Gil Gall's query on the Communist Party's early attitude towards the National Labor Relations Act sparked a broad and freeweheeling discussion which included more than two dozen messages. I have brought these together in the order in which they were posted. Many many thanx to: David Brody, Mel Dubofsky, Gil Gall, Jonathan Grossman, Howell Harris, Cliff Hawkins, Mike Haynes, Nelson Lichtenstein, Ellen Schrecker, Jack Stuart, and Chris Tomlins. Seth Wigderson, H-Labor Moderator
Date: Thu, 13 Apr 1995 22:34:02 EDT Subject: Question on CP & 1930s Labor Law
Gil Gall sends this interesting specific question. SW Here's a question for experts on the CP and its positions regarding American labor law during the 1930s:
Does anyone know what the party line was regarding the labor law issue of majority vs. minority representation for collective bargaining, as it was evolving in 1934-1938? I am particularly interested in its attitudes in the 1936 and 1937 time frame. Any printed sources on this anywhere? Thanks in advance.
--Gil Gall, Penn State University (email@example.com)
Date: Fri, 14 Apr 1995 14:30:40 EDT
Thanx to Nelson Lichtenstein for this important point. SW This is a good question, with much contemporary relevance. Since Lee Pressman was very close to the Party, the official CIO line, as reflected in the furorous debates with the AFL, would also reflect the CP view. Also see Cletus Daniel, The ACLU and the Wagner Act (ILR, 1980).
Nelson Lichtenstein <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Sun, 16 Apr 1995 21:13:30 EDT
Thanx to Ellen Schrecker for this important point.
Nelson Lichtenstein's note prompts another query.
What about Nat Witt? He was secretary of the NLRB and (I guess) in the party. It may very well be that the official government policy at this time (and probably for the only time in its history) may have reflected the CP position. Check out James Gross's work on the NLRB. Ellen Schrecker <email@example.com>
James Gross. The Making of the National Labor Relations Board:
a Study in Economics, Politics and the Law. Albany: SUNY Press, 1974. The Reshaping of the National Labor Relations Board:
a National Labor Policy in Transition, 1937-1947. Albany: SUNY Press, 1981.
I wanted to continue Nelson and Ellen's point, and raise a slightly different point. James Gross quotes what seems to me as definitive evidence that Witt, one of the original three NLRB Commissioners, was a member of the Communist Party. But from the little that I have seen of Witt's record on the Board [and that really is a very little] I do not recall seeing anything particularly "leftish," must less "CP'ish" about his actions. Of course, I readily admit that I may be missing the heart of his story. But I also wonder if there is not quite a distinction between CP cadre working in close tandem with the CP leadership, like Nat Ganley, and people who are formally "members" but are not really working under CP discipline or even daily guidance. Can anyone comment on this point. Seth Wigderson, H-Labor Moderator
Date: Mon, 17 Apr 1995 12:58:01 EDT
Thanx to Ellen Schrecker for continuing the thread. SW Seth --
Gross also cites the testimony of an ex-Communist and former NLRB attorney who said that to be a good Communist in the context of the NLRB in the late 30s was to perform one's NLRB"s work well. Obviously, this begs the question, but I think that at certain points, in certain institutions, there may not have been such a major divergence between the party's leadership and the rank-and-file as you imply -- especially on an issue like building the CIO. But, I'd be interested in finding out what other people think ....
Ellen Schrecker <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Mon, 17 Apr 1995 15:10:39 EDT
Here are three more contributions. David Brody and Gil Gall had a somewhat serendipitous e-crossing and Mel Dubofsky adds an important and different slant. A Reminder: Much of an earlier discussion on the early NLRB is currently on the H-Labor gopher. SW As I recall the question as posed last week, it had to do with the CP position on majority rule vs. minority rights in the NLRA. It would be helpful to be told why the question is being formulated in this way, i.e., not as to the law itself, but to a specific issue embedded in it.
David Brody <BRODYIIR@cmsa.Berkeley.EDU>
The reason I raised this issue is that in working on my Pressman biography, I had occasion to interview SWOC assistant general counsel Anthony Wayne Smith, who claimed that official party policy immediately prior to the calling of the Little Steel Strike was support of *minority* representation rights re NLRB policy. This would seem to fit with the trade union policy that the party was pursuing at the time, until it firmed up its commitment to the CIO wholeheartedly. However, since Smith was on the right in the CIO, I don't know how much of this was his own paranoia or a reality. Witt, by the way, had influence on the board, via Edwin Smith, but on the whole did not control policy, in my opinion.
Gil Gall, Penn State (email@example.com)
If you really want to understand what happened inside the NLRB in the New Deal years look at Peter Irons' book NEW DEAL LAWYERS, then read James Gross's two volumes cited by Ellen Schrecker, and glance at my book on the state and labor. You will see the important role played by idealistic young law school graduates only some of whom had links to the CP, and how the lawyers on the NLRB differed from the IR people who began to take over in 1939-40 (on that look at Chris Tomlins, THE STATE AND THE UNIONS). Nat Witt's communism was more a club used by antilabor members of congress and the IR people who wanted a less legalistic and conflictual labor policy than a means for him to shape or make national in- dustrial relations policy.
Melvyn Dubofsky <DUBOF@BINGVMB.cc.binghamton.edu>
Date: Tue, 18 Apr 1995 17:42:14 EDT Subject: Re: Question on CP & 1930s Labor Law
Here are three more contributions on the CP and the NLRB discussion which tend to raise more questions than they answer. Since Gill Gall's original query dealt with the CP's policy up to 1935 on minority rights vs majority rule in the NLRB I wonder if anyone is more familiar with the last stages of the Third Period CP? Meanwhile, thanx to Mel Dubofsky, Cliff Hawkins and Jack Stuart. Seth Wigderson, H-Labor Moderator
From: Melvyn Dubofsky <DUBOF@BINGVMB.cc.binghamton.edu> To Ellen through Seth,
By the time the NLRB was up and running, the policies of the CIO, the CPUSA, and the New Deal as well were in harmony. So one would ex- pect to find CPers in CIO unions, the NLRB, and the Roosevelt administration re inforcing each other's work. What happens, however, after 1938 when the CIO be- gins to splinter over the issue of communist influence and Roosevelt also be- gins to reshape the NLRB under congressinal attack and redbaiting. Do fissures then emerge between CP rank and filers in the unions and CP leaders? And what happens after the Hitler-Stalin pact?
From: Clifton Hawkins <firstname.lastname@example.org> Remember that after 1935, the CP's policy was that of the Popular Front, and, soon enough after that, the United Front that included even members of the bourgeoisie who were anti-fascist. The CP itself during these years was not particularly "left," and wanted to protect the Soviet Union from a Nazi attack more than it wanted to rock the boat in the United States or elsewhere.
My understanding is that some important people were exempted from all requirements to attend the meetings of any CP group, but that such people were in touch with the CP leadership and were expected to follow Party policy. This policy was relatively flexible at the time, and probably would not include day-to-day or case-to-case micromanaging of a CP member on the NLRB.
Of course, members of the Historians of American Communism could provide more specific information.
From: Jack Stuart <email@example.com> The problem of appraising the role of CP members in the labor movement and elsewhere has always been a difficult one, compounded by a level of deception (a word I can't avoid despite its use by J. Edgar Hoover, etc.) maintained long after the fact. An example of this is the autobiography written by the important CIO functionary Len De Caux, "Labor Radical." From reading it one might suppose that being under Communist discipline was somewhat akin to going to church occasionally. Some of the previous discussion suggests a single model of how CPers operated. Those I encountered in Students (Americans) for Democratic Action were most discreet and they told me of their affiliation only many years later. At the time I perceived them as supporting the "conservative" leadership of the liberal group.
Jack Stuart, JSTUART@CSULB.EDU 14213 Glenridge Road, Minnetonka, MN 55345 612-988-9147 Home until 8/95; E-mail year round
Date: Wed, 19 Apr 1995 19:22:51 EDT
I am glad that Chris Tomlins has sent this contribution. Sometimes we tend to forget what was lost as well as what was gained with the passage of the NLRA. SW
Discussion on this issue has concentrated so far on the popular front period (post-1935). During the 1934-35 period of preparation/passage of labor law reform legislation, CP or CP-influenced opinion was much more antagonistic to the prospect of state intervention in union organization.
Incidentally, on the matter of majority rule, the question is begged majority of what? And, who is to decide? Certainly the NLRA created procedures to answer both those questions, but the effect was to estrange appropriate unit determination from the immediate work force. In addition, a real cost of adoption of those procedures and the bureaucratic legalization of organizing/unit determination was to make employers party to unit determination proceedings and hence to union organizing and election strategies (this was so from the very outset).
Chris Tomlins Tel: (312) 988 6553 American Bar Foundation Fax: (312) 988 6579 750 North Lake Shore Drive E-m: CLT@nwu.edu Chicago, Illinois 60611 CLT@merle.acns.nwu.edu
Date: Wed, 19 Apr 1995 19:25:43 EDT
Many thanx to Jonathan Grossman for this very helpful addition to the discussion. I wonder if subscribers in other countries could continue to broaden the discussion. SW
I can't comment directly on the US CP, but what I know from research into the Communist Party of South Africa in the period that you are discussing certainly shows a leadership core in control of the formal apparatus, a set of members and lapsed members who sometimes claimed continuing connection with the party even when they were either not formally members or not "following the line" and also a set of individuals, expelled during the "Third Period" but often being seen as "the party", retaining a loyalty, and re-emerging as members as the internal regime and policy shifted.
In the case of the CPSA, it was greatly weakened by state attacks and internal division, confusion and uncertainty deepened by a combination of extremely abstract policy decisions and policy zig- zags. The consequence of that situation was that internal party life played a very limited role in GUIDING the actual day to day political activities and decisions of party members and supporters; this left them very often to take their own decisions on immediate political issues - which in turn led in several cases to accusations of "deviation" by the party leadership. Before the party formally moved away from the ultra-leftism of third period policies to popular frontism and forms of class collaboration, some of its members and supporters were already making forms of that shift. Despite the absolute rigidity of the formal position (and therefore the sharp nature of the zigzags) the party was a much more uncertain and fluid organisation than often historically portrayed.
Jonathan Grossman Department of Sociology UCT Private Bag Rondebosch Cape 7700 South Africa
Fax: +27 21 6503518 Phone: +27 21 6503507
Date: Fri, 21 Apr 1995 11:25:52 EDT
Thanx to Mel Dubofsky for his clarification of the issues in his dispute with Chris Tomlins. SW
Chris and I have a long disagreement about the the NLRA, the NLRB, and the de- termination of bargaining units by administrative ruling and worker vote. It is an extraordinarily complicated subject that cannot be resolved in a brief note on the "net." Suffice it to say that NLRA did not create a utopia of unfettered worker choice. But prior to NLRA the actually existing labor movement often cap tured workers for bargaining units without the workers' consent, a right that many AFL affiliates struggled to preserve in the face of NLRB rulings to the contrary. The state and its agents may not have the best interests of workers at heart but then neither always do the actually existing trade unions. From my perspective, though not Chris's, the NLRA marked an advance in the struggle for workers to voice their preferences. It was a real effort to replace "exit" as the worker's only effective defense with "voice."
Melvyn Dubofsky <DUBOF@BINGVMB.cc.binghamton.edu>
Date: Fri, 21 Apr 1995 11:34:18 EDT
Thanx to Gil Gall for clarifying the query. SW [For those unfamiliar with this topic. The Communist Party adopted an ultraleft position in 1928 which rejected working in AFL unions and opted for creating independent or "Red" unions. This policy, part of the Stalinist "third period," was formally ended in 1935 with the adoption of the "popular front" policy and an embrace of the CIO. Of course, I am grossly oversimplifying a much more complex phenomenon. Gil is trying, precisely, to find out how these ideas and shifts worked out in practice. Good luck to him. Seth Wigderson, H-Labor moderator]
In relations to this question once again, Chris Tomlins is certainly right re the pre 1935 pop front period on the hostility towards state labor law intervention. My question is: how long did this hostility extend. Wasn't the party maintaining rival union to the SWOC partly into 1937? Exactly when did the party line start to strongly embrace the CIO as the way to go, and hence support perhaps for the principles of *exclusive* representation in a bargaining unit based on majority membership? And, if the party still had vestiges of mixed attitudes re policy towards the CIO through mid 1937, would not it have been possible that it would have supported the concepts that *minority* unions (read here usually CP) should also have representation rights?
Gil Gall (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Fri, 21 Apr 1995 14:43:13 EDT
Thanx to Mel for this detailed comment. SW I think that Gil should distinguish more carefully between two aspects of CP policy c. Nov. 1935-Nov. 1938. On the one hand, the CP favored labor unity over union civil war, hence preferred a single united labor movement as they shifted from the Third Period to the Popular Front. On the other hand, the party wanted its members to be where the action was, and when that place became the CIO, CPers proved extraordinary active there. Len DeCaux signs on early to work for Lewis; Wyndham Mortimer and his circle are active with UAW-CIO early in 1936; the UE people move into CIO before 1937; CPers serve early on as organizers for SWOC. Yet official CP policy remains labor unity until the AFL in 1938 becomes part of an organized anticommunist front to modify NLRA and fight CIO. Later, during World War II and just after, the CP again favored labor unity, leading David Dubinsky, among others, to assert that peace feelers from CIO were part of a CP plot to take over the labor movement. Hope that some of this helps Gill
Melvyn Dubofsky <DUBOF@BINGVMB.cc.binghamton.edu>
Date: Sun, 23 Apr 1995 20:43:41 EDT
We have four different posts dealing with various aspects of labor policy during the New Deal. Since they are quite different character and topic I am sending them separately. Here is a very intersting reponse from Chris Tomlins to an earlier Mel Dubofsky post where Chris both develops his position and explains the nature of his work on this topic. Seth Wigderson H-Labor Moderator.
Unfortunately I am going to be out of town and out of contact for the next few days, but I am planning to put up a document which could serve to focus our discussion on this matter, and will certainly speak to Gil Gall's question. The document is a lengthy memorandum of report on a CP leadership meeting called in April 1937 (in Cleveland) to consider the implications of the Supreme Court's *Jones & Laughlin* decision (upholding the Wagner Act). It will be transcribed for electronic dissemination over the next few days and posted as soon as it is available, when I will also explain and discuss its provenance.
As to Mel Dubofsky's comment regarding a difference of opinion between him and me on the NLRA/B, it will come as no surprise to anyone who is acquainted with our respective books on the subject (or, for that matter, with our respective reviews of those respective books) that we take different tacks. I don't feel prepared to begin a detailed discussion of an issue that, as Mel observed, is enormously complicated--not at least while we have the other thread going. Let me just say that in fact, while I am probably more critical of the NLRA than most, I do not think of it as an unalloyed disaster for the American labor movement, and I have always tried to balance my criticisms with acknowledgements of the Board's and the Act's actual or potential achievements. Nonetheless, when I first came to the subject many years ago what struck me was the overwhelmingly uncritical uniformity of American historical opinion on the subject of the Wagner Act, and so my own work from the late 1970s through the mid-1980s was devoted in good part to attempting to develop in some detail the basis of my more critical assessment. I was also struck at that time by the absence of serious attention among American labor historians to the AFL, and the contempt in which the organization and its affiliates were held when they were discussed, and so I determined to look more closely in my work at that organization than others before me had done, and forbear assuming that most everything the AFL did was motivated by roguery or reaction, or was just downright shortsighted.
The twin attitudes among historians (to the NLRA and to the AFL) that I have described seem to me largely a legacy of the intra-labor organizational and political disputes of the 1930s/40s. Even though I think the nature of state policy as developed during that era had far more long-run significance for the American labor movement than "Labor's Civil War," I do recognize it as a time when, within the labor movement, lasting allegiances were forged and bitter enemies made. But for far too long, the history of labor in the 1930s and '40s was written to validate or justify this or that victory, or condemn or take revenge for this or that perceived error or betrayal. If we roam our subject looking mainly to refight old battles we will no doubt have a rousing time, but at the end we are unlikely to have shed lasting light on the events we all struggle to understand.
Chris Tomlins Tel: (312) 988 6553 American Bar Foundation Fax: (312) 988 6579 750 North Lake Shore Drive E-m: CLT@nwu.edu Chicago, Illinois 60611 CLT@merle.acns.nwu.edu
Date: Sun, 23 Apr 1995 20:51:01 EDT
Thanx to David Brody for this valuable contribution. SW
I suspect the matchup Gil Gall wants to make between CP union policy and minority representation rights in re the NLRA won't work. Once the NLRA passed and majority rule became the rule, none of the ways in which minority rights remained a live issue would the CP have wanted to touch, no matter how it felt about the CIO: the craft bargaining units the AFL wanted (and felt the CPers on the NLRB most strongly opposed), the company unions GM and US Steel hoped to protect by their members-only recognition in the first agreements, and, stretching things a bit, the non-union workers whose rights companies claimed they were defending by not accepting the union shop. In fact, there's a pretty close correspondence between CP trade-union policy and its attitude toward labor law. Up to 1935, it favored independent unions and oppsed the NRA & the labor law emerging out of it as social fascism, after 1935 it reversed its- self on both issues, & I doubt would have taken a stand against majority rule. It may be that individual CP locals took advantage of the minority rights claim during the NRA period, and this is what Gall's informant Smith had in mind, but the CP's opposition to NRA labor regulation and the Wagner bill coming out of it was comprehensive & not based on details like majority rule.
David Brody <BRODYIIR@cmsa.Berkeley.EDU>
Date: Sun, 23 Apr 1995 20:58:02 EDT
Mike Haynes sends this interesting note based on his recent work with Harvey Klehr. SW
Re: C.P. 1930s Labor In THE SECRET WORLD OF AMERICAN COMMUNISM, just released by Yale University Press and authored by Harvey Klehr, myself, and Fridrikh Firsov, we transcribe in their entirity two Comintern documents that report on a debriefing of Rudy Baker, head of the CPUSA underground in 1939 and then in Moscow for a meeting with Comintern officials. The reports state that Baker reported the presence of Communists on the staf of a "federal commission" which from the issues Baker discussed in connection with the matter may have been the NLRB but was more likely LaFollette's Civil Liberties subcommittee of the Senate Labor and Education Comittee then investigating antilabor activiites of the Associated Farmers in California. Also, Hope Hale Davis in GREAT DAY COMING: A MEMOIR OF THE 1930S, released late last year by Steerforth Press, discusses the activities of two secret party members: her husband, Hermann Brunck, and John Donovan in the NRA's section 7a office and labor board. John Haynes, email@example.com.
Date: Tue, 25 Apr 1995 11:37:19 EDT
Howell Harris sends this very interesting post. Many thanx. SW From: "Howell J. Harris" <H.J.Harris@durham.ac.uk>
*Why I Don't Much Like the AFL,* by Howell Harris
I'm stimulated to write this note in reply to Chris Tomlins' *apologia pro vita sua* today. I've a great respect for his work- -it's the best of the critical legal studies stuff on the Wagner Act, and the most historically-satisfying, resting as it does on so much more than a reading of the cases. But when I read the thesis and the book, I was also as struck as anyone must have been by the other aspect of his research intentions, to which he draws our attention again in this message--the desire to write an account of the impact of, and the controversy over, the Wagner Act, which would rehabilitate Bill Green, Joseph Padway, Matt Woll, John Frey, *et al.*, as the labor movement's true prophets.
Chris's 1979 *JAH* article was an important corrective to any notion among historians that they could write the labor history of the 30s and 40s as if only the CIO--indeed, only the UAW-- existed. But his desire, not just to remind anybody who needed reminding that the AFL *mattered,* but to bathe it in a rosy glow of retrospective approval, impressed me then, and still impresses me now, as a bit bizarre, given what I knew or could infer about Chris's personal politics, and also what I knew then about the AFL in the New Deal era.
Before I'd read *anything* of his I knew a bit about `Colonel' John Frey and the official AFL's response to the Wagner Act. I knew, that is, about the infamous `Frey Rider' by which the AFL subverted a basic principle of the Wagner Act--majority will as the basis of representation--in order to protect its sweetheart deals. And, at the same time as I was studying Chris's (1980) thesis, I was also reading Jim Gross's (1981) work on the NLRB which went into grisly detail on the way in which the AFL, by 1938 at the latest, was joining with labor's sworn enemies in order to begin to gut the Act and the Board almost before they were fully operational.
Frankly, if I have to make a choice in this matter between Tomlins and Gross-Dubofsky (et al.), or Joe Padway and cronies and Sen. Wagner and the NLRB et al., I know which side I'm on, and it doesn't surprise me if scholarship about labor history contains a certain amount of advocacy and partisanship when it comes to subjects like this.
These old debates and conspiracies of the late 1930s mattered, after all. If you have--even as a distant, middle-of-the-road observer like me--an attachment to the notion that a labor movement is a Good Thing, and that in the context of the America of the 30s such a movement was heavily dependent on state sponsorship for its existence and prospects of growth, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that official AFL policy towards the Wagner Act was a Bad Thing. Short-sighted, parochial, stupid, self-defeating, dishonest, dreamed up and carried out by an unrepresentative bunch of oligarchs and porkchoppers in an organization even more imperfectly democratic than its rival. And if that sounds like a cliche'd old left-liberal view, tough. (Or, as we would say in robust British academic discourse, "tough shit.")
But, beyond the immediate argument about the Wagner Act etc., Chris's message also set me thinking about why in general I'm not wildly enthusiastic about the AFL and the craft/business unionist tradition. One reason has to be that it represents an accommodation to, and one of the causes of, the larger `failure' of the post-1890s American labor movement. But my lack of respect for the AFL is also something that's been nourished by my own research.
As friends and readers of my previous postings on H-LABOR will know, I've spent the last too many years immersed in the dirty little details of labor relations in the second-biggest industry (metal working) of America's third-largest city (Philadelphia). For all of the period from the 1890s through the 1930s, the AFL metal crafts were the only union presence in (or more usually, outside of) the city's metal working plants. The threat that they might grow was what it took to create powerful and successful employer counter-organizations in the 1890s and 1900s. Thereafter the Molders, Machinists, and others clung on on the margins of the industry, mostly in small jobbing and repair shops, maintaining their theoretical jurisdictional claims but, outside of the period 1916-19 (not coincidentally, one when there was an interventionist Democratic administration in Washington), absolutely powerless to do anything about them.
So Item One in the bill of indictment must be that these vibrant, autonomous, voluntarist craft organizations with their claims to `private ordering' etc., etc. were just bloody useless at their job- -barely able to survive, incapable of growth, only strong enough to cause employers to organize to crush them. Outside of a few local market industries, AFL-style craft or business unionism was an impotent irrelevance before the Wagner Act protected and empowered it.
Item Two has to be that, even in this overwhelmingly hostile environment, many of the AFL's problems were purely self- inflicted. There's something extraordinarily unattractive, and self-defeating, about much of the `culture,' strategy, and politics of the AFL and many of its members. I don't just mean the racism, the ethnic chauvinism, and the prevalent exclusivist patriarchal attitudes. I'd include the hostility or indifference, much of the time, to the separate interests of semi-skilled and unskilled (white, male) workers *in the same establishments,* exacerbating problems of "divisions of labor." And I'd draw attention to the kinds of leaders these AFL organizations brought to the fore.
I've read--not thoroughly, but enough--John Frey's papers at the LC. What a scumbag! A fascinatingly repellent creature. (Where's the biography, by the way? Any postgrad in search of a topic out there?) I don't just mean the later, red-baiting Frey; I include the early Frey, separating himself from his molder background as soon as he could, using union office as a road to personal advancement and social acceptance among the employing community, defining himself as soon as he could as a journalist and publisher (as editor of the *Molders' Journal*) rather than as a union man, gutting the *Journal* of lively political and strategic debate and filling it with rubbish about his foreign travels, flaunting his insecure scholarly pretensions...
Other AFL men I've met on my travels inspire me with something less than awed respect, too. Bill Kelton, IAM business agent in Philadelphia during the war. Absolutely two- faced, telling his members one thing, and then sucking up to the Wilsonian state with the promise he'd keep them in line; angling all the time for a federal job, almost any job. Denouncing his radical, Dave Montgomery-ish inner union rivals and opponents as Wobblies and worse to the Military Intelligence and Justice Departments, so that they would remove them from his hair. Volunteering as an agent of the American Protective League for the same purpose (and to cover his back against accusations that his ordinary negotiating activities during the war were necessarily antipatriotic). A more complex, less loathsome figure than Frey, but equally surely the kind of leader who is no asset to his organization. But an AFL man to his core.
Defeated for the business agent's office in 1920 by a very different man, Clint Golden, and his ally Jack Lever (both of whom went on to distinguished careers with SWOC after spending the Lean Years at Brookwood and as subsistence farmers). They exposed Kelton, and expelled him--only justice after he'd had Lever expelled earlier (as a member of a `progressive' caucus whose offenses included encouraging members to come to meetings--something with which AFL democracy wasn't wholly comfortable). They went on, too late, to show what a rank-and-file, multi-craft, quasi-industrial unionism *might* have done in order to capitalize on the war opportunity--but that's another story...
Then there's James Cronin, Philadelphia Molders' business agent from 1914 through 1923. A fascinating minor figure, a combination of hard-nosed voluntarist, machine politician, and racketeer. Exploited the war emergency to rebuild his shattered organization (relying on tight labor and product markets, not the federal government), but also to feather his own nest.
He got his 600 members to accept a dollar a week assessment at a mass meeting in February 1916, promising them a new union shop every week in return. He did not deliver on that pledge, but he made some progress, and the local's membership doubled within a year. He also "bulldoz[ed]" another meeting into voting an extra 10 cents a week per man in order to boost his salary to $100 a week (about four times their average wage, and more than twice as much as the anti-union employers' association, the MMA, paid its secretary--i.e. damn good money) for five years. This was against the Molders' constitution, but the IMU President did not intervene, despite members' complaints about Cronin's dictatorial leadership and at having to pay total weekly union dues amounting to more than three hours' wages.
Cronin dealt with his internal opponents brutally but effectively. His huge assessment income--by 1917, assuming all his members paid, it was about five times as large as the employers' association opposing him--for which he did not have to account to anybody, enabled him to employ what his critics called a "strong arm gang" of "non-producers" [that good old artisan republican term of abuse] to thrash them into line. Local 15's tightening hold on the trade meant he could pursue them from shop to shop, denying them employment as the number of open foundries fell. Their only recourse, by spring 1917, was to take their grievances to the MMA, and ask for its protection against their own leader!
For Cronin, union organizing and bargaining didn't necessarily rely on having the support of the workers affected. He had enough enforcers not to have to rely on actually having many men working in a shop, in order to be able to blockade it. Cronin did not believe in the niceties of collective bargaining-- grievance procedures, negotiations, committing proposals and agreements to paper, only calling a strike as a last resort, ballots, etc. As he explained the situation to a frustrated federal conciliator, "The law of the organization is that only one man can call a strike, and that happens to be me." Once he had presented his terms, pulled out his members, and sent in his troops, the issue was to be resolved by conflict--picketing, beatings, night visits to non-strikers' homes, threats which could drive molders with divided loyalties to suicide. Victory could come in either of two forms--acceptance of IMU terms and Cronin's "employment service"; or payoffs to his picket bosses--$500 per shop would do the trick--as the price of persuading them to shift their attention elsewhere.
The man was a crook, but--rather like Jimmy Hoffa--his members couldn't get rid of him, and he was moderately effective at bringing home the bacon. Only moderately, though--even in the context of World War I, brutal voluntarism was barely able to hold its own against mobilized employers, who always had ready supplies of local strike-breakers among those the union had failed to recruit, had alienated, had expelled, or scorned. (It took the defeat of the union to open the way into foundry work for African Americans).
And once the economy collapsed in 1920-1, what did Cronin do to compensate for the collapse in his dues and assessment income? Why, like a good voluntarist he sold his services to the highest bidder--in this case, a labor espionage agency called the Bureau of Industrial Research--and sold his members down the river for the next two years until he was exposed. Left a shattered and demoralized craft workforce behind, whom not even the New Deal and NLRA would revive--had to wait for the NWLB to put the Molders back on their feet in Philadelphia, their union's birthplace.
Then there's the last in a glorious trio of "misleaders of labor" (to use an old partisan taunt). Lewis G. Hines, business agent of the Philadelphia Metal Polishers and (unlike Kelton and Cronin) someone with whom H-LABOR readers may be acquainted. (See Filipelli and McColloch's book to appreciate Hines's constructive contributions to the founding of UE). His papers are at the LC, for the same sort of reason as Frey's are-- both became "labor statesmen" of a sort. (The red-baiting sort).
By the mid-20s Hines's organization was so weak that its depleted membership couldn't afford to pay his salary. But he was saved from a dishonorable fate like Cronin's by one of the not-infrequent opportunities good AFL voluntarists had open to them in the pre-New deal years--he got a state government job because, like many an AFL business agent, he was a Republican machine loyalist.
Hines became a Pennsylvania State Department of Labor and Industry mediator, and as such remained connected with, and useful to, his old brethren. (A footnote: Chris tells us to take more interest in the AFL, but how much work is there going on now into the practical, everyday workings of AFL unionism before things got complicated and began to go downhill in 1933? I was surprised to find that Hines could be a state employee and *at the same time* vice-president of the Central Labor Union. Then again, it was precisely *because* he had a "constituency" among the tiny minority of unionized, skilled, native white American and old immigrant workmen that Hines was so useful to the Pennsylvania Republican machine, whose anti-labor proclivities were well known to coal miners, steel workers, silk workers, and others less fortunate).
Well, the Depression was bad for Hines. 1930 brought maverick progressive Republican Gifford Pinchot into the governorship; Hines had campaigned for his opponent, so he lost his job. But Hines's patron, ex-Secretary of Labor, now Senator "Puddler Jim" Davis, got him a job with the federal government instead, as state director of the US Employment Service. This was a position from which Hines could (i) see to it that only Republicans and veterans got what made-work there was, and (ii) snipe at Pinchot, and support the Hoover line that unemployment wasn't so bad and nothing drastic needed to be done.
Understandably, March 1933 saw Hines unemployed himself. So, finally, he was reunited with the labor movement, and threw himself into the business of organizing federal locals and in other ways exploiting the amazing, unprecedented interest in union membership that the NIRA and section 7(a) had helped produce. As a fellow business agent wrote him at the time, "Well we are all afire here [Rochester, NY] going along with the New deal (sic), the metal trades council is holding open meetings and throwing out circulars at shops. [Editorial comment: what strange behavior for an organization keen on recruiting members!] We are getting results...this new deal better go over for if it dont it looks to me like good by for the A.F. of L." [A conclusion with which surely no radical historian could agree]...."we are all broke but having a lot of fun." [Whether because of the successes of labor evangelism or the legalization of beer is unclear in the original source].
How did Hines spend his time? Read any standard account of the origins of the UE to see his desperate, ultimately unsuccessful, probably counter-productive efforts to hinder industrial unionism, which was the authentic grass-roots response of local activists to the conditions in which they found themselves. Then read FMCS and NLB/first NLRB papers at Suitland (or College Park yet?) How was the AFL's chief representative and organizer making use of the best opportunities for union-building ever? Answer: serving, first of all, the narrow interests of his own craft. If we can gauge his priorities from the evidence of his workload, he put the rebuilding of the Metal Polishers--a couple of hundred men at most--among the competitive job shops of the city's electro- plating industry ahead of the construction of a wider labor movement.
This voluntarist was quite happy to use the federal government--the NRA, the code authority, the USCS and NLB/first NLRB--to discipline the small employers he was up against (and collaborating with, some of them, against their own chiselling minority). Meanwhile, rank-and-file industrial unions were left to lose bitter strikes unaided (against "corporate liberal" businessmen like William Batt of SKF and the Business Advisory Council), even getting stabbed in the back by Hines who indicated to the federal agencies that they neither had his organization's practical support nor its endorsement.
Still, this guy knew which side his bread was buttered--and how strong the pro-New Deal sentiments even of skilled workers were by 1936--so in 1935 he was instrumental in founding a local "Strategy Committee for Retaining Wages and Hours" (after the Schechter case) to defend what the NRA had brought. That meant campaigning vigorously *for* the Wagner Act, Chris. It meant that in 1936 this lifelong Republican was a member of the Democratic 100 Club and a supporter of Labor's Non-Partisan League. It meant that when one of his federal locals felt the lash of the employers' counter- offensive in January 1936 [see my posting last summer], Hines's response was to take the case straight to the friendly city and state authorities, the USCS, NLRB, and LaFollette Committee--in other words, to any government agency likely to be of help.
But this behavior couldn't last. After Hines's attempts to prevent the formation of UE had failed; after the organization of a local CIO council, which built on NIRA-era labor unity between reviving craft and new industrial unionists in the city; after the beginnings of jurisdictional conflicts between the CIO and AFL within the city itself, in which the NLRB couldn't help but get involved; after the exposure of AFL plans to collaborate with anti-union employers by forming "sweetheart" deals--then Hines reverted to type.
--Imposed national AFL policy, vs. local AFL members' and unions' wishes, in order to expel CIO affiliates from the Central Labor Union.
--Ruptured Labor's Non-Partisan League, helping produce the divisions within the Democratic Party that would see it lose the Mayoral, Senatorial, and Gubernatorial elections in 1938.
--Bitterly opposed the sitdown strike, labor's most decisive tactic in making the breakthroughs of 1937.
--Went on radio and in the press to denounce the CIO unions, including his old collaborators, as nests of Communist vipers, undermining their organizing drives (e.g. at GE in 1938, the first election UE lost).
--Rejoined the Republican Party, campaigned for it in '38, was rewarded with the Secretaryship of the Department of Labor and Industry. Used that post to carry on his crusade against Communism, the CIO, and the New Deal Democratic Party-- loyalty oaths for state employees, political manipulation of WPA and relief funds, etc.
--Presided over the administration of Pennsylvania's Little Wagner Act which turned it, by "amendment" in 1939, into a proto-Taft Hartley.
Now Hines was clearly a great guy, like Cronin, Kelton, and Frey, a product and a pillar of the good ol' AFL that Chris tells us to love and respect so much!
That's all, folks. Sorry to have gone on at such great length, but I can rarely resist an anecdote. There's a serious point to anecdotes, too--Mel, in his last message that provoked Chris to his *apologia,* talked about the "actually-existing labor movement." That's what, as historians--partisan or otherwise-- we have a DUTY to engage with. Not some ideal-type AFL but the one (warts and all; mostly warts, in fact) we can actually find--can't help but trip over--once we poke our nose into the archives.
End of story. Comments welcome.
Date: Tue, 25 Apr 1995 11:46:38 EDT
Thanx to Mel for this clarification and addition. SW Here is the full citation for the article by Kenneth Casebeer, "Unemployment Insurance: American Social Wage, Labor Organization, and Legal Ideology," BOSTON COLLEGE LAW REVIEW, XXXV No. 2 (March 1994), 259-348.
By the way, more interesting than the CP's response to federal industrial relations policies are the party's many reports--some quite long and detailed-- describing events, personalities, conditions, and union activites in a variety of industries. I came across many of them in the AFL papers at the SHSW, the John L. Lewis-UMW papers then at UMW hdqs in D.C., the John Brophy, Adolph Ger- mer, and Power Hapgood papers. I look forward to seeing Chris Tomlins' CP docum ent from 1937.
Mel Dubofsky <DUBOF@BINGVMB.cc.binghamton.edu>
Date: Mon, 1 May 1995 19:09:54 EDT
Thanx to Chris Tomlins for this very interesting document. SW
From: "christopher tomlins" <firstname.lastname@example.org> I'm now back from the wilds of Southeastern Pennsylvania (West Chester) and am able to follow through on my promise of a document that I hope will assist our discussion of CP policy in the post-Wagner Act period.
As I foreshadowed, the document is a report on a special meeting of the CP US Political Buro that was held in Cleveland on 17 April 1937. The meeting was called to discuss (a) the impact of the Supreme Court's Jones & Laughlin decision; (b) Party work in the AFL and the CIO; and (c) Party work among African-Americans.
I found the report many years ago when I was reading John Frey's papers in the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division. Given Frey's predilections and connections (to which Howell Harris has alluded recently in a colorful post to which I suppose I have to respond but will not do so here), it seemed to me then that it was possibly the work of an FBI informant that had been leaked to Frey. It also seemed to me that the author had to have been present, and also (given the ease with which the author employs particular language and ideas, and the absence of evaluative or judgmental statements) at least ostensibly a sympathetic observer. I had no means of confirming any of this, however, and given the anonymity of the document and the impossibility of confirming that it was genuine I decided that it was not something I would or could use in my own work at the time. Perhaps those of us who are more familiar with party materials from the era will be able to comment on its reliability and likely provenance.
The copy I made when I was reading the papers extends only to the contents of the report on "the labor situation" and does not include the section on "the negro question." With the assistance of Diane Clay's transcription I have reproduced it as I found it, omitting only one or two references to the "real name" of a person in attendance who has first been referred to by a party alias. I do this only out of ignorance -- I do not know nearly enough about the history of the CPUSA to recognize whether these "real names" are now public. But in any case, the original in the Library of Congress is unexpurgated.
I am advised by the Manuscript Division that the papers are in the public domain, and hence that reproduction of this part of the report does not violate any copyright or restriction.
New York, April 23, 1937
The Political Buro of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the U.S. called a special meeing in Cleveland for Saturday, April 17th. Due to the delay in the arrival of some of the leaders invited, the meeting did not convene until 9 A.M. Sunday, April 18th. It was held in the Jewish Labor Center, 55th and Scoville Streets, Cleveland. Among those present were: Jack Stachel, F. Brown , Clarence Hathaway, Elizabeth Lawson and Harry Raymond (of the "Daily Worker" staff), from New York; William Weinstone, District Secretary for Michigan; John Williamson, District Organizer for Ohio; Ned Sparks, District Organizer for Pittsburgh; John Steuben , Section Organizer for Youngstown; June Croll, from the Women's Department of the national office in New York; Morris Childs, District Organizer for Illinois; I. Amter and Charles Krumbein, District Organizer and District Secretary, respectively for New York, and Jack Johnstone and Robert Minor, members of the Central Executive Committee of the Communist Party. There were several others present, who were not identified.
Elizabeth Lawson  was formerly a student of the University of Minnesota and recently was editor of the "Southern Worker", using the pen name of "Jim Mallory," June Croll of the Women's Department  was formerly the wife of Carl Reeve, son of "Mother" Ella Reeve Bloor, but is now the wife of Langston Hughes, radical negro poet of Boston. Quite a number of others were invited but could not be present because of the pressur of work in their respective communities.
In opening the session Stachel stated that the purpose of the meeting was to endeavor to clarify a number of problems, among them:
(1) the political situation in the light of the Supreme Court decision on the Wagner Act; (2) the prospect for further work by the Communist Party in the C.I.O. and the A.F. of L. and (3) the Party position today on the negro question. Despite the poor attendance, because of the short notice, it was decided to discuss these matters and then direct the Political Buro to prepare a letter to District and Section Committees on the results of the discussion. The first reports on the political situation were made by Stachel and Brown.
Stachel stated that while the Supreme Court, by a 5 to 4 vote, upheld the Wagner Labor Relation [sic] Act, it is not possible to rely upon the whims of one judge, and therefore the campaign to support President Roosevelt's proposals to enlarge the Supreme Court must go on. It is necessary even to go further and demand legislation curbing the power of the Court, even if enlarged, by removing from it the power to review social legislation when passed by a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress. He further said that it is necessary to cover certain phases of the second point under discussion (work in the C.I.O. and A.F. of L.) in connection with the Court's decision. It is necessary to recognize that reactionaries in Congress will begin a barrage against the labor movement by trying to interpret certain sections of the Wagner Act as legalizing compulsory arbitration, outlawing strikes, and railroading to prison without trial those who refuse to abide by unsatisfactory decisions. Under the present practice anyone violating provisions of the decisions of the Federal courts can be brought in for contempt and denied a jury trial. There is not much danger of this happening at present, he said, but there are forces trying to amend the Act right now so that it will be more effective weapon against labor. The Communist Party job is to try to introduce amendments in Congress that will strengthen the pro-labor sections, and some of the leading comrades have rhcently had conferences with Senator Lundeen of Minnesota on the possibility of such amendments. While Senator Lundeen was in the Lower House he introduced the Unemployment and Social Security Act that was written by the Political Buro of the Communist Party and presented to him through the Unemployment Councils. It may be possible to get such amendments introduced by some such round-about method at this time. Congressman Maury Maverick is also amenable to influence by groups close to the Communist Party and he can be used to aid in putting over the program in the House of Representatives.
Instead of discussing each report separately, it was at this point decided that all reports would be rendered and thereafter the group assembled would enter into a general discussion of them.
Brown  then submitted his report, stating substantially that he would have to deal principally with the second point (concerning further work in the C.I.O. and A.F.L.), stressing the reactionary possibilities of the Wagner Act and the need for arousing great mass protests against such Fascist legislation as the Sheppard-Hill "industrial mobilization plan." He characterized the Sheppard-Hill bill as a great threat to labor. It must be understood that some of the top leaders of the C.I.O. - certainly Van A. Bittner, Regional Director of Chicago, and probably even John L. Lewis, aided by Sidney Hillman of the Amalgamated Clother Workers, and Charles Howard of the Typographical Union -- will back President Roosevelt's interpretation of the Wagner Act as something guaranteeing industrial peace. Homer Martin, President of the United Automobile Workers Union, is talking that way and is trying to provoke a fight with any of the officers or members of his union suspected of affiliation with the Communist Party, especially Vice President Wyndham Mortimer and the latter's supporters in the new UAWU in Detroit and Flint. There are also reports that the CIO leaders working in St. Louis and vicinity have started attacks against known Communists. This means that the time may not be far distant when the CIO leaders will join President Roosevelt in an anti-strike move, declaring that the organizational drive of the CIO and the victories in the steel and auto industries and the advance in other industries, combined with the legalization of the Wagner Act, make it unnecessary to carry on further strike Action. This is a great danger to the Communist Party and it is not prepared for such a move at this time. That is why this political conference was deemed necessary. The Communist Party must be able to devise ways and means of differentiating itself from such tendencies; otherwise the workers will be caught unawares and in a situation where the CIO and the Government will work together against strike action by the warkers. Thus far the Communist Party has gone along with the CIO in working to build the organizations, and the Party organizers have become trade union people pure and simple and have neglected to bring the campaigns of the Party to the membership of the unions. The Communist Party must be brought forward as such. That does not mean that it should expose its members working as organizers or those employed in the shops and mills, but it does mean these Party members must work closely with the Section and District Committees of the Communist Party and that realistic and convincing literature must be put out to counteract reactionary tendencies. The Party must be more energetic about Party recruiting and must be free to bring into the Party the best workers with whom it comes in contact in the course of organization work. It is essential that these policies be kept as secret as possible because if Lewis, Hillman and the others were to learn of them it might sharpen the situation in an unpleasant fashion. Hence those present at this meeting of the Political Buro must exert the utmost care in carrying this part of our proposals to leading Party members in the districts. While there are always dangers involved in correcting such abuses of Party life, it would be a much greater danger to let things go as they have been going lately.
While Brown was speaking Vice President Wyndham Mortimer of the UAWU arrived and Weinstone announced that it would be advisable to have Mortimer participate at once in the discussion. I asmuch as both he and Mortimer must be back in Detroit by Sunday evening. Hence it was decided to discuss the two reports made and take up the negro question later.
Mortimer confirmed Brown's statements regarding President Homer Martin of UAWU and said that Martin had proved himself to be very weak and would get little support, if any, from John L. Lewis; that Lewis had little respect for any leader who could not control his own union. Mortimer said that he was sure Martin could be defeated by his own membership if it came to a show-down. He said further that there is developing a sharp situation in Flint and that is why it is essential that Communist Party leaders from Detroit return as quickly as possible, because when they are absent for any length of time suspicion is aroused. He gave this as a reason why it is necessary to keep the time and place of Communist Party meetings secret. In many instances in Michigan they find it necessary to hold meetings after midnight. Mortimer agreed with Brown that Communist Party members doing organizational work for the CIO must realize first that they are Communist Party members with additional responsibilities. He thought the differentiation could be made on issues that immediately concerned the workers and that we need not fear bringing the most energetic and class-conscious workers into the Party because then, if a break does come, the Communists will be in a position to obtain wide support and possibly defeat any attempt to victimize the Communists, who have unquestionably done the best work and borne the brunt of the hard knocks up to this point.
Weinstone, in discussing the situation, said he did not think that any open break would come so long as Green and the AFL are attacking John L. Lewis and the CIO -- and there are no indications that this fight will end soon. However, he favored the beginning of a differentiation, saying that some talk is heard that "we have settled with the extremists among the industrialists, now we must deal with the extremists in our own camp as we do not want any extremists on one side or the other." Weinstone said that this talk comes from people not very eminent in the councils of the C.I.O., but it does show that there must be some such talk going on above or it would not be voiced down below. He also criticized the calling of this Cleveland conference, saying that those in the Party headquarters in New York ought to know that the tasks in the districts throughout the country are such that it is impossible to function if one has to be on call at a moment's notice whenever it pleases the comrades left in the Central office. It would be better if more members from the Central headquarters in New York spent most of their time in the districts and let the clerical workers in New York take care of national office routine. He favored Political Buro meetings in places nearer the center of mass activity than New York, but said that there must be more time given to arrange to attend such meeting.
John Steuben  agreed with the last statement of Weinstone and said that conditions in Youngstown are such that he should not have been expected to leave there.
Jack Johnstone, discussing the situation in the Chicago district, said that that area is a most difficult one; that in his whole territory, which includes several states, he is having difficulty in making comrades working in the unions remember that they have Communist Party duties to perform as well.
John Williamson, from Ohio, and Med Sparks, from Pittsburgh, stated that conditions in their respective districts were similar to those in Johnstone's Chicago district.
Robert Minor gave a long agitational talk on war and industrial conscription and also agreed with everything everybody else had said, including the need for more careful preparation for meetings called by the Political Buro.
Others made statements agreeing with the policy of making a fight to amend the Wagner act, and directed attention to the fact that the reactionary tendencies of that Act have been understated. They looked upon the Wagner Act as a bigger advance in the hands of reactionaries in the direction of legislation that will make effective industrial mobilization which can be used even if the Sheppard-Hill Bill is never passed. The opinion was expressed that it is an old trick of those who introduce Fascist measures to cloak them with professions of friendship for Labor. It was also stated that so far as John L. Lewis and Charles Howard are concerned, they have spent most of their lives breaking strikes and there is no reason to believe that they would not resume those roles the moment they think it safe to do so and at the same time insure the retention of their leadership.
Chris Tomlins Tel: (312) 988 6553 American Bar Foundation Fax: (312) 988 6579 750 North Lake Shore Drive E-m: CLT@nwu.edu Chicago, Illinois 60611 CLT@merle.acns.nwu.edu
+++++++ +++++++ +++++++ +++++++ +++++++ +++++++ +++++++ +++++++ +++++++
Date: Tue, 2 May 1995 16:06:47 EDT
Thanx to Mel Dubofsky for this view on the report of the Communist Party's views on the Wagner Act which Chris Tomlins posted. SW +++++ +++++ +++++ +++++ +++++ +++++ +++++ +++++
A couple of points concerning the CP document. I am not sure that it necessar- ily came to Frey via the FBI. In my own research I found several comparable verbatim reports in CIO leaders collections, unlikely to hvae been provided by Bureau agents. Lewis and his CIO allies seemed to have their own informants or "spies" at work among the CPers, and why not the AFL too. What struck me in the document was the lack of attention to the AFL; almost every substantive refer- ence is to a CIO union or leader. And what was the relationship of Len DeCaux and Lee Pressman, both at work inside the higher circles of CIO, to the CP strategizing concerning how its members in CIO unions should behave. Two final thoughts re the document: 1) the CP doubts expressed about the Wagner Act mir- ror the testimony against given by Mary Van Kleeck and other "reds" earlier in the legislative hearing stage, doubts that would obviously remain alive sub- sequently; 2) interesting given Kenneth Casebeer's long article on the Lundeen Bill that I alluded to in an earlier post that the CP document credits the party with drafting the bill and that Casebeer stresses Van Kleeck's role; can we, perhaps, assume that she drafted the bill on behalf of the CP. And a final, final thought on all such documents and reports--from my research on the IWW through that on John L. Lewis where I came across all sorts of similar reports and documents provided by private spies, govt agents, and union informers, I came away finding it hard to tell where the "truth" lay and creativity began. The toughest documents for me to read were those that contained large kernels of "truth" mixed with imaginative but non-verifiable assertions. Informants relished feeding the fears (paranoia?) of their "employers."
Melvyn Dubofsky <DUBOF@BINGVMB.cc.binghamton.edu> +++++ +++++ +++++ +++++ +++++ +++++ +++++ +++++
Date: Thu, 4 May 1995 17:26:55 EDT
Chris Tomlins sends this response to Howell Harris's recent critique. SW +++++ +++++ +++++ +++++ +++++ +++++ +++++ +++++
Mischievously, I might welcome Howell Harris's recent intervention on the AFL. I was beginning to worry whether, if challenged, I could come up with anything written in the last few years sufficiently antediluvian to validate my critique of 1930s labor history. So I thank him for putting his shoulder so resolutely to the wheel. But in fact it saddens me that Howell should feel his credentials to write convincingly about the labor conflicts of that period are best secured by advertising his active detestation of one of the parties. It seems to me the effect is the opposite -- instant, rather massive, loss of credibility. This is a real pity.
I'm also saddened that Howell feels the appropriate means of credentialling himself is to distort and then jeer at work that I have done in the past or opinions that I have aired here. In a post a week or more ago I sought briefly to revisit my motives in writing *The State and the Unions* because I thought it might be helpful as a prelude to what might have been the beginnings of an interesting discussion with Dubofsky on aspects of labor law. Harris translates those motives into an idiom all his own, attributing to me a determination to make people "love and respect" the AFL. This is not my ambition. In my post I said that when I began working on labor relations law and policy twenty years ago I had been struck by two characteristics of American historical debate: uncritical regard for the Wagner Act and universal contempt for the AFL. In the case of the Wagner Act I wanted to test that uncritical regard. In the AFL's case I wanted to look more closely in my work at that organization, and "forbear assuming that most everything the AFL did was motivated by roguery or reaction, or was just downright shortsighted." It seems to me that testing settled assumptions, or eschewing prejudgments, are appropriate principles for an historian to attempt to embrace. But not, apparently, in what I shall now and for ever think of as the "scumbag" school of labor history. In the inflections of that school, my description of what I attempted to becomes the expression of a design to "rehabilitate" the cast of characters on Howell's scumbag list, name them prophets, and bathe them in "a rosy glow of retrospective approval."
Howell apparently has rummaged through the papers of a scumbag or two: "not thoroughly," he tells us of his research on John Frey, "but enough." Enough for what? Why, for enough scum to bag him of course. As it happens, I too once worked (thoroughly) on Frey's papers, and I quite agree that he was a most unpleasant man. To me that only closes the case if you are writing for the *National Enquirer*. In the scumbag school of labor history, though, one trawls for rope to hang people.
I said before -- in that post to which I've already referred here, and which Howell so distorted -- that in my opinion much of the history that has been written of labor in the 1930s and '40s has suffered from being used as proxy for the pursuit of old hatreds, and that although roaming our subject looking mainly to refight old battles might be suitably rousing (though a rather bankrupt exercise, to say the least, when there are so many new battles to deal with), the outcome was unlikely to be light shed on events we all struggle to understand. I'll put Howell down as a vote for a rousing time. He can go join all the other assorted bearers of scumbag lists and they can all have a high old time snarling at each other. I doubt they will be able to form a consensus on who the *real* scumbags were, but that'll just add to the fun. They could start a journal, publish competing lists of names: Burl Ives would be on one list, of course, but much as I regret it there are those who would want to put Pete Seeger on another. John Frey, of course, would be there, but some might want to put John L. Lewis on too, depending on the date -- ask John Brophy in the 1920s. Remember who Lewis groomed as his successor? Should we award him temporary scumbag status for visiting Tony Boyle on the UMW? There's endless scum for endless baggers.
This is risible, of course, and is intentionally so, but the serious point is that villification may be great gossip but it is utterly useless as a foundation for any kind of serious historical argument or understanding. *Anyone* can play the trawling game. That's precisely why it's a useless game to play.
What can one learn from the scumbag school? The only thing it teaches me is suspicion of its adherents' products. Serious historical debate on matters of moral or political judgment can only occur on the basis of some initial trust. It is that which allows us to read and debate each other's work without having to doubt motive, to have the most basic and fundamental disagreements we want on any subject under the sun, and learn from them. Lose the trust and all you have is pap.
There is one other aspect of Howell's post that I'll comment on very briefly. Notwithstanding his claim to the contrary, he knows nothing of my personal politics and has no basis from which to "infer" anything about them. My personal politics are my business and the choice whether or not to reveal them to any person is mine to make and mine alone. That's all.