Rose Pesotta - People : Author : Rose Pesotta Tags
Bread upon the Waters
Travail in Atlantic City
ATLANTIC CITY WAS SURCHARGEDwith expectation of strife when I arrived on October 11. Most of the othermembers of our General Executive Board were there for its quarterly meeting,and we discussed what was brewing.
The affairs of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, howeverimportant to us, would be overshadowed by a larger issue coming up at theAmerican Federation of Labor conventionÃ·the question of organizing mass-productionworkers into industrial unions. This had caused a six-day battle at theFederation's 1934 convention in San Francisco. A compromise had sidetrackedthe issue for a year. Now, in 1935, it was coming up again, and would haveto be faced.
Hot debate also was looked for on a resolution to form a Labor Party.The progressive delegates sponsoring it chose Francis J. Gorman, vise-presidentof the United Textile Workers, as spokesman. Immediately he began preparinghis speech. Short statured, Gorman had an air of self-importance, perhapsa hang-over from the buildup he got in the press when he led the ill-prepared1934 textile workers' strike.
The British Trade Union Congress had sent two fraternal delegatesÃ·AndrewConley, national secretary of the Tailors and Garment Workers' Union andAndrew Naesmith, who held the same office in the Amalgamated Weavers' Association.With them was a guest, Anne Loughlin, a general organizer for Conley'sorganization. She had made a stirring extemporaneous address the day beforemy arrival, and my fellow board members were still talking about it.
Introduced to Miss Loughlin, I invited her to tea next afternoon. Lingeringon the Hotel Chelsea veranda, I got illuminating information about GreatBritain's labor situation, and economic, political, and social conditionsthere.
It was stimulating to listen to this woman. Splendidly alive and energeticabout 5 feet 3, and in her early forties, she had sparkling blue eyes,and a lovely complexion, and was unmistakably British. One could have nodoubt about her great devotion to the cause which she served, nor of herlove for her country. To her the labor movement was a means to an end,and not an end in itself. It must gain for the wage-earners a better life,both physically and spiritually.
Anne Loughlin's father was a shop steward in the Boot and Shoe Workers'Union. As a young girl she went to work on "raincoats and heavy lines"in Leeds, Yorkshire, chief clothing center in the United Kingdom. In 1916she was appointed as "temporary" war-time organizer for the Tailors'and Garment Workers' Union, and had held that job ever since. The TGWUhad 80,000 members, of whom 60,000 were women. Miss Loughlin was a memberof the executive board of the British Trade Union Congress. King GeorgeV, at a special ceremony that year, had made her an Officer of The BritishEmpire--a title formerly given only to members of high societyÃ·thus makingher the first woman in the labor movement to receive this coveted honor.
As a field organizer Miss Loughlin had had much the same trouble, whenorganizing new areas, as we in the United States. Employers in her industryused to run out of town when the union began an organization drive. Butin 1920 the TGWU devised a scheme to keep the employers bound by a nationalagreement specifying wages and hours for all sections of the country, andthe industry became more stabilized. Union agreements were signed for 12months, and then could be renewed through negotiations. I asked Miss Loughlinwhat impressed her most at the A F of L convention.
"The great waste of time in useless detail," she said. "Wemanage to avoid that in the British Trade Union Congress."
More than six weeks ahead of conventions, she told me, the executivecouncil proposed a tentative agenda and local unions were asked to sendin their resolutions and proposals. Resolutions on a given subject werewoven into a composite resolution by a special committee and offered tothe conclave with a definite recommendation.
In April, 1944, Anne Loughlin was one of the British Labor ad- visorsto the historic International Labor Organization conference in Philadelphia.Thus we met again. Her hair now silvery gray, the shadows of more thanfour years of war had left an indelible mark on her vivacious face, butshe constantly radiated energy.
Afterwards she came to my home in New York for dinner, with Miss FlorenceHancock, of the General Workers' Union, also a titled Officer of the BritishEmpire. Several friends who joined us got an intimate picture of life inwar-time England. Before leaving England, Miss Hancock had asked a youngnephew what he would like her to bring him from the United States. He wantedjust one thing: a banana. English children, who loved bananas, had hadnone for three years.
In June, 1943, King George VI knighted Anne Loughlin, giving her thetitle of Dame Anne. Again she was the first woman in labor's ranks to begiven a royal honor. When one of my other guests asked her: "Wereyou thrilled when you received that title?" her reply was characteristic:"No, but I was thrilled when they elected me chairman of the BritishTrade Union Congress."
Akin to our American Federation of Labor, the BTUC has a chairman whois elected for one year at the annual convention, instead of a president.
The first woman elected to that office, Anne Loughlin headed the BritishTrade Union Congress through 1943. In that capacity she presided over itssessions, led delegations to the Prime Minister, and adjusted serious problemssubmitted by its affiliated trade unions.
On October 15 (1935) John L. Lewis, leonine-maned head of the UnitedMine Workers, electrified the convention by introducing two resolutions.One provided that "no officer of the A F of L shall act as an of ficerof the National Civic Federation or be a member thereof." The otherwas to bar the American Federationist, the A F of L of ficial organ, fromaccepting advertisements from any concern which did not recognize and practicecollective bargaining with its workers.
The first demand put Matthew Woll, vise-president of the A F of L, onthe defensive. He made no fight against it, and did not explain why hewas serving as acting president of the National Civic Federation, an organizationlargely composed of anti-union business men.
In that office, Woll had got into the newspapers by repeated attackson the "reds." . . . Before the day ended, he resigned from theCivic Federation.
Lewis's second resolution struck at the A F of L executive council'spractice of selling advertising space in its monthly magazine to U.S. Steel,certain anti-union textile firms, General Motors, and other implacableenemies of organized labor. The delegates passed it unanimously.
Then the convention began its momentous debate on the issue of industrialversus craft unionism. Charles P. Howard, president of the InternationalTypographical Union, read, as a member of the resolutions committee, aminority report favoring the industrial form.
The case for the mass-production workers was championed by spokesmenfor the miners and for the garment, textile, typographical, and other workers.Lewis, Philip Murray, and Van A. Bittner represented the United Mine Workersof America, which claimed a membership of 600,000, but which paid per capitadues to the A F of L for only 400,000 miners, so that it had precisely4,000 votes in the convention. My own opinion was that it was doing wellif it actually had 300,000 dues-paying members, with most of the unionminers working only part time in the depression years.
Lewis had a pressing reason for his concern with the unskilled in thebasic industries. The coal miners, who had always had the industrial formof organization, were confronted by a critical problem. Through the leanyears since the war, with countless mines shut down, large numbers of coaldiggers naturally had drifted into other fields, especially steel, automotive,rubber, metal mining, cement, radio, oil, and lumberÃ·industries with eitherno unions or company unions.
By establishing company unions, often through the use of industrialunder-cover men known as "diplomats," many employers had beenable to circumvent New Deal laws aimed to safeguard labor. The companyunions also were organized along industrial lines, each taking in all thoseemployed in a given plant. When workers in these set-ups attempted in theNRA period to form legitimate labor unions, and sought entry into the AF of L, they bumped their heads against so many craft unions that theybecame confused and often disgusted. Furthermore, the mass-production companiescould bring in tens of thousands of farm hands and other unskilled workers,largely young people, to replace those demanding better conditions. Sojob tenure was always uncertain.
Wrought up, workers in steel, auto, rubber, and other basic industrieswho had been coal miners came back to their old union for help. The delegateswho spoke in their behalf at the A F of L convention demanded a clear-cutdecision. They wanted the unskilled and mass-production workers to be ableto organize along industrial lines without interference by the craft unions.No longer could the issue be sidetracked.
Others also insisted on a hearing younger men, born in a period whenmass-production had spread boundlessly beyond the reach of skilled craftsmanship;when machines could turn out vastly more and better products than men'shands, the streamlined belt conveyor making human skill only an incidentalpart of the production process.
On the platform of the convention hall, above which was emblazoned theA F of L watch-word, Labor Omnia Vincit, Labor Conquers All, a poignantcry was uttered, echoed, and amplifiedÃ·a cry sent up for years in the wildernessby humans who followed a will-o'-the-wisp, a cry sounded by the IWW inlumber and construction camps, by lean men on the water-fronts, by sweatingfurnace workers in the steel mills. It was the old plea of millions ofunskilled and semi-skilled toilers who for decades had clamored for admissioninto the house of labor only to find the door slammed in their faces becausethey were considered "trash",Ã·working in basic industries, theycould not be properly classified into the existing "legitimate"unions of horse-and-buggy days.
Heads of craft internationals likewise spoke, heatedly, as they resistedthe assault upon their supremacy. George F. Baer, Pennsylvania coal magnate,had declared that the coal barons held the destiny of labor in their handsby "divine right." Likewise the dictators of these internationalsdefended their "right to keep and to hold whatever comes under theirconstitutional jurisdiction."
Various "federal locals," born since the NRA, were representedat the convention, their delegates having in the aggregate the smallestnumber of votes. I thought of the millions of workers, and potential members,they represented of industries that were consistently kept outside, andtheir votes: auto, 86 votes; cement, 7; aluminum, 1; rubber, 28; radio,refrigeration, and television, 75; steel, 86; lumber, with no representationÃ·andI felt a pang in my heart.
Their cause was championed by spokesmen for the United Mine Workers,to which, according to Van A. Bittner, "even haircutters in the coaltowns belonged." Some of the these new unionists mounted the platform.One of them was 26-year-old James B. Carey of Federal Local 19774, Chicago,having a lone vote. Carey looked like a high school boy who had just donnedlong pants, but he spoke too seriously for some of the delegates, whosebig cigars in the corners of their mouths and large diamond rings on theirfingers did not bespeak any deep wisdom as they sneered at speeches likehis.
Sitting with our delegation, I had opportunity to observe the gatheringdispassionately. It was easy to tell from their facial expressions whowere vitally concerned with the problem before the assemblage and who wereindifferent or hostile.
Some of them, "born to be delegates," and attending a conventionfor perhaps the 55th consecutive time, were a tradition. To be seen therewas enough for them: Some were elected year after year by their membershipas recognition of services at home. Most were top officials heading thedelegations from their organizations. Only a few delegates had the definiteaim of accomplishing something concrete for the rank-and-file, the unskilled,the unorganized.
Certain delegates represented paper unions, or only themselves, ratherthan a membership like the spokesman for the Amalgamated Association ofIron, Steel, and Tin Workers, which had lost a strike at Carnegie Steelin 1892, and two others in 1901 and 1909, and had never made another organizingattempt. Its delegate, a timid looking individual, didn't strike me asone who could induce a modern industrial worker to join his union. Controversialissues were numerous, and naturally were decided by roll-call vote, sothese delegates could not leave the hall as frequently as usual. Some wereirritated at being thus penalized, for they would have preferred a goodtime. They came to life only when the election of officers took place.
Julius Hochman of the ILGWU delegation read a report describ ing howthe industrial spy racket had fastened its claws upon virtually every industryin the country, and urging the convention to take steps to counteract thismenace to all unionization efforts.
Close by our table sat the aged president of the International Seamen'sUnion, Andrew Furuseth, who seemed an anachronism here. A tired old man,a bundle of dry bones covered with parchment-like skin, his long legs werestretched out on the next chair, his hands lay lifeless on his lap. Oftenhis eyes were closed, but his jaws kept moving, as if he were chewing hisown gums.
Once a hardy warrior who had fought a brave fight for the men of themerchant marine, he had taken up the cudgels for industrial unionism atthe A F of L convention in San Francisco a year earlier. Now he appearedall through.
In his speech at the 1934 convention he had declared that "it isnot the work that one does in one hour or another that counts here; itis the work that accomplishes a specific purpose . . . New things willcome into the world . . . men will have to learn how to make them."
He roused himself twice in Atlantic City, speaking at some length Ã·onthe question of anti-labor injunctions, when the report of the Committeeon State Organizations was being considered, and on the matter of governmentalsubsidies to ship owners.
"Our anti-injunction bill, as it is piously called," he averred,in a dry, crackling voice, "is an authorization and instruction tothe courts to issue injunctions. The American Federation of Labor has evidentlygiven up the fight on the question of injunctions." He assailed thepaying of $30,000,000 a year in government ship sub= sidies as a racketenjoyed by vessel owners, while the ships ran by breaking all the lawscovering inspection service and safety.
Looking at Furuseth as he was, old and tired, it seemed incredible thathe was the person who had won for the seafarers their protective legislation.I could think of the many such old and sick labor leaders, who in theirzeal and devotion to the cause never took cognizance of the fact that someday they might be too decrepit to render any useful service and would becomea burden to themselves and a liability to the movement. During recent years,however, many a labor organization, including my own International, hasestablished insurance and retirement funds for their officers, and plansare to continue along this line. If the government does not develop a cradle-to-the-graveformula the unions will at least provide for those who are no longer ableto carry on, so they will not be thrown on the scrap heap.
Andrew Furuseth died at the age of 83 in 1938 in Washington, where hehad spent many years in the interests of the seamen. His body lay in statein the Labor Department Auditorium. Senator Bob LaFollette the youngerdelivered a eulogy at his funeral and Andy's ashes were scattered in themiddle of the Atlantic Ocean.
Saturday, the closing day, brought a climax.
Delegate Thompson of Rubber Workers Union 18321 spoke on a resolutiondemanding jurisdiction over all rubber workers through the granting ofan international charter. Those he represented, he declared, flatly refusedto let themselves or their fellow-workers be scattered among the craftunions. A barrage of points of order and questions tended to confuse thisinexperienced delegate. Then came the now famous verbal and physical encounterbetween William Hutcheson, carpenters' leader, and his friend, John L.Lewis. Lewis was acclaimed the hero of the day, but actually the creditfor that victory should go to the United Mine Workers' delegation as awhole.
The popular story is that John L. Lewis struck Hutcheson. Maybe he didÃ·butthere is more to the story than that. I was one of the many eye-witnessesto the fast-moving melee.
As the commotion started, I hastened toward that part of the hall, asI was used to doing when there was a clash on our picket lines. DistinctlyI saw one of the miners land a heavy wallop on Hutcheson's jaw when hegrabbed Lewis by the collar. A free-for-all ensued, a table being overturnedwith several delegates under it. When the contendants were finally untangledLewis was standing defiant, hair disheveled, his collar torn from his shirtÃ·whileHutcheson was nursing a badly swollen face.
Lewis emerged from the convention the reputed savior of labor. To mehe was nothing of the kind. Looking at him realistically, I saw the manas a consistent conservative Republican, who might at any time supportthe Democrats if it meant gain for his organization or fame for himself.I could not accept his vocal concern for the mass-production workers asaltruistic; the economic condition of the miners' union was an ample motivefor his demand for the broad spreading of industrial unionism.
He was particularly interested in organizing steel to liberate and unionizethe so-called "captive" mines, owned by the steel magnates anddominated by company unions. The United States Steel Corporation ownedmore than 100,000 acres of coal lands in Kentucky and West Virginia, andUnited States Steel and Coke also had large coal holdings. Miners goingto union meetings often had to walk nine miles before they were clear ofcompany ground. Captive mines spelled unequal competition for owners andunionized mines, and they clamored for the UMW chiefs to line up the othersand establish union conditions in them. The Miners' Policy Committee musthave discussed this problem time after time and demanded that the UMW leadersbring pressure on the A F of L to work out a solution.
Lewis was upholding the progressive side in Atlantic City and the Communistswere chanting hosannas to his name, but I recalled that in his own unionhe was supreme dictator, Communists being barred from membership, and thatthose who disagreed with John L. were expelled and had to shift elsewhere.The Lewis dynasty had long demanded unqualified obedience.
Yet I noted curiously that Lewis was now flirting behind his shaggybrows with John Brophy and Powers Hapgood, hitherto anathema to him. Asmembers of the miners' union they had challenged his policies, even daringto oppose his reelection at UMW conventions.
Despite the fistcuffs, I felt that John L. was much closer to reactionaryHutcheson, both being members of the Republican party, than to the radicalwing in the labor movement.
One incident at the closing session on Saturday afternoon was a classic.
A resolution not to form a Labor Party was read. Delegate Francis J.Gorman of the United Textile Workers mounted the platform.
His secretary distributed mimeographed copies of his prepared addressat the press table, which was close to ours. I borrowed a copy from a reportereleven pages, single-spaced, on legal size paper. "He's crazy,"I remarked. "They'll never sit through this."
Gorman read for a few minutes in a monotonous voice, to a rapidly dwindlingaudience. Then Delegate Anderson of the plumbers stood up.
"Mr. Chairman, a question of privilege. Don't you think it wouldbe the right thing for the gentleman to turn over his report to the secretaryand have it become a part of the record of this convention ?The time isgetting late and he is just reciting something we can all read at home."
President Green: "Delegate Gorman has the floor. He has a paperhere that he has submitted to the convention, and of course he has theright to submit it unless the convention desires otherwise."
Delegate Anderson: "Then I move' Mr. Chairman, that Delegate Gormansubmit his paper to the secretary and that it become a part of the recordinstead of taking up the time of the convention."
Another delegate pointed out that many chairs already were empty, andthat the delegates wanted to leave so they could get back to their jobsMonday morning.
In the face of the prevailing sentiment, Gorman had no alternative butto hand in his address for the record.
Thus another expected "hot" debate came to naught. The voteon the Labor Party resolution again proved that the old political alignmentsstood firm, the champions of industrial unionism voting regular, with eitherthe Republican or Democratic bloc, and against forming a labor party.
I doubt whether Delegate Anderson or any of the others ever found timeto read Gorman's speech. Any one interested can find it, set in fine type,on pages 762-773 of the report of the 1935 A F of L proceedings. Whatevermerits it may have had were lost.
Throughout the sessions I noticed that whenever some important questionwas up the steam-roller managed somehow to squash it; by reporting it tooearly, when those who wished to press the issue were either absent or notprepared, or by leaving it till the last day, when most of the delegates,after two strenuous weeks, were sitting on their suitcases.
As soon as the convention adjourned, the delegates who had drawn upthe minority report on industrial unionism met and decided to form a committeeto aid the mass-production workers in self-organfzation and to promotethe cause of industrial democracy. Prominent among this group of trail-breakers,beside John L. Lewis, were the presidents of other outstanding internationals:David Dubinsky, our president; Sidney Hillman of the Amalgamated ClothingWorkers of America, Charles P. Howard of the Typographical Union, H. C.Fremming of the Oil Field, Gas Well, and Refinery Workers, Thomas F. McMahonof the United Textile Workers, Max Zaritzky of the Hatters, Cap, and MillineryWorkers, and Paul M. Peterson of the Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers.
The new Committee for Industrial Organization had been formed, it statedpublicly, "to encourage and promote the organization of the unorganizedworkers in mass production and other industries upon an industrial basis.Its aim is to foster recognition and acceptance of collective bargainingin such basic industries; to counsel and advise unorganized and newly organizedgroups of workers; to bring them under the banner of and in affiliationwith the American Federation of Labor as industrial organizations."
At once the committee began active work, serving as a clearing housefor information and advice, and sending organizers to work with variousgroups that sought organization. A public action subcommittee of nationalscope was established. Tens of thousands of workers in the basic industriesswarmed into the industrial unions now being set up. Many who had pleadedfor such organization volunteered their services, and hundreds of labororganizers already on the payrolls of old unions caught the fever and askedtheir officers to place them at the disposal of the new movement.
While this far-reaching enrollment of workers in unions of their ownchoosing proceeded, the national committee which guided ii knew it wasvital also to bring the major industries under union contracts. Opportunity,and the acid test for the committee, came in a few months with a sit-downof workers in the gigantic Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company plant in Akron,Ohio.
• Chapter 18 : Milwaukee and Buffalo are Different
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