Chapter Twenty-One: Early Struggles Under the New Deal (1933-1936)

21. Early Struggles Under the New Deal (1933-1936)

Button in support of arrested Communists.
When Franklin D. Roosevelt became president on March 4, 1933, American capitalism, lately hailed enthusiastically all over the world by capitalist and Social-Democratic economists as crisis-proof, was still prostrate after more than three and a half years of the great economic crisis. Industrial production was reduced by half, and so was foreign trade. Roosevelt had to close every bank in the country; seventeen million workers walked the streets jobless; millions of skilled workers, farmers, and middle class people had lost their savings, homes, and farms through bank crashes and mortgage foreclosures. And the masses were bitterly disillusioned and resentful at the starvation conditions so brutally thrust upon them by the employers. The country was alive with unemployment demonstrations, strikes, and bonus marches, and the horizon loomed with the sharpening class struggle. Never in all their history had the American capitalists been so confused and frightened as they were now at the appalling economic and political situation.

 Not prosperity for them, but "revolution," seemed to be "just around the corner." To meet this chaotic condition Roosevelt proceeded with fantastic speed to introduce his "New Deal," about which he had said almost nothing during the election campaign. Bills were shot through Congress so fast by the panicky capitalist politicians that many of the legislators had only the vaguest ideas of what they were voting on, even if they actually read the many projects. This flood of legislation was chiefly the product of Roosevelt's "Brain Trust"—Moley, Tugwell, Berle, et al.

The New Deal, as expressed in the score of alphabetical laws and bureaus of its first couple of years, constituted a greatly increased centralization of the federal government and its intensified intervention in the economic life of the country for the following specific purposes: (a) to reconstruct the shattered financial banking system; (b) to rescue tottering business with big loans and subsidies; (c) to stimulate private capital investment; (d) to raise depressed prices by setting inflationary tendencies into operation; (e) to overcome the agricultural overproduction  through acreage reduction  and crop  destruction;   (f)  to protect farm and home-owners against mortgage foreclosure; (g) to create employment and stimulate mass buying power through establishing public works; (h) to provide a minimum of relief for the starving unemployed."1

The general purpose of this mass of often contradictory reform legislation was to give a shot in the arm to the sick economic system. It also had a major political objective, namely, to keep the militant-minded masses from taking much more drastic action. Varga points out that, "The aim of the New Deal consisted first and foremost in holding the farmers and workers off from revolutionary mass action."2 Indeed, had it not been for Roosevelt's program, the workers during this period would have gone much further than they did and almost certainly would have broken away from the two-party system and launched a political party of their own.

The Communist Party, while demanding many of Roosevelt's reforms, clearly pointed out that the New Deal was not a program of steps toward socialism, as Social-Democrats all over the world declared. There was nothing whatever socialistic about it. The capitalists were left in complete control of the banks, factories, and transportation systems, to exploit the workers as before. Nor was the New Deal a program of "progressive capitalism," as the labor leaders, liberals, and eventually Earl Browder called it. Economically, it was simply a plan to shore up broken-down capitalism in this country, to recondition American impe-realism so as to help it to survive in a world capitalist system enmeshed in its deepening general crisis. For the most part the New Deal was based upon the ideas of the noted British economist, John Maynard Keynes, whose theory it was that capitalism in its monopoly phase, having ceased to be a self-regulating economic system, must either adopt a policy of direct government intervention and subsidies to industry, or else fall into hopeless ruin.3

President Roosevelt, himself a wealthy man, was a frank supporter of the capitalist system, and the avowed purpose of his New Deal was to preserve and strengthen that social order, with certain liberal trimmings. In working out his program, Roosevelt carefully avoided all measures which could in any way tend to undermine the capitalist system. His whole regime worked out to the advantage of monopoly capital, of American imperialism. Profits were never better for the capitalists, trustification went on at an accelerated pace, there was a rapid integration of the monopolies with the government—into a state monopoly capitalism. Under Roosevelt's presidency Wall Street monopoly capital made many strides ahead, at home and abroad, and these finally placed it in a position to make its present desperate bid for the mastery of the world.


Five weeks before Roosevelt took office in the United States Adolph Hitler, on January 30, 1933, grabbed power in Germany. Hitler, the agent of German monopoly capital, came to government domination directly as a result of the workings of the so-called "lesser evil" policy of the Social-Democrats. That is, refusing to unite with the Communists on an anti-Hitler ticket and struggle, the Social-Democrats voted for and helped to elect as president the reactionary General von Hindenburg, who was supposed to be a lesser evil than Hitler. Whereupon, von Hindenburg, once in office, promptly made Hitler his chancellor. Thus the Nazis came to power. The Social-Democrats, to make their treason to the working class even more flagrant, stated that Hitler had gotten power legally and they voted to support him on that basis. Then the fascist lightning hit, wrecking Social-Democracy, as well as the Communist Party, trade unions, co-operatives, and all other democratic organizations and institutions.

When Hitler took office in Germany, the country was in a mess from the great economic crisis. There was a complete economic breakdown, with about eight million famished unemployed and an impoverished middle class. The big monopolists, now in full control with Hitler, at once established a fascist dictatorship by smashing the labor movement and destroying bourgeois parliamentary government. To put the halted industries into operation, they plunged into a big campaign of rearmament. Then they set out to master the world—a wild fascist dream which finally landed them in the shattering debacle of World War II.

The fascist course taken by the German bourgeoisie was not something peculiar to Germany alone. It was more or less the general orientation of monopoly capital internationally. It was the way the big bankers, manufacturers, and landlords figured to overcome the general crisis of capitalism and to liquidate once and for all the menacing threat 61 socialism, on both a national and international scale. Undoubtedly the big capitalists, the most reactionary elements among them, dreamed of establishing a fascist world. All over Europe these ruling strata were saturated with fascist conceptions. This was particularly true in Italy, Spain, Poland, Hungary, and the Baltic and Balkan countries. In France, and to a lesser extent in Great Britain as well, there were powerful pro-fascist currents in the ruling class.  In the United States, as we shall see later, finance capital was also permeated with a fascist spirit.

Why, then, was there no fascist regime organized here? If the United States, ruled by big business, did not reach the stage of actually trying the desperate fascist solution to its devastating economic crisis, this was because of a number of factors which lessened the capitalist drive toward fascism: (a) U.S. capitalism was not as deeply affected by the general crisis of the system as was German capitalism; (b) U.S. capitalism did not face an imminent proletarian revolution as did German capitalism; (c) U.S. capitalism belonged during that period to the group of imperialist powers that temporarily favored the maintenance of the status quo in the world relation of forces in the imperialist camp, and it was not actively preparing for a world war to redivide the world as was German capitalism; (d) U. S. capitalism, unlike that of Germany, still possessed the financial means to carry out a reform program such as the New Deal, instead of turning to the fateful weapon of fascism.

Undoubtedly the foregoing factors greatly reduced the urge and push of American finance capital toward fascism; but it is indisputable that it nevertheless displayed strong tendencies in this direction. In checking this fascist danger, the mass resistance of the people—workers, Negroes, poor farmers, and lower petty bourgeoisie—played a decisive role. While not revolutionary, they acted in the best traditions of the American people and conducted a whole series of economic and political struggles which largely escaped the controls of the confused employers and their trade union bureaucratic lackeys. The Communist Party considered its main task to stimulate this resistance and to squeeze all possible concessions from the employers and the government. The mass struggles of these years definitely balked the growing fascist tendencies among the ruling class and forced them to make serious concessions to the impoverished and resolute toilers. In short, although in less acute conditions of political struggle, the American workers, like those of France and other European countries, halted the advance of fascism in this country.


The keystone of the early Roosevelt program was the National Industrial Recovery Act, passed by Congress on June 13, 1933. This law (N.I.R.A.) provided for the setting up of industrial price and labor codes in the various industries. Its professed aim was to establish "fair competition" in business and agriculture. The workers were theoretically granted ambiguous rights to organize under Section 7   (a), which stated that the workers had "the right to organize and bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing." The whole code-making machinery was handled by the National Recovery Administration (N.R.A.), in which the workers were conceded consultative rights in the Labor Advisory Board. But actually, of 775 code-making bodies set up labor was represented on only 26. Big business controlled the whole thing.

This elaborate scheme expressed the strong fascist sentiment current at this time in American big business. N.I.R.A. originated with the United States Chamber of Commerce and it was patterned after Mussolini's "corporative state." The plan proposed generally a state-controlled industrial system and labor movement. The man put in charge of it, General Hugh Johnson, was a reactionary and a frank admirer of the fascist dictator of Italy, Mussolini. Roosevelt gave this dangerous fascistlike plan his hearty endorsement.

The N.I.R.A. was launched in 1933 amid a great ballyhoo, with the backing of an all-class national front. The monopolists, seeing an opportunity to strengthen their industrial control, to extend company unionism, and to reduce organized labor to impotence, were for it. The farm and middle class leaders were allured by its vivid promises of industrial recovery. The A.F. of L. leaders, including the "Socialists," hoping to build up a big dues-paying membership, even on a company union basis, hailed it joyously. Huey Long, Father Coughlin, and other fascist demagogues also ardently supported the N.I.R.A. The Blue Eagle, symbol of N.I.R.A., became at the time the very mark of patriotism and good citizenship. An intense campaign was carried on to put N.I.R.A. across. "Chiselers" on the industry codes were denounced virtually as traitors to the country. Only the Communists opposed N.I.R.A. consistently.


According to the theory behind N.I.R.A. the workers were supposed to sit quietly while their leaders, in brotherly conference with the capitalists in the N.R.A. code-fixing and labor boards, would hand them down an assortment of improved wages and working conditions. Roosevelt and Johnson declared that there must be no strikes, as they would hamper "recovery." The trade unions and Socialist leaders, also with this idea in mind, established what was virtually a no-strike policy. Strikes, in fact, were denounced as a sort of treachery to the existing "national front" behind N.I.R.A. But the masses of the workers had quite other ideas. They observed that although prices under the new codes were rapidly rising, their wages lagged far behind. Hence, in the general spirit of rebellion generated by the great economic crisis, after a short strike lull during the first months of the Roosevelt Administration, they proceeded, despite their "leaders," to develop a rising strike movement. The biggest mass movement of the workers in American history began to get under way.

The Communist Party gave every possible encouragement and leadership to the growing strike movement. From the outset the Party had condemned the N.I.R.A. and all its practices. It warned of the grave dangers of fascism in this early program of the Roosevelt Administration —especially in the light of the tragic course of events in Germany under Hitler. In July 1933, the Party called an Extraordinary Conference of 350 delegates in New York. 4 This conference addressed an Open Letter to the Party, outlining a program of militant struggle, stressing the need to concentrate upon building Party units and trade unions in the basic industries and to give all support to the growing mass strike movement. The conference urged the workers to "Write your own codes on the picket line." It played a vital role in preparing the Party for the big mass struggles ahead.

In 1933 the total number of strikers ran to goo,ooo , or more than three times as many as in 1932. The T.U.U.L., headed by Jack Stachel (with Foster sick), led 200,000 workers in strikes, as compared with 250,-000 independent union strikers, and 450,000 in the A.F. of L. The most important of the many T.U.U.L. strikes of that year were those of 16,000 auto workers in Detroit, 5,000 steel workers in Ambridge, 3,000 miners in Western Pennsylvania, 12,000 shoe workers in New York, 15,000 needle workers in New York, 18,000 cotton pickers and 6,000 grape pickers in California and Arizona, and 2,700 packinghouse workers in Pittsburgh. 5 During these years, all the unions began to grow, the A.F. of L. by 500,000, independents by 150,000, and the T.U.U.L. by 100,000, giving the latter a membership of some 125,000. 6


The mass strike movement that got under way in 1933 varied from the traditional craft patterns of the A.F. of L. It reflected the principles, strategy, and tactics that had been so vigorously propa

gated by the Communist Party and the T.U.U.L. The strikes penetrated the hitherto closed trustified industries—steel, auto, aluminum, marine transport, etc.; they ignored the A.F. of L. dictum that union contracts justify union scabbery; they were industrial in character; they embraced Negroes, unskilled, foreign-born, women, youth, and white collar workers; they struck a high note of solidarity between employed and unemployed; they used mass picketing, shop delegates, broad strike committees, sit-down strikes, slow-down strikes, and other left-wing methods; they took on an increasingly political character; and they developed over the opposition of reactionary labor officials who wanted to stifle them.

The years 1934-36 intensified this radical mass strike trend. The number of strikers was high and so was their militancy—1,466,695 strikers in 1934; 1,141,363 in 1935, and 788,648 in 1936. It was a time of both national industrial strikes and local general strikes. The workers fought mainly for wage increases and trade union recognition. Mostly their strikes were successful. During this period the strikes had been largely aimed by the workers "to enforce the codes," but in reality the workers pushed their demands beyond anything contemplated by N.I.R.A. As the Communist Party militantly urged, the workers were indeed writing their own codes on the picket lines.

The employers countered the rising strike movement, as usual, with a policy of violence. They mobilized their armed company gunmen against the strikers, they used the local police forces to beat and jail workers, they had the troops out in dozens of strike situations. In the big national textile strike, 16 workers were killed; many more were killed in the coal strike, the San Francisco strike, and in other bitter economic fights. All told, in 1934-36, 88 workers were killed in mass struggles. But the workers fought back and the strike wave continued to mount.

Of much importance in the strike movement during these early New Deal years were the activities of the National Unemployed Council. This organization kept up its steady agitation for unemployment relief and insurance, and insistently promoted solidarity between the unemployed and employed. It was active in every important strike, strengthening the fighting lines. The Socialists had organized the Workers Alliance, and this also was a factor among the unemployed. In April 1936, in Washington, the Unemployed Councils, Workers Alliance, and National Unemployed League, upon the proposal of the Communists, united in one organization, with an estimated membership of 500,000. 7 In 1938 its membership reached 800,000. The Communists became the most influential element in the new organization and its leadership. The result of the active work among the unemployed was that for the first time in American labor history scabs could be recruited only with difficulty during an economic crisis. Although the number of unemployed never dropped below thirteen million during 1933-36, they refused to take the jobs of strikers. Owing largely to the militant leadership of the unemployed by the Communist Party, this marked a new high level of working class solidarity in the United States.

The biggest and most significant national industrial strikes during 1934-36 were those of the textile workers and the bituminous coal miners, both A.F. of L. strikes. The national textile strike, led by the United Textile Workers in September 1934, embraced 475,000 workers in 11 states, including large numbers of workers in the South. The strike faced great violence from the employers and the government. It was largely lost when the demands of the strikers were referred to an arbitration board and the strike was called off. The national bituminous coal strike of September 1935 brought out 400,000 miners, tying up nearly every important soft coal field. Within a few days the strike resulted in a victory. It put the U.M.W.A. back on its feet as a powerful organization, after it had been almost demolished in the fateful strike of 1927-28. There was also the left-led National Lumber Workers strike of 41,000 lumbermen in the Pacific Northwest. Another highly important strike early in 1936, significant of the great wave of strikes soon to come in the trustified industries, was the successful strike of the rubber workers in Akron.

Important local general strikes and near-general strikes, which cut right across A.F. of L. "sacred" contracts, were a pronounced feature of these years. In Milwaukee (February 1934) and Minneapolis (May 1934) small bodies of strikers quickly attracted the support of the local labor movements when attacked by employer violence, and general walk-outs were averted only by timely settlements. In Pekin, Illinois, during the same year, there was another such general strike movement. In Toledo (May 1934) when the bosses tried to smash a strike of 1,500 metal workers, the local labor movement came to their active support, 83 of 91 A.F. of L. local unions, to the outrage of their conservative leaders, voting to strike. In Terre Haute (July 1935) a two-day strike of 48 A.F. of L. locals with 26,000 workers took place in support of 600 hard-pressed metal workers. In all these situations the Communists were highly active.


The great general strike in the San Francisco Bay area, embracing 127,000 workers, took place during July 16-19, 1934.    It grew out of a coastwise strike of 35,000 maritime workers. The Communist Party, which had a strong organization in California, gave the strike its full support and its influence was of major importance in the struggle. The historic strike gave an enormous impetus to the whole American labor movement. 8

The movement began in a drive from 1932 on, led by Communists and progressives, to organize the marine workers of the Pacific Coast. This drive culminated in a strong A.F. of L. longshoremen's union with Harry Bridges at its head, a demand for better conditions, and a coastwise strike of 12,000 of these workers on May 7, 1934. The Marine Workers Industrial Union (T.U.U.L.), headed by Harry Jackson, which won the leadership of decisive sections of the seamen, also called them on strike, and by May 23rd, the eight A.F. of L. maritime unions were out all along the coast. For the first time West Coast shipping was at a complete standstill. The conservative A.F. of L. leadership tried desperately to check the powerful movement, but in vain. Joseph Ryan, dictator of the Longshoremen's Union, was forced to abandon the strike and left the city. Bridges, head of the rank-and-file committee of 75, in tune with the militant workers, brilliantly outgeneraled the labor misleaders at every turn.

Enraged at the employers' violent efforts to break the maritime strike and also at their obvious determination to make the city open shop, the workers of San Francisco developed a strong fighting spirit. The Communist Party, which had many members and supporters in key A.F. of L. local unions, urged a general strike in all the cities along the Pacific Coast. To no avail, the top union leadership opposed the rising general strike spirit among the workers. In mid-June, Painters' Local 1158 sent out a letter for a general strike. By early July the influential Machinists Local 68, along with many other local unions, had endorsed the proposed strike. The police killing of two waterfront workers on July 8th—one of them Nick Bordois, a Communist—added fuel to the flames, with 35,000 angry workers turning out to the funeral. On July 10th the Alameda Labor Council called for a general strike; on July 12th the San Francisco and Oakland teamsters went out; and on July 16th 160 A.F. of L. unions, 127,000 strong, tied up the whole San Francisco Bay region.

The strike was highly effective. Practically the entire industrial life of the great bay community came to a halt. The workers were powerfully demonstrating their resentment at the great economic crisis and their determination to have a better day under the promised "New Deal."

Not a store could open, not a truck could move, not a factory wheel could turn, without the permission of the General Strike Committee. Never was any American city so completely strike-bound as was the whole San Francisco Bay community during this great strike.

The government—local, state, and national—turned all its guns upon this—to the capitalists—highly dangerous strike. Mayor Rossi swore in 5,000 deputies and police; Governor Merriam ordered out 4,500 militia to dominate the area; President Roosevelt denounced the strike, and his agents, Hugh Johnson of N.R.A. and Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, were on the spot to try to disintegrate it. The press whipped up the whole region with frantic redbaiting and yells that the Communist revolution was at hand. Vigilante gangs raided and wrecked the headquarters of the Communist Party, the Western Worker, and various labor and left-wing mass organizations. Over "400 men and several women were arrested and thrown into a jail so crowded that most of them had to sleep on the floor," reported the New York Times, on July 29, 1934. For several weeks the Communist Party was virtually outlawed in California.

While the government attacked the strike from without, the A.F. of L. leaders assailed it with more deadly effect from within. William Green blasted the strike as "unauthorized" and as the work of the Communists; Joseph Ryan and other national labor fakers tried to force their members back to work; and Howard of the Typographical Union managed to keep his men on the job on the basis of a last-minute 10 percent wage increase. As for the local top union leaders in San Francisco— Vandeleur, Kidwell, Deal, and others—when they saw that they could not forestall the general strike, they joined it in order to strangle it. With control of the General Strike Committee in their hands, they refused to halt publication of the capitalist newspapers and the operation of telephone and telegraphic services; they issued large numbers of permits to restaurants to open, and to trucking outfits to operate; they made no attempt to police the city with the strikers; they gave their endorsement to the bosses' strikebreaking and redbaiting campaign. And when they felt that they had things well enough in hand, they suddenly moved to call off the strike. But with all their maneuvering they could carry the anti-strike motion only by a standing vote of 191 to 174, not daring to risk a roll call vote. The historic strike was over.

The maritime workers were left to fight alone. On July 30th these 35,000 strikers went back to the job, after a three-month walkout. Their demands were referred to arbitration, out of which they secured a partial victory. In this epoch-making strike the West Coast longshoremen and  their leader, Harry Bridges, laid the  basis for one of the finest labor unions in the capitalist world, the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union.

The key to winning the great San Francisco strike was to spread it all over the coast, and still farther. This extension was indispensable jn order to checkmate the co-ordinated attempts of the government, the employers, and the A.F. of L. leadership to localize, isolate, and strangle the strike. The Communists and the other left and progressive elements, despite numerous minor mistakes, were quite aware of this imperative need to spread the strike, and they tried to do just that. But their forces were too small to accomplish it in the face of the formidable opposition. The "lost" San Francisco strike, in spite of all lugubrious predictions, had a stimulating effect upon the labor movement in California and all over the United States. The strike created one of the most glorious traditions in the entire history of the American labor movement.


During the first two stormy years of the New Deal about one million workers, largely unskilled and foreign-born from the basic industries, poured into the A.F. of L. unions. Naturally these workers preferred to join the recognized and established labor unions if there was a possibility of getting results from them. This influx radically changed the situation in those organizations. It broke down the officials' no-strike policy, brought in a breath of democracy, weakened the bureaucrats' control, and made it more difficult to enforce the anti-Communist clauses against the left. Besides, sections of the top leadership began to interest themselves in organizational work.

Recognizing that the conditions that had originally caused the formation of the T.U.U.L. were now breaking down, the Communists and other lefts, always ardent champions of labor unity, began at once to shift their orientation toward a return to the A.F. of L. Already, early in 1933, they joined forces with the miners in their drive to re-establish the U.M.W.A., and in September 1934, the T.U.U.L. proposed trade union unity to die A.F. of L. In various industries T.U.U.L. bodies began to join up with corresponding A.F. of L. unions. This unity trend, however, did not sit well with the A.F. of L. top leaders, and William Green sent out a letter warning against the unity moves of the T.U.U.L.

In die spring of 1934 9 the Communist Party advanced the slogan, "For an Independent Federation of Labor," to be composed of the 400,000 members of the T.U.U.L. and other independents, but this policy was soon perceived to be incorrect and it was dropped. Instead, the trend toward general labor unity was pushed vigorously by the Party everywhere. Early in 1935 the T.U.U.L. steel, auto, and needle trades unions voted to affiliate with the A.F. of L., the workers joining as individuals where they could not affiliate in a body. On March 16-17, 1935. at a special convention, the T.U.U.L. resolved itself into a Committee for the Unification of the Trade Unions, with the objective of affiliating the remaining T.U.U.L. organizations to the A.F. of L.. 10 Four months later the T.U.U.L. disbanded altogether.

Although it displayed some sectarian and dualist tendencies, the T.U.U.L. nevertheless played an important and constructive role in the labor movement. All through the great economic crisis, when A.F. of L. militancy was at its lowest point, the T.U.U.L. did heroic and effective work, as we have seen, in leading the employed and unemployed workers in struggle. Its militant advocacy of industrial unionism over several years was highly educational to the workers. The contacts it had established in the basic industries, together with the shop units of the Communist Party, were fundamental factors in developing the great C.I.O. organizing campaign of the next few years. The Party was basically correct in supporting the T.U.U.L. as it did.


The big labor struggles of the early New Deal years came to a sharp climax with the formation of the Committee for Industrial Organization (C.I.O.) in November 1935. This body was originally composed of representatives of the coal miners', textile, ladies' garment, men's clothing, printing, oil-field, cap and millinery, and metal miners' unions, with a combined membership of about one million. The Committee's purpose was the unionization of the almost totally unorganized millions of workers in the basic trustified industries. It was truly a momentous development, and the Communist Party gave its most active support from the start.

The dominant leaders among the Green A.F. of L. bureaucracy had looked with grave misgivings and alarm upon the tremendous mass movement toward unionism that developed during the last months of the economic crisis and the early period of the New Deal. They feared it hardly less acutely than did die employers themselves. They were afraid that the huge numbers of new unskilled and foreign-born union members, with their radical conceptions of what labor unions should be and do, would spoil the long-time picnic of the bureaucrats by eliminating the 1 Daily Worker, March u, 16, 17, 1935.

skilled workers as the dominant trade union element, by breaking down craft lines and transforming the craft unions into industrial unions, by forcing the labor movement from its class collaboration basis onto one of class struggle, and by selecting for themselves new and presumably radical leaders. To avoid all these threatening disasters and yet to profit from the mass upheaval, the policy of the Green bureaucrats was to grab off the skilled workers and let the rest go—in the time-honored A.F. of L. fashion.

Significantly, the eight A.F. of L. unions that launched the C.I.O. were all either industrial or semi-industrial in form. Their leaders-John L. Lewis, Philip Murray, Sidney Hillman, et al—while basing themselves, like the Green bureaucrats, primarily upon the skilled workers, had learned that this policy did not necessarily involve excluding the unskilled from the unions. Because of the bitter experience of the post-World War I and economic crisis years, and also because of the great pressure of the rank-and-file workers for organization, they had become convinced that the unionization of the basic industries was an absolute necessity if the labor movement was to survive and progress. Later on, under the weight of the newly organized masses, this position led these leaders to adopt many progressive measures. Only in this narrow sense could they themselves be called progressives. The sequel was to show that they did not depart from their basic role as defenders of the capitalist system against the elementary interests of the workers (see Chapter 34).

The split in the ranks of the labor bureaucracy greatly accelerated the tempo of trade union progress. The Communists, who were a considerable factor in the A.F. of L., gave the opposition leaders all possible co-operation and support in their new progressive role. In 1933, when the organization spurt began, the A.F. of L. leaders had tried to sort out the new union recruits according to crafts and distribute them among the respective unions, but this proving impossible, they assembled the workers into miscellaneous federal local unions. At the 1934 A.F. of L. convention, with 2,000 such locals existing, however, the issue had to be settled. There was a powerful sentiment for industrial unionism, with 14 resolutions demanding this measure. The Communist Party vigorously stimulated this movement among the rank and file. Even the hard-boiled officials that make up A.F. of L. conventions knew that a maneuver had to be made. So the leadership put through a unanimous resolution which, while endorsing craft unionism, "wherever the lines of demarcation between crafts are distinguishable," vaguely recognized the need for industrial unionism and instructed the Executive Council to issue charters in various industries.   The progressives assumed that these charters
would be of an industrial character. This A.F. of L. convention was held in San Francisco only a short while after the great San Francisco General Strike, in which the lefts, all industrial unionists, had such an important part.

During 1935 the Executive Council gave limited industrial charters to the United Auto Workers and the United Rubber Workers, but they refused national charters to the many new local unions in radio, cement, aluminum, and other basic industries. They also did nothing to advance the projected campaign to organize the steel industry, although large numbers of steel workers had literally forced their way into the unions. In short, the Council brazenly sabotaged the 1934 convention resolution. All of which greatly enraged the advocates of industrial unionism.

At the 1935 convention in Atlantic City, beginning October 7th, therefore, John L. Lewis and five other leaders introduced a resolution calling for the organization of the basic industries into industrial unions. The resolution sharply condemned A.F. of L. craft unionism as futile in trustified industries and declared that "in those industries where the work performed by a majority of the workers is of such nature that it might fall within the jurisdictional claim of more than one craft union, it is declared that industrial organization is the only form that will be acceptable to the workers or adequately meet their needs." After a long and bitter debate the Lewis resolution was defeated by a vote of 18,025 to 10,924. The A.F. of L. leaders were willing to keep the industries unorganized, just so their own jurisdictional claims remained intact.

Undeterred by their convention defeat, the Lewis group a month later organized the C.I.O. and began the work of unionization. They launched active national campaigns in steel, auto, rubber, textile, and coke-processing. Huge sums of money were pledged by the eight co-operating unions. National organizing committees were set up, and new industrial unions were to be formed. The basic industries would be organized in spite of the A.F. of L. leadership.

The Green bureaucrats promptly condemned the C.I.O. for this action, and after considerable maneuvering, suspended its eight unions on August 5, 1936, for "dual unionism and insurrection" against the A.F. of L. This suspension, which amounted to the expulsion of over one million members (about 40 percent of the A.F. of L.), was endorsed by the A.F. of L. convention, despite strong opposition, at Tampa, Florida, in October 1936. Wide protests from local unions, city central bodies, and state federations all over the country were unavailing to halt the Green-Woll-Hutcheson splitters. They were ready to wreck the labor movement rather than depart from their decrepit craft unionism.

Lewis, apparently taking it for granted that the organizational work had to be done outside of direct contact with the Green reactionaries, made no determined fight to maintain affiliation with the A.F. of L. On this tactical question the Communists disagreed with him. The Communists believed that inasmuch as Lewis had 40 percent of the A.F. of L. unions behind him and a vast following among the rest of the labor movement, it would have been possible for him to beat the Green machine by a resolute fight. As it was, Lewis did not even have his C.I.O. delegates at Tampa. If the split could not be avoided, the Communists said, at least it could be made to take place under far more favorable conditions for the C.I.O. The Party opposed the split and its slogan was "For a United, Powerful A.F. of L." 11 It gave everything it had, however, to the building of the C.I.O. at all stages, and in the organization of the basic industries for which it had fought so long and militantly.


During the years 1933-36 the Communist Party, deeply involved in all the mass struggles of the period, made considerable growth, not only in mass influence but also in numerical strength. It concentrated its efforts more and more upon the basic industries. At the eighth convention of the Party, in Cleveland, April 2-8, 1934, the membership was 24,500, as against 14,000 in 1932. Of the 233 regular delegates, 119 came from basic industries. There were 3g Negro delegates, and 2,500 Negro Party members. The increasing percentage of native-born was also indicated by the fact that 145 of the convention delegates were born in the United States. At this time the Y.C.L. had grown to 5,000 members, also a substantial increase over 1932. By the time of the ninth Party convention, held in New York, June 24-28, 1936, the Party membership had gone up further to 41,000, and there were 11,000 in the Y.C.L.

The Socialist Party, Musteites, Lovestoneites, Trotskyites, S.L.P., and Proletarian Party—all remained small and mostly stagnant sects. For a while in the middle of the 1930's, the Socialist Party began to show some life and growth. But the new "left" trend, led by the opportunist Norman Thomas of all people, soon petered out, and the S.P., wracked by Trotskyites and right opportunist Social-Democrats, Musteites, and Lovestoneites, went on to a confused split in 1936, which reduced it to still greater helplessness. The leadership of the Communist Party as the vanguard party of the militant forces in the labor movement had become clear and indisputable.

1 William Z. Foster, Outline Political History of the Americas, p. 422, N. Y., 1951. 
2 Eugene Varga, Two Systems, p. 135, N. Y., 1939.
3 John Maynard Keynes, The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, N. Y., 1935.
4 William W. Weinstone in Political Affairs, Sept. 1949.
5 Report to the Eighth Convention, CJ'.U.S.A., Apr. 2, 1934.
6 The principal T.U.U.L. unions were needle, 25,000 members; metal, 21,000; agricul tural,   20,000;   coal,   10,000;   food,   10,000;   shoe,   9,000;   furniture   8,000: 7,000; textile, 7,000; auto, 5,000; lumber, 3.500; fishermen, 2,000; tobacco, 1,400
7 Labor Research Association, Labor Fact Book 3, p. 154, N. Y., 1936.
8  For details and interpretations of the strike, see Labor Research Association, Labor Fact Book 3; Mike Quin, The Big Strike; and George Morris, Where Is the C.I.O. Going?
9 Labor Unity, June 1934.
10 Daily Worker, March 11, 16, 17, 1935
11 Statement of the Central Committee of the Communist Party in  The Communist, March 1936.

Chapter 22

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