Message-ID: <210745@isis.Reed.EDU>
Date: 16 Sep 95 16:45:14 PDT
From: Chris.Lowe@directory.Reed.EDU (Chris Lowe)
Subject: New corporatism in SA

Wartime AFL-CIO Corporatism

Chris Lowe, from the AfrLabor list. 16 September, 1995

Responding to an earlier post about workerism & militance, Peter Limb wrote:

I don't see a problem with union militance as such- what I was getting at was the reluctance by some officials/writers to deeply critique union strategy - to hide behind syndicalist "solutions." This, I believe, will emerge as a major factor in years to come as "social accord"-type policies more and more are pushed by Govt-Industry-Unions[??] - the new Tripartite Alliance of the 21st century???


Yes, this is very interesting. When the question of historical analogies came up earlier one which occurred to me was the situation of the CIO unions in the US during the Second World War. In the 1930s they had launched a widely successful industrial union organizing drive, in which socialist militants from the Communist and Socialist parties and Trotskyists, along with social democratic left-liberal unionists tied to Roosevelt all played key local roles. The organizing was successful because the unions were close to the demands of the rank and file, and were willing to pursue them aggressively, which established rank and file trust. (Sectarianism died down & flared in relation to Popular Front & European war developments).

After 1941, however, the CIO leadership undertook a "no-strike" pledge for the duration of the war, in the name of wartime national unity. Union leaders close to Roosevelt in the Democratic party, plus CP unionists, pushed this position very hard. The CP to its discredit (and later injury, as the same laws were used against it in post-war red-baiting) supported government repression of Trotskyist strikers (especially Teamsters in Minnesota). Militant local-level leaders developed an uneven and complex reaction to wildcat strikes (largely in response to inflation). At the same time the war brought in many new industrial workers, often from the un-unionized Southeast, who hadn't taken part in the original organizing, lacked trust in the unions, and did not experience them as a force acting in their interests.

The top levels of the CIO were pinning their hopes on a tri-partite corporatism, on which they hoped to build a post-war social democratic settlement. However, business out-maneuvered them and Roosevelt acquiesced to the subordination of labor interests, in order to get business and right wing co-operation. Labor never had an equal place at the table.

After the war, reactionaries engineered a red scare which amended the National Labor Relations Act against unions and especially radical militants, and set off enormously destructive internal purges in the unions. Reliance on the tri-partite strategy and disconnection from the rank & file, along with CP association with local pressure to sustain the "no strike pledge" against other local militants, all contributed to union weakness in resisting the reaction. U.S. unions still suffer under the results.

My tendency to link the question of strategy to the question of support of local militance comes out of this analogy I think, no doubt mistakenly at times. Over time, I think that commitment to a social accord strategy puts union leaders in a position of being forced to demonstrate their willingness to shut down local militants in the name of the accord, unless they draw very clear limits at the beginning, and make it very clear (to members and "partners" both) that their first and ultimate commitment and accountablity is to the rank and file.

I suppose this is more or less what you're pointing at, in criticizing reluctance to criticize strategy.

Nelson Lichtenstein wrote a very interesting book on the CIO during WWII, called Labor's War at Home. [editor's interpolation]

But one of the problems with Lichtenstein's book is also a problem with what I have been writing these last few posts. He's very good on what went wrong, but he's not as rigorous in analyzing the pressures on the top leadership, e.g. the potential in wartime for nationalist repression, rank and file support for war effort (or other national aims, analogously) when not involved in a particular struggle, possible reasonableness of hopes to get something from a tri-partite set-up etc.

Presumably the critique of strategy you're calling for needs rigorous analysis of the forces and reasons _for_ tri-partite corporatism, and distinctions among them in terms of varying appropriate responses.


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