists Rule the CIO.” Some of those named were John Brophy of Mineworkers and Director of the CIO; James Matles, michael Quill TWU, Walter Reuther of UAW, …

Pg 115 Matles appeared before Dies committee. Asked for S 1970 (LaFollette bill) to pass to stop outrageous employer behavior. He predicted that without it, “The practice of industry in employing spies, stirkebreakers and finks will continue to flourish as in the past.” The bill didn’t happen but Matles prediction did.

Pg 117-8: John Brophy: “Redbaiting, lies, slanders, raising the cry of ‘communists’ against militant and progressive union leaders, is nothing more than a smokescreen for the real objective of the people that use them. The real objective is to kill the CIO, destroy collective bargaining, destroy the unity of the organized and unorganized that the CIO is building through the nation.”

Pg 118: “Walter Reuther, then a young organizer and officer of the United Auto Workers, made a comment on Frey’s performance: ‘Now the bosses are raising a scare – the Red Scare. They pay stools to go around whispering that so-and-so, usually a militant union leader, is a Red. What the bosses actually mean, however, is not that he is really a Red. They mean they do not like him because he is a loyal, dependable union man, a fighter who helps his brothers and sisters and is not afraid of the boss. So let us all be careful that we do not play the bosses’ game by falling for the Red Scare. No union man worthy of that 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.’”

Pg 139: November 1945, Truman called a Labor-Management Conference. “CIO proposals for immediate wage increases to make up the 30 percent loss in real wages and a demand for firm price controls across the board were defeated by the combined votes of corporation executives and representatives of the AFL.”

Pg 140 “On November 21, 1945, the first strike in mass production industry began when the Auto Workers under the leadership of vice-president Reuther shut down the auto plants of General Motors.”  I think the UE joined this strike, but signed contracts before the UAW. Later on, Reuther would use this as his reason for raiding the UE.

Pg 146: heads of GM and GE were both named Charles E Wilson. “engine charlie” and “electric charley”

“Despite his public expression of satisfaction with the outcome of the strike, Reuther was deeply disappointed and embittered. He blamed the Chrysler and Ford settlements made by his own union, and the settlements of the Steel Workers and UE with U.S. Steel and the GM electrical division, for the failure to get the additional one cent from General Motors. This episode was the first of a series of developments over the next few years that produced a complete break in the relationship between UE and the Auto Workers. The break lasted for more than two decades. It was not until the winter of 1969-1970 that Reuther and Secretary-Treasurer Emil Mazey met with Fitzgerald and Matles and agreed to join forces in another nationwide strike struggle against a powerful corporation.”

Pg153 3/5/46 at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, Prime Minister Winston Churchill launched the cold war with a call for a political and military buildup by ‘English speaking peoples” to contain communism. Truman, seated on the platform, indicated by his presence, and by a cordial response to the Churchill remarks, his endorsement of the cold war proposition, upon which U.S. foreign policy was soon to be exclusively based and domestic policy oriented accordingly. UE denounced it: “…we must take the lead in the fight to prevent American monopolists from dragging the world into war.”

Pg 155: Electric Charlie Wilson in Oct 1946 “The problems of the United States can be captiously summed up in two words: Russia abroad, labor at home.”

Pg 169: One reason unions gave for signing the Taft-Hartley affidavits were that it would help them organize in the reactionary south. They organized almost nobody and “operation Dixie,” after spending hundreds of thousands, was abandoned. I think in 1948.

Pg 170: Matles in 1948 CIO meeting “But we will not rush to that Taft-Hartley line-up for the simple reason it is not a chow line. It is a line where they are dishing out poison.”

Pg 192 “The Auto Workers, in good standing with the Taft-Hartley board, followed a strategy of petitioning the board for elections in UE organized shops, wherein the UE would be barred from appearing on the ballot.” They explain the process here and there. Companies could call for union elections any time they wanted to, and they did. They worked closely with the raiding unions. UAW was first and worst, but Steelworkers and other unions raided UE even before IUE was created.

Pg 194-5. After years of protesting the raids without relief, the UE stopped paying dues to the CIO and stayed away from the November 1949 convention in Cleveland, whereupon they were “expelled.” That convention created the IUE. Murray installed James Carey, CIO secretary who had been voted out of UE office in 1941, as president. He then issued a call to all UE locals to come to the convention and join the IUE-CIO.

Pg 205: Chapter “McCarthyism and Humphreyism” clarifies the rotten careers of two of America’s worst “rightist” and “leftist” politicians.

There are some really good lessons about fighting and bargaining. A bosses’ technique known as “Boulwarism” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boulwarism#:~:text=Boulwarism%20is%20the%20tactic%20of,Boulware%2C%20who%20promoted%20the%20strategy) is especially edifying.

On pg 295 they explain the problems of new technology and rising productivity. Labor never got a decent share.

Pg 298 “In 1947, at the start of the cold war, the income of the lowest fifth of all families in the U.S. was 5 ½ percent of total national income. Whereas that of the highest fifth of families, in 1947, was 41 ½ percent. In 1972 the breakdown remained exactly the same. No change.” The authors seem to consider those ratios outrageous, but I wonder what they would have said in 2007 when statisticians talked about “the bottom 90%”?

Pg 304: Good summary of the whole period on the last page of the book: “The CIO objective of the 1930s – to implant industrial unionism in the shops of mass production – had been achieved. But the drive toward long-range objectives – organizing the millions of workers still unorganized, developing a strong independent political movement, redistributing the national wealth and income – was derailed by the corporate anti-labor offensive conducted during a quarter-century of cold and hot war. In the seventies, then, these objectives still remain to be won.”

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” talk show every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. They podcast it and an additional “Workers Beat Extra” every Wednesday. If you care curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

Book Review:

Walter, Jess, “The Cold Millions.” Big Text,Inc, Harper, New York, 2020

There is a rave review from the Washington Post.

Jess Walter lives in Spokane, Washington. The book is about his town during 1909-10, the time of the great free speech fight of the Industrial Workers of the World. It’s fiction, but everything seems to fit. The point of view changes with each chapter, but the central character, by right of survival since his final chapter is the end of the book, is a teenager named Ryan Dolan. Dolan and his older brother are what we would today call migrant workers, but in their day were simply tramps.

The Spokane Free Speech fight is well noted in labor history, but nobody imagined what it may have been actually like in those days until this book. For example, we know that the IWW members were arrested after mounting soap boxes, one by one, and attempting to exercise their constitutional right to speak out. Many of them, just for irony’s sake, were arrested for having tried to read the Declaration of Independence.  In all, over 500 workers were incarcerated in Spokane and suffered terribly.

The IWW’s strategy was to fill the jails until the public, especially taxpayers, demanded their release and respect for constitutional rights. It was nonviolent resistance long before Gandhi and Martin Luther King popularized the term. The greatest hero of the Spokane fight was IWW organizer Frank Little, but he barely appears in this book because he spent the entire period in jail. The Dolan brothers were in and out.

Fortunately for the readers, the other giant labor figure from Spokane is prominent in Walter’s depiction. Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, the “Rebel Girl” orator from the IWW, may well be credited with having originated the “fill the jails” strategy earlier in Missoula, Montana. She and Frank Little were successful there. Little carried the strategy forward several times in several western cities for some of the most romantic chapters in American labor history.

If you know your history, you know that Flynn was there and that the publicity she generated was largely responsible for the success in Spokane. You might not know, though, that she was nineteen years old and far-gone pregnant when she did it!

I have always imagined the IWW workers mounting their soapboxes in a more or less orderly fashion, then being handcuffed and led off by the police. That’s how civil disobedience is carried out in our day. But Walters makes it clear that it couldn’t have been orderly at all. He describes it as shrieking bedlam, and, when you think about it, you realize that it must have been as he says.

The whole book is like that. History alive and real.

-Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” talk who every Saturday at 9 AM Central Time. On Wednesdays, they podcast it along with “Workers Beat Extra.” If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

Perry Bacon Jr wrote an editorial “American Democracy is in Even Worse Shape Than You Think” in the Washington Post.

I re-posted it on Facebook and Twitter because it’s a very good think piece and deserves general consideration. Americans really must consider the likelihood of a fascist takeover.

I respectfully disagree with Bacon as to how things will happen, but not with his direst prediction.

It is not an overstatement to say that Republicans literally tried to overthrow democracy after the 2020 elections. At that point, one would have thought that they might back off a little and play the “loyal opposition” until their next chance for electoral victory. But that is not what they did. To this day, they are continuing the same policies that led to the January 6th putsch.

Beyond January, Republicans have consistently undermined democracy everywhere that they hold power.

Bacon warns that Republicans are likely to win the 2022 Mid-Term Elections. His strongest argument is the historical trend for first-time presidents to lose in their first mid-term challenge. He points out, correctly, that Republicans who control Congress will certainly, surely, refuse to ratify the 2024 presidential race if they do not win it outright. That’s reasonable to assume, because that’s what they tried to do in 2020 when they had clearly lost.

He May be Wrong, But He’s Right

Here’s where I disagree with Bacon before I agree with him. I don’t think the Republicans are likely to win in 2022. I’m not even sure they are planning to try. Certainly, the antidemocratic, racist, chauvinistic policies they are pursuing are not building a “big tent” of voters. They are avoiding all truth. Their “base” is shrinking down to the most racist and superstitious.

In the long term, civilized people are becoming more technologically capable, more educated, and more sophisticated while the Republicans deliberately appeal only to the most backward. That’s why I don’t expect them to succeed as an electoral party unless the Democrats throw away their advantage with an ideological split or allow a major economic disaster before the election.

In other words, the Republican party is getting smaller. The catch is that it’s getting more fascistic.

History Foretells

In 1931, Hitler’s fascist party was very small. They gained a tiny plurality in that election because of the worldwide economic catastrophe of 1929. The German Communists, I believe, had a slogan “After Hitler, us!” The Nazis were not a powerful electoral party, but they didn’t have to be. Faced with the likelihood of a Communist takeover, the wealthiest class of Germans went over to Hitler. Everything after that was predictable.

Speaking of Predictions

My prediction is that the Democrats will defeat the Republicans in national elections until the next economic disaster. If you don’t believe there will be another great economic disaster, then you may believe that Democrats will stay in power, but you’d be ignoring the history of our economic system. It has to have an economic disaster. It’s only “when,” never “if.”

Even a relatively small fascist political party is likely to take power in the next crisis, and that crisis will come as sure as God made little green apples. The Democrats will not be able to stop the fascists any more than the Weimar socialists could stop the Nazis.

A Further Prediction

The only hope for the future is to defeat the fascists by organizing around working families. That is what the Germans failed to do in 1931 and what Americans must do now. I predict that we will.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” radio talk show at 9AM Central Time every Saturday. They post it, along with “Workers Beat Extra” podcast on Wednesdays. If you are curious about what I really think, try my personal web site.

Sixty-five percent of Americans approve of labor unions and would join one if they could, according to a Gallup poll for Labor Day, 2020. Unions love to publicize that 65% figure. But here’s contradicting info: the Amazon organizing drive at Bessemer, Alabama, failed miserably. Despite a high-profile campaign, about 45% of eligible workers didn’t even vote! Of those who did vote, 60% rejected the union.

Longtime union organizer Chris Townsend, while urging unions to keep trying, projects a bleak future:

“You will have many, many, more opportunities to complain about what went wrong in the future failed organizing drives yet to come. Bessemer is merely a milepost on what will be a long and arduous road to organize this piece of the commanding economic heights. Many more losses lie ahead. Strikes and other uprisings are ahead. The union organization of corporate America will be a messy affair. There will be many casualties.”

Should we conclude that one contradictory fact or the other is just an aberration, or should we accept them both as hard data and try to figure out the reason? Straining to find an answer, should we think that everybody really does want a union, just not in their own workplace?

Most unions and union supporters have seized on a single explanation for the Amazon fiasco. They say that the American government is so hostile to working people that we don’t have a chance to organize. Labor law, they argue with considerable credibility, has to be changed! They are correct of course, but there’s a lot more to it.

I resolve the contradiction this way: unionization is genuinely popular in America, but our method of organizing needs changing. I agree with Chris Townsend that many future workplace organizing drives will fail. I just don’t believe that the traditional workplace organizing drive, taken alone, has a bright future. I also don’t expect a lot of immediate help from the government in changing labor law so that traditional workplace organizing drives will start succeeding. We don’t presently have that kind of government.

I believe that the data on union popularity from the 2020 Gallup Poll was correct. Further, I believe that union organizing is far more popular in 2021, because of the lessons learned during the continuing worldwide pandemic. I also believe that the American union movement, led by the AFL-CIO labor federation, is moving toward riding that popularity to real gains for working families.

Unions need more than traditional workplace organizing drives. We need big, national and international, campaigns to educate and mobilize our many supporters toward the goal of power for working families. We need to sign up all our supporters and get them to coordinate their resources meaningfully. We can do that. Given the fact that most Americans carry advanced learning and communications devices around with them, it might not take much time.

Workplace organizing, instead of being the one-and-only-labor-tactic, will become a by-product of a mighty movement. A single electronic source could start that movement and build it into an irresistible force. The AFL-CIO already has a potential tool called “Working America,” but it has not yet been fully implemented. It will, or something like it will, and union popularity will be unleashed at last.

Let’s See

If I am right about the progressive movement coming together with the AFL-CIO, then we are likely to see bigger and more meaningful activities. MayDay will be a test of sorts. In 2020, the AFL-CIO and certain national unions had big celebrations. For many of them, it was their first time to publicly acknowledge International Workers Day. I predict it will be far bigger and better in 2021. It will be based on unions, but not confined to them. MayDay will help unify and direct the progressive movement at last! Let’s see!

-Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” radio talk show every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. We podcast the program and a more directed program, “Workers Beat Extra” on Soundcloud.com If you are interested in what I really think, take a look at my personal web site.