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American union federations should not accept police associations as members.

Everyone knows that the American labor movement has diminished in size and influence since the mid 1950s. The pandemic, the economic crisis, and a hostile government are accelerating the erosion today. Two doors to labor’s revival are open to us:

  1. More of the kind of workplace organizing that we have always done or tried to do.
  2. Improving our connections with broader communities that can add to our negotiating and electoral clout

We have to pass through both of those doors, but one of them is endangered by our association with police unions. The broader community, the broader electorate, distrusts police unions and anybody associated with them. A leading civil rights activist in Dallas today commented on the possibility of allowing the Police Association to affiliate with the Dallas AFL-CIO. He said, “If they do, I will never have anything to do with them!” He meant what he said.

Oddly, a lot of the public argument seems to be about whether or not police unions are really unions. If a union is a group of people organized together to advance their aims and defend their members, then certainly the police associations are unions. No argument.

Using the same definition, though, a lot of other associations are also unions. They advance their aims and defend their members. The Chamber of Commerce, arguably labor’s worst enemy, meets the definition. The Business Roundtable is a union. So is the White Citizens’ Alliance. They are unions, but they are not on the side of working families — and neither are the police.

TOPSHOT – Police officers clash with protestors near the White House on June 1, 2020 as demonstrations against George Floyd’s death continue. – Police fired tear gas outside the White House late Sunday as anti-racism protestors again took to the streets to voice fury at police brutality, and major US cities were put under curfew to suppress rioting.With the Trump administration branding instigators of six nights of rioting as domestic terrorists, there were more confrontations between protestors and police and fresh outbreaks of looting. Local US leaders appealed to citizens to give constructive outlet to their rage over the death of an unarmed black man in Minneapolis, while night-time curfews were imposed in cities including Washington, Los Angeles and Houston. (Photo by Jose Luis Magana / AFP) / ALTERNATE CROP (Photo by JOSE LUIS MAGANA/AFP via Getty Images)

Even the editors of the Dallas Morning News, historic enemies of working families, argue that police unions are reactionaries. The combined constituency groups of the AFL-CIO issued a statement that contains this:

“We demand local schools, colleges, universities, and all public institutions cut ties with the police.”

It is entirely possible, given the desperate financial situation of many actual unions, that members might want to affiliate with the police associations just for the money. They would argue that unions would benefit from additional workplace organizing; door number 1 above.

But door number 2, our hope of harnessing labor’s power along with the broad progressive community and electorate, would be swinging closed.

American labor should not affiliate with police associations.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program every Saturday at 9 Central Time. They podcast the program plus other statements on Soundcloud. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

Are today’s protests really going to change America? Will racism come to an end?

One thing I have really liked about the last 11 days of international protest is that it seems to be evolving from unfocused outrage toward serious demands. One recent local demand I’m hearing is to fire the Dallas mayor, city administrator, and police chief. I’m pretty sure there’s no real change in that one because we’d just end up with 3 new faces, just as likely worse as better.

The police themselves are coming up with some reforms. Dallas police, for example, say they will no longer use choke-holds against us and that they will announce their intentions before they shoot us. Individual police will be asked to restrain other police who are doing things illegally. The Democrats have a bill in Congress that would theoretically change police from “warriors” to “protectors.” All non-transitional reforms are welcome, but they don’t change the fundamental relationship between police and the population.

Most recently, I hear the demand “defund the police” and re-allocate the money to developing poor communities. According to today’s Dallas newspaper, some City Councilpersons seem to be in favor! That demand might actually be transitional.

When I was a Trotskyite, we argued that transitional demands were those that could not be met while capitalism remained intact. We used to say that our Vietnam anti-war demand “Out Now!”, a very powerful and successful demand, was transitional. The argument was that capitalism could not exist without successful imperialism. With hindsight, we have to say that we were wrong, because America withdrew from Vietnam and went right on with imperialism.

In the 1960s we had a similar youth movement. Possibly bigger, although it’s hard to tell because there are literally hundreds of smaller demonstrations every day. But that was during a time of prosperity. Those student activists had very little chance of actually connecting with the working class, and in truth we didn’t.

Today, we probably have at least fifty million American families in dire economic straits. Most of the world is even worse off. The young activists won’t find it very hard, if they try, to connect with the rest of the working class. Nobody, except the affluent, like what is happening and is about to happen in America.

As the American labor federation, AFL-CIO, has already called for a “Day of Action” on June 17, which will include a demand for racial justice, we are likely to find out sooner rather than later about this worker/youth connection.

Today’s young activists, if they try, will not find it difficult to connect with the rest of the world working class, either. The most impressive thing about today’s demonstrations is their worldwide reach!

Could local governments “defund the police” and still maintain capitalist control over our giant working class? That’s the question that makes it all so interesting!

I don’t think we’re going to find out because I don’t think that police are likely to be defunded anytime soon, even though the demand will not disappear. It’s more likely that this demand will be added to future consciousness-raising economic demands that, considered together, will truly change the world!

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” program every Saturday at 9 AM Central Time. The program is podcast along with “Workers Beat Extra” podcasts every Wednesday. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site.

It is difficult to absorb the true gravity of today’s situation or the meaning of the protests in the cities of the world. Even though they have captured all the headlines and are undeniably important, I think they are only skirmishes in a battle that has yet to come.

From Wikipedia: “A skirmish is a term first used in the 14th century.[2] It meant a small-scale fight between two opposing forces or a preliminary battle involving troops in front of the main force.”

The main forces of the antagonists have not yet engaged. Only the advanced forces have begun the combat. The skirmishers on our side are the youth. They are more willing to fight, and they have more to fight for. On the other side, the skirmishers are police forces. They are the first line of administration for the people who run our society.

The main forces have yet to be committed. So far, the military has not been employed, at least not completely. Mr. Trump threatens to use them, and he certainly would, but he hasn’t yet. Organized labor, always defensive, is not likely to respond until there is no other choice. There is some hope that workers may organize outside the restrictions set up to cripple traditional unions. A general strike may not be so far in the future.

The economic situation makes the war inevitable. As American economic power decreased relatively, beginning in the early 1970s, the employers demanded more and more from the working class. For the workers, the situation has become intolerable. It is fight or die.

Class war is not new, but the circumstances have changed drastically. Workers are far better educated and far better networked than ever before. Employers not only have their traditional rifles and bayonets, but they also have nuclear weapons.

New strategies will come into play. It is unlikely that major working class forces will commit until the situation gets more desperate, but insightful people may be ready to fight now. The trick is to find each other and organize.

-Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s ‘Workers Beat” program every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. The radio show and several “Workers Beat Extra” presentations are podcast every Wednesday. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site..

Around the world, more people are in motion today than at any time since the early 1970s. The flash point was the police murder of Mr George Floyd in Minneapolis. There are demonstrations all over the planet, and some of them are quite militant. But do they have a plan?

Police brutality is hardly the only issue. Planet-wide, we are in an economic downturn that looks to become worse than the Great Depression. Any chance of saving Earth from environmental disaster is ticking away. The fascists among us are overwhelming our democracy. We are dying everywhere of a pandemic that is not, whatever the politicians might say, under control. All hope of international cooperation seems destroyed by President Trump. World war may be imminent. To put it succinctly, the system is breaking down.

Answers, Anyone?

I seek answers. As a talk radio host, I get to listen to a lot of heartfelt complaints. I ask them, “What should we do? What is the solution?” But they don’t know.

Social media is full of the same. Unending complaints about the world we live in; almost no positive suggestions. To be sure, the electoral enthusiasts among us continue to ask people to vote. I certainly agree with them, but I wouldn’t want to stand in front of the angry throngs of America today and say that my sole answer to their swollen anger is “vote Democrat in 2020.” They have heard that many times before, and they aren’t buying it.

The radicals among us, on both sides of the spectrum, aren’t connecting. One gentleman called our talk show and said that we need to re-institute segregation. What an awful person, but at least he had a plan! The so-called leftists call in and say that we have to “fight imperialism” or “smash the state.”  They’re probably right, but those are long-term goals, not prescriptions for the here and now.

Labor Turns Away

Just about the best of the down-to-Earth solutions being posed has just slipped away from us. The AFL-CIO national labor federation had called for a “Day of Action” June 3 to win passage of the HEROES Act in Congress. The Act would greatly ameliorate the economic crisis. It would also help with the political crisis by providing more money for electoral reform. But, alas, just today, the national leadership postponed the Day of Action.

They sent out a statement that was very good, but didn’t really explain why they postponed their actions for June 3. It may well have been a result of last night’s attack on National AFL-CIO Headquarters in Washington DC. Windows were broken and a fire was set! We might assume that they believed that the June 3 Day of Action would invite more thuggery.

I absolutely loved the Tweet sent out by the President of the Central Labor Council in Sioux Falls, South Dakota: “It hurts to see damage being done to the @AFLCIO headquarters. But I believe it brings to light two facts: 1) The people did not recognize the building as the headquarters of a movement that fights for them 2) That is our fault.

In my opinion, the labor leadership made a major mistake. If labor is truly in solidarity with the anti-racists on the street, we should be on the street with them. Others are marching without condoning violence and looting, why shouldn’t we?

Another possibility is that the AFL-CIO does not want to risk being seen as anti-police because they generally welcome organized police associations into labor’s organizations. Some of us think that, too, is a mistake.

By calling off the Day of Action, our labor federation turns down the opportunity to lead the progressive movement in a positive direction. Our demand to pass the HEROES Act might not solve all of America’s problems, but it certainly goes in the right direction. Further, our demand had the distinction of being just about the only reasonable positive demand being proposed!

OUR FAILURE

Vandals vandalize, looters loot, and America’s great and powerful progressive movement continues milling around leaderless! That’s our failure.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” talk show every Saturday at 9 AM Central Time. The podcasts are on Soundcloud. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

They don’t sound like very good choices, but that’s what’s being offered to the 99% by the 1% today. I know this because I attend a lot of meetings with representatives of working families, specifically union leaders.

ACCIDENT

Workplace safety is in shambles and is not getting better. The American Federation of Labor/Congress of Industrial Organizations has been demanding for some time that the Occupational Safety and Health Agency put forward some mandatory rules for workplace safety. OSHA hasn’t. The pandemic has just made it much worse.

OSHA was created during the Nixon Administration. It is charged with making sure that American workplaces are safe for everyone. Over the years, it has kept the mandate but lost the capacity. They don’t have enough resources to investigate much of anything; consequently, they don’t.

Workplaces may be safe if 1) Benevolent our insurance-minded bosses regulate themselves or 2) the workers have a union. Union workers have very few accidents. When they do, they generally get good care and compensation. But only about 11% of American workers have a union. The other 89% have to look out!

Undocumented workers are particularly at risk. It would be difficult to find out just how much “at risk” they are, because their accidents, even their deaths, are barely recorded. If they are lucky, the dead ones may get a wooden coffin and shipment to their country of origin. That’s about all the luck they have.

If they are hurt but not dead, undocumented workers tend to keep very quiet about it. A person can get fired for getting hurt, and undocumented workers have no protection, no recourse.

Here in Texas, there is an organization that specifically tries to help the undocumented. The Workers Defense Project collect data to show that construction jobs in Texas are the most dangerous jobs in the country. Of course, many of those jobs, and those bad statistics, are held by the undocumented.

Like every agency meant to help working families, OSHA is severely underfunded, is getting more underfunded, and has no prospects for getting more funding. That’s the situation in workplace safety.

DISEASE

The workplace safety situation is especially dire during the pandemic. Companies have no reason to reveal how many of their employees have the Coronavirus, and they have lots of motivation to keep it quiet so that other workers will continue producing wealth for them.

We hail the “essential workers” or “frontline workers.” We’d like to think that everybody loves them, but their bosses don’t. Lots of these self-sacrificing workers that are saving this nation and the world are working without proper training or equipment. It’s not just a few, it’s epic.

Union workers, as usual, are much better off than those without representation, but even union workers are getting shafted. I have been to several press conferences where union leaders announced the numbers of infected or dead members they have. Nearly all of those union leaders can point out workplaces where brave workers are risking the virus without what they need.

Undocumented workers, we’re talking millions of people, don’t get much of anything. They are treated as though they weren’t human. Interestingly, though, they can spread the virus just as well as any human. It is in everybody’s interest to take care of the undocumented and stop the virus, but they don’t. I made a mistake when I said “everybody’s interest,” I should have said “yours and my interest,” not the bosses.

So, the disease threat is really close at hand

EXECUTION

Many of my friends, maybe even all of them, are compare Trump to Hitler. I don’t. Hitler had a mustache. Hitler was smart.

But the conditions that brought about fascism in Italy and Germany are, in a very broad sense, being replicated in America today. Maybe the public at large thinks that fascism is impossible in America. I don’t blame them for thinking that, but they ought to re-think.

Actually, America had a lot of fascists during Hitler’s time. Remember the veteran’s bonus march, for example? Lots of left-learning Americans love the story of the bonus march, especially because Generals MacArthur and Eisenhower burned them out. If the generals are the bad guys, then the bonus marchers must have been the good guys. Right?

But one of the main leaders of the bonus army was a jack-booted fascist. He and his followers, being working folks, wore khaki. So they weren’t fascist black shirts nor fascist brown shirts. They were fascist khaki shirts.

Remember good old Lindberg, “Lucky Lindy,” who flew the Atlantic? He was a Hitler-supporting fascist and he had a big political party behind him. They didn’t have televangelists in those days, no television, but one radio evangelist, Father Coughlin, had hundreds of thousands of listeners! In my own union, the autoworkers, a triumvirate took power. One of them clearly was a communist, but another one was called a fascist!

So don’t think fascism can’t take root in America, it already has.

The Japanese simplified things for Americans at Pearl Harbor, but before that there were a lot of Communists and a lot of fascists.

There were a lot of both of them in Germany, too. But Hitler killed the Communists. We have probably memorized, by now, how many Jews Hitler caused to be dead. I’ve never heard the head count on dead Communists, but I know that they were first. One of Hitler’s main appeals (to the bosses) was that he would kill the Communists.

Hitler killed everybody that opposed him, and he killed them first. Keep that in mind when thinking about the possibility of fascism in America. When/if fascism comes to America, wrapped in the flag and singing hymns, as they say, anybody who speaks up will be courting execution.

So we have accident, disease, or execution before us. They aren’t the only choices, but they can claim inevitability unless somebody on our side, the 99% side, does something. Left to their own choices, the 1% bosses have already set their course and their sails. They’ve pulled up their anchor, too.

Their destination is not that far away. Fascism and the execution of the good guys could take place before November. November is when America is supposed to have elections to determine who has power. Democrats share power, of course. They make a great show of sportsmanship and sharing power. But fascists don’t, and fascists are taking over in America right now.

Right now in America, the biggest issue is not the pandemic. It’s not the economic crisis, either. It’s whether or not we will be able to maintain the democracy that we have left. We’ve already watched while Republicans shredded much of our democracy. They got the Citizens United case passed through the Supreme Court. They gutted the Voting Rights Act. They have succeeded in legitimizing the foulest forms of gerrymandering and voter suppression already.

Because they love us and don’t want us to get sick, they have postponed most of our elections in 2020. Their love and concern does not extend to letting us vote safely by mail. They are dead set against that. But they don’t mind postponing our elections.

They wouldn’t mind cancelling them, either.

Are you sure we’ll have an election in November, 2020?

Most American activists, including me, are working on the elections. We have no experience in any political environment that does not include regular, orderly, elections. We have always lived under a partial democracy. Many Americans believe they live in a democracy that is much more complete than it actually is. In general, we believe in democracy, we think we have it, and we expect it to continue.

People in other countries could tell us a thing or two. Historians could tell us a thing or two. Democracy is not a permanent form of government. In other countries, democracy isn’t taken for granted. Sometimes it is stronger, sometimes it is weaker, and sometimes it is gone!

Democracy Is Diminished

Democracy in the United States is diminishing, and has been diminishing for several decades. The Trump administration has accelerated the rate of diminishing democracy. Just look at some news articles from this week:

John Bachtel wrote a very good summary of the ways that the Trump Administration has recently increased its stranglehold on what remains of our legal system. See “Surging Authoritarianism…” The short version is that Trump has consolidated his hold over the entire Republican Party and the legal system. As I write this, he is busy purging everybody in government who might disagree with him about anything.

The slogan that was so important to millions of American activists, “No one is above the law,” would draw cynical laughter today.

The other recent article of great importance came from the Associated Press on March 3: “U.S. Plans Shift in Focus of Military.” Defense Secretary Mark Esper says specifically that the United States is planning for a war with China! A clipping is on my Facebook Page.

How Democracy Gets Cancelled

Despots never tell us that they intend to destroy democracy. Instead, they tell us that they have to “temporarily” suspend elections or some other aspect of democracy because of a crisis. The crisis, likely as not, is one that they created.

Mr Trump might use war with China. He might use the Covid-19 worldwide health crisis. Somebody might blow up an American building in the scenario that worked so well for George Bush. It wouldn’t be hard for Trump to find or create his “crisis” since he already controls so much of government and public life.

How Democracy Gets Saved

America’s partial democracy came from the British. The Revolutionary War and, more importantly, the Civil War, improved it. Hundreds of actions for civil rights and women’s rights improved it even more. When I was a young man, it was reasonable to expect that democracy in America would continue to improve far into the future. Then came Reagan, union busting, gerrymandering, voter suppression, and repeal of democratic rights we had thought were unassailable.

Democracy was won in wars, in strikes, in demonstrations, and in all forms of political action carried out by progressive people. Democracy will be defended in America the same way, but it’s going to take some serious informing and organizing to win.

What Can You Do?

At the individual level, there’s not a lot you can do beyond complaining. But if you join progressive organizations: unions, civil rights groups, women’s rights groups, and progressive political organizations, then together, we have a chance. But it will not be easy.

-Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program every Saturday at 9 AM Central Time. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

Book Review:

Cash, Wiley, “The Last Ballad.” William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, 2017

Two pages of the book’s afterword, 371-2, reprint everything that is actually known about American labor’s great heroine known usually as Ella May Wiggins. A little more is known about the Gastonia textile strike of 1929. This author uses what is known to weave together a fine piece of historical fiction that certainly satisfies my own high regard for Ella May.

Four of Ella May’s nine children died from pellagra and whooping cough. The one in her womb died with her when she was murdered by strikebreakers. The living children went to an orphanage. The men charged with murder were defended by the mill owners and found innocent.

Ella May’s story is not a happy one, but it is important. Whether she did or didn’t do all the things in this book, historians agree that she stood up for integrating the African American and Caucasian strikers. This was a long time before black/white unity began to pay off in victories for working families. Ella May was a pioneer as well as a martyr.

There are details of her short life, March-1900 to Sept 14-1929, on Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ella_May_Wiggins

The author was born in Gastonia, North Carolina, in the area where the strike and the murders took place. With this book, he won the Southern Book Prize for Literary Fiction and my heartfelt gratitude.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” program every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

Book Review:

Griffith, Barbara S., The Crisis of American Labor: Operation Dixie and the defeat of the CIO. Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1988. Borrowed from Longview Texas library through Dallas Public Library inter-library loan. Item barcode: 33053002087591

Working families have a giant hole in our own history. Even though virtually every union has an account of its early days, there is almost nothing about the period from 1947 to present. Union leaders might say that they just haven’t gotten around to covering that period, but I think there’s a truer explanation. I think they’re ashamed of it.

Ms Griffith’s book helps fill that hole. It tells how the brave organizers from the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO, before they surrendered to the AFL) tried to unify southern workers along with the industrialized North. It also explains why wages and benefits in the former confederacy continue to lag behind the rest of the nation.

In Spring of 1946, the CIO was less than 11 years old, but they had 4 million members! Their successes had galvanized the rival AFL into industrialized organizing, too. For the first time in American history, organized labor was more than a blip on the body politic. We were a power!

If Operation Dixie had succeeded, Griffiths says, southern workers would today be enjoying a much better standard of living. The civil rights movement would have realized its gains ten years earlier! American labor would have continued to gain membership and power. But it didn’t.

The CIO had overcome the giants of most industries, but they had not organized textile. When unions succeeded in the North, textile owners moved south where they could still get people to work almost as slaves. Griffith, who worked at the Smithsonian, seems to have done most of her research through union correspondence and personal interviews. By way of explaining working conditions in southern textile villages, she offers first hand testimonies. In one of them, a mother complains that her 8-year old daughter was removed from school and forced to go to work in a mill. The mill bosses had switches. The mother is quoted: “The second-hand, the foreman, the loom-fixer or the doffer—anyone they had over the section could whip them.”

The only way to make the union movement truly national was to organize the South. The CIO decided to go into the old Confederacy from Georgia to Texas with a small army of carefully selected organizers. Full of confidence, they gave it the fanciful name “Operation Dixie!”

From the first few months, there were major problems. Post war unions were strong, but so were corporations. Backwardness was a tradition in the South. Union organizers were not always beaten by company goons or corrupt lawmen. Sometimes, they were beaten by mill workers!

Author Barbara Griffiths doesn’t recount the entire history of Operation Dixie from Summer 1946 until it was finally discontinued in 1953. She says it was defeated in the first few months. Page 161: “As a large-scale organizing campaign Operation Dixie died in December 1946 when the organizing staff was cut in half.” Six months into the grand program, it was already a failure!

This is not a happy book. The few bright spots come from successes of the Food & Tobacco Workers and the Packinghouse workers, both left-led unions that were subsequently red-baited and kicked out of the CIO. But Operation Dixie was primarily about textile.

Griffiths correctly places the blame on the textile mill owners. They had almost total economic control over the lives of their subjects as well as the government. Racism was impenetrable. Red baiting was everywhere. In fact, race and red baiting were usually employed together against the CIO.

Were the unions to blame? Griffiths can point to a lot of their problems. They didn’t know the South at all. Most of their organizers didn’t know the textile industry. Anti-communism was already dividing the unions, even though the official witch hunt and expulsion of communists didn’t begin until the next year. But none of these problems had overcome CIO organizing before.

Under the “what if” category of meaningless daydreaming, we might speculate that the CIO might have succeeded if they had understood the period better, if they had done more research, if they had valued internal cohesiveness more, and if they hadn’t taken such a heavy-handed “all or nothing” approach to the entire South. But we’ll never know what might have happened. We only know what did.

The author says that Operation Dixie did not fail primarily because of internal CIO problems. It failed because the entrenched southern textile bosses were stronger than us. It failed because anti-union Republicans won the 1946 elections and began putting the government firmly on the side of the bosses. The CIO organizers were heroic, but it wasn’t enough.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” radio talk show every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

MY NOTES FROM THE BOOK:

I believe this is a rare book. On Amazon, it cost $70. Including the index, it’s a small book.

She is a historian at Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. She seems to have gathered her information from the correspondence of the unions involved and from original interviews with organizers and various workers. Several interesting quotes from the participants are used to explain what happened.

Intro: CIO was good on race, but not so much on gender, with exception of Food & Tobacco Workers, who had a lot of Black women organizers and a Southern District Director who was the highest-placed woman union officer of that time.

It lasted 1946-1953

Pgxvi:”…a CIO victory in the South might have hastened the civil rights movement by at least a decade.”

//I note that organizers tried to win over religious leaders, but they didn’t start with them as the 1954 civil rights movement did. Also, people had TV in 1954, but not in 1946, consequently a national movement was not as likely.//

Pg27: FTA held a conclave at the Highlander School to discuss the problems they expected with Operation Dixie. It sounds like FTA was the only successful union involved.

Pg27: In 1946, the CIO was up to 4M members. But they were all experienced and trained in the North. A lot of organizing successes had been handed them by government action during the war. Companies were really rich from war profits.

Lots of anti-communism within the CIO. President Murray appointment Bittner to head the operation. Baldanzi was the sparkplug who carried it out. All were anti-communist. There was a deliberate attempt to try to avoid the inevitable red-baiting by keeping the reds out of Operation Dixie.

Pg28: They charged $1 initiation fee, but veterans were free

Pg29: on setting up initial organizing committees “The recruitment of this core group went slowly in Operation Dixie. Some organizers blamed the weather for the slow development of in-plant committees, while others focused on police hostility, the opposition of ministers, the public pronouncements of elected officials, the harshness of company policies that intimidated workers, the graciousness of company policies that made workers grateful, or the Machiavellian nature of companies that were capable of both.” //this seems like a pretty good list of what they were up against in the South//

Pg34: Humbling defeats in textile. Only successes in tobacco

Pg36: some union members were in the KKK

Pg 59: A lot of textile workers were historically intimidated because they had lost a strike in 1934. It was “organized from below” and had 400,000 participants. But they lost! They had also lost a big one in 1929. //that’s the one where Ella Mae Wiggins was murdered//

Pg60: In “Uncle Charley Cannon’s” mill territory, police arrest records were made in triplicate. One for Cannon!

Pg 65: “The president of the Food, Tobacco, Agricultural and Allied Workers of America (FTA), also a left-wing and heavily black union, issued a similar appeal for funds after a black FTA worker in Arkansas, on strike ‘against 55 cents an hour and a 12-hour day,’ was murdered by a strikebreaker in Little Rock. Although having confessed to stabbing the man, the strikebreaker was set free and, in his place, six union members were rushed to trial under charges of ‘attacking’ a strikebreaker. All were black.”

Pg72: The CIO knew that black union members were better unionists than white

Pg76: Race baiting and red baiting were everywhere, often together.

Pg 78:  Organizers felt that they had to organize white first because white workers would never join what they perceived to be a “black union.”

Pg84: Excellent anecdote about Ft Worth Packinghouse Local that refused to carry out CIO’s anti-racist policies. National leaders came down and forced them to do it. Then they stayed around and made sure that a mixed-race slate won the next election! //I can remember some of Roy Evans’ stories concerning Packing House leadership//

Pg92: Paternalism was total in mill villages. One anecdote from a mother tells how her 8-year old daughter was taken out of school to work in the mill. The bosses had switches. “The second-hand, the foreman, the loom-fixer or the doffer—anyone they had over the section could whip them.”

Pg99: In a long list of harassments, she cites a member of the internal organizing committee who could range around his plant. He was reassigned to a stationary position. Exact same thing happened to the Organizer at North American Aviation in Dallas in 1941!

Pg100: Great story of JP Mooney of Mine Mill and Smelter. Beaten, hospitalized, and threatened with death, he signed up “every bloody member of that plant.”

Pg103: “……literally scores of stories of unexpected confrontations with mobs organized by management.”

Pg105: “The CIO was forced to accept a contest on grossly unequal grounds. It never found a way to redress the balance.”

Pg107: Southern churches were a problem. “It’s either Christ or the CIO!”

Pg108: a preacher said on radio, “Luke 3:14 says be content with your wages.”

Pg108: “Militant Truth” was a free newspaper that followed CIO organizing drives around the South.

Pg121: CIO organizers tried to use Ecclesiastes 4:9-10: “Two are better than one because they have good reward for their labor. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone.”

Pg139 “In 1946, the CIO Executive Board included representatives of forty-one internationals.” And their views were diverse

“By the time Operation Dixie was officially launched in May 1946, hairline cracks and fissures in the CIO’s foundation had already become visible.”

Pg140: “To trace Philip Murray’s passage from cooperation with the CIO’s left to hostility and thence to implacable opposition is to trace, first, these national and international pressures, second, their impact on the CIO, and finally, the local ramifications in the South that brought Operation Dixie to a formal end in 1953.”

Steelworker red baiting was underway in 1946. James Carey, CIO national Secretary blasted UE reds.

Election of Nov 1946 was disaster for CIO and Democrats

Pg149: At the Highlander meeting, the FTA decided to work hard to organize within Operation Dixie, but they were afraid that the CIO was stacking it against the left. “The FTA’s fears of the CIO’s use of jurisdictional assignment as a weapon for defeating left-wing unions were well founded, however. By 1947, the CIO was assigning tobacco workers to the United Transport Service Employees’ Association. Such events constituted a form of ‘raiding’ by administrative action. Actual raiding followed soon afterward…”

Pg150: Mid-year 1947, CIO President Murray instructed the Exec to throw out the communists. “The center-left coalition was dead and the isolation of the left was complete.”

Pg152: Baldanzi called for expulsions at the 1947 Convention in Boston

Pg154: CIO and AFL raiding destroyed the FTA union at RJ Reynolds, which remained non-union

Pg155: crisis internal fighting in Ft Worth United Packinghouse Workers Union

Pg 157: AFL had always practiced “sweetheart” contracts to employers who wanted to avoid the CIO. They had done it from the K of L to present, she says.

Pg 157: Americans for Democratic Action established as liberal anti-communism, but wasn’t very effective. She doesn’t mention Hubert Humphrey.

Pg 160: Murray excoriating communists. “in such a manner, the CIO fought its way back into the mainstream of the Democratic Party. Unfortunately for labor, that mainstream represented an accommodation to corporate America that severely circumscribed labor’s influence on national policy. The price of respectability was high.”

Pg 161: “As a large-scale organizing campaign Operation Dixie died in December 1946 when the organizing staff was cut in half.”  UAW quit in 1948.

Pg172: ‘No quick fix can be suggested that might have changed the outcome of Operation Dixie.”

Pg176: concluding paragraph: “Operation Dixie happened at the moment of labor’s apogee when hopes were still lofty but when resources had begun to shrink and the corporate opposition had armed itself for a massive counterattack. All the tensions implicit in such a pivotal historical turning point surfaced in Operation Dixie. The legacy has been a bitter one, for within the ranks of the trade union movement, there were no winners, only losers. For American labor, Operation Dixie was, quite simply, a moment of high tragedy from which it has yet to fully recover.”

Book Review:

Rosswurm, Steve (editor), “The CIO’s Left-Led Unions.” Rutgers, New Brunswick, NJ, 1992. Available from Amazon

A friend recently told me that the current union-busting effort against the Auto Workers is “the worst union busting in history.” If it is, then the destruction of the most progressive unions in the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) during 1947-1957 is surely second. I would only concede to my friend’s opinion about the UAW because the post-war attacks took place in a period of union upsurge, and today’s union busting occurs when we are being forced to our knees.

Today’s attacks have brought us to a time when barely over 1 in 10 American workers has union protection. The post-war attacks came when union density was three times higher and American workers were aggressively seeking unionization.

I almost began by not recommending anyone read this book. It’s too depressing. However, the sadness is not the fault of the book nor its contributing authors. This is really what happened. After Republicans succeeded in passing the Taft-Hartley anti-labor act in 1947, the CIO adapted itself to anti-communism. That meant expelling its most progressive and energetic union members, leaders, and entire unions. It meant adapting to “business unionism” and cooperating with management. It meant, in a few short years, joining the lifelong anticommunists and business unionists in the American Federation of Labor. It meant turning toward the management-rigged government oversight system and away from union memberships. It meant curtailed democracy in our unions. It also meant a long downward spiral toward helplessness for American workers.

My friend, talking about today’s attack on the UAW, also said, “I don’t think this started recently. I think it’s been coming for some time.” I agreed. The chickens are coming home to roost.

Hardly anyone I know in today’s labor movement knows anything about labor history 1947-1957. It just isn’t in their history books. They celebrate the Flint Sitdown (1937), or maybe the Occupational Safety and Health Act (1974); but they don’t know the first thing about the great negative turnaround sometimes called the “Treaty of Detroit.”

They don’t know when unions gave up on civil rights, when they gave up on organizing the South, when they disassociated from international solidarity, when they spurned women’s rights, when they gave up on national health care, on improving Social Security, on shorter working hours as a remedy for automation, or when they stopped listening to their members.

To be fair, the darkness that began in 1947 began to be illuminated in 1995 when the AFL leadership failed to pre-select its own replacements for the first time in a century. The Sweeney/Trumka/Chavez-Thompson leadership started reversing the many aspects of “business unionism.”  They have made great improvements without ever admitting what was wrong and why. That fight goes on.

The book that Steve Rosswurm brought together does us a service. It tells, in some detail, a few parts of the story. These are stories that almost no one knows, or almost no one will admit knowing. It’s the police, the press, and the reactionary unions destroying the International Longshoremen and Warehousemen Union’s effort to organize in the South. It’s the end of the great civil rights efforts of the Food and Tobacco workers. It’s the nasty anti-worker efforts of the Catholic Church. It’s the role of the main labor-bashers—the U.S. Government. It’s the betrayal of the Tannery Workers. It’s the mercenary creation of the International Union of Electrical Workers (IUE) to deliberately undermine what was probably the best union in America, United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America (UE) and lower workers’ standard of living at Westinghouse.

But the book falls short. It only gives parts of a much bigger, much uglier picture. To be fair, it tries. It lays the blame on those who deserve it. A small part of that blame falls on some of the victims. The Communist Party members in unions, according to the book, were too secretive and too ardent in their devotion to existing socialist countries. They may have been superior union leaders, and the book says they were, but they had holes in their armor. I tend to agree with apportioning that small part of the blame to the Communists. I think they misread the period, and that is fatal in politics. I think they expected a continuation of the pre-war hard times and failed to appreciate the great prosperity that Americans enjoyed after the war.

That’s another fault of the book in my opinion. It names the perpetrators of the witch-hunt that distorted and crippled American labor, but not the main one. It was Prosperity that misled the American workers and is misleading us now. Working people today vote for Donald Trump because they think that post-war prosperity was permanent, when it always was and had to be temporary.

The book names these perpetrators: The news agencies, the Catholic Church which deliberately sent agents to cooperate with anti-union entities, the AFL who teamed up with the CIA against unions worldwide, opportunistic CIO union leaders who saw a chance to advance themselves over the interests of union members, government agencies such as the FBI, the House Un-American Activities Committee, and the National Labor Relations Board and, especially, crafty businessmen who knew how to take advantage of everybody.

Those who know any labor history at all know that the CIO expelled its best unions in 1949 and 1950, but they may not know that expulsion didn’t end that battle. The CIO and the rest of the anticommunist cabal then had to cooperate to destroy those unions. They raided them mercilessly. The government withdrew all protection so that the raids could proceed. Leaders were maligned and sometimes arrested.

Newspersons whipped up a steady stream of misleading vituperation for progressive union leaders. Hey, that’s what they’re doing to the UAW today!

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” radio talk show at 9AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

Notes:

Pg ix: “The federation’s leadership then had to commit sizable resources to destroy the expelled uions…”

Pg6: “It is difficult to provide precise figures for the number of CP members in the expelled unions, but we know it was small.” (he extimates 1.8%)

Pg7 “The CP, then, despite a small membership in the expelled unions, played a central role in them because of its leading political position…” And because they earned the respect of non-communist but sincere union members.

Pg9: I had always thought that 14 unions were expelled, but this book says there were 11. It also mentions that two, the UE and the Farm Equipment (FE) unions left voluntarily “despite the CP’s wishes”

Pg9 “The expelled unions were at least as democratic, if not more so, than other CIO unions.”

Pg 13: The UE fought automation. As far as I can see, there has been no fight against automation since then.

Pg 13: “The destruction capital has wreaked upon working people in the past 20 years [written in 1992] ought to suggest to both scholars and today’s trade unionists that the expelled unions were on to something.”

Pg14: “Militants’ ‘discovery’ in the early 1980s of ‘in-plant’ organizing suggests the strength of the ‘workplace rule of law’ paradigm, politically induced historical amnesia, and the impact of the missing activists.” This was very personal for me, because it was my local union that “discovered” in-plant organizing in 1984-85. We called it something else, but it was the age-old union tactic of slowdown. It had been long-forgotten due to historical amnesia.

Pg 15: “An article about the IUE and [James B.] Carey might well be titled, ‘In Bed with the Feds: The Conception and Birth of a Bastard Union.’ There was scarcely a federal agency – the FBI, the presidency, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), the Atomic Energy Commission – that was not at Carey’s service in the battle against the UE.”

Pg 15: “…the CIO leadership’s acceptance of capitalism – or lack of understanding of it – stands in stark contrast to the expelled unions’ comprehension of its dynamics.”

Pg 15: “Capital mobility was an important part of the corporate postwar counteroffensive against the CIO…”

Pg16: “What predominated, however, were the solutions of Walter Reuther and the IUE. Inevitably, those chickens came home to roost in the 1970s and 1980s.” The steady erosion of American labor was apparent by 1972, for those who wanted to see.

Pg 78: …the failures of the 1930s, when FTA [Food and Tobacco Workers], then the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packinghouse & Allied Workers Union of America, had tried to organize and maintain viable local unions among the seasonal agricultural workers.” So, UCAPAWUA tried to relieve the miseries depicted in Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath!” They also tried to organize cannery workers in Crystal City and Pecan Shellers in San Antonio. I knew one of their organizers from back in those days. She was a Communist, or course.

Pg 85: …in April [1947], Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act, among the most restrictive pieces of labor legislation in our country’s history.”

Pg 169: Management leader quoted, “I hated the Communists! I hated the Communists! Hell, I would have shot them on sight.” But even he acknowledged superior leadership of the open Communist leading the International Fur and Leather Workers Union (tanners).

Pg183: …a good deal of outstanding labor history has been written about workers in the United States, from the American Revolution through World War II. Yet, most post 1945 labor history is an afterthought, consisting of sweeping generalizations, spiced with a bit of anecdotal evidence.”

Pg185: ‘Beyond ardent anticommunism, it is difficult to pin down the ideology of the IUE in the 1950s.”

Pg198: The IUE accepted contracts that ripped away all the seniority rights that the UE had won for married women. “”Once again, a married woman had no seniority rights and could be fired if she failed to notify her foreman of her marriage.”

The last page repeats the lyrics of Tom Juravich’s “An Old Soldier.” It’s on YouTube at https://youtu.be/jgxAcdqLVTM