By PETER GILMORE
Them and us, 50 years ago: The
first issue of the UE NEWS for 1948 reported on two very different strategies for
An Iowa progressive who had served his country as
Vice President announced his independent candidacy for the Presidency, to secure peace and
prosperity and equal rights for all.
Meanwhile, powerful industrialists formulated a
cynical, multi-million-dollar propaganda campaign to convince the American public to
accept the corporate agenda.
Over the next 12 months, big money succeeded
and UE found itself fighting the reactionary tide in an increasingly divided labor
UE began the year as the third largest union in the
Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), with some 600,000 workers under contracts
covering more than 1,500 plants.
That year, 1948, saw the U.S. government working in
concert with big business to promote a foreign policy that promised war abroad and
restrictions on civil liberties at home. The cold war was underway.
The conclusion of World War II in 1945 uniquely
positioned U.S. capital for global expansion and domination. To make markets and resources
abroad safe for exploitation, big business required a U.S. government willing to
aggressively contain communism abroad, through military intervention if necessary. The
country would have to accept an unprecedented peace-time military build-up and propagation
of a Soviet threat.
The U.S. and Soviet Union had been allies in the war
against Nazi Germany. Many Americans shared President Roosevelts vision of a
postwar world of peace and prosperity made possible by continued cooperation among the
war-time allies. But the Wall Street executives in Trumans Administration regarded
cooperation with the Soviet Union as an obstacle to the big business plans to unite with
British imperialist interests in the Middle East and Asia.
As Charles E. Wilson, president of General
Electric remarked in October 1946, "The problems of the United States can be
captiously summed up in two words: Russia abroad, labor at home."
Major strikes by UE and the other CIO unions in 1946
had enjoyed widespread community support, demonstrating to big business the urgent
necessity of curbing labors growing power. In the immediate post-war period,
red-baiting took on a new emphasis by big business and anti-labor politicians. The
National Association of Manufacturers distributed millions of pamphlets like Communists
in the Labor Movement in an unprecedented ideological advertising campaign.
The Taft-Hartley Act bill, written by lobbyists for
GE and other major corporations, in 1947 repealed much of the original National Labor
Relations Act and contained a political restriction on holding union office in tune with
the anti-communist hysteria. Union officers were required to sign affidavits that they
were not Communist Party members; if officers refused to sign, a union would lose all
legal protection under the National Labor Relations Board.
UEs officers vowed not to comply with the act
in any way. CIO Pres. Philip Murray spoke out in opposition to the laws
"loyalty oath." At first, none of the CIO unions submitted to the law. Then, at
the urging of its new president, Walter Reuther, the United Auto Workers
executive board agreed to sign the affidavits. Other CIO unions followed.
Worse, some unions began raiding UE locals. The
raiding union would petition the Labor Board for the right to represent workers already
represented by UE but UEs name would not appear on the ballot. UAW raids on
UE locals got underway in earnest in March 1948.
As the UE NEWS reported early in 1948,
companies big and small were using the new law as an excuse to break off relations with UE
or to counter organizing campaigns.
Harry Truman, who had become President upon
the death of Roosevelt, had done little to swing his Democratic Party into action against
the Taft-Hartley bill. He vetoed the bill, but a majority of Democrats gave big business
the victory as they voted with Republicans to override the veto.
Truman, who had already broken strikes by miners and
railroad workers, used Taft-Hartley nine times in preventing strikes for higher wages.
The President proclaimed his Truman Doctrine, using
anti-communism to justify unconditional aid for a fascist Greek king at war with his own
people. The real crisis, former Vice President Henry Wallace told the 1947 UE
Convention, "is not on the Greek border but in American grocery stores." Truman
called for loyalty investigations of federal employees a development, Wallace said,
that threatens "everything in America that is worth fighting for."
Momentum was building for a break with the
In its first 1948 issue, the UE NEWS reported Henry
Wallaces independent candidacy for President. Wallace, who had been a member of
Roosevelts administration as Secretary of Agriculture and Vice President, called for
curbing "the ever-growing power and profits of monopoly" and preserving living
|UE Local 601 Pres. Tom Fitzpatrick introduces
Wallace at a rally outside the East Pittsburgh, Pa. Westinghouse plant.
Wallace took a strong stand for civil and
trade union rights, jobs and decent homes. The candidate declared himself in favor of
understanding between the U.S. and Soviet Union and getting rid of the threat of atomic
bombs and "all other methods of mass destruction."
The same issue of the UE NEWS reported a very
different program. The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), which had spent
millions of dollars to achieve passage of Taft-Hartley and destruction of price controls,
was preparing a new propaganda barrage that would take the blame for high prices away from
big business, downplay the size of corporate profits, give Taft-Hartley a better spin and
convince people that lower taxes on high incomes and less government spending are their
major economic needs.
UEs national officers went on tour in January,
speaking to big rallies where they called on members "to join the unions fight
to protect the peoples living standards and democratic rights from the combined
assault of government agencies and industry."
Meanwhile, the Wallace candidacy was opening up new
fault lines within the CIO. At its January 22-23 meeting, the CIO Executive Board
condemned Wallaces candidacy.
UE rejected this attempt to dictate to its
membership. "In the past each International Union has been free to take such action
on fundamental issues as it sees fit," the UE General Executive Board said. Given the
differing opinions within the movement, "the CIO should not widen divisions in our
|Wallace (right) is congratulated by UE Pres.
Albert Fitzgerald at the 1947 UE Convention; Fitzgerald served as national co-chairman of
the Wallace campaign. Organized in opposition to the cold war, the Progressive Party
became an early victim of the eras attacks on free speech.
In March, the GEB unanimously voted to grant
the national officers permission to serve in the Wallace campaign. UE Genl. Pres.
Albert J. Fitzgerald accepted co-chairmanship of the National Wallace for President
Committee and chairmanship of the campaigns labor committee.
The three top UE officers reaffirmed the 1947
conventions commitment to "an independent political force by working people and
their allies." The Democrats and Republicans had by and large demonstrated hostility
to the needs of the people. The position taken by Wallace coincided with UE policy and
represented "a fight for a continuation and extension of the New Deal and a vigorous
fight for world peace."
Fitzgerald blasted the Truman Administrations
"eager use" of Taft-Hartley "to help corporations fight the demands of
their employees." He pointed out that Wallace was the only presidential candidate who
stood for repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act, endorsed labors fight for a substantial
wage increase "and protecting the democratic rights of the American people."
That those democratic rights were under threat was
becoming increasingly evident.
"Meeting in secret session in Washington, the
House UnAmerican Activities Committee is working out the final details of a plot to make
it impossible for the American people to organize for better conditions, to speak out
against reaction, to strike for higher wages or to criticize any policy of the
government," the UE NEWS reported on May 1.
When two members were declared to be "security
risks" by Westinghouse and the U.S. Navy and placed on indefinite leave without pay,
UE Local 107 shut down the huge South Philadelphia Westinghouse works for two days in
July. Local 107 got its point across.
The more than 3,200 delegates who attended the
founding convention of the Progressive Party in Philadelphia on July 26 also took a strong
stand in defense of civil liberties, union rights and workers living standards.
Delegates nominated Henry Wallace for president and Sen. Glen Taylor (D., Idaho), a
leader in the fight against Taft-Hartley, for vice president.
"Why havent we done this before?"
asked UEs Albert Fitzgerald, the conventions permanent chairman. "How is
that we working people nine-tenths of us have so long allowed our votes be
bought, sold and delivered by the political parties of the other tenth?"
Days later, 1,500 National Guardsmen, using tanks,
machine guns, bayonets and tear gas brought an end to the 90-day strike of UE Local 768 at
the Univis Lens Co. in Dayton, Ohio. The day before the National Guard moved in, the House
Labor Committee called five strike leaders to Washington for grilling. (Rep. Fred
Hartley of Taft-Hartley ill-fame chaired the committee.) Red-baiting and
anti-Semitism, police attacks on the picket lines and injunctions were also part of the
companys elaborate arsenal.
Just before the UE National convention, the House
Labor Committee issued a subpoena to the unions officers. Rep. Charles Kersten,
a notoriously anti-labor Wisconsin Republican, headed a three-man subcommittee set up to
investigate "newspaper reports" that UE "has failed to set its house in
order concerning its ideological aspects."
Blasting the committee, UE Pres. Fitzgerald said
there was no legitimacy to an investigation based on newspaper reports floated by the
committee in the first place. Like all American citizens, UE members do not have to
account to anyone for their political ideas, he said.
Meanwhile, the cold war against labor had become a
cold war within the movement itself. Tremendous pressure was brought to bear on CIO Pres.
Murray to yield to the cold war program. At stake was the unity and political independence
of the CIO. Murray "tried to do two things at once, to stand firm against dividing
the CIO and to move nearer to the right and those supporting such division," observed
the authors of Labors Untold Story. As the
pressures of the cold war grew ever greater and the penalties for dissent worsened
Murray made his choice.
The CIO leadership had formally endorsed President
Truman for election. A majority of CIO vice presidents first adopted a statement by Murray
that criticized the 80th Congress, praised some aspects of the Democratic platform,
criticized the Republican platform in one sentence and devoted three paragraphs to
denouncing the Progressive Party. The Executive Board then endorsed Truman, 35-12. UE
opposed the endorsement.
The 13th UE Convention, meeting in New York Sept.
6-10, chose to make no endorsements. But delegates blasted both Democrats and Republicans
and condemned efforts to silence Wallace and disrupt his candidacy. The UE convention
urged that the unity of the CIO be preserved on the basis of organizing the unorganized
and fighting for the membership.
The convention took place during a recess in the
Kersten hearing. Following the convention, Sec.-Treas. Julius Emspak and Dir. of
Org. James Matles appeared before the Congressmen. The UE leaders acused the committee
of working directly with employers to instigate and provoke force and violence against UE
strikers. The unions officers vigorously condemned the committees attempt to
control the thoughts of the UE membership.
In further examples of collusion between the
government and bosses, the head of the Atomic Energy Commission "directed" GE
not to recognize UE at the Knolls II Atomic Power Laboratory in Schenectady, N.Y. The
Hartley committee also turned its attention to UE Local 301 in Schenectady. One GE worker
told the Congressmen: "I dont have to discuss my thoughts with people who are
trying to bust the union, and I think voting for the Taft-Hartley law was trying to bust
The UE-GE Conference Board meeting on Oct. 13
revealed the real reason behind GEs smear campaign: "Delegate after delegate
reported tremendous efforts to speedup GE workers, discrimination in womens rates,
favoritism in job transfers, discrimination against Negroes, violation of seniority by
schemes to oust older workers, and chiseling on job rates by moving work from plant to
plant," the UE NEWS reported.
In the fall elections, many UE locals worked to oust
"Hartleyite," anti-labor members of Congress; Local 506 Bus. Agent Jim
Kennedy was among several UE leaders who ran for public office in that election either
as Democrats or Progressives.
Voters repudiated the 80th Congress for its attacks
on the New Deal; the Republican majorities in both the House and Senate were overturned.
Kersten and other union-busters were ousted. Harry Truman, who repudiated the Democratic
record in Congress to pose as a defender of the New Deal, narrowly gained a victory over
the Republican nominee.
Henry Wallace and Glen Taylor polled 1,157,326
votes, an unexpectedly low 2.3 percent of the total. Their campaign was plagued by ballot
restrictions, inadequate funds and organization, and the unwillingness of union leaders
and sympathetic elected officials to ally themselves with the new party. And the cold war
atmosphere, thick with smears of subversion and treason, rife with investigations, loyalty
oaths and blacklisting, doomed the partys chances from the beginning.
Taking the offensive, UE launched a drive to repeal
the Taft-Hartley Act. Before years end, UE members visited Washington to push for
Taft-Hartley repeal and an anti-recession program that called for closing tax loopholes
for the rich, higher corporate income taxes, price controls and extensive social
At the CIO Convention in late November, the UE
delegation backed most of the 50-odd resolutions but voted "no" on a 60 percent
per capita increase, a foreign policy resolution that ignored the impact of military
buildup on the economy and a political action resolution that committed the CIO to the
Democratic Party. UE also objected to a resolution giving the CIO executive board new
power to intervene in affiliates internal affairs.
The Resolutions committee failed to report out a UE
resolution condemning raiding and outlining steps to halt it. The raids by CIO and AFL
unions on UE locals continued. The CIO continued a rightward drift towards collusion with
government and business. The anti-communist hysteria intensified, handing big business a
convenient weapon in their war against UEs rank-and-file unionism. In 1949 UE ceased
paying per capita dues to the CIO and decided not to send a delegation to the CIO
Big money proved the victor in 1948 by fracturing
the labor movement.
Fifty years later, its still "them and
us." Today working people have a fresh chance to build solidarity and democracy
and a new party that represents their interests.