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Congress of Industrial Organizations

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This article is about the labor union. For other uses of the term CIO, please see CIO (disambiguation).

The Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) is a federation of labor unions. It was formed in 1935 in response to labor union protections in the National Industrial Recovery Act and later the Wagner Act. During the 1930s, the CIO tended to be a militant organization and included many communists. The CIO unions utilized the sit-down strike to great effect during this period. Because of their success, the CIO grew rapidly, although it was never larger than the American Federation of Labor. Following the Second World War, the CIO battled with the AFL for various industrial sectors until merging with the AFL in 1955 to form the AFL-CIO.

Contents

Industrial organizing in the United States

Workers and labor union organizers had long debated the merits of organizing workers by trade or by industry. The American Federation of Labor (AFL) had been organized along trade lines, recognizing that the only way to adequately bargain for economic gains was through control of manufacturing skill. In the case of skilled workers, such as carpenters, lithographers, machinists, railroad engineers, and many others, this meant maintaining as much control as possible over the work their members through enforcement of work rules, zealous defense of their jurisdiction to certain types of work, control over apprenticeship programs, and exclusion of less skilled workers from membership. Many among the trade unionists held a general disdain for industrial workers, whom they considered unorganizable, and for the foreign-born and racial minorities who made up a large number of the ranks unskilled industrial labor.

The alternative to trade unionism was industrial unionism. By the mid-twentieth century and the advent of Fordism, manufacturing workers had been largely deskilled. Labor organizers argued that the best way to assure the economic security of workers was to organize by industry where their numbers would give them leverage. Distinctions between type of work, trade, or skill were ignored because dividing workers in a single plant into a number of different crafts represented by separate organizations, each with its own agenda, would weaken workers’ bargaining power and leave the majority of them, who had few traditional trade skills, completely unrepresented.

While the AFL had traditionally included a number of industrial unions, such as the United Mine Workers and the Brewery Workers, they were never very powerful with the AFL. The Federation was led in the 1920s the most dogmatic trade unionists, usually the carpenters' union, who had a strong hold on power within the Federation.

A third alternative, which never gained much traction, was that of the Wobblies or Industrial Workers of the World. They rejected both the AFL's emphasis on trades and the CIO's emphasis on industries in favor of "one big union", aiming at uniting the entire working class.

Founding of the CIO

The debate over industrial unionism became even fiercer in the 1930s, when the Great Depression in the United States caused large membership drops in some unions, such as the United Mine Workers of America and the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union. A number of labor leaders, and in particular John L. Lewis of the Mine Workers, came to the conclusion that their own unions would not survive while the great majority of workers in basic industry remained nonunion and started to press the AFL to change its policies in this area.

The AFL did, in fact, begin to respond by adding new members belonging to unskilled, industrial unions. The AFL had long permitted the formation of “federal” unions, which were affiliated directly with the AFL; in 1933 it proposed to use these to organize workers on an industrial basis. The AFL did not, however, promise to allow those unions to maintain a separate identity indefinitely, meaning that these unions might be broken up later in order to distribute their members among the trade unions that claimed jurisdiction over their work. The AFL dissolved hundreds of these federal unions in late 1934 and early 1935.

While the bureaucratic leadership of the AFL was unable to win strikes, three victorious strikes suddenly exploded onto the scene in 1934. These were the Minneapolis Teamsters Strike of 1934 led by the Trotskyite Communist League of America, the 1934 West Coast Longshore Strike led by the Communist Party USA, and the 1934 Toledo Auto-Lite Strike led by the American Workers Party. Victorious industrial unions with militant leaderships, this was the catalyst that brought on the rise of the CIO.

The AFL did authorize organizing drives in the automobile, rubber and steel industries at its convention in 1934, but gave little financial support or effective leadership to those drives. The AFL’s timidity only succeeded in making it less credible among the workers it was supposedly trying to organize, particularly in those industries, such as auto and rubber, in which workers had already achieved some organizing success at great personal risk.

This dispute came to a head at the AFL’s convention in Atlantic City in 1935, when William Hutcheson, the President of the Carpenters, made a slighting comment about a rubber worker delivering an organizing report. Lewis responded that Hutcheson’s comment was “small potatoes,” to which Hutcheson replied “I was raised on small potatoes, that is why I am so small.” After some more words Lewis punched Hutcheson, knocking him to the ground; Lewis then relit his cigar and returned to the rostrum. The incident – which was also “small potatoes,” but very memorable – helped cement Lewis’ image in the public eye as someone willing to fight for workers’ right to organize.

Shortly after the Convention, Lewis called together Charles Howard, President of the International Typographical Union, Sidney Hillman, head of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, David Dubinsky, President of the ILGWU, Thomas McMahon, head of the United Textile Workers, John Sheridan of the Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers Union, Harvey Fremming from the Oil Workers Union and Max Zaritsky of the Hatters, Cap and Millinery Workers to discuss the formation of a new group within the AFL to carry on the fight for industrial organizing. The creation of the Committee for Industrial Organization was announced on November 9, 1935. Whether Lewis always intended to split the AFL over this issue is debatable; at the outset, the CIO presented itself as only a group of unions within the AFL gathered to support industrial unionism, rather than a group opposed to the AFL itself.

The AFL leadership, however, treated the CIO as an enemy from the outset, refusing to deal with it, and demanding that it dissolve. The AFL’s opposition to the CIO, however, only increased the stature of the CIO and Lewis in the eyes of those industrial workers keen on organizing and disillusioned with the AFL’s ineffective performance. Lewis continued to denounce the AFL’s policies while the CIO offered organizing support to workers in the rubber industry who went on strike and formed the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC), in defiance of all of the craft divisions that the AFL had required in past organizing efforts, in 1936; Lee Pressman, affiliated with the far left, became the union's General Counsel.

Initial triumphs

The CIO met with dramatic initial successes in 1937. The UAW won union recognition at General Motors Corporation after a tumultuous forty-four day sit-down strike, and the SWOC signed a collective bargaining agreement with U.S. Steel. Those two victories, however, came about very differently.

The CIO’s initial strategy was to focus its efforts in the steel industry and then build from there. The UAW, however, did not wait for the CIO to lead it. Instead, it built up a membership of roughly 25,000 workers by gathering in federal unions and some locals from rival unions in the industry. The union decided to go after GM, the largest car maker of them all, by shutting down its nerve center, the production complex in Flint, Michigan.

The Flint Sit-Down Strike was a risky enterprise from the outset. The union shared its plans with only a few workers because of the danger that GM spies would alert management in time to stop it. Nonetheless, the union needed to be able to mobilize enough to seize physical control of GM’s factories. The union, in fact, not only took over several GM factories in Flint, including one that made the dies necessary to stamp automotive body parts and a companion facility in Cleveland, Ohio, but held on to those sites despite repeated attempts by the police and National Guard to retake them and court orders threatening the union with ruinous fines if it did not call off the strike.

While Lewis played a key role in negotiating the one-page agreement that ended the strike with GM’s promise to recognize the UAW as the exclusive bargaining representative of its employees for a six months period, UAW activists, rather than CIO staff, led the strike.

The organizing campaign in the steel industry, by contrast, was a top-down affair. Lewis had a particular interest in organizing the steel industry because of its important role in the coal industry where UMW members worked. He dispatched hundreds of organizers to sign up members, many were his past political opponents or radicals drawn from the Communist-led unions that had attempted to organize the industry earlier in the 1930’s. Lewis was not particularly concerned with the political beliefs of his organizers, so long as he controlled the organization; as he once famously remarked when asked about the “reds” on the SWOC staff, “Who gets the bird? The hunter or the dog?”

The SWOC signed up thousands of members and absorbed a number of company unions at U.S. Steel and elsewhere, but did not attempt the sort of daring strike that the UAW had pulled off against GM. Instead Lewis was able to extract a collective bargaining agreement from U.S. Steel, which had previously been an implacable enemy of unions, by pointing to the chaos and loss of business that GM had suffered by fighting the UAW. The agreement provided for union recognition, a modest wage increase and a grievance procedure.

The CIO also won several significant legal battles as well. Hague v. Committee for Industrial Organization 307 U.S. 496 (1939), arose out of events late in 1937. Jersey City Mayor Frank Hague had used a city ordinance to prevent labor meetings in public places and stop the distribution of literature pertaining to the CIO's cause. District and circuit courts ruled in favor of the CIO. Hague appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States in 1939, which upheld the lower court rulings that that Hague's ban on political meetings violated the First Amendment right to freedom of assembly.

Autos

The UAW was able to capitalize on its stunning victory over GM by winning recognition at Chrysler and smaller manufacturers without any strikes or violence. It then focused its organizing efforts on Ford. Ford fought always (and often violently) any effort to unionize its factories. Most of its efforts were low-level intimidation of workers. Ford's "Service Department" led by Harry Bennett was both a police force and spy ring. Union organizers were often assaulted at Ford factories by Bennett's goons. The most dramatic of these events was the Battle of the Overpass on May 26, 1937, during which UAW organizers Richard Frankensteen and Walter Reuther were severely beaten. In spite of the bad press, however, few organizing inroads were made at Ford until the War.

At the same time, the UAW was in danger of being torn apart by internal political rivalries. Homer Martin, the first president of the UAW, expelled a number of the union organizers, including Wyndham Mortimer, Bob Travis, and Henry Kraus, who had led the Flint sit-down strike and other early drives on charges that they were Communists. The Reuther brothers were expelled because they worked closely with Communists at the time. Those expulsions were reversed at the next convention of the UAW in 1939, which expelled Martin instead. He took approximately 20,000 UAW members with him to form a rival union, known for a time as the UAW-AFL, later renamed the "Allied Industrial Workers of America." The UAW finally organized Ford in 1941 as the war boom saw a flood of new workers.

Steel

The SWOC encountered equally serious problems. After winning union recognition at Jones & Laughlin Steel, SWOC's strikes against the rest of "Little Steel," (Bethlehem Steel Corporation, Youngstown Sheet and Tube, National Steel, Inland Steel American Rolling Mills and Republic Steel) failed. The strike against Newton Steel of Monroe, Michigan, was a key episode as it provided the first success for Republic Steel's back-to-work movement and stopped CIO momentum. It also halted a trend of federal and state government involvement on the union side. The SWOC was preoccupied with national politics and showed little understanding of the community. The local Monroe government ended up supporting the company. SWOC's other mistakes included inadequate pre-strike preparation, bringing a black organizer into a white community and plant, reacting instead of being proactive, and failing to counter the company union and charges of Communist control of the SWOC. Both union and company had defined Newton as nationally important and failure there generated bad publicity nationally for SWOC.[1]

SWOC continued to strike little steel. On Memorial Day, May 30, 1937, CIO strikers violated a court order and picketed Republic Steel. City police at the gate opened fire on the picketers killing ten and wounding dozens. In response to the Memorial Day Massacre, President Roosevelt, in a fire-side chat, condemned the continued violence in the Steel industry quoting Shakespeare, "A plague on both your houses."

By 1941, SWOC had become the United Steel Workers of America and won recognition in Little Steel through a combination of strikes and National Labor Relations Board elections in the same year.

West Coast Longshoremen

In 1934, the West Coast longshoremen won a major strike led by Harry Bridges. By 1937, it split from the AFL's International Longshoremen's Association to form the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union. The new union joined the CIO. Bridges became the most powerful force within the CIO in California and the west.

The South

The CIO found organizing textile workers in the South even harder. As in steel, these workers had abundant recent first-hand experience of failed organizing drives and defeated strikes, which resulted in unionists being blacklisted or worse. In addition, the intense antagonism of white workers toward black workers and the conservative political and religious milieu made organizing even harder. On the other hand, some independent left-wing unions, such as Mine, Mill and the Food, Tobacco, Agricultural, and Allied Workers Union of America, that aggressively organized both black and white workers had more success than the more cautious Textile Workers Organizing Committee founded by the CIO.

Internal disarray

Adding to the uncertainties for the CIO was its own internal disarray. When the CIO formally established itself as a rival to the AFL in 1938, renaming itself the Congress of Industrial Organizations, the ILGWU and the Millinery Workers left the CIO to return to the AFL. Lewis feuded with Hillman and Philip Murray, his long-time assistant and head of the SWOC, over both the CIO's own activities and its relations with the Roosevelt administration. The Dies Committee determined in 1938 that 280 salaried CIO organizers, were members of the Communist party. The issue exploded in the early-1940. Lewis, under pressure from pro-Soviet elements broke with Roosevelt on the policy of aiding Britain (because Britain was at war with Germany and Russia supported Germany). Lewis endorsed Republican Wendell Willkie for President in 1940, but few members followed his lead, as FDR won nearly 90% of the CIO vote. Lewis finally resigned as President of the CIO in 1941, choosing his protégé Murray to succeed him.

Other CIO affiliates made progress during the defense buildup of 1940-41 in organizing workers in mass transit, packinghouses, tire factories, shipyards and electrical manufacturers while the UAW successfully organized aircraft workers.

Other industrial unions joining the CIO included the Transport Workers Union of America (which originally represented the subway workers in New York) the National Maritime Union (made up of sailors based on the east coast), and the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (which represented workers in a range of electrical manufacturing facilities).

AFL fights back

The AFL continued to fight the CIO, forcing the NLRB to allow skilled trades employees in large industrial facilities the option to choose, in what came to be called "Globe elections," between representation by the CIO or separate representation by AFL craft unions. The CIO also faced competition, moreover, from a number of AFL affiliates who now sought to organize industrial workers. The competition was particularly sharp in the aircraft industry, where the UAW went head-to-head against the International Association of Machinists, originally a craft union of railroad workers and skilled trade employees. The AFL organizing drives proved even more successful, and they gained new members as fast or faster than the CIO. In some instances bloody confrontations took place between the rival federations, each supported by their political allies.

Rapid growth during World War II

See World War II, Homefront, U.S.

The unemployment problem ended in the United States with the beginning of World War II, as stepped up wartime production created millions of new jobs, and the draft pulled young men out. The war mobilization also changed the CIO’s relationship with both employers and the national government.

Reversing its violent rhetorical opposition to fascism, in August 1939 the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany. The two power divided up Eastern Europe, and allowed Germany to go to war with France and Britain, as Russia supplied wit with oil and food. American Communists immediately took the public position of being opposed to Britain's war against Germany and tried to stop the flow of munitions to Britain, which was standing alone in war against Germany. The Mine Workers led by Lewis, with a strong pro-Soviet presence, opposed Roosevelt’s reelection in 1940; in practice most miners ignored their leftist leaders and voted for Roosevelt. The UMW left the CIO in 1942. After June 1941, when Germany invaded the Soviet Union, the Communists immediately became fervent supporters of the war and sought to end wildcat strikes that might hurt war production. Critics said they were primarily interested in the survival of the Soviet Union, not the welfare of American workers. The CIO, and in particular the UAW, supported a wartime no-strike pledge that aimed to eliminate not only major strikes for new contracts, but also the innumerable small strikes called by shop stewards and local union leadership to protest particular grievances.

That pledge did not, however, actually eliminate all wartime strikes; in fact there were nearly as many strikes in 1944 as there had been in 1937. But those strikes tended to be far shorter and far less tumultuous than the earlier ones, usually involving small groups of workers over working conditions and other local concerns.

The CIO did not, on the other hand, strike over wages during the war. In return for labor’s no-strike pledge, the government offered arbitration to determine the wages and other terms of new contracts. Those procedures produced modest wage increases during the first few years of the war, but, over time, not enough to keep up with inflation, particularly when combined with the slowness of the arbitration machinery.

Yet even though the complaints from union members about the no-strike pledge became louder and more bitter, the CIO did not abandon it. The Mine Workers, by contrast, who did not belong to either the AFL or the CIO for much of the war, engaged in a successful twelve-day strike in 1943, which angered public opinion and led to harsh anti-labor laws passed by Congress.

The CIO unions on the whole grew stronger during the war. The government put pressure on employers to recognize unions to avoid the sort of turbulent struggles over union recognition of the 1930s, while unions were generally able to obtain maintenance of membership clauses, a form of union security, through arbitration and negotiation. Workers also won benefits, such as vacation pay, that had been available only to a few in the past while wage gaps between higher skilled and less skilled workers narrowed.

The experience of bargaining on a national basis, while restraining local unions from striking, also tended to accelerate the trend toward bureaucracy within the larger CIO unions. Some, such as the Steelworkers, had always been centralized organizations in which authority for major decisions resided at the top. The UAW, by contrast, had always been a more grassroots organization, but it also started to try to rein in its maverick local leadership during these years.

Racial tensions

Before the coming of the CIO, under one hundred thousand blacks only were members of the American trade union. Under the CIO the total reached upwards around five hundred thousand in the mid 1940s. There were few black union officials before 1939-1940. It became so common during and after the war that was standard procedure to have black officials at all major events. A new group the National Negro Congress tried to form an alliance with the CIO. The National Negro Congress did not speak for the whole black community. Many black leaders, especially those in the Urban League, were impressed with the paternalism of Henry Ford and other industrialists and did not want to break with big business.

The CIO had to confront deep racial divides in its own membership, particularly in the UAW plants in Detroit where white workers sometimes struck to protest the promotion of black workers to production jobs, but also in shipyards in Alabama, mass transit in Philadelphia, and steel plants in Baltimore. The CIO leadership, particularly those in more left unions such as the Packinghouse Workers, the UAW, the NMU and the Transport Workers, undertook serious efforts to suppress hate strikes, to educate their membership and to support the Roosevelt Administration’s tentative efforts to remedy racial discrimination in war industries through the Fair Employment Practices Commission. Those unions contrasted their relatively bold attack on the problem with the timidity and racism of the AFL.

In Mobile, Alabama, on 24 May 1943 at the Pinto Island yard of the Alabama Dry Dock and Shipbuilding Company (ADDSCO) a riot broke out when angry whites attacked their black coworkers because 12 blacks had been upgraded to welders under a new directive from the President's Committee on Fair Employment Practice. (See FEPC) The riot signifies the tense relations between blacks and whites in congested wartime production centers like Mobile. The role that the CIO and the ADDSCO bargaining agent, the Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers of America, played in that conflict illustrates the relationship between the labor unions and the civil rights movement. Some scholars have viewed the CIO as a mechanism for helping to unite blacks and whites under the same economic umbrella, while others have portrayed labor organizations as simply defending "the privileged positions of white workers." Labor leaders, while reaching out to blacks in a cautious attempt to seek racial equality, refused to do so at the risk of the organization's survival. The turmoil of World War II magnified this dilemma "a thousandfold."[2]

All the unions were dubious about women members but the CIO unions more tolerant in dealing with women, and in a few occasions allowed women to have minor union roles. Some unions who had represented large numbers of women workers before the war, such as the UE and the Food and Tobacco Workers, had fairly good records of integrating women in the workplace against continuous male hostility; others often saw them as merely wartime replacements for the men in the armed forces. They assumed the women would return home after the war (as most did), and wanted to be sure that the pay scales were not lowered.[3] Numerous far-left women in the CIO, such as Betty Friedan, in the 1960s reemerged as leaders of the new woman's movement.[4]

CIO-PAC

The CIO played a major role in the New Deal Coalition that supported Franklin D. Roosevelt and other liberal politicians. The CIO Political Action Committee (CIO PAC) was established in July 1943 to support Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1944 presidential campaign. After the 1944 election, the CIO maintained PAC as its permanent political action apparatus until the merger in 1955, when it became part of the AFL-CIO’s Committee on Political Education.[5] The key player was Sidney Hillman (1887-1946), leader of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, a vice president of the (CIO), and head of the labor division of Roosevelt's War Production Board. Hillman set up the CIO-"Political Action Committee" in 1943 and ran it until his death in 1946. that used CIO money and resources to organize workers in CIO centers around the country to turn out and vote. It used the CIO unions, as well as city and state industrial union councils (and sometimes even independent or AFL unions) in large scale campaigns to distribute leaflets and voice messages to the working class. Ben Shahn was one of many artists who drew the posters. The CIO-PAC claimed to have defeated several conservative Democrats in 1944, including anti-Communist leader Martin Dies of Texas. It backfired in 1946 when Republicans attacked candidates who took CIO-PAC money as soft on Communism, a charge levied by Richard Nixon in his upset of Congressman Jerry Voorhis in California. By 1948 most of the Communists had been purged or went off to join the Progressive Party of Henry Wallace, which was anathema to the CIO.

"Clear it with Sidney" was the slogan that underscored Sidney Hillman's access to the top levels of politics and government. Turnout was very low in 1944 (and even lower in 1942 when anti-union candidates won), so the PAC role was essential to FDR's victory. A major goal was to defeat Republican Senator Robert A. Taft, who was reelected in 1944 and again in 1950 despite all-out efforts by the CIO. With FDR gone, the conservatives won a landslide victory in 1946, but to everyone's surprise, CIO-endorsed Democrat Harry S. Truman was reelected president in 1948.[6]

The post-War era

The end of the war meant the end of the no-strike pledge and a wave of strikes as workers sought to make up the ground they had lost, particularly in wages, during the war. The UAW went on strike against GM in November 1945; the Steelworkers, UE and Packinghouse Workers struck in January 1946.

Murray, as head of both the CIO and the Steelworkers, wanted to avoid a wave of mass strikes in favor of high-level negotiations with employers, with government intervention to balance wage demands with price controls. That project failed when employers pointed out the wartime system (in which the government paid all their labor costs) was dead and they now had to earn profits. Corporations demanded broad management rights clauses to reassert their workplace authority, while the new Truman administration proved unwilling to intervene on labor’s side and Congress was hostile because of the mine workers' wartime and postwar misbehavior in holding the economy hostage.

The UAW took a different tack: rather than involve the federal government, it wanted to bargain directly with GM over management issues, such as the prices it charged for its cars, and went on strike for 113 days in 1946 over these and other issues. The union eventually settled for the same wage increase that the Steelworkers and the UE had gotten in their negotiations; GM not only did not concede any of its managerial authority, but never even bargained over the UAW’s proposals over its pricing policies.

These strikes were qualitatively different from those fought over union recognition in the 1930s: employers did not try to hire strikebreakers to replace their employees, while the unions kept a tight lid on picketers to maintain order and decorum even as they completely shut down some of the largest enterprises in the United States.

Operation Dixie fails

The CIO’s major organizing drive of this era, Operation Dixie, 1946-1951 was aimed at 2.4 million trade workers across 12 Southern states, especially the textile workers of the Carolinas. It was a complete failure. Previously the Mine Workers and Steelworkers had some success, especially in Alabama and Tennessee, and there were some local successes among lumber workers. However the main target, the half-million textile workers (nearly all were white), remained unmoved. Gentry (2003) shows anti-Communism and conservative religious forces were primarily responsible for the defeat, and assigns a lesser role to rival AFL organizers, and the individualistic mill culture. The counter-campaign by preachers, businessmen, and other community leaders in South Carolina appealed to anti-Communist sentiment and long-standing prejudice against blacks to effectively crush the unionizing push by the CIO.[7] The CIO and the union movement as a whole remained marginalized in the Deep South and surrounding states.

Postwar retreat in rural locales

The CIO did well in large cities where multiple unions could support one another. It tried to establish a chapter of the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America (UE) at the Sprague Electric Company in the small town of North Adams, Massachusetts, from 1937 to 1944. In the years following the failure to gain certification in a 1938 election, UE operatives tried to overcome the rural New England town's tendency to mistrust an "outside" union said to be dominated by Communists, but the family-owned Sprague firm employed paternalist tactics and largely co-opted the Independent Condenser Workers Union (ICW), the successor to a company union abandoned after the Supreme Court's upholding of the Wagner Act in 1937. The rivalry came to a head in 1944 when another certification election was held, but the ICW again prevailed and the CIO was defeated.[8]

Similarly in Ottumwa, Iowa, at the John Morrell meat-packing plant from the mid-1930s to the mid-1950s. The United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA) channeled the enthusiasm of the close-knit meat-packing workers' community into two activities, striving for a more democratic work environment and expanding their collective role in city politics. After World War II, however, the UPWA's power eroded on both fronts as Morrell's management and Ottumwa's business and professional groups joined forces against the increasingly disunified packing community.[9]

Communist influence proved a crippling handicap in rural areas after the war, for example in upstate Fulton County, New York. In 1933, a successful local wage strike of leather workers led to the emergence of a county-wide union movement, under the leadership of the local Communist Party and avowed Communist Clarence Carr. By 1938, Carr had forged a powerful union and joined the CIO, but a 1949 strike tore the union apart as Communist leaders, pushed to the margins of political discourse by the Taft-Hartley Act, failed to get on the 1949 union ballot and gave way in 1950 to a substantially weakened Tanners Association.[10]

Taft Hartley Act

In 1946, the Republican Party took control of both the House and Senate. Under the leadership of Ohio Senator Robert A. Taft, Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act over Truman's veto. Designed to roll back gains made by labor unions during the New Deal era, it made organizing more difficult, gave the states more authority to pass "right to work" laws (which forbade the closed shop), and outlawed certain types of strikes and secondary boycotts. It also required all union officers to sign an affidavit that they were not Communists in order for the union to bring a case before the NLRB. This affidavit requirement devastated the far-left leaders of the CIO. Repeated efforts by the CIO and AFL to repeal the law all failed, and it was strengthened in 1959 to require democratic elections that undercut the power of boss rule.

Purging the Communists

The Taft Hartley Act of 1947 penalized unions whose officers failed to sign statements that they were not members of the Communist Party. Many Communists held power in the CIO unions (few did so in the AFL). The most affected unions were the ILWU, UE, TWU and Fur and Leather Workers. Other Communists held senior staff positions in a number of other unions.

The leftists had an uneasy relationship with Murray while he headed the CIO. He mistrusted the radicalism of some of their positions and was innately far more sympathetic to anti-Communist organizations such as the Association of Catholic Trade Unionists. He also believed, however, that making anti-Communism a crusade would only strengthen labor’s enemies and the rival AFL at a time when labor unity was most important.

Murray might have let the status quo continue, even while Walter Reuther and others within the CIO attacked Communists in their unions, if the CPUSA had not chosen to back Henry Wallace's Progressive Party campaign for President in 1948. That, and an increasingly bitter division over whether the CIO should support the Marshall Plan, brought Murray to the conclusion that peaceful co-existence with Communists within the CIO was impossible.

Murray began by removing Bridges from his position as the California Regional Director for the CIO and firing Lee Pressman as General Counsel of both the Steelworkers and the CIO. Anti-communist unionists then took the battle to the City and State Councils where they ousted Communist leaders who did not support the CIO’s position favoring the Marshall Plan and opposing Wallace.

After the 1948 election, the CIO took the fight one step further, expelling the ILWU, Mine, Mill, the Farm Equipment Union (FE), the Food and Tobacco Workers, and the Fur and Leather Workers after a series of internal trials in the first few months of 1950, while creating a new union, the International Union of Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers(IUE), to replace the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (UE), which left the CIO.

A combination of local and national pressures drove the CIO to expel Communists from its leadership. Michael Quill, the international president of the Transport Workers Union (TWU), led an effort between 1948 and 1949 to drive Communists from Miami's TWU Local 500, Florida's largest CIO affiliate. Accused by the Miami Daily News of conspiring with Latin American Communists and threatened with a House Un-American Activities Committee investigation, Local 500 became vulnerable to a takeover by the anti-Communist leadership of the United Auto Workers. Faced with pressure from both the national CIO leadership and rank-and-file members, Quill first severed his own affiliations with the Communist Party and then removed Communist Party member Charles Smolikoff and his allies from Local 500 leadership positions.[11]

In Los Angeles, political and labor leaders such as Parley P. Christensen, Philip "Slim" Connelly, and Edward R. Roybal sought the support of Mexican Americans, the city's largest minority group. Many Latinos were members of the CIO, whose Communist-dominated Los Angeles Council was led by Connelly. City council incumbent Christensen, backed by the CIO Council, won the 1947 contest for the 9th District seat, beating Mexican-American candidate Roybal, among others. The newly formed progressive and anti-Communist Community Service Organization (CSO), the first major civil rights organization in the Latino community, grew rapidly in influence and numbers, while the CIO Council's Soviet sympathies weakened its position. CSO president Roybal won the 1949 election, indicating a transition in the ethnic and political composition of labor leadership in the rapidly growing metropolis. Roybal later became the first Mexican American Congressman from California.[12]

Merger with the AFL

Murray the head of the CIO, died in 1952 and William Green, who had headed the AFL since the 1920s, died the same month. The struggle for leadership of the CIO did not end with the election of Murray's successor, Walter P. Reuther, in December 1952. The CIO floundered in "a no-man's-land of bureaucratic and personalistic rivalries" as Reuther refused to commit himself or his UAW staff full-time to the CIO. The only solution to the CIO's problems would be a merger with the more powerful AFL. Therefore Reuther began discussing merger of the two organizations with George Meany, Green’s successor as head of the AFL, in early 1953.[13]

Most of the critical differences that once separated the two organizations had faded since the 1930s. Both federations engaged in industrial organizing and both had purged their Communists. The constituent unions had largely settled their rivalries by dividing the turf.

Reuther was spurred toward merger by the threats from David McDonald, Murray’s successor as President of the Steelworkers, who disliked Reuther intensely, insulted him publicly and flirted with disaffiliation from the CIO. While Reuther set out a number of conditions for merger with the AFL, such as constitutional provisions supporting industrial unionism, guarantees against racial discrimination, and internal procedures to clean up corrupt unions, his weak bargaining position forced him to compromise most of these demands. Although the unions that made up the CIO survived, and in some cases thrived, as members of the newly created AFL-CIO, the CIO as an organization essentially disappeared in the merger process.

Presidents of the CIO, 1935-1955

Further Reading

For a more detailed guide see the bibliography subpage.

notes

  1. Joseph M. Turrini, "The Newton Steel Strike: a Watershed in the CIO's Failure to Organize 'Little Steel.'" Labor History 1997 38(2-3): 229-265. Issn: 0023-656x Fulltext: in Ebsco
  2. Bruce Nelson, "Organized Labor and the Struggle for Black Equality in Mobile During World War II," Journal of American History 1993 80(3): 952-988. in Jstor
  3. D'Ann Campbell, Women at War with America (1984)
  4. Daniel Horowitz, Betty Friedan and the Making of The Feminine Mystique: The American Left, the Cold War, and Modern Feminism (1999)
  5. see [1]
  6. Fraser (1991); Leon Fink, "Clearing it up with Sidney: a New Labor-political Synthesis for the Twentieth Century." Reviews in American History 1992 20(3): 366-371. Issn: 0048-7511 in Jstor
  7. Jonathan Gentry, "'Christ Is Out, Communism Is On': Opposition to the Congress of Industrial Organization's 'Operation Dixie' in South Carolina, 1946-1951." Proceedings of the South Carolina Historical Association, 2003: 15-24. Issn: 0361-6207
  8. Maynard Seider, "The CIO in Rural Massachusetts: Sprague Electric and North Adams, 1937-1944." Historical Journal of Massachusetts 1994 22(1): 51-73. Issn: 0276-8313
  9. Wilson J. Warren, "The Heyday of the CIO in Iowa: Ottumwa's Meatpacking Workers, 1937-1954." Annals of Iowa 1992 51(4): 363-389. Issn: 0003-4827
  10. Gerald Zahavi, "'Communism Is No Bug-a-boo': Communism and Left-wing Unionism in Fulton County, New York, 1933-1950." Labor History 1992 33(2): 165-189. Fulltext: in Ebsco
  11. Alex Lichtenstein, "Putting Labor's House in Order: the Transport Workers Union and Labor Anti-communism in Miami During the 1940s." Labor History 1998 39(1): 7-23. Issn: 0023-656x Fulltext: in Ebsco
  12. Kenneth C. Burt, "Latino Empowerment in Los Angeles: Postwar Dreams and Cold War Fears, 1948-1952." Labor's Heritage 1996 8(1): 4-25. Issn: 1041-5904
  13. Robert H. Zieger, "Leadership and Bureaucracy in the Late CIO," Labor History 1990 31(3): 253-270.
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