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Ernest Lund

Progressives in Stiff Fight at Ship Convention

(October 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 41, 9 October 1944, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Atlantic City – Spearheaded by the fifty-five-man delegation of Local 42, Philadelphia, progressive delegates to the tenth annual convention of the Industrial Union of Marine & Shipbuilding Workers of America, CIO, in session here from September 28 to October 3, waged a stiff battle for a fighting union.

Their fight was highlighted by an attempt to free the union from the restrictions imposed upon it by the no-strike pledge. This fight was continued when the progressives asked for the recall of labor’s members on the War Labor Board on the grounds of the anti-labor record of the board. The fight of the progressives culminated in their support of the opposition ticket in the election of national officers.

The hopeful sign of the emergence of a progressive bloc was, however, offset by the fact that the union leadership came completely under the domination of the Communist Party forces. Though John Green was re-elected as national president, the Communist bloc completely controls the majority of the new General Executive Board.

The no-strike pledge was reaffirmed lay a show of hands vote in which some 100 delegates voted in opposition out of a convention of some 750. Local 42 was the only large delegation voting solidly for repeal of the pledge. It was joined by groups from Camden Local 1 and Chester Local 2.

The fight over the no-strike pledge was featured by a “red herring” speech by Delegate Goodwin from San Pedro Local 9 in which he charged that the fight for repeal was inspired by Labor Action. He went on to cite the widespread distribution of the paper at defense plants and shipyards throughout the country as being the cause of the current drive in the labor movement to end the pledge. Goodwin claimed that the first place a resolution for the repeal of the no-strike pledge was printed was in Labor Action and boasted that he owned a copy of that issue.

(On the following day, Delegate Goodwin stood up and cheered as the Communist bloc introduced and carried a resolution which condemned “red baiting.”)

The same line-up of forces that crossed swords over the no-strike pledge again squared off in the debate over the WLB. The convention adopted the majority position which enumerates at great length all the abuse that labor has received from the WLB and then concludes that the CIO ought to send a committee to tell the WLB to change its conduct.

Election Fight

The incumbent administration of Green and Phillip Vangelder was opposed by Tom Saul and Herbert Moyer, running for the offices of president and secretary-treasurer respectively. Green was elected over Saul by a vote of 793 to 131. Vangelder was elected over Moyer by a vote of 796 to 133.

Both Saul and Moyer confined their election fight to a “corridor” campaign. Neither of them took the floor of the convention upon a single important question of policy. Their campaign became an unprincipled attempt to line up delegates on the basis of personal grudges and deals. Neither candidate put out a declaration of policy or a program upon which to base his candidacy. Saul’s only attempt at explaining the basis of his campaign was an article published in one of the Atlantic City tabloids and distributed at the convention. The article does not mention a single real issue facing the labor movement.

The totalitarian methods of the Communist bloc were rapidly demonstrated when they stubbornly refused to permit a single representative of the opposition to sit on the new General Executive Board. With a firm majority that gave them mechanical control of the elections, the Communists were in a position to freeze out all opposition candidates. As a result, Local 42, one of the largest and best organized locals in the union, was not given a seat on the new GEB.

Communist Danger

President Green launched into a terribly heated speech following, his election, during which he denounced the “majority group” tor their intolerance of any opposition point of view. He expressed his disapproval of the course taken by the opposition but went on to say that he felt they were honest union men who spoke “from their hearts” and deserved to be treated with respect.

Green’s speech was without doubt called forth by his increasing fear of the results of complete Communist domination of the GEB. Green spent some busy months before the convention whipping up sentiment against the progressive opposition and making plans with the Communist elements to insure himself against a convention with a majority of progressives. The Communists co-operated most willingly. As a result, Green has insured the defeat of the progressive forces, but finds that he is no longer master in his own house.

However, if the progressive forces continue their present fight and carry it to the members, the next convention may see a totally different line-up. The fight conducted by the Local 42 delegation was a demonstration of how to stand and fight for principles. All the developments of the coming year in the shipbuilding industry are bound to justify these principles. A few big locals following this lead of Local 42 can put the IUMSWA on the road to progressive trade unionism.

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