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James Burnham

Company Unionism in New York Primaries

A.L.P. Is Tail to Kite of Boss Parties

(September 1938)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. II No. 38, 17 September 1938, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Recent developments in the New York state primary campaign are serving to bring out the futility of the coalition policy adopted by the leadership of the American Labor Party. The result of the coalition policy, originally argued for as giving the A.L.P, the key position in New York politics, has been to send the A.L.P. further and further into the background, and to leave the field of the current elections under the clear domination of the two bourgeois parties.

The outstanding contest for those nominations to be decided in the direct primary, September 20, is occurring in the Democratic struggle in the Sixteenth Congressional District between Representative O’Connor, incumbent chairman of the House Rules Committee, and the Administration-backed James H. Fay. In this fight the A.L.P. acts only as an obedient ward heeler for Farley. The A.L.P. meekly forbore putting up an independent candidate of its own, and is running Fay, unopposed, on its ticket.

Fay Machine Politician

Farley, as is to be expected, gave the A.L.P. absolutely nothing in return for this capitulation. The A.L.P. had not the slightest voice in naming Fay. Fay himself is an old-time machine politician, a Tammany stalwart, and one of the chief links between Tammany and the national Administration. From the point of view of the workers, there is not two cents’ worth of difference between O’Connor and Fay.

The humiliating consequences of the coalition policy, of the failure to launch resolutely into one hundred per cent independent working-class politics, are, however, to be seen even more strikingly in the case of the state-wide offices (governor, short-term and long-term Senators), nominations for which are to be decided at the party conventions following the primaries.

In the case of these offices, the A.L.P. leaders have made not one single move toward the naming of independent candidates, and the organization of a genuine independent campaign. From the beginning, they have let it be known that they will make a deal with one or the other of the old parties.

A.L.P. Trails Along

The illusion was spread that in this way the A.L.P. would have the deciding voice in picking the nominees of at least one of the old parties. Naturally, nothing of the sort is happening.

When the old party bosses saw the tactic of the A.L.P., saw that the A.L.P. was subordinating itself wholly in these instances to capitalist politics, they realized that they no longer had to take the A.L.P. into account. They are simply going ahead to straighten out their own internal difficulties, knowing that when they have finished, the A.L.P. will have to trail along whatever has been the outcome.

Their difficulties are, it is true, embarrassing. The Republicans now plan to nominate Tom Dewey, riding high on the crest of his racket-busting wave, for the governorship. With Lehman already declared for the two remaining years of Copeland’s unexpired term, and Senator Wagner a candidate to succeed himself for the six-year term, the Democrats feel they have no candidate for the governorship strong enough to put against Dewey. Strenuous efforts are being made to get Lehman to reconsider, and to run again for the governorship; but if these fail, they will doubtless have to fall back on Representative Mead of Buffalo.

Face Predicament

If, however, Lehman runs against Dewey, the A.L.P. will be placed in an absurd predicament. Dewey was supported with great fanfare by the A.L.P. when he ran for the office of District Attorney. Lehman, during the last two years, has publicly fought the New Deal bills such as the Executive Reorganization Plan and the Supreme Court revision – upon which the A.L.P. leaders have claimed the progress of the country depended. Nevertheless, the tie-up of the A.L.P. leadership with Roosevelt would in virtual certainty compel it to support Lehman.

The result of such backings and fillings can only be to disillusion workers about the whole conception of working-class politics. They see the party which they are trying to build as the expression of their own political interests being batted back and forth like a shuttlecock between the two old capitalist parties.

Bosses Pick Candidate

No trade unionist would ever stand for a situation in which, when choosing a business agent for his union, he was told to endorse one or another of two candidates named by committees of the bosses. This, however, is exactly comparable to what the A.L.P. leadership is proposing with respect to the state-wide offices. The Republicans and Democrats will name their candidates during the week following the primaries. The A.L.P. State Committee will then meet, and, according to present plans, will argue merely as to which of these sets shall be put on the A.L.P. ticket.

This outcome would not occur so placidly and automatically if, between now and that time the voice of the actual members of the A.L.P. and of the unions which adhere to it were heard to the effect that workers have as little use for company-unionism in political as in economic affairs. The time has come for New York workers to remind Alex Rose that the American Labor Party is their property, not a blank check issued in his name. If the reminder is too long delayed, there will be nothing but a deficit left in the bank.

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